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Should Your Organization Stop (or Cut Back on) Marketing During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Jaimie SomlaiJaimie Somlai/Marketing Director
March 23, 20204 min read

The very short answer to this very big question is a resounding “no!”

While the first thing many companies do in trying economic times is to immediately cut back on non-essential spending (as they should), marketing often - and quite unfortunately - gets lumped into that category.

All we need to do is to look back in history to understand why cutting marketing and advertising dollars during economic downturns is a mistake – even though it might feel like the right thing to do. Here are a few examples:

  • Results of a 2009 McKinsey study found that high-tech companies that made common and obvious moves (such as cutting costs) as well as counterintuitive ones, like increasing sales and marketing expenditures, quickly improved their positions when economic recovery began. In fact, the best performing companies increased their marketing and advertising spend relative to their competitors, but also compared to their own spending when times were better.
  • A recent Forbes article cited examples of brands that invested in advertising during adverse economic times, only to gain significant market advantage when the economy recovered. Here’s just one example Forbes cited:
    • In the 1920s, Post was the category leader in the ready-to-eat cereal category. During the Great Depression, Post cut back significantly its advertising budget and rival Kellogg’s doubled its advertising spend, investing heavily in radio and introducing a new cereal called Rice Krispies, featuring “Snap,” “Crackle” and “Pop.” Kellogg’s profits grew by 30% and the company became the category leader, a position it has maintained for decades.
  • And looking at a B2B example, a study of 600 B2B companies during the 1981-82 recession by McGraw-Hill Research found that B2Bs that either maintained or increased their advertising spend averaged higher sales growth during the recession and in the three years that followed. By 1985, aggressive advertisers’ sales had increased 256 percent compared to the companies that had cut ad spending.

So, while history tells us you shouldn’t stop marketing during an economic crisis, you should absolutely be strategic about how you continue to market, including channels and messaging. After all, none of us have experienced a pandemic that is causing the level of disruption to daily life that COVID-19 is. Striking the right tone and showing that your company understands and is adapting to this new reality is extremely important.

How Should You Adapt?

A recent Think with Google article outlined some excellent questions to consider as you decide whether to launch a new marketing campaign or continue with one during this trying time:

  1. Is this campaign right in a local market given the current situation?
  2. Though we previously greenlit this campaign, is it still right for the context and moment?
  3. Are all of the creative elements – tone, copy, visuals, keywords, placements – appropriate and relevant to this new reality?
  4. What are the most relevant brands, products, or campaigns our media can support right now, and do we need to shift budgets to ensure business continuity?
  5. What ways can our brand – and even our own media channels – be helpful to people and businesses in this moment of need?

Here at Northwoods, we’ve asked ourselves these very questions. We’ve made some pivots already, like moving our in-person workshops to webinars to allow everyone to participate from home. And we’ve reviewed our current advertising and marketing messaging and tweaked it as needed to ensure it’s appropriate for the current situation.

If you’re a local business like a restaurant or retailer that has had to switch to carry-out, curbside pick-up, and/or delivery only, you can help customers find you more easily and promote your business being open by ramping up your PPC ad spending (or start!) and using tools like Google My Business posts to inform new and current customers of reduced hours and delivery methods. You could also publish blog posts about what a “no-contact” delivery is, for example, and tips to reduce exposure during curb-side pick-up.

Next Steps

There are lots of ways you can alter your digital marketing plans strategically to benefit your business. We’ll share more here on our blog over the coming weeks.

But let’s not stop at blog posts! Let’s keep the conversation going virtually. To get helpful ideas for marketing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to give digital marketers the opportunity to share what we’re each doing to adapt to the current situation, join us on Tues., March 31, 12-1 p.m. CST, for a free webinar, Digital Marketing During COVID-19: Ideas to Keep Your Business Moving Forward. Register here.

Let’s help each other out during these most trying of times! Stay healthy and safe.

Jaimie SomlaiJaimie Somlai/Marketing Director

Jaimie has a passion for integrated marketing, helping both Northwoods and its clients create a consistent approach to brand and messaging across both traditional and digital mediums. Specialties include: strategic marketing, integrated marketing, digital strategy, digital marketing, analytics, branding, marketing communications, and writing/editing.

Connect with Jaimie on LinkedIn | Read Jaimie Somlai's Blogs

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