Marketing Amid Coronavirus: Don’t Let the Urgent Displace the Important

By Jessica Johnson 

Discussing strategic growth and marketing in the middle of a massive pandemic is challenge of its ownWhen financial marketers are busy supporting those executing hundreds of SBA loans a day, while doing their best to serve the changing technological and communication needs of the other customers they serve, how do you make the time to think ahead when there seems to be no end in sight?  

While no one has a crystal ball to help determine when and if things will go back to “normal,” the sea changes we’ve experienced make it a good time to dig into existing marketing data and identify what’s working in the COVID-19 era. The best marketers will take a deeper look into all of their marketing practices and team’s efforts to find small gems that can lead to major wins and growth. Start with these four: 

Spend owhat matters. It is very likely you will have to make adjustments and cuts to your budget. The need to continue to spend on programs and tests that promote growth and program performance will not change. If anything, this is the most important time to proactively consider where you will reallocate and invest in 2020before your executive team makes the choice for you.  

While we may be used to shortening campaigns or stalling when it comes to making investments in marketing technology, we may not be used to applying a framework to our decision-making process. A recent article highlights a series of studies that prove “businesses that have chosen a more progressive strategy to refocusing spending during a recession have outperformed businesses that made sweeping cuts.” The balance of costcutting and investment, while easy to recommend and hard to execute, gets a little easier when considering McKinsey’s rubric based on your current market position and financial strength. 

Could now be the time swap out that archaic email marketing system no one knows how to use in the name of better client communication and prospect retargeting? Could you prove a change like this one allows you to invest today in order to grow tomorrow? 

Listen tounderstand and observe your customers. “But we already do this … ” This is the marketer’s cry we can all hear in our heads. While customer insights are at the core of every great marketing plan, no one had any idea how quickly behaviors and attitudes would change. 

Resources such as that are covering COVID-19 are able to glean real-time verified information to help us make better, actionable, customer-centric decisions.  A recent survey conducted by Suzy revealed that 37 percent of bank customers are doing more mobile banking than they did before the crisis began and 35 percent want financial companies to offer tips on how to manage money during this time.

Did you say tips? You probably have lots of tips for your customers. If content is at the core of your strategy today, now is the time to take a nugget like this one and finally create that gorgeous email series providing financial information or reminders for your clients that you do indeed have a mobile banking platform. 

Who knew a pandemic would result in emails that get opened and read? And whenever in doubt, just keep asking your customers questions. Survey them. Invite them for a Zoom coffee date to chat. And do not be afraid to tap your sales team to invite you to join their next client call. These are the moments that will really help you benchmark your marketing activities and find ways to improve. 

Keep creative top of mindThis is the time to continue to evaluate your creative strategy, specifically all of the creative being used on direct mail, digital/environmental signage, and online channels for tone-deafness or the subpar performance covered earlier. 

This is the time to share your mission, vision, and values that will ensure you maintain the ethos your customers are craving during this time of intense uncertainty. Photos of people about to take a flight to promote your newest checking account bonus may be better suited for a time when flights are no longer grounded and your customers are feeling comfortable leaving home. You may also make an investment in higherquality videos to be used for corporate communications and social media sharing or to support the in-branch events you previously had scheduled but are forced to host online. 

And don’t pander, notes Chris Walters, cofounder and executive producer at French Press Films, which regularly partners with financial institutions all over the country to creative highperforming online video. “During a global pandemic, when people are uncertain about the stability of their investments and financial future, brand creative needs to be reassuring without coming across as tone deaf or pandering,” Walters saysConsider this compilation video of brands declaring that, ‘Although we’re far apart, we’re here for you. Weve always been here for you, and well get through this together.’ While the sentiment is likely genuine, the execution feels repetitive and misses the mark of being an empathetic brand message. It’s critical for good creative to stand apart from the crowd or risk either alienating your audience or becoming a (yikes!) meme.” 

Test new media your customers are flocking to. To take the concept of testing creative mediums a little further, it is clear search, social, and the consumption of digital media overall have changed forever. But how will you develop the right creative to be consumed by your target segment at the right time? Maybe this could include leveraging connected TV and high-quality video to promote your brand. According to a recent Vanity Fair article, time spent on streaming platforms has increased by 34 percent over the first two weeks of March. Could this be the time to test something new while our customers are taking Netflix and quarantine to a whole, newly connected level?  

The world has changed dramatically in the past month. Consumers find themselves in a more vulnerable place, and they need assistance and advice from trusted brands. Banks are in a unique position to help, and bank marketers are on the front lines to advise senior management on how to make an important difference in customers’ lives during this critical time. Using your data and insights, as well as taking some of your current practices to the next level, are sure ways to ensure your marketing strategy is focused on growth and performance.  

Jessica Johnson is a consultant at Capital Performance Group, a strategic consulting firm that provides advisory, planning, analytic and project management services to the financial services industry.