Crisis Marketing in a Time of Uncertainty

Marketing in Uncertain Times

Ramping Up Your Online Presence and Processes is a major part of crisis marketing.

I have had the opportunity to brainstorm and give back to my community during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis. Four of us, who met through the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) while volunteering on various committees, decided to get together to offer a series of webinars related to crisis marketing and selling for the residential construction leadership.

My fellow presenters are Leah Kaiz Fellows, founder and online sales counselor trainer of Blue Gypsy, Inc, Kimberly Mackey, founder and sales & marketing management consultant of New Homes Solutions Consulting and Kelly Ann Zuccarelli, SVP, national builder, renovation & condo program manager with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. I’d like to give them a thank you for sharing their knowledge in a heartfelt way during this chaotic time.

We have had an overwhelming response from home builders and others in leadership roles in the new homebuilding industry with over 100 people on our Friday webinars. We will continue to offer these webinars as long as there is a need, so feel free to comment with a topic you’d like to see covered.

The one big ah-ha that everyone agrees on is that now is the time to let go of old belief systems when it comes to selling new homes and to remove the thought process about signage and walk-in traffic. Now, everyone needs to embrace the internet. It is time to learn how to pivot and ramp up your online presence and processes to be ready for all the possibilