Pandemic Marketing

Marketing in the Early Stages of a Pandemic: The Cost of Doing Nothing or Not Enough

Sergio Pinon

The assumption that everyone is feeling overwhelmed and stressed about the unprecedented changes going on around us is accurate. You, like everyone else, are a consumer above all else, susceptible to the many distractions and stimuli presented by an abundance of marketers. The important questions in these trying times are what messaging is relevant and important, and what is useless or potentially damaging? 

First off, let’s set some ground rules for what you are about to read. Credit unions are as unique as their diverse memberships, serving a variety of industries, so the following isn't intended to be a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, we are presenting a variety of recommendations on what you could (and dare we say at times, should) do with your marketing. Being adaptable is critical, especially when you consider that a troubling message could be looming around every corner, forcing you to continuously pivot to remain relevant and sensitive.  We’re taking a worse-case-scenario approach in order to cover as much as possible and get you thinking about many of the smaller details that often get overlooked. Let’s get started.

If you haven’t hit the pause button yet, do so now

It’s time to take a step back and evaluate your current marketing campaigns and messaging. Everything from business cards to social media posts needs to be scrutinized. Is your current campaign inviting people to your brick and mortar location or, even worse, showing people in a crowded social gathering? As relevant and innocent as the campaign was when it was created, it is now communicating an unsettling feeling within a consumer’s subconscious that may begin to affect your brand. Such unintentional consequences can be eliminated by simply pausing the campaign and saving it for later, or replacing it with more supportive messaging that takes the mindset of your market into consideration. 

Many of the mediums you use to communicate are difficult or unable to be paused. Out-of-house (OOH) signage, for example, may prove impossible to change. Given that signage often becomes part of a community’s landscape, your members and the rest of the community will prove more forgiving to messaging with strong calls-to-action as long as the visuals or message are not downright off-putting or tone-deaf. This might include promotions that “feel” like one is taking advantage of the situation to push a product in a predatory manner. Take stock of what, when, and where you are communicating and consider the optics. Be proactive about follow-up or tangential messages. For instance, if your radio ad or billboard is asking people to join you at a community gathering, then clarify the situation on your website and all other communication that the event is cancelled or postponed.

It is up to you to determine which mediums, of the many you use to communicate with your members, have the potential of being misinterpreted. Just remember that even smaller, less conspicuous forms of communications such as bathroom signs, interior promotional signage, and even drive-thru banners need to be evaluated. Look at this as a great time to perform an unofficial marketing content audit.

Click here to download a helpful checklist of marketing assets you should evaluate and other valuable marketing resources. [link to Pod site of resources]

Get back to marketing as quickly as you can

An evaluation of your marketing content should not take more than a day or two. Once completed, it's time to make addendums to your 2020 Marketing Plan - you know, the one you wrote last November? Highlight the things that won’t change and look at ways to fill in the holes that are now left open. Is it a change of direction or simply updating messaging? Perhaps a product that is normally promoted in the Fall is ripe for promotion in the Spring. Don’t be afraid to make those types of decisions. The most important thing is to let your voice be heard by your members and the communities you serve.

Taking a deep dive into your current marketing efforts will help you identify areas where marketing dollars are not getting the returns expected, and areas where there might be some opportunities to expand your reach. Many organizations are redirecting marketing budgets to social media, digital, and search from expenses like:

  • Trade shows
  • Travel
  • Conferences/seminars
  • Retreats
  • Local community events
  • Radio campaigns (less travel time in cars means fewer listeners)

Marketing does not stop during times like these, it simply pivots to what is relevant to your members. We are fortunate to live in a time where many services can shift to digital ones and credit unions can continue to serve their members. That shift, albeit challenging for some, will go a long way in giving your members the sense of connection and security that they desperately need in times like these. 

Now it’s time to hit the fast-forward button

Although the changes happening in the market are unpredictable, it is important to expand and add detail to your marketing contingency plan. Previously seasonal product offerings, for example, may have been affected by changes in consumer needs or habits. Financial market volatility and market competition might offer opportunities or challenges that are new to both you and the members and communities that you serve. Following below are some things to consider when developing forward-facing messaging and marketing initiatives:

  • Messaging should be confident and offer a sense of strength, control, and security. It should also not be too salesy. Don’t make your messaging about you and what you’re selling but about ways your credit union is offering assistance. Ask yourself, “how is this helping our members?”  If you can’t immediately think of the answer you should probably table that product or service campaign until a later time. 
  • Given the volatile nature of the market, we recommend keeping things simple and straight-forward for now. 
  • Focus on reassuring your members by offering them alternative ways of accessing their accounts and communicating their needs within these new constraints.
  • Continue to provide regular updates. Monitor usage of your digital assets and lean-in to those that are being used the most. If your members are showing a preference, be sure to take a look at the analytics and use what you learn to direct content or adjust communication schedules.
  • Consider content marketing. Your members still want to hear from you. It just may not be in the traditional forms. Offer blog posts or emails that provide helpful and useful information without selling a product/service. An example may be to create a list of restaurants in your community that are open for curbside/delivery service. Or maybe offer tips on how to avoid cabin fever as your members work from home. 
  • Do not be tone-deaf. Be sensitive to your members’ unique challenges and step up with solutions if you can. Communities count on leaders in times of need. Make your credit union a leader in your community!

And the beat goes on

Get used to pivoting for a while. Your marketing plan will need to be dynamic for the remainder of the year. That means that your marketing team, as well as the rest of your organization and your advertising agency, will need to communicate on a more frequent basis. Use those communications to better understand any new challenges and be sure to listen for hidden opportunities. Your members are resilient and will adapt to whatever “new normal” awaits them. The next logical question is what will that new normal look like and what should we be doing to prepare? Only through planning and preparation will you be in the best shape to lead your brand when that time comes.

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