Next Steps for Retail Marketers During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Feeling like every day is a scene out of a made-for-Netflix action movie? Same here. Everyone's looking for the best way forward through uncertainty, confusion, and conflicting reports. The good news is that retailers can take positive actions now to get ahead of rapidly changing business conditions and come out swinging when this pandemic eases to the point where regular life can begin again.
Where Are We Now?
As marketers, we've seen our 2020 marketing plans blow up like a car in a Bond movie. We've pivoted — often several times in a span of three weeks or four weeks — as we come to grips with what this pandemic means for our customers, our vendors, and our brands.
We've worked to acknowledge the situation and ensure that our customers and employees know that their health, well-being and safety are our top priorities. We’ve shared our empathy with "we’re all in this together" messaging that highlights our products that make this time more bearable and showcases charitable efforts. We’ve been true to our brand pillars and generous with offers — not only to support our customers, but also to keep our revenue streams flowing so we can support our employees and vendors. We’ve made great strides in swiftly changing our business models to be more flexible with shipping, offering drive-up services, and empathizing with our customers.
Retailers and businesses deemed nonessential will be shuttered for what's beginning to look like months, not days or weeks. This not only hurts our own bottom lines but, more importantly, stifles the incomes of even our most loyal customers.
Now’s the Time to Develop Regional Messaging Strategies
As with anything we do in marketing, a one-size-fits-all pandemic response is the least effective approach.
Consider the United States, where California, New York, and Washington felt the first and greatest impact of the coronavirus. But in many areas in the Midwest and the South, it looks like business as usual. And by the time you’re reading this, the wave will have most likely moved again.
Your messaging strategy must evolve to recognize these geographical differences in the impact of the pandemic and people's attitudes toward it. How can you create your regional messaging strategy for planned campaigns in the coming months? By taking certain measures, you can help inform your marketing teams about where and how to market to different segments by region.
- First, define regions by impact. Bucket the U.S. into high, medium, and low impact, remembering that these areas will change as the virus spreads or recedes. For example, New York City is currently a high impact area, while Des Moines, Iowa is a low impact area.
- Next, define segments and match campaigns to areas by impact. Stay on top of the news in these areas, and combine that with what you're seeing in your web metrics. These will help you anticipate changes in purchase intent in areas that are hardest hit by the virus and determine which regions to send campaigns — or if you should send any at all. If an area is high impact, consider holding back campaigns. If it’s low impact, send as usual.
- Lastly, adjust creative and messaging strategies. Pay attention to your message tone and content, and match it to regional experiences. If the campaign is fit to send in a high or medium impact area, ensure all creative and messaging is appropriate. If it’s a low impact area, review content for tone but still send it to avoid inadvertently appearing insensitive.
You can also use real-time technology to track and personalize by region. Several resources can help you plan and create the most effective regional responses. The CSSE Real-Time Interactive Map tracks coronavirus outbreaks around the world. In order to suppress audiences in high impact areas, work with your email service provider (ESP) on base segmentation strategies by region. Lastly, use real-time messaging technology. Partner with technology solutions like Liveclicker, Movable Ink, and Campaign Genius to send campaigns in medium and low impact areas to geo-target recipients by IP and location at the moment of open and serve the creative treatment you've assigned to each region.
How Can We Move Forward?
Review the current state of your business and the latest news in your identified regions, and align on what needs to shift in communications. Pull in representatives across channels to ensure you’re united on the best customer experience.
It's important right now to be sensitive about the people receiving your marketing messages, especially if they live in high impact areas.
Before you send that next email, ask yourself: "Does this help my customers no matter where they live?" If you can't answer "Yes" honestly, then you should probably refrain from sending.
When this pandemic passes, you want your brand to be known as one that supported, helped and respected its customers. You can bet that your customers will remember. Taking the time now to update and modify your marketing strategy and campaigns will help ensure they think highly of you well into the future.
Erika Phelan is client strategy director at Merkle, a leading data-driven, technology-enabled, global performance marketing agency that specializes in the delivery of unique, personalized customer experiences across platforms and devices.