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Marketing Without Losing Your Humanity: How to Press On During COVID-19

You’re hearing it everywhere (or at least when you choose to step away from the coronavirus din): Now is not the time to stop marketing. Don’t step on the brakes. Despite the global crisis, your business needs to continue to stay in control of its future as much as possible. And the way to do that is through your marketing efforts.

But marketing right now isn’t as easy as that advice makes it sound. You can likely stick to some of your original, well-laid plans. But a lot of what you had slated on the calendar for the next couple of months may simply be impossible at this point. Or even if it’s possible to move forward with your planned campaigns, they may now be absolutely tone-deaf to your audience’s concerns and realities. Because the world has changed. The market has changed. And your reality and your prospects’ circumstances are going to look different day by day.

You know what hasn’t changed, though? Your expertise. The coronavirus pandemic didn’t suddenly make you a biotech analyst. It didn’t make you a doctor. You’re not on the front lines. It’s that straightforward—and that’s okay. Your contributions to your community, to your family, and to yourself are no less meaningful. But when it comes to your business, you have to remember what was at the heart of it all to begin with: your knowledge.

How to Market During the Coronavirus Crisis

Every firm is going to require its own nuanced marketing plan right now. Your strategy should be based on the services your business provides and the needs of your market. That’s a carryover from positioning 101. 

But as an expert firm, you’re in the uniquely advantageous position of being able to continue with your content marketing strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because you are a knowledge-based firm differentiated by your expertise, not a retail store or hospitality venue, you still have avenues available to continue to guide, educate, and lead your prospects, just as you would under more normal circumstances. So when you hear “don’t stop marketing,” internalize that as “don’t stop leading.” Because that’s your job as an expert in your field.

The doubts still remain though: Will your marketing efforts feel tone-deaf or just fall directly on deaf ears? The two may have slightly different effects on your target audience, but neither of those two results is what you want. You want to continue to market in a way that resonates with your audience and highlights your firm’s strengths. 

Should I Write Content Related to COVID-19?

It’s the question on every marketer’s mind: Should our firm update our content plans to include thought leadership related to the pandemic? Before you can map out your larger content marketing strategy, you need to answer this question once and for all.

COVID-19 Content Decision Flow Chart

If you are in the position to truly help your target audience through these difficult times by offering your perspective on the questions they are grappling with right now, you should definitely do so. Finish reading this and then open that copy doc! 

Even for firms in that fortunate position though, it’s not realistic to imagine connecting all of your content to the pandemic. No one truly knows how long this is going to last. So you need to balance coronavirus content with content that supports your marketing strategy. The one you had in place before this all began. Content that focuses on delivering expertise and helping your prospects do their jobs well. And you should always include evergreen content as part of your editorial plans. Evergreen content covers topics that are perpetually relevant to your readers regardless of the current news cycle or global economy.

And if, after digging deeper, you’ve realized that it doesn’t make sense for you to write coronavirus-related content, you’re still in an advantageous position with your marketing because you have other ideas to share. Like those who are adjusting writing angles toward the crisis, you too should be focusing on evergreen content. Tackle those bigger, pressing business issues that your prospects definitely still care about right now. They may or may not be able to prioritize solving them right now, with or without your help, but they will still strike the right chord.

How Much Should I Alter Our Content’s Messaging?

As you start creating content, you’re likely to wonder, “How soon should I mention COVID-19?” There is going to be content that you write where the pandemic is a common thread tied throughout: in your title, in your introduction, in your subheads, and all the way into your conclusion. That’s not going to the case for other topics. Ask yourself if the topic you’re writing about is uniquely tied to the coronavirus crisis. Or is it actually crisis-specific content? Or economic recession-specific material? 

If the topic at hand is more widely applicable, consider its evergreen nature on your site by angling your message to speak more to the larger issue at hand. And then you can keep its coronavirus connection in mind for promotion. You may find that many of the content ideas you’re leaning toward writing have potential to be longer-lasting publications on your site than you first thought. This will be especially true if you take the time to outline your topic before jumping into it. It’s only natural with this current pandemic top of mind that it will creep into your content development if you let it.

And as always, keep your content human centered. That means it supports your audience’s questions and professional tasks. Remember, people care mainly about themselves. Even the most selfless individual you know still has a worldview shaped specifically by being the person who they are, with the experiences they have. It’s natural then that they want to learn through that customized, personal lens. That’s why you must put yourself in your readers’ shoes before focusing on your firm. Easiest way to do this? Focus on using the second person “you” rather than first-person wording, like “I” and “we.”

