How To Fail At Marketing During A Pandemic

I had to come out of hiatus for this brief post because during the time we’ve all been in lockdown, I’ve had a lot more screen time and due to this, MAN OH MAN have I seen a lot of nonsense coming from marketers.

Here’s a quick and dirty run down of some of the worst for you all so if you find yourself doing any of the following, it’s time to rethink your strategy:

Ridiculous And Tone Deaf Coupon Codes

This is the easiest one so I’ll go with this first. This was more common in the early days of the pandemic and even though it’s currently not as big of a problem as it once was, I’m still seeing a lot of nonsense out there.

First of all, I personally don’t like the whole coupon code idea in general. I mean, I’m of the school of thought that if you’re going to offer a sale to the general public and not a very specific subset of people, OFFER A SALE. Go into your system and lower the price of your item temporarily. Unless you have some weird, caveman-style eCommerce platform that you probably should migrate away from anyway, this shouldn’t be hard to do. Don’t make people have to memorize or type in a bunch of nonsense because really, they won’t do it.

Back to my point. I’ve seen some absolutely ridiculous coupon codes out there. ‘19% off with code COVID19!’ and ‘Quarantine15’ and other completely out of touch idiocy. Think I’m joking? This image literally just popped up on my Facebook timeline literally ten minutes ago:

Why is it bad to do this? Why is it wrong?


Would you offer a coupon code like ‘CANCERDEAL’ or ‘AIDSDISCOUNT’? Of course not. Why? Because these are serious illnesses that people are dying from. It’s not funny, it’s not cool and it’s not ‘edgy’ – for the love of everything, STOP trying to be ‘edgy’.

Nine times out of ten you just look like the ‘How do you do, fellow kids?’ meme. Very few brands can pull that off and NO brand can pull off an insensitive COVID19 related coupon code. You’re just making your brand look ridiculous. Sort of like the above ad that basically says, “Can’t breathe? HOW ABOUT SOME BRATWURST???”

I mean…BRUH.

Thinking People Still Have Money To Just Throw Away

Does your business normally get the bulk of your sales from big ticket items?

Do your customers usually have to get approval from their companies or have to save up in order to buy your products or services?

You don’t offer any low or no cost alternatives you can push right now?

Still trying to push something that costs thousands of dollars that people kind of really dont need to live because that’s all you’ve got?

Oh man, are YOU in trouble.

I’m not trying to be negative but really, your entire business model might not be the best idea unless you’re already a household name or a high-end luxury goods provider that the 1% are going to buy regardless because they just got it like that. For everyone else, again, oh man are YOU in trouble.

People are slashing budgets everywhere from their household to their companies and if you’re not considered an essential product or service, guess what – you’re probably not going to get bought no matter what copy you write, trick you try or ad you run.

Put it this way, Bentley can bombard me with ads for a new car all day long but at the end of the day, I can’t afford a Bentley and my boss isn’t going to buy me one.

Think about it from a customer’s position, sure they may like your service and want your service and, in better times, maybe even their boss would pay for their employees to take your service – but not now. Imagine if one of your employees came up to you and asked to take a training course. It directly relates to their job, the company providing it is 100% legit and has a great reputation and everyone who has taken it before says how great it is. It’s still not going to convince your CFO who said ‘NOBODY IS SPENDING ANYTHING. PERIOD.’ to ease up off the purse strings to drop two or three thousand dollars for this course – not to mention if you’re a business that is only doing in-person trainings during this. Even though some areas are easing mandated restrictions, most people arent exactly in a hurry to cram themselves into a classroom or an event hall.

What do you do instead? Adapt your product to fit the demand.

I can’t tell you exactly how to do it because I don’t know your specific product but I will say it had better be a low cost version (that doesn’t feel like a scam to make people HAVE to buy more because then you’re basically ‘pandemic profiteering’ which isnt a good look), online or on-demand but above all useful…

Not Being Helpful – AT ALL

Riding in on the back of that last one is the next one: being helpful RIGHT NOW.

Sure, maybe I was in the market for a Hawaiian getaway six month ago and would have loved to have seen your ads but right now and for the immediate future, I’m not going any damn where. They can open all the states and bars and whatnots but the reality is the majority of people are thinking the same as me at the time of this writing and that’s probably not going to change in the short term, so I really don’t care about your in-person event ads, your vacation ads, your bar or restaurant ads or any other type of ad where I have to leave my house and basically put my health and my family’s health in jeopardy so you can make a few bucks.

