How to Adapt Your Marketing Plan When the Landscape Shifts

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    April 27, 2020

How to Adapt Your Marketing Plan When the Landscape Shifts


When you spent part of 2019 developing your marketing strategy for the next 12–24 months, you likely weren’t expecting a pandemic that would alter the course of our economy and society, virtually overnight. Yet, here we are. The good news? Resiliency reigns. It’s been encouraging to watch people unite in response to an unprecedented situation. Working together, we’ve reassessed and shifted trajectories from public health to business, changing behaviors and adopting habits we never previously considered.

One possible silver lining? Stuck at home and removed from typical schedules and commutes, many families are spending more time together, making a point to get outside in the yard or taking daily neighborhood walks, holding socially distant neighborhood happy hours or hosting virtual parties on Zoom. Despite the restrictions, people are resurfacing this authentic human connection that actually feels good.

Bottom line: Home-as-refuge is a fundamental truth that became instantly heightened and relevant in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, we’re seeing a flood of purchases in categories such as home wellness, cooking and baking. Now, investments in the home are more of a sure bet than ever. It’s likely the yearning for human connection will continue and intensify in the aftermath of the crisis, too.

For many brands in the home vertical, it is reasonable to expect increased interest and investment in making the American home a better place to enjoy, connect, stay healthy and pass the time. But this is still a new and fluctuating landscape — one where we still have to execute marketing plans. And no matter how the pandemic has affected your brand or business in the short-term, you must swiftly reassess your marketing strategies to remain authentic, connected and effective in uncertain times.

Here are a few ways to do it:

Start Fresh

It hurts to say it, but all bets are off. This can feel like heartbreak as you think about that solid 2020 plan you worked hard to build, but it can also feel like opportunity. Seize the chance to step back and examine your brand, especially in terms of relevance and differentiation. There may well be aspects of how your brand performs and its perceived associations that call for a change in strategy and approach. With this new clarity, reset your goals. In light of probable shifts in business projections and budgets, the easy course could be “shave X% off previously stated goals.” Instead, consider reexamining current plans with more depth: Some goals may no longer be relevant, while others may warrant protecting or even expanding. Additionally, now may be the perfect time to execute those ideas, from software upgrades to SEO planning, that tend to get left on the back burner in regular times.

Be Nimble (and Unafraid of Change)

Don’t presume that any “before” assumptions will apply “after.” Conduct research soon, and keep it going through this changing climate. Regardless of your audience, attitudes and mindsets are shifting in important ways that will influence their behavior. Past crises reinforce that customer attitudes take a long time, post-crisis, to revert. Research that establishes the new baseline will be critical to measuring the effectiveness of rebound measures over the coming months and years.

Right now, there’s no way to know when the marketplace will normalize or what “normal” will look like in the future. Instead of sticking to 12- to 24-month marketing plans, consider operating more like a startup or entrepreneur, adapting and shifting quickly in the face of change. Realistically, this means only looking out a few weeks or even days into the future. We’ve already seen numerous brands successfully pivot their services, finding ways to reach their customers safely and quickly. For example, our client Floor & Decor started offering curbside pickup, a wildly successful move that earned them new customers. Other companies have moved traditionally in-person experiences online, such as MrSteam compiling online training resources for virtual sales and educational meetings. In some instances, companies may discover new strategies that they continue long term.

Stay True to Your Brand

While now is a great time to move quickly and try new things, it’s also a great time to provide your audience some stability, levity or release. Brands in every category have reminded us of who they are at the core. For instance, Apple released a heartwarming spot about individual creativity, harkening back to some of their original ads. For others, including this message for Detroit, the Detroit-based Doner advertising team aimed to inspire the city as it experiences adversity, and it resonated with people across the country. Some are even showing a familiar levity, such as Progressive Insurance bringing back their campaign about becoming your parents. If you know your audience, you probably have a good feeling about what they’re receptive to now, from hopeful to lighthearted messaging that resonates.

Cultivate Sensitivity

It’s critical to remember that people are grieving right now. There is an overwhelming and widespread sense of loss and anxiety. While the brands mentioned above got it right, other people got it very wrong. Consider the following guidelines to heighten sensitivity and self-awareness:

  • Concepts around self-reward and indulgence should be tempered, especially for brands that target affluent audiences.
  • Don’t send self-aggrandizing messages, such as claims that your product or service can help mitigate loss. At this point, there are too many unknowns.
  • Levity can work, but tread carefully. This situation is serious: People are dying, cut off from their families and/or out of work. It can be both good and necessary to have a little exhale, but the reality is so harsh that you have to be careful.
  • Recognize that there will be new rules. Cultural mores will shift in response to this experience in ways we don’t yet understand. This means messaging should be straightforward and direct until the new normal is … more normal.

Remain Engaged

While you’re reassessing your marketing strategy, don’t go dark. The audiences are still there and, perhaps more than usual, depending on the channel. While your customers’ immediate needs are different, they may just be postponing or planning new home-related activities. Consider what people are experiencing now: Because we’re home, there’s been a resurgence of focus on home-centric objects and activities. Planning a week or so at a time will help your brand stay both relevant and appropriately engaged.

Nurture a Proactive, Open-Minded Approach

In coming quarters, many, if not most, U.S. businesses will find themselves situationally altered, because of marketplace shifts in supply or demand or both. With such fundamental changes, gaining a clear outlook takes time. But marketers should push themselves, and their agencies, to think proactively based on what outlook can be obtained. Staying too long in reactive mode, fighting last month’s battles, will lose the war.

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