What Should Digital Marketing’s Purpose Be During Crisis?

Steven Werley

COVID-19 attacks humankind in many forms. In the past few months, we have lost loved ones, lost jobs, and had our businesses shut down. The culprit is a silent killer, and even more dangerously, it empowered us to attack each other on policies and views instead of unifying against a common enemy.

None of this is meant to be political, but rather observations. What marketers need to understand is how to be objective observationalists and how humans react and communicate to just about anything. This is because psychology is so driven into all forms of marketing.

If you’re a business owner, you would probably agree you’re a salesman, and it’s been a large part of your life. Everyone is a salesman during times of their day even if they don’t think about it that way – convincing your significant other what to eat for dinner with you, asking your parents to let you go on a vacation with a friend, or (ethically) manipulating our children to use their manners.

I’d argue that all business owners also are marketers. And just like being a salesman, that doesn’t mean you’re good or bad at it; it just means you do it in some form or another. I challenge you to be vulnerable while reading and challenge your own decisions in a private way. (If you want to do it publicly, that’s okay too, but no pressure.)

The Quick Shift to Digital

Lots of businesses market via digital means every day, but even more focus on non-digital marketing, and that has posed to be a significant problem during coronavirus.

Many businesses that weren’t focusing on digital all of a sudden understood the importance and quickly tried to pivot. Social media platforms have seen growth – LinkedIn alone at a 26% increase in user sessions.

Personally, and colleagues I’ve talked to have noticed a significant increase in DMs (direct messages) of people trying to sell your business on their services. But how effective is this?

Think of dm’s the faster and lower converting version of cold calling in the digital world.

While lots of business owners don’t have all the time in the world to generate sales, all of a sudden, things are coming into the perspective of setting up proper inbound marketing methods. In other words, that means predictably creating customers from scratch.

Crisis Marketing

Marketing efforts during a crisis we’ve found should be doing 2 things:

  1. Generating Awareness
  2. Increasing Retention

This allows for a multi-facet approach for growth down the line, and not losing current revenue. And to be clear, if your business is COVID-19 proof (gun stores and apocalypse preppers anyone?), your approach should be much more aggressive and include the entire customer acquisition piece as well. This is explicitly for the industries that have been negatively affected and are looking for ways to win.

Generating Awareness

Awareness is one of those pesky things businesses hate spending money on in the digital world, but love doing it in the physical one – for whatever sense that makes beats me.

For example, many businesses find it enticing to purchase a billboard, especially if it’s one they see themselves because they think, “Hey, there’s my logo, and I see it every day, so it MUST be working.”

However, if you were to create a Facebook ad that is set to show to your target market, which might be 35-55-year-old married individuals with children, but you don’t see it, you think, “How the hell could that be working?”

The piece is, digital allows you to choose exactly where and how you allocate your marketing dollars, where the physical world doesn’t. Not only can we automate and follow up with our prospect via digital means, but awareness generating marketing is also incredibly more cost-effective using the Internet. (Yes, John, even if you don’t see your own advertisements.) The majority of online advertising platforms will provide you the breakdown of how many people saw your post, interacted with it, and their demographics. Think how powerful that is.

Furthermore, you can take them directly to assets you own, such as your website, collect their information such as an email and phone number, and continue to market to them or qualify them for a salesperson to reach out.

Increasing Retention

Retention marketing is a real thing. And since it’s not talked about a lot, it’s also a real problem for a lot of businesses. Lots of companies are always on the hunt for the next client. And while getting new clients is great, it’s even better when you have an old client spending more money with you.

You have now increased the amount each customer spends with you, meaning you don’t need as many customers to hit your current revenue totals. You can focus on your customer service to increase revenues.

Can retention marketing be automated? Of course, it can, at least some of it can without question. A CRM (Customer Relationship Management) will help you achieve this. You can set up emails to automate every so often reaching out to a customer and asking how their product/service/installation has been going, and ask if they need any assistance.

This takes care of 2 things:

  1. Allows you to stay fresh in their mind
  2. Allow you to be the hero to any unforeseen problems that have arisen, and you are there to make it right

In conjunction, this not only helps you get more money from each customer, but it encourages those customers to talk highly of you and increase your chances of getting a referral.

Are word of mouth referrals enough?

It depends on your definition of enough. If that means putting food on the table, it sure could be enough.

If it means enough having a predictable flow of customers that allows you to exit the business and sell it for a nice sum of money to start a new venture or enjoy retirement, it won’t be.

Word of mouth referrals are great, but if there’s no way to create them predictably, there’s a real issue.

One of the most significant factors I see from businesses suffering from only word of mouth referrals is when you’re in an industry that caters to homeowners. Still the average age of your customers only rises. This means that you are failing to acquire customers outside of the circle of customers you already have (generally speaking, there are certainly exceptions.)

There are some predictable ways to generate word of mouth referrals, however (one I mentioned). I don’t want to get too off-topic, but here’s a quick list for you:

  1. Retention Marketing
  2. Reputation Management
  3. Customer Satisfaction Surveys
  4. Referral/Affiliate Program

Crisis Language

Marketing needs to be relevant and bold to be noticed. However, that doesn’t mean lacking empathy.

During these times, it’s important to connect emotionally with your target market and reinforce them with confidence. That could be the confidence of love, views, decisions, or a multitude of other things.

This could be an entire post by itself, but we set you up for success by telling you the two things you should be focusing on. If you focus on awareness and retention as opposed to selling, there is a lower likelihood of making a communication mistake.

Quick tip: Have a group of people (board of directors, colleagues, or people in your target market) review your marketing materials and let you know if something comes off wrong.

You can even supply a list of options and allow them to tell you what they liked the best. Keep in mind, if you offer too many options, your results could be tainted.


Humans have struggled with the latest crisis, COVID-19, in many ways. However, that doesn’t mean we need to kiss our businesses goodbye despite the problems that have arisen with growth.

Setting your business up for success, in the long run, will help recession-proof your business, allow you to exit the company with a hefty payday, and create more jobs during a crisis by hiring employees.

We must do what we can to succeed and be role models for future generations when they have their crisis(es) to manage.

Digital marketing is the most effective way to weather the storm and set yourself up for long-term growth. You can also better retain your current customers to succeed. And if you think I’m wrong, think of how much less money Amazon would make every day if we only counted the revenue they did from new customers. The vast majority of their business is repeat business, and they’re not an exception to the rule. They’re the standard.

Revise your budgets, analyze everything with your financial team, and start planning cost-effective ways to market your business.

If you’re looking for ideas, you can feel free to setup a quick call with the team here, and we can point you in the right direction.

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