COVID-19 is a time of massive uncertainty for all of us. As we try to navigate this new landscape as digital marketers, the rules of the game have changed. To what, you ask? We’re still trying to figure it out ourselves, to be honest.
What we can say is that a definitive list of marketing mistakes have emerged out of the chaos. What follows is a series of major marketing slip-ups that your company should avoid. Your reputation and brand image are on the line based on how you navigate this time period. Public perception is everything — not only for the short term, but also for what comes afterwards.
The companies that handle the COVID-19 crisis with tact, respect, and responsible marketing are the ones that will reap the benefits of a positive brand image and loyal audience as things get back to normal. On the contrary, messing up your marketing can damage your company’s reputation beyond repair.
This guide is a series of recommendations of how to responsibly continue to market your company despite the impacts of COVID-19. We’ll suggest marketing mistakes for you to avoid, and offer helpful alternatives where applicable.
Major Marketing Slip-Ups to Avoid During COVID-19
Don’t Stop Marketing
A complete marketing shutdown is not the answer! Every company is facing a marketing challenge right now, but what distinguishes those that will make it through the COVID-19 pandemic from those that will shutter their windows is the creativity and determination to keep marketing.
99% of businesses need to adapt their marketing strategies. That’s just a reality. Accept that you need to revise your marketing, then build a responsible marketing plan from there.
Continuing marketing is especially relevant for the food industry and brick and mortar stores. For the former, start advertising your pick up and/or delivery service, and for the latter, be sure to let your customers know that your products are available for purchase online. Your customers miss you! If you let them know how they can continue to safely interact with you, many of them will happily do so.
Also, be sure to take note that pretty much everyone is spending more time online these days. If you’re not already focusing your marketing efforts into digital marketing, now is the prime time to pivot. Quite honestly, if you stick with traditional marketing methods like highway billboards, you’re just wasting ad spend. After all, when people are in lock-down mode, they’re stuck at home. This effectively gives you two marketing mediums to choose from nowadays: television and radio ads, or social media/digital marketing. Take your pick!
Don’t Try to Profit Off of COVID-19
PSA: This is a global pandemic, not a marketing opportunity. If your audience gets the feeling that you’re using this crisis as an opportunity to profit, they’re going to get a bad taste in their mouth about your company. Ensure that you keep your marketing messaging professional and considerate. This is a serious situation of global magnitude that is affecting your customers and their families in serious ways.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t show solidarity with consumers — it’s totally fine to show your support. Just do everything you can to avoid coming off as insensitive! For example, you can announce that for every purchase of x, y amount of money will be donated to COVID-19 vaccine development. You can also offer flexible payment plans in support of those who are recently unemployed or working reduced hours.
If you want to acknowledge the virus in a meaningful way, consider sharing with your customers that you are complying with all current health regulations and taking extra measures to ensure their safety. Feel free to list those specific measures — e.g.; hand sanitizer is available upon entry, all delivery workers are wearing masks, etc. Sharing that you take your customers’ safety seriously is a great way to build trust and a subtle way of sharing that you are still in operation despite the circumstances.
Don’t Spread Misinformation
Does this one seem like a no-brainer? Probably. That said, there’s a ton of misinformation surrounding COVID-19, and a lot of it is being shared widely thanks to the internet. Don’t trust everything you hear. If you can’t verify it, don’t share it.
Sharing misinformation is harmful to public health professionals and policy makers trying to manage the pandemic. In addition, if your consumer base finds out that you’re sharing false information you will lose their trust and support. Once you lose a customer’s trust, it can be near impossible to regain it.
One quick way to test if something is misinformation is to look for the source. Is this a published scientific study or resource? Or if this an opinion disguised as fact?
The safest bet if you’re looking to inform your readers/viewers is to redirect them to the actual experts.
Don’t Use Insensitive Vocabulary
Offering a new sale? You don’t want to make the mistake of advertising it as a “killer deal”. That could come across as really insensitive! Do yourself a favor and invest the time in proofreading all marketing content to be respectful of the situation.
Avoid puns, especially about “going viral”, and health related terms. For example, “Does your credit score need a pulse check?”. Other problematic words include contagious, infectious, and spread. Use your best judgement and be careful.
As a bonus, have your content writers rephrase traditional salesy copy into more neutral and supportive phrases. For example, take “Snatch up our deals before they’re gone!” as compared to “We’ve revised our pricing to help you navigate an unstable economy”. Clearly, the latter is much more supportive and warm-feeling. This is the tone you want to take for responsible marketing.
Other words that induce feelings of comfort and safety include: virtual, remote, from home, delivery, and online. If you’re offering virtual, at-home alternatives, say so! Customers are searching for comforting phrases so they can feel safe about doing business with you.
Don’t Forget to Update Your CTA’s
Suddenly, “Join Now!” or “Visit Us Today!” aren’t super appropriate, not to mention ineffective. Stay-at-home orders coupled with general unease at heading out into the world right now mean that your typical CTAs no longer fit the context. Instead, try switching CTAs to “Learn More” or “Join Us”.
It’s a good idea to avoid unnecessary urgency — very few people are in a rush to act on anything right now, and even fewer want to feel like they’re being pressured into something. For a list of over 100 tangible CTA examples, explore our Ultimate Guide to Calls to Action Phases.
Furthermore, opt for versatile copy — every day, the COVID-19 crisis evolves, so what might work one day may not be appropriate or useful the next. To avoid having to constantly revise your copy, opt for flexible, vague copy.
Call to Action buttons matter just as much. It is important to review these in your digital apps to make sure that they’re styling is just as appropriate as their tone. For real-world examples, visit our Ultimate Guide to Call to Action Buttons.
Always Be Willing To Try
It might seem like there’s a LOT of marketing mistakes to avoid during COVID-19. The good news is that most of these are completely preventable with a healthy dose of awareness and common sense. Don’t let the fear of messing up paralyze you in fear!
It’s so important, now more than ever, to continue marketing to ensure the longevity of your business. The single most important thing you can do is market responsibly. This means avoiding gimmicky or salesy attempts to capitalize on the virus, avoiding spreading misinformation, skipping insensitive vocabulary in favor of safe and supportive words, and adjusting your CTAs as necessary.
Armed with this knowledge of major COVID-19 marketing mistakes, you’re well on your way to developing supportive, effective marketing. We wish you safety, health, and a pinch of luck as you continue to navigate these uncharted waters.
If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy our other helpful articles on marketing pitfalls: 7 Marketing Fails to Avoid and 5 Common Marketing Mistakes.
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