Marketing in a Crisis

April 9, 2020

Marketing is an important part of any business and under most circumstances, business owners are investing in marketing on some level. But what about when things aren’t so normal – what do we do when there is a crisis? The world is an ever-changing place and the market is no different. The frustrating thing about the market is that it is so large and complex that its ups and downs are completely out of our control. All we can control is how we respond to it. Do we panic and react or do we adapt and overcome the challenges? In this post, we’ll talk about marketing in a crisis and give you some tips on tangible things you can do to connect with your customers in trying times. 

First and foremost, don’t stop advertising! Advertising is essential for businesses to maintain brand awareness. In times of crisis, total ad spend tends to drop by a significant percentage. This makes your advertising more effective because there is less noise (competition for your customers’ attention) in advertising channels like paid search or social media. When you continue to market through tough times, you project stability as a business and most consumers find that very attractive and comforting. 

Equally as important as continuing to advertise is how you do it. Messaging is everything in a tough time because consumers are extra switched on and sensitive to messaging. During times of extreme economic growth, it may be good enough to say “my product is good, you should buy it” and many folks probably will. During a crisis, consumers get more judicious about who they spend their money with and want to support very specific brands especially if they view your business as non-essential. So how do we breakthrough? Add value! Be useful to your customers and your target market. Offer something for free even if it is very small. Show your customers that you are willing to meet them where they are and that they are important to you as fellow human beings, not just the revenue they provide for you. Your messaging during a time of crisis should focus on telling stories and being positive. Being positive is not to be confused with downplaying a crisis or out and out lying to your customers that a situation is better than it is, but instead focuses on the things that bring us together. During periods of uncertainty, most people just want to be reassured that everything is going to be okay. They want someone to invest in them and we as marketers have an amazing opportunity to earn lifelong customers in times of crisis if we are ethical, genuine, and helpful. 

The financial return may not be immediate but people remember what made them feel better during a difficult time and will come back to brands who provide that safety for them. They’ll even spread the word and tell their friends about it. All marketing is a long-term play and has lasting effects but any ad or piece of collateral that helps someone through a difficult time in their life is truly invaluable. It’s important that we as marketers don’t get caught up in the very short-term return especially in times of struggle. Don’t get me wrong, there needs to be a positive return for marketing efforts but we also need to understand that during a crisis purchasing behavior is very altered. The normal customer lifecycle and purchasing pattern is significantly disrupted and people are often saying to themselves “when things get back to normal I’m going to….” The goal is to build a relationship with these consumers so that when things do return to normal, they run into your business excited to work with you. Remember, marketing is always about the long game! On the flip side, you will win business from consumers that are still making more normal purchasing decisions.

Lastly, it’s important to remain honest and ethical through times of crisis. This will differentiate you as many businesses will try to take advantage of turmoil for their own gain. In general, I believe consumers can see this behavior a mile away and most people don’t want to work with a business that will sell their soul for revenue. Even in a tough time, we have to hold ourselves to a high moral standard and double down on integrity if we are going to grow our business. 

So when a crisis hits, don’t panic. We know, we know easier said than done! Instead, make your business a steady stream of positive stories in an uncertain time. Projecting stability and confidence while also adding value to people’s lives will build strong relationships and ultimately win you customers. 

Main Ideas:

  • Don’t stop advertising
  • Less noise
  • Project stability
  • Less expensive
  • Drastically raise brand awareness
  • Adapt quickly
  • Tell stories
  • Stay positive
  • Be useful
  • All advertising is a long term play
  • Be honest/ethical.


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