Advice for B2B Marketers on How to Communicate During a Pandemic

BrainstormBefore March of this year, there were very few, if any, webinars, white papers or E-books with advice for B2B marketers on how to communicate during a pandemic.

However, when the nation seemed to halt mid-March, content soon became rapidly abundant. During an already uncertain time, it’s hard to trust which advice is credible and what’s better left ignored.

Now a month into this “new normal,” strategies have been tested, consumers and marketers have been surveyed and we have a much clearer understanding of how to market and communicate during this difficult time.

We’ve rounded up thoughts and full article links from a range of experts and hope you find value in them.

1. Press Pause and Reevaluate

If you haven’t yet, now is the time to press pause and reevaluate your upcoming content. It’s common practice to prepare and slate communication and marketing messages weeks, sometimes even months, in advance. Now, however, is the time to look at the content you created weeks ago and determine whether it would be inappropriate, tone-deaf or irrelevant to share in the near future.

In her article, How to Communicate With Customers During Times of Crisis, Heidi Robbins of Salesforce advises that before publishing your content, you need to “review your entire messaging stream, including social media, promotional and transactional emails, push notifications, and SMS, to identify communications that need to pause or shift as a result of the situation.”

For example, if a social media post sharing the benefits of attending an in-person conference falls through the cracks, you run the risk of appearing unprofessional or insensitive.

Northwestern University marketing professor, Tim Calkins agrees in his recent article, Four Steps Marketers Can Take to Navigate the Pandemic.

“If you’re a marketing leader, one of the first things you want to do is pause everything that you can.”

2. Shift Brand Messaging from Hard Sales to How You Can Help

As a nation still in the throes of this pandemic, now is not the time to focus on hard sales and business as usual. Doing so could make your brand appear callous and tone-deaf.

“After seeing news stories about consumer reaction to routine marketing at the onset of shelter in place orders and business closures, the tone-deafness in some of the messages prompted us to take a temperature of how marketers themselves were feeling and reacting,” says Bob Reed, partner and co-founder of Element-R. “We were interested to learn exactly where they are focusing in response.”

To better understand the thought process of marketers, Element-R recently surveyed 127 digital marketing, public relations and marketing communications professionals about their marketing efforts during the coronavirus pandemic. 74% said they have changed course or temporarily ceased activities, while 26% stated they have not altered their approach.

“While some marketers have decided to keep moving with their existing marketing plans, most others’ reading of customer and prospect receptivity to messages comes down to simply this: now is not the time to sell, it’s the time to show empathy and support through the delivery of relevant, informative and encouraging communication,” says Reed.

A recent survey shared by MediaPost titled, ANA: Most Brands Have Adjusted Their Creative Since COVID-19 Named A Pandemic, echoed our own findings. Of the 196 professionals the ANA surveyed, 92% have adjusted their messaging since mid-March, with brands now focusing on:

  • Messaging that reflects empathy
  • Removing price/item messaging, instead opting for “We’re here for you”  communications
  • Promoting social distancing and showing compassion over hard sales messages

In the blog post, A global B2B marketer’s take on coping with the COVID-19 crisis,
Tony Thompson, CMO of Australian tech company, Kemp, simply summed it up. “Remember, this is a very human situation where lives are literally at stake, so the message must come from a stance of compassion and helpfulness, not self-serving interests to meet a sales pipeline number.”

3. Utilize Virtual Resources

B2B marketers often depend on in-person interactions at conferences and tradeshows to build business and gain brand awareness. However, as a majority of U.S. states are under shelter in place orders, this is no longer a viable option.

There is no beating around the bush that this will hurt B2B marketing strategies, but there are still workarounds available as prominent keynote speaker and marketing consultant Michael Brenner shares in a LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Blog titled, What’s Trending: Marketing in Troubled Times.

“The hard costs and opportunity costs won’t likely be recouped, but there is still a chance to engage virtually and ensure that your reputation isn’t upended by not being communicative or transparent.”

While it’s not the ideal scenario, making the switch to a Zoom conference can help keep attendees informed and allow you to provide helpful information to a community looking for answers.

“Most importantly, stay empathetic to your attendees and sponsors and work together for the best outcome,” adds Brenner.

B2B marketers have also been relying on webinars, as digital marketing consultant Shane Barker states.

“In my 12+ years of experience in B2B marketing and sales, no other type of content has been able to move the needle in the sales process as much a webinar can.”

If you’re new to hosting webinars or are still trying to get comfortable doing so, we encourage you to check out Barker’s guide, How to Create a Webinar from Scratch in 10 Simple Steps.

4. Plan for the Recovery
Despite what it may feel like now, this time of quarantine isn’t going to last forever and as B2B marketers, we need to prepare for the future.

While there’s no roadmap to recovery, Michael Betz, partner at management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, has offered his perspective in a LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Blog titled, How Marketers Can Start to Prepare for the Path Forward.

“As hard as it is to think about now, the crisis will bottom out and people will start to spend again. While a lot is uncertain, there is a good chance the recovery, once it arrives, could happen fast – which means you need to be planning for it now. Build out the campaigns and offers now that you will need to run when the crisis passes. Or use it to build a more agile organization.

I’m hearing stories from CMOs who are looking to establish the dynamic fast-moving processes they stood up as part of the crisis response to build faster-moving organizations going forward.”

There’s no denying this is a time of uncertainty, but each day, professionals within every industry, including B2B marketing, are becoming more knowledgeable. What presented a challenge yesterday is surmountable. Though this a time of isolation, we can continue to learn from one another.

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How have you altered your marketing during the Coronavirus pandemic? Learn how digital, public relations and marketing communications professionals pivoted their communications. Download Marketing During Coronavirus survey results. It’s a free PDF with no email required. Go to https://element-r.com/coronavirussurvey/.

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Susan Duensing