In the same vein, most people aren’t trying to buy anything that isn’t crucial right now. Have you seen how many people lost their jobs? How many unemployment claims have been filed? Do you really think now is the time to start pushing ads for bags that cost $600 or even an industry event that costs $1200 per ticket? I sure as hell don’t.

Also, none of this stuff is actually doing the thing that your products are supposed to be doing in the first place: solving people’s problems. How does a six hundred dollar bag help me in the middle of a pandemic? Where am I going right now to show off a $200 pair of shoes? Sure, I want the latest Corvette but it would be a bit of overkill to get it just to go to the grocery store and back, don’t you think?

The problems people are having, or at least are mostly focused on, today are so not the problems they had four months ago.

It could have been that the biggest issue someone had back then was making a better widget and now it’s just staying in business at all. If that’s the case, your $300 left widget cogwheel optimization book, while still would be helpful, is not exactly top of people’s minds. It’s not going to keep the lights on in the factory, it’s not going to help cover downtime expenses and its not going to help them find one new customer. Basically, you went from an essential to a nice to have. Deal with it.

Find out what your customer needs today – not last month, not three months ago – and do THAT. If you don’t currently do that, find a way to do it because that problem is probably going to their main concern for at least a few months or maybe years to come.

Marketing As Usual

Another problem I’m seeing is people literally pretending that the world hasn’t actually changed.

People are just happily running their ads for their stuff and expect the money to just keep on rushing in like it always has been. Same old message, same old campaigns, same old products, same old everything.

Nope. Sorry. That’s not going to work now.

You know how people keep on saying ‘the new normal’ and how everything has changed? Well, it’s true. Your standard company line isn’t gonna cut it now. The same ads you’ve been running for months or, in some cases, years, just arent’ good enough.

Get in there and update your messaging. You should be doing this on a regular basis anyway but especially now. Check for any tone deaf copy or images, stop any ad campaigns that are currently irrelevant and quit wasting money on advertising stuff no one is buying.

That being said, there’s a lot of people who are either seriously cutting back or stopping all of their paid advertising altogether. I call this a prime opportunity for you. Why? Because how easy is it to win auctions that a lot less people are bidding on?

Sure, you don’t want to win these ad spaces with the same old ‘sell, sell, sell!’ garbage but you’ll want your updated branding messages there instead. Trust me, keep your name out there in a positive light and it’s like putting money in the bank.

This leads me to my next point…

Not Marketing At All

Look, I get it. With all that’s going on and the reluctance of people to spend money on non-essentials, it can feel like theres just no point in trying to market anything at all right now. I understand it, I get it – but it’s wrong.

Now is a GREAT time to market for a few reasons, if you do it right.

As we talked about before, people are not trying to spend money on stuff they don’t need and even on stuff they DO need if it’s too expensive. This is reality. Another reality is that fact that people are still watching what brands are doing and whatever you do, good, bad or indifferent, is going to be remembered when people are ready to start spending again.

Articles have been written saying that people are going to be more likely to buy from brands that have a had a proper response to this crisis. They want to see how you’re helping – not how you’re capitalizing. They don’t care about all of your ‘HEY GUESS WHAT, WE’RE IN UNCERTAIN TIMES, Y’ALL!’ emails or social posts or blogs. They want to know what you’re doing about it.

Now isn’t the time for the hard sell. Now is the time to work on brand awareness and brand sentiment. In fact, there hasn’t been a better time to work on that. If you can do anything to help, whether that’s giving away something for free, having your staff volunteer in the community or even honoring products or services at a later date that had to be canceled – with NO STRINGS ATTACHED – that’s what you do.

The world is literally watching and they want to see what you do. Don’t disappoint.

The Bottom Line

Realistically, marketing right now isn’t easy but at the same time, it is.

Marketing has changed but, at it’s core, it really hasn’t.

It is now what it always has been:

  • Delivering the right message to the right people at the right time.
  • Knowing and solving people’s problems.
  • Keeping everything you do customer-centric.

It’s really not that hard, it’s when you start trying to get clever and trying to figure out a way to turn everything, even a current global crisis, into a way to make a quick buck is when you get into trouble.

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