In the age of COVID-19 — and likely for years if not decades afterwards — companies need to focus on their audience. The unprecedented economic situation has placed many out of work, and previous brand messages to “buy today!” or “don’t miss out!” read as disconnected and callous. It is easy to market to an audience that is flush with cash; it is quite another experience to market to an audience that needs to be more discerning with its expenditures.
It is likely that the economy will rebound once COVID infections are under control or a vaccine is found, but until then, businesses need to alter their digital marketing strategy to cater to how their audiences are feeling and acting right now. Here’s a guide to developing an audience-focused marketing plan that works.
Continue Researching Your Audience
Regardless of how well a business leader understood their audience in the before-times, they need to conduct audience research now and regularly for the duration of the pandemic. Stress changes human behavior, and the COVID crisis is undeniably stressful, restricting people’s movements, unbalancing people’s finances and affecting people’s health. It is safe to say that a business leader lacking audience research has no clue what their audience needs, wants or expects from businesses during this time, and without that information, business leaders cannot develop an effective audience-focused marketing strategy.
There are a few different ways to engage in audience research during this time. Perhaps the best is to leverage connections with social media influencers operating amongst online communities where a business’s audience often congregates. The benefit of utilizing influencers is that influencers often maintain a high level of trust amongst their followers, so responses to questionnaires and surveys are most likely to be honest and accurate. Plus, influencers can pursue audience research frequently, at different points in the pandemic, to give businesses a real-time understanding of their audience’s shifting emotional state.
What businesses ask their audience will vary. Businesses that already know quite a bit about their audience’s demographics, habits, interests and the like might focus on COVID-related questions, like how the pandemic has affected their buying behavior and content consumption. However, businesses that have failed to collect audience information in the past need to start from scratch, with questions about who their audience is, what they want and need, how they interact with brands and more. It might be useful to work with a research firm to formulate the right surveys to help.
Make Your Marketing Efforts Cohesive
Once businesses better understand how their audience is surviving COVID-19, they need to enact a marketing strategy that appropriately addresses audience wants and fears. No two audience-focused marketing strategies will look alike, especially in this turbulent time; individual businesses need to design unique strategies based on their audience research and their own industry.
However, regardless of what that strategy looks like, business leaders need to ensure that their strategy is carried out across their entire marketing campaign. Not only should new content conform to whatever new messaging is developed, but businesses should shift their online advertisements as well. It is a good idea to work with a comprehensive SEO agency to make cohesive changes on the business website and across its marketing channels.
Be Compassionate, Empathetic and Ethical
More than ever, audiences are paying attention to how businesses behave. Businesses seeing great success are those that behave almost altruistically, demonstrating authentic compassion and empathy to demonstrate strong ethics and positive values. Businesses should be lenient when it comes to their treatment of consumers. In addition to investing in marketing, businesses should devote a larger portion of their budget to customer service, especially in training CS teams to demonstrate empathy in their responses.
Undoubtedly, how business leaders treat their customers matters, but leaders should also be careful with how they manage their employees. Businesses should strive to retain as many workers as possible, perhaps utilizing tools like the government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). If businesses must let some staff go, they should do so with full transparency and offer assistance signing up for unemployment payments, COBRA and other useful services. By treating employees well, the business inspires loyalty that will boost their reputation throughout the pandemic and beyond.
At this point, businesses are looking for ways to survive, rather than thrive in the midst of the pandemic. Investing in audience-focused marketing is a good way to engage with consumers on a deeper level without alienating them now or for the future.