Brand Marketing in a time of COVID-19

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For all my urging that content marketing and (un)newsletters are the best way to demonstrate brand marketing leadership, I haven’t done any myself since April.

There are two reasons for this four-month break:

  1. It just didn’t feel right to send marketing emails about branding and marketing during a crisis.
  2. I got very busy with client work, and I kept thinking, “I’ll just get to it later.”

I’m not leading by example here, especially since three months ago my message was that businesses should not stop marketing, but should instead look at marketing differently. I advised many of my clients about different strategies and tactics we can pivot to now, to make it through a very uncertain and tenuous time. For some, the strategy shifted to filling short-term gaps in work schedules while for others, just the opposite. We shifted to ensuring that their businesses remained top-of-mind for potential and returning customers when we come out of the crisis. It appears that many businesses heeded that “don’t stop now” message. We quickly shifted focus based on what was happening now, and what we forecasted the state of business looked like 3, 6, and 12 months later.

Goals First. Strategy Next. Then Tactics.

The thing about branding (or brand marketing), as opposed to advertising, is that it is long-term focused. Branding is about the expectations someone has about you and your ability to fulfill those expectations consistently (your reputation), not a special promotion or a discount. Tactics for staying top-of-mind 6 or 12 months from now when a prospect needs you are different than tactics to get someone to notice you right now.

And that’s where so many businesses are focused at the moment – the here and now.

How can a business focus on putting out urgent fires today, while also planning for an uncertain future? Why bother planning for next quarter, or next year, if your primary concern is whether you can even open the doors tomorrow?

Just breathe. Your brand won’t get built in the short-term.

No matter what time frame you are working on, you should still take a moment and think about the future state of your business. Don’t just jump into tactics, like discount promotions, before you have a plan, even if it is a short term one. You really can’t decide what tactics to employ if you don’t have goals in the first place.

If your knee-jerk reaction to everything that is happening right now was to pump-the-brakes on doing any brand marketing, advertising, or promotions, consider this:

  • There are still people who have money to spend right now, and some of them are looking for your services right now.
  • Others might not have money right now, but they will have money in the future, and you’re going to want them to think about you then.

Brand Marketing in a time of crisis

These are unprecedented times for businesses, no doubt. I hear from some business owners that they are doing phenomenally well right now, while others are struggling to make payroll. The businesses that have pivoted (there, I said it) their marketing are already moving beyond just surviving and have found new ways to thrive.

Some have even used marketing analysis to make short-term changes to their business model.

We started to work with a new client in March, right at the beginning of the pandemic. They wanted to rebrand, but we advised against it. You read that right; we advised a new client not to engage with us on one of our core services. Not because we didn’t want to help, or think that we could. Customers would be confused, we thought, and prospects would have no history of engagement upon which to base making a future purchase. Additionally, sales tend to drop off for them during the Spring and Summer seasons. We believed that rebranding with an entirely new name and positioning at this time would hurt their long-term survival chances.

Instead of a rebrand, we offered to help with a short-term (3 to 6 months) goal of building their customer base first. The strategies to accomplish this is to improve customer loyalty and create more awareness about what they offer, by building name-brand recognition and earning reviews and referrals. The tactics included improving the user experience of the website to make it easier to navigate and purchase, establish them as a leader in their field, and begin a digital advertising campaign to reach new customers.

I mentioned that sales were traditionally down this time of year for this client. Well, since we launched the new website two months ago, they have had almost $90,000 in revenue; a good portion of that comes from recurring subscription plans.

The long-term goal of brand-building is still there, and we’ve got other strategies to work towards that. A rebrand isn’t off the table, but the short terms goals didn’t support it.

Are you finding yourself challenged when it comes to branding and marketing right now? Reach out to me, and we can brainstorm some ideas for your own goals, strategies, and tactics to keep your business moving forward.

Written By Andy Brenits

Andy Brenits is Principal of Brenits Creative, and President of the Board of Directors of InSource. An experienced mentor and teacher, Andy has taught undergraduate and graduate classes at Pratt Institute, Rowan University, The Art Institute of Phoenix, Sessions.edu, and most recently at Columbia University. When he isn’t proactively managing his to-do list, he’s busy cooking and taking photographs of his cactus flowers and family.

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