Kelly Ehlers. Published on April 14, 2020.

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In late March, social distancing guidelines surrounding COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, were extended through April in the U.S. Since entering this reality, we’ve witnessed an overwhelming urge to use this time productively, an especially relevant truth for marketers. Although it can feel counterintuitive to dive into a digital strategy during times of uncertainty, I’ve learned as the founder of a public relations agency that the worst thing a brand can do is go dark.

With consumers spending more time at home and on their screens, there is huge potential to position your brand effectively during the crisis, as well as create lasting improvements that make a positive impact on your audience. Consider the following steps for strengthening digital marketing efforts during this time:

Communicate with empathy.

Some advertisers struggle with how to respond in trying times. Although you might believe it’s easier to say nothing at all, doing so could cause your brand to lose its chance to become a valuable partner in getting consumers through this hardship.

Of course, breaking through important updates from the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must be done tactfully to avoid sounding out of touch. As Gartner suggested, marketers must ask if their messaging says something new and is in line with consumers’ current needs. Specifically, as a New York Timesarticle titled “Coronavirus Has Opened the Corporate Email Floodgates” pointed out, “Avoid dropping updates about your staff in the same email in which you send out a coupon code.”

Having sensitivity and recognizing the concerns of your audience is the most vital aspect of communicating during times of uncertainty. Failing to acknowledge the impact at all not only lacks positive change, but it can also create negative results for your brand. Be sure to craft digital marketing strategies that reflect empathy and thoughtfully developed content. Share specifically relevant resources with your consumers, and explain the ways you’re continuing to support your community (not just your company) through this time.

Share content that connects with your audience.

As more people work remotely and spend more time at home, it’s no secret that the amount of time we’re spending looking at screens is increasing. As the mere exposure effect draws consumers to products or services they are more familiar with, a continued commitment to digital can help you connect with your audience.

Even in uncertain times, I believe it is still wise to define and use a marketing budget to create high-quality, shareable content. Doing so serves as an immediate investment in long-term returns, even after consumer behavior returns to normal rates. If developing new content is difficult, turn to previously developed evergreen content to repurpose and share.

Brands can also use this time to experiment with strategies, develop new content and see what works best for them. Be responsive as new approaches roll out, and make pivots quickly upon determining best practices. With an engaged audience, brands can better sample new techniques and improve how they connect with customers.

Add to consumers’ e-commerce experience.

Finally, whether you offer delivery as a convenient alternative to in-store shopping or you create goods that make time at home more enjoyable, brands should anticipate a bump in e-commerce, especially for consumer packaged goods and necessary purchases.

In past emergencies, many brands realized the tried-and-true effects of step-change strategies, processes that add value to the consumer experience by putting them at the center. Doing so ensures that every step along the buying route is seamless and enjoyable.

Adding to the e-commerce experience could include creating new options for pre-purchase product engagement, such as increased photo content, video or even augmented reality tools. You might also consider investing in improving product visibility through efforts like free registration with the Google Merchant Center. Doing so adds products to the search engine’s shopping results.

All in all, now is the time for brands to really prove their value to consumers. What are you saying and offering that goes above and beyond in times of need? Why should consumers choose you to spend their time engaging with? As we learn how to best interact with our customers in this shifting environment, we have to remain thoughtful through our messaging and offer unparalleled service.

Kelly Ehlers

Kelly Ehlers is the Founder & President of Ideas That Evoke, an industry-leading social, influencer and PR agency.

ulf Brackmann
ulf Brackmann