Marketing during crises

Peter Drucker, who is regarded as the father of modern management, said “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Marketing is the heart of any business. While a company that does not take innovation seriously may still be able to survive, no business can thrive without being serious about marketing. However, many organizations do not engage in marketing as much as they should; they focus more on selling rather than marketing. As a result, instead of soaring, they struggle.

Though marketing and selling are close, they are not the same. Marketing is intimating members of the public with the goods or services of an organization; it is putting in the public domain the uniqueness of a product or service; it is drilling into the public’s consciousness the qualities of a brand. Selling, on the other hand, is getting the public to commit to the product or service by parting with money to purchase it. While marketing opens the gate, sales closes the deal. Marketing is sowing while selling is reaping, the latter cannot be guaranteed without the former. It is for this reason that great companies do not joke with marketing.

The Coca Cola Company has been around for over 120 years and has been rated, repeatedly, as one of the best organizations in the world while its stock is one of the most valuable globally. The company sells over 350 products in over 200 countries worldwide. It currently serves about two billion drinks every day. Yet Coca Cola spends a fortune on marketing its products. Why does a company that is so popular and so prosperous pump so much money into marketing? Coca Cola knows that the secret of its success in sales is its presence in the consciousness of the public. So, it never slows down on its marketing.

However, marketing during a crisis is a different ball game. This is because priorities are different during crises as people are forced to narrow their choices to only the essential things. Therefore, the marketing that will connect with the people during a crisis is one that is borne out of empathy; one that is premised on identifying with the challenges of the time, not necessarily focused on making the customer part with his money. However, if properly done and the message perfectly couched, marketing during a crisis can positively alter the fortunes of an organization. This is because marketing is an invitation to a meeting of the minds. Whenever two minds meet and agree, patronage is the consequence.


Marketing in times of general difficulty

If marketing opens the gate and sales closes the deal, then failure to market during a crisis will affect sales and revenue generation as well as performance after the crisis. According to a report by Kantar US Insights, an American research company, on brand performance during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, companies that invested in marketing performed nine times better than those that did not. Therefore, even in a crisis, marketing must continue. However, while marketing is presented as a prelude to patronage in normal times, a different strategy must be deployed during a crisis to avoid passing a message of insensitivity to the market and subsequently courting its wrath. To successfully market during a crisis, the following must be observed:


Determine what must be stopped or changed

Marketing campaigns usually sing the praise of a product or service with a view to wowing and wooing the public for patronage but that cannot be done during a crisis because traveling that route would portray the company as being insensate to the plight of the people. Therefore, the first step to marketing correctly during a crisis is to stop all campaigns that are not in tandem with the reality on ground. You must avoid any marketing strategy that shows your organization as being out of step with current realities and may turn out to be a turnoff.

Time Out is a Barcelona, Spain-based magazine that offers guidance on where to get best foods and drinks as well as cultural events in the city. But to show that it is in tune with the realities of the times after the outbreak of COVID-19, the magazine temporarily changed its name to Time In, emphasizing the need for people to stay indoors and not seek any fun outside their homes. Also, rather than promoting outdoor cultural events, the magazine offers its readers new content such as apps to play online with friends.

With this, Time Out has been able to carve a reputation for itself as an organization that loves its customers so much that it is willing to give up everything, including its identity, to ensure their safety. Such gestures are usually highly rewarded by the market.


Identify with the market

The primary concern of any organization that wants to have a business after a crisis is identifying with the market during the crisis. The business must find out what the pains of the market are and demonstrate empathy and a desire to see a speedy resolution of the crisis.


Lifebuoy soap example

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, Lifebuoy Soap, produced by Unilever, has changed its marketing campaign. What Lifebuoy has done is to ask its brand ambassador, Omawumi Megbele, to feature in a campaign that emphasizes hand washing. In the campaign, Omawumi says, “You have heard me talk about using Lifebuoy to wash your hands in time past. But now, as we face this COVID-19 pandemic, please use any soap that you can find to wash your hands.” The campaign ends by stating that the message is sponsored by Lifebuoy.

The campaign set out to achieve two things; encouraging people to wash their hands to beat being infected by COVID-19 as well as pushing Lifebuoy to the consciousness of the market. But it will also achieve another thing, which is projecting the brand as being one that is socially responsible and cares more about the wellbeing of the public than selling its own product. The market doesn’t usually forget organizations that care about its wellbeing.


Use your brand to drive home the crisis’ theme

One of the core messages being spewed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and governments across the world in the bid to flatten the curve of COVID-19 is social distancing. They believe that since human beings act as vectors for the virus, the easiest way to save the world from its crippling effects is to encourage everyone to observe social distancing. So, any form of publicity given to social distancing is appreciated by governments and health agencies.

The Coca Cola Company, demonstrating its ingenuity, used its logo to preach the social distancing gospel without necessarily presenting it as a marketing campaign. What the company did is to have the iconic Coca Cola letters in white scattered on a red background with the message: Staying apart is the best way to stay united.

With this, Coca Cola pushed itself into the consciousness of the market, while also driving home the importance of social distancing.


Create value to relieve the hardship

Crises usually foist so many difficulties on people that nice gestures are praised to high heavens. This is because during a crisis, the attention of most people and organizations is on themselves and how they are going to survive the crisis. So, anything that can ease the burden is appreciated.

As COVID-19 continues its stride in Nigeria, with many health care providers exposed to infection in the discharge of their duties as a result of paucity of personal protective equipment, the African Newspapers of Nig Plc, publishers of the Tribune titles, in collaboration with Afenifere, the Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, came up with the COVID-19 Intervention Fund, which is meant to raise funds for medical personnel directly involved in the treatment of COVID-19 cases. According to ANN Plc, it is motivated to do this because of the importance it attaches to saving the lives of those who risk their lives for others.

Similarly, Leadway Assurance Company has embarked on a campaign to give back to its customers part of the premiums paid for the year. The company says the gesture is part of its way to say thank you to its customers for their patronage over the years as well as to appreciate them for staying at home in compliance with the Federal Government’s order for keeping safe.

The organizations, through their gestures, have shown that their relationship with their publics is hinged on the public’s wellbeing and comfort. It also shows that they are not out to fleece their customers but rather to help them get better. Such gestures are usually unforgettable and bind customers to such organizations.


Offer service to reduce the burden of the crisis

During a lockdown, most people are perplexed because some of the things that they need are not within their reach and they have no means of getting them. Those on special diets or medications are usually affected by this to the extent that even if they have the money to get what they need, they are not better than those who lack the money because they have no access to such items. However, if a company can think out of the box and go beyond its normal line of duty to get the needed items across to its customers, they will practically be eating out of its hands after the crisis.

Spar Nigeria operates as a hypermarket. But to meet the needs of its customers who are locked down as a result of COVID-19 and are unable to get the stuff they need, the company embarked on a campaign which presents it as being out to ease the burdens of its customers. The company now offers home delivery services to its customers while emphasizing the need to observe social distancing. With this, Spar Nigeria has wormed itself into the hearts of many customers while also presenting itself as a socially responsible company that wants to make life stress-free for its customers.


Last line

“There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.”


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