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The industry trend no one wanted: How five brands are marketing tastefully during the coronavirus

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

Consumers' habits have abruptly changed in the last week due to simmering anxiety around the coronavirus. What was normal consumer behavior 10 days ago is now thought of as irresponsible and foolish: from dining out in a trendy restaurant to attending a pop-up event.

Marie Forleo and coronavirus response
Marie Forleo's email campaign in response to the coronavirus

It's obvious which brands did not alter their marketing strategy quickly. It can be seen in our email inboxes, our social media feeds, and in our physical mailbox. "Join us for a pop-up," "On-trend outfits for hitting the town," and the worst, "St. Paddy's bar specials all weekend!" Oy.

Five brands doing it right

Online talk show host and media mogul Marie Forleo sent an emotionally raw email that read like a letter from a friend, instead of releasing her next-scheduled talk show episode. After confessing her own anxieties and empathizing with those less fortunate than her, at the bottom of the email, linked to a list of resources to help her readers, and entertaining media to take their minds off everything.

Michelin-starred restaurant Alinea, headed by celebrity chef Grant Achatz, unsurprisingly doesn't offer takeout. But in a move primarily to keep its staff employed during a time when many restaurants will shutter, they're offering a different affordable, mass-produced takeout meal each week to Chicagoans. (My husband and I felt like we were helping the hospitality industry a tiny bit as we cut into their succulent beef Wellington.)

Women-focused professional resource site Career Contessa quickly responded to the influx of remote workers with a webinar teaching how to effectively host an online meeting. And a few days later, they announced that they've made their 50+ pre-recorded webinars free to watch, indefinitely.

Healthy fast food restaurant Sweetgreen is delivering free meals to hospital workers and medical personnel to hospitals in the cities it serves. And they waved pickup and delivery fees. 

The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy developed a new, comprehensive online library of resources for parents attempting to home school their children, or let's face it, just keep them occupied.

Sweetgreen and free meals for hospital workers
Sweetgreen is handing out free meals to hospital workers on the front lines. Courtesy of Sweetgreen's Facebook.

There are tons of other examples of brands going outside their usual business operations to help their customers, and those outside their target demo. If you noticed a pattern of philanthropy rather than marketing, you're absolutely right. While it may take your business incremental resources to offer something for free or outside your usual scope, if it truly helps people, your business will be better off long-term, reputation- and revenue-wise.

Tips to implement right now

1. Look at all content you have scheduled for the future – starting with tomorrow and working your way out. Edit or delete anything that makes you wonder whether it's appropriate for the climate.

If you have something wide scale or expensive planned, such as a direct mail campaign, request to move it out rather than cancel it altogether, if you're worried about losing your entire investment. The third party you're working with may even reschedule it for free in an effort to keep your business.

Club Lucky restaurant offers contactless delivery
This historic Italian restaurant in Chicago is really catering to the current emotional state, offering "contactless delivery" upon request.

Adweek wisely wrote, "Strategy means knowing when to stay silent just as much as it means knowing what to post and when... If you don’t have anything to contribute to the conversation, stay quiet. It is better to stay quiet than to contribute noise."

2. Rewrite your brand's value proposition with your customer's current emotional state in mind. If this means you now only have one competitive offering, so be it. Lean into it for the time being.

This may mean that you need to add a new offering, or modify an existing one. For instance, as a toddler mom, I'm happily seeing lots of in-person music & movement classes now offered online for a fee. Also, restaurants that historically didn't deliver or offer takeout are now.

Apple iBooks free collection
Apple released a large collection of free books for kids and adults.

3. When in doubt, offer empathy. If your business doesn't have the resources to offer anything right now, simply communicate with your customer base that you're thinking about them and that you care. Even simply messaging that you're financially taking care of your employees, expressing empathy for what they're going through, and spending time inside with your own family and waiting for this to pass will come across as sincere and very, very human.

Have questions about how your brand should react (or not react) in the current climate?

A free 20-minute consultation is all it takes to see if we can help, or to set you off in the right direction. Book time for us to chat here.

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