The New Abnormal: 5 things we’ve been asked by clients

My Instagram feed is starting to fill up with posts from people reminiscing about what life used to be like before the coronavirus kicked in. It gives an indication of how quickly things have moved that most of these posts are from February, rather than a dewy-eyed recollection of yesteryear. That hasn’t stopped any of us reminiscing about the time we used to be able to, ooh, go to Asda and stand beside someone else looking at the Rice Krispies.

What the current situation – the new abnormal, you might call it – means is that we’re all trying to make sense of how business and marketing should work. While some businesses unfortunately won’t survive, those which do are probably already thinking about how to approach their audiences now and in the short-term future. As for the long-term – you might have to ask Chris Whitty about that.

In the meantime, here are five things we’ve been asked quite regularly over the last few weeks.

Can we still market as normal?

In the 2008/09 crash, a selection of helpful phrases began to emerge which allowed people to talk about life sort-of as normal, without appearing horribly cloth-eared to the wider context. “The current economic climate” was in active service for some time, I remember.

Can you market and communicate now? Yes, and you absolutely should. Can you do it the same way you did before? Probably not. Every decision, in day-to-day life as well as business, is made through a coronavirus filter (“if I open this bottle of wine, will I have enough left to last me until Saturday’s big shop?”), and so it must be with marketing and comms. Most people will have this sussed by now, but even if you don’t have the words ‘during the current crisis’, it’s a bit of no brainer to set what you’re doing in the context of what’s going on around you.

BIG senior creative strategist Paul Hadfield reckons three types of content have landed best over the last month or so – content which provides support and reassurance (e.g. how the brand is helping customers cope and stay safe); ‘bored’ content which entertains and provides some light relief (emoji quiz, anyone?); and future facing content, which tries to give some kind of insight into what life could be like when we get on the road back to normality.

Our market has basically disappeared – what can we do?

For the business with the financial resilience to endure this, a quieter period can be an opportunity to regroup and look at those initiatives which didn’t quite make it to the top the agenda. We’ve seen a number of organisations who are spending this time taking a fresh look at brand positioning, market analysis, and campaigns to remind their audiences they’re still operating and open for business.

Any expert (the tarnishing of that phrase by Michael Gove notwithstanding) opinion you read suggests that business as usual is no longer a valid path, and it won’t do any of us any good to hope that things will ever be the same again. The depth and ferocity of the economic damage is likely to change things forever, so it’s important to remember that very few sectors will simply snap back into life as normal when restrictions ease. Plotting a course based on the facts in front of you, and being prepared to flex accordingly as things change, seems like the best approach right now.

How can we take advantage of the increased move to digital?

As the famed management guru Peter Drucker said, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Nowhere is that truer than in the context of the opportunities presented by the increased time audiences are spending online. Google is full of examples – how to manage kids’ time online while we’re all at home more; how older people can use online services to stay connected; how to safely manage your online deliveries. If we weren’t an online nation before, we sure as hell are now.

Chief among your priorities here is to make sure your website is working for you. It’s surprising how many businesses still don’t have a clear picture of activity on their websites – how people get there, what they do when they arrive etc.

If your website needs a refresh, now might be the time to do it. We’ve had a number of enquiries from clients working on outdated content management systems (CMS), and with a number of recent updates from some of the main platforms, updating online assets to shape up for the recovery – whenever it arrives – is a useful exercise. You should be looking closely at the strategy and performance of any paid online activity too. The world has changed, so don’t assume that PPC campaign you worked so hard to get right is still delivering the numbers you need.

We think there’s worse to come for us, so how can we plan?

This is one thing you probably have a bit more control over, weirdly enough. From rock-bottom oil prices to demolished consumer confidence, lots of businesses feel the worst is yet to come.

Whenever we take on a potential crisis project for a client, we look at a range of different possible scenarios – from the mildly-irritating to the existential threats.

Once you’ve identified your risks, you can plan accordingly. So is your sector likely to have a decent chance at a quick recovery or are there a number of obstacles in the way which might mean it takes a bit longer? In which case, what are the implications for your business and how does that affect your communications strategy? Develop the messages you’ll want to get across, and practice.

Face-to-face media training sessions might be on hold for now, but video-based training can do just as good job to make sure you’re prepared for whatever the next few months might hold.

What can we do to start thinking about how we can get our marketing right in the post-lockdown world?

If you have an idea of what the post-lockdown world might look like, let me know. So much is still uncertain. However, a combination of all of the above will let you start making some constructive plans for how you can speak to your audience now and in the medium-term. Beyond that is probably anyone’s guess. Lots of people think the world will have changed forever – it’s certainly changed for now, so doing the same thing you’ve always done clearly isn’t an option.

Doing nothing, however, probably feels like an even worse idea.

Bryan Garvie

Director