The more things change, the more things stay the same

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There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that whatever your business sector, life will look very different in New Zealand and around the world.

For months to come, the way we move around and interact with people will colour the way we make purchasing decisions. Our bank balances may not allow us the flexibility to make the retail choices we did before. We may be faced with less options, a complex purchasing environment and a long-continuing world of uncertainty.

Ouch. That hurts, doesn’t it. And for marketers needing to connect with customers wading through the mire of all that uncertainly, everyday marketing challenges have taken on a new look too.

Please be patient with advertisers, especially our SMEs. Not everyone will get it right under pressure of these new challenges. Remember they’re all trying to do one thing – keep their businesses afloat.

But as you plan your next campaigns, consider carefully how different your marketing really needs to be compared to before the pandemic.

There are some fundamental questions to revisit as you approach marketing in the ‘new normal’. Has your product or service had to change and how?  Has your audience changed, in terms of how your brand appeals to them as well as how they engage with it? Does the true essence of your brand need to evolve?

If any of the answers are ‘yes, but just a little’, don’t be tempted to throw the baby out with the bath water and rethink strategies that have worked before.

Your customers may want to feel they are living in the ‘old normal’, not be reminded that things are different. The familiarity of your storytelling voice could be the comfort they’re looking for.

Marketing generally needs to achieve a combination of three things – to engage, entertain or inform.  For many, to ‘inform’ is currently a higher priority than normal, especially to clarify changes in retail behaviours, or variations in products or services. Even if customers appear to have more time on their hands, be succinct in your explanations.  Clarity is more important than ever.

The ‘entertainment’ factor is the greyest area during heightened sensitivities. In the early days of the crisis, we saw some brands play fast and loose with the idea of appropriate humour. That was their decision, made with (we hope) assessment of what they felt their particular audiences would find appropriate too. They didn’t care if Grandma was offended, because Grandma was never going to be a customer.

Now, with the severity of the situation all too apparent, humour has rightly been redirected. We laugh at ourselves, at our unruly hair and Zoom meetings interrupted by children and pets. We look for joy in positive stories and champion our communities. Humanity is being leveraged in marketing with great effect. Nice work, New Zealand.

One of the shifting changes is the advertising options available, particularly for those whose customers engage through print media. With many smaller community publications restricted – hopefully only in the short term – some advertisers have had to explore digital advertising that might have previously been outside their comfort zone.

Always ask yourself where your audience are ‘hanging out’ and have a clear understanding of how you want your brand to be perceived there, whatever the medium you’re using.

Email marketing, particularly in a business-to-business context, has been a contentious topic recently. In my view, if you use it regularly, keep calm and carry on.  If you have content you are confident your audience will be interested in, use it. If you’ve never really used it, approach with caution. Consider your content and frequency as carefully as if you were paying for ad space.

One interesting boom has been in video content. I’ve always been careful suggesting video to clients, particularly on a budget, wary of undermining perceptions of a brand by risking poor production quality. But those pressures are lifted at the moment. If wobbly phone footage is fine for national news, and mainstream programming is being filmed in offices and living rooms, it’s OK, right? For now, at least.

Give it a go, only if you feel confident. If your audience will forgive a nervous delivery or dodgy editing and fuzzy sound quality, why not? But bear in mind those three important factors – understanding how to connect to your audience, articulating your offer and being true to your brand.

The lockdown environment, changing behaviours and long-term effects on the economy, all require us to think differently. But the need to be authentic to your brand and relevant for your target audience will never change.

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About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz