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Last month, I wrote about how organizations with a winning game plan base their marketing strategy on the promise of delivering superior value that their customers want in a unique and distinctive way. The most successful organizations use the current situation to refocus their marketing efforts on their customer. Regardless of the environment you are doing business in, this concept should always be first in your strategies as it is the customer who drives your business success.
An effective advertising message is based on superior marketing strategy. As business leaders and government officials have made decisions about the physical health and economic welfare of our city, province and country, many organizations are running advertising messages about their position during the pandemic. In my review of hundreds of ads, there is a central theme of "we are here for you" with the same slow voiceover and plodding tempo of sombre piano music and images. While this is a nice gesture at the beginning of the lockdown, it really provides limited value for customers or potential customers when we are approaching week eight and beyond. Therefore, the business strategy question becomes, "what is the right kind of advertising message that should be delivered now?"
Companies with a winning game plan know that judgment is critical when creating their messages. The context of the current environment, your understanding of your customer’s situation, and most importantly the relevance of what you have to offer are the primary considerations as you craft your message. Injecting some personality can also help brighten the world for those who see the ads.
In a conversation with Peter George, CEO of McKim in Winnipeg, he noted he has helped clients through other crises during his advertising career. "A crisis like this is not the time to hide," he says. "Companies that are able to pivot their brand to be relevant during a crisis are almost always the winners when the crisis ends. So, we are urging all our clients to NOT put their brands into quarantine. Use your brand to assure customers you’re there for them, that you’ll be there when they’re ready to reengage."
George’s comments are borne out by many studies that have shown that advertising during a crisis has resulted in greater revenue gains post-crisis compared to companies that did not advertise. McGraw-Hill Research studied 600 business-to-business companies in the U.S. between 1980 and 1985. The key finding was that the companies that continued to advertise during the 1981–82 recession achieved a 256 per cent growth by 1985, over their competitors that eliminated or decreased spending.
Additional work in 2008 by Jay Handelman, assistant professor of marketing at Queen’s School of Business, and the Nielsen Co., both concluded that customers do not go away during a tough economic situation. You need to focus on the long-term and do not cut your ad investments.
Putting this research and perspective into action, I found several recent examples of how companies demonstrate their products and services for their customers, without mentioning COVID–19. Michael’s, the craft store, has TV commercials showing a range of activities and crafts that can be undertaken while people are isolated. You can order online for delivery or curb side pick-up.
Maple Leaf Foods has two 15-second ads that describe the all-natural ingredients of their Top Dog brand wieners. The main point is that Top Dog wieners are 100 per cent filler free. Maple Leaf knows that families search for food options and kids often like hot dogs. No mention of COVID-19, just clever and funny stories delivered in memorable ways to showcase the product advantage.
The turkey farmers of Canada launched a campaign in 2019 that also plays perfectly at this time. The focus is to try turkey more frequently rather than beef, pork and chicken. Clever and memorable, the ads offer another meal option while so many people are cooking at home more regularly. Again, no mention of COVID-19. The ads have a unique and direct message about the value and uses of the product.
Companies with a winning game plan know that advertising is a critical element to their long-term success. Deepening your customer insights will provide the guidance for successful ad messages as part of your marketing strategy. These companies are also not afraid to be a responsible leader by exercising care and compassion when crafting their messages. The right amount of connection to our shared circumstance can lift spirits, too.
Tim’s bits: It is reasonable, and often important, to advertise during a pandemic. When you have something of value for your customers, you should create a message of hope, connection and usefulness. Advertising in the short term should be very tactical for your product or service to encourage immediate usage. I understand that budgets and cash flow are important factors for companies. I also know that if you can keep your customers now, financial recovery will be faster and provide a long-term path to success.
Tim Kist, CMC, a certified management consultant by law, works with organizations to improve their overall performance by being customer-focused.
Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.
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