A Marketing Game Plan for COVID-19

By Josh Mabus and John Oxford 

We are at the beginning of an unprecedented crisis. We’ve avoided writing and podcasting these words for days now—hoping the fear, anxiety and disease itself might lift their vile grip from our collective lives. 

But, as we receive the notice that schools will continue suspensions for another week (at least), more mandatory business closures are imposed and social groups are recommended to shrink even more, we know that not only is COVID-19 here to stay—but its ramifications will be deep and far-reaching. 

While the disease itself is quite frightening, the economic fallout it may cause gives great concern. As marketers, we will leave health and safety guidance to the experts at World Health Organization, the CDC and other experts. But many of you have questions about what you should be doing in the marketing and advertising arenas. What follows is certainly no how-to guide, but more a “maybe if” set of suggestions from your friends at the Marketing Money Podcast.  

  1. Take care of the home front. 

During every preflight safety brief, you’re given valuable instruction you should carry throughout 

your life: “When the oxygen mask descends, put on yours before helping others.” The lesson is simple. You can’t help others if you’re incapacitated. We’re all facing decisions in an unprecedented environment. The most important thing you and your bank can do for your community, your board of directors, your investors and your own family is simple: Stay in business. You can’t help others if your bank is incapacitated. 

Shore up your operations, determine your staffing protocol and solidify your schedule. We have no more important advice other than do these things first. Create the environment for safety and health for you, your coworkers and your clients—and also for your longevity. Do this first, but if at all possible, do not stop there. 

You can find ABA resources on regulatory statements, bank practices, branch operations, coronavirus communications plans and other needs at aba.com/coronavirus. Look for more tips among your peers on the ABA Bank Marketing Network.  

  1. Take care of your community.

It would be easy for most community banks to skip step one and move to this step. Please don’t. Remember the oxygen mask. But as you feel comfortable with how you’ll operate over the next several weeks or longer, you might have the ability to do a bit more. If so, one area that needs many layers of help is connecting those in need with those wanting to help. Think with more of your PR brain and less with your marketing brain.  

You likely have several at-risk groups in your community who need help. You also likely have groups and individuals who would like to help those in need. But these two sides often have difficulty connecting. 

Serving as “cause curator between these groups can be a great method of virtual volunteering. Use your social platforms and relationships that permeate the community to connect dots and help others fulfill needs that would otherwise be unmet. 

  1. Take care of your clients.

This is really an extension of your community. It’s no secret that small businesses are scared—particularly restaurants and bars facing mandatory closures. While this might be a necessary measure to prevent the spread of disease, this will most certainly impact these proprietors. 

You can share and focus the excellent message that’s already floating around: Encourage your community to buy gift cards from local restaurants on your social platforms. Help spread the news of those that offer takeout and delivery. Many are offering the service for free! Concentrate on your clients first, of course. And remember, this may just be the start. We must keep up this energy when the tiredness of all this sets in at some point.  

If appropriate for your situation, look to share resources as they become available. As the federal government prepares (and likely releases) financial support for business, most likely a portion of that support will be managed through our banks. Keep your eyes open for these opportunities, help your bank determine its role in the offerings and be ready to announce and execute. 

  1. Take care of your brand. 

There seem to be two camps: those who are committed to advertising through the crisis and those who are storing “dry powder” for the other side. We have no argument for the logic of either. However, some thoughts that lean toward the committedtoadvertising philosophyeven though we do not have statistics yet: It stands to reason that this is the single largest weekday at-home population our country has ever seen (outside of holidays). You have an incredibly large captive audience on semi-voluntary house arrest. And they’re bored. We imagine we will see an incredible spike in digital consumption and TV watching. It might be the TV running in the background while someone fills out reports, or just a break from their home-bound work drudgery to see if Tom Brady really did leave the Patriots to become a free agent. (Hdid!? A Buc?). And with no sports for the near future, there is also a huge content vacuum. 

In short, you have a captive audience likely engaged in media. No, they’re likely not going to be opening accounts, but you do have an opportunity to build name ID, awareness and brand presence. You can communicate your strength—that you will still be here. Or you can just encourage your audience. But maybe they will learn to use digital banking products they never had the time or urgency to learn how to use in the past. After all, they have a ton of time and opportunity now. 

Regardless, you shouldn’t ignore what arguably might be the single-largest opportunity to engage an audience. You just have to figure out how and what content to properly (and tactfully) deploy. 

  1. Take care of the future.

You could argue this should be first, but it’s the most difficult and far-fetched idea. Not only are adults at home, but so are their kids. It’s been a bit of an old joke (with all due respect to our teachers, who don’t get to pick the curriculum): “Our schools teach our kids the Pythagorean theorem, but not how to balance a checkbook.” 

Well, now you have an opportunity. And you have help, too. Social media is flooded with parents saying, “I guess I’m a teacher now” with an overwhelming stack of books. It’s an incredible opportunity to help kids with financial literacy. It’s an incredible opportunity to help parents with this new role which they were thrust into with no choice. 

And you can endear yourself to both audiences—building a legacy into the future. But it’s also difficult and that’s why it’s far-fetched. You’ll have to stand up these efforts very quickly to stand in the gap. Even if you own the curriculum and are trained to deploy it, it’ll be difficult to enact. 

However, simple steps might be best. Perhaps you use the live streaming services of Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube to conduct live financial literacy classes. No, it’s not as interesting as zoos sharing live feeds of animals to give kids some edutainment, but many parents will appreciate your help. When you bring value and enrichment to folks who are struggling for answers, stability and help, don’t be surprised when they show up to do business with you when the world begins to return to normalcy. 

Also, let’s face it: Kids aren’t the only ones who need this education. There are plenty of folks whose lives will be economically impacted by COVID-19 closures. We might not have all the answers yet in how to aid that group, but we can help prepare future generations for what might come. 

We have no solid predictions for what the future holds, but we’re optimistic and are preparing for life and work on the other side of this crisis. 

We are in the middle of an epidemic—not of a disease, but of fear. The way we behave now—as individuals and society—will have incredibly long-lasting economic impacts on our cities, regions and nation. We must make decisions that affect us immediately, but we cannot forget that we will most likely have a future for which we must prepare. 

You can hear an in-depth dive on this discussion and more on our latest Marketing Money Podcast. 

John Oxforddirector of marketing at Renasant Bank, and Josh Mabus, president of the Mabus Agency, are co-hosts of the Marketing Money Podcast.