Your content during this crisis will be human centered if you prioritize topics that answer their questions and support their tasks rather than what you want them to know about your firm’s expertise and services. 

There is nothing inhumane about continuing to provide business-related, educational content during these times. 

You should still provide a variety of content. You should still give tactical advice. And you can even still place parts of the thought leadership on your website behind gates—content upgrades, white papers, webinars, eBooks; they’re all fair game. Because if you stick to your real and relevant expertise, your valuable knowledge is still worth putting behind a form. 

You can, and should, continue to request that your viewers provide their contact information. Doing so doesn’t mean you’re taking advantage of anyone. It means you’re asking your audience to trade information about who they are for access to your topical knowledge. The hope is that in the end the relationship that stems from that initial interaction is beneficial for both parties.

Last but not least, when considering your content’s messaging during the coronavirus pandemic, go with your gut. If you have a light bulb moment, run with it. That’s your best chance of ensuring your message is timely. Because again, every day sees a part of the landscape changing.

Should I Still Promote Our Thought Leadership?

The effort you’re putting into your content marketing (and the intentional foundation behind it) ensures that continuing to promote and share your content is worthwhile. Yes, you’re writing content that serves your business purposes. But your content should be absolutely grounded in answering your prospects’ questions. So get it out there via email; share it to both your personal and company’s social channels—and ask your colleagues to do the same. The fundamentals of email marketing make it one of the strongest avenues for nurturing your relationship with your target audience by placing your insight in their personally curated space: their inbox.

Right now, that inbox likely looks a lot like yours. Chock-full of emails from companies they’d completely forgotten had their contact information—if they even knew it in the first place. A plethora of emails with “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” in their subject lines. And a fair number of emails at seemingly odd business hours from contacts working different schedules than usual. So that may mean you have more noise to fight against than usual, but your emails are founded in the same strategy as “before”: Hit the nail on the head of your audience’s problem, challenge, or interest in the subject line. Make the value of your content crystal clear right out of the gate. And the biggest caveat to keep in mind: Don’t try to use this crisis to get people’s attention unless you’re actually sharing thought leadership connected to your prospects’ business needs in light of the pandemic.

Long story short? Your subject lines and email copy can be framed so they are more sensitive to the times, but you shouldn’t go dormant with your outbound marketing altogether. Maybe it’s not the time to post an article about how a firm can position itself to be worth a premium price. Or one around hiring that could be seen as insensitive to someone having to do layoffs. So for now, if you have content in your pipeline that isn’t appropriate to send out but is about a topic that will at some point return to business applicability, publish it to your site so that search engines index it. And then move onto the next piece’s promotion. The piece that is grounded in a timely and relevant issue facing your audience, or one that speaks to a persistent challenge that your prospects will come up against for the foreseeable future.

What if I Have Something Else to Say?

The lines between personal and professional are blurred more than ever right now. Firms are transitioning to remote work. Kitchen tables are becoming office desks. There’s no longer school drop-off before heading into the office. Or even breaking away for a business lunch. Your work is at home. And your home is still your work. So it’s only natural that your mind is mixing the two and finding little separation. 

Combine that reality with the uncertainties everyone is facing during this pandemic, and it’s natural for leaders to want to share more personal messages. What you may have previously reserved for an internal email is now an insight you want to share with your broader community. Because you know that they, too, are facing similar challenges and have similar questions. So why not help one another out by being extra communicative during COVID-19?

For example, you may want to share a heartfelt update about how you’re handling this crisis. You’re unsettled. You’re questioning. But you’ve found a silver lining or you’ve discovered a tactic that helps you balance work and home life. And you want to share this with your community! And you should. But your list segmentation and channel selection are critical to get your message to the right audience.

Consider who you’re sending that update or advice to. Would it be best to segment your list to  close company friends, employees, clients, and peers? You have the ability to curate your content. Then consider how else to share your message. You’ve got your social media channels that typically serve as megaphones to amplify what you and your firm have to say. Even if your message doesn’t feel right to share to your company LinkedIn page as it’s typically reserved for work events and industry thought leadership, that doesn’t mean you don’t have other options. Any chance you have a Facebook page that tends to attract more of your employees’ family members? I bet they would love to hear from you. After all, think about the questions they have, the fears they’re trying to live with day by day.

You have tools at your disposal. Don’t hesitate to use them.

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