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How to be useful during COVID-19? Listen carefully and quickly.

In just a few weeks (which at the moment feels like a few years) the world has completely changed. Shaking hands is now frowned upon, millions are out of work and our great outdoor lifestyle has come to a startling halt. Crisis has definitely hit.

As marketers, we are not unfamiliar with a crisis. We’re creative, know how to communicate and are solutions-orientated. But COVID-19 seems to have knocked us for six. This is uncharted territory for the whole country. The impact on our economy, on business and most importantly on people’s health is unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetime. We’re looking at the ‘toughest year in our history’ according to ScoMo.

So it’s no wonder that most marketers’ instincts have been to pull budgets until we can plan for these new norms and map out what might happen in the year to come. But the problem is we don’t know what is going to happen. Will we be working from home for the next three months? Will the bars and pubs be closed for six? Travel banned for a year? Your guess is as good as ours.

What we do know is there are real problems that need solving right now in Australia. Whether it be personal, like helping people staying connected, or more tangible like manufacturing equipment, as brands we now have the opportunity and the responsibility to solve fundamental needs, deliver solutions and do our bit.

But how do you know what is ‘our bit’? It’s important to be supportive, not opportunistic. It’s important to be meaningful and it’s definitely not about making money. But most importantly, it’s about understanding your people and what is going to be most useful for them.

What you shouldn’t do is assume what your community wants from you at this time. A few weeks ago when COVID-19 turned from media hype to an IRL crisis, we saw myriad emails from brands sent out to entire databases of customers. Whilst some information is ‘useful’ like announcements of store closures, most of them were not. In actual fact, all that it did was make us realise how many email databases we were on.

We are taught from very early on in our careers to never assume our customers wants and needs. So why would we do it now? Assumption has bias. Assumption will almost always lead you into a somewhat self-serving solution, even if that’s not your intention.

So how do we be useful? Just ask. And before you tell me your marketing budget has been cut in half, it doesn’t need to be expensive. In a situation like this where timing is everything, you can get a lot out of simple techniques. For example, Instagram has some great features that can help you engage with your community. We recently did this with our client Converse and while there was a lot of uncertainty about what was going on, what they really wanted was to be challenged and stimulated creatively whilst at home. From that #CreateAtHome was developed as a way to celebrate and inspire the creative community, promoting undiscovered talent in a time of physical isolation.

Pedestrian TV has done similar outreach on their Instagram to help ensure their content remains relevant to their audience’s needs now and during the crisis.

You could also use your email database for good (not un-useful spam) to segment your consumers and understand different groups. Take our client GoDaddy for example. Their audience is partly made up of small businesses getting online. Their needs will be very different to a solo entrepreneur who has no staff. Or you could segment out those who have a physical store vs those who sell solely online. Or you could simply give them a call. Host a video chat. Or direct message some of the most active in your community. The least you can do is show you are a real human and want to listen and understand how their lives have changed.

Simple steps like these will not only help your community feel heard but also help you build solutions and programs that are truly useful, now and in the future.

In a time-sensitive crisis, it’s very easy for us to jump into a solution that we think our customers will appreciate. Almost as easy as pausing all marketing spend. And while your heart might be in the right place, in times like these and with influence like ours, it’s important that we help where the help is needed. It may be financial support but it may also be something that makes people smile. But you’ll never know unless you ask.

If you would like to talk about the ways your brand can speak directly with your community through quick and simple research techniques please reach out to hello@magnumandco.com.au.

Words by Magnum & Co Insights & Planning Lead, Alycia Raco.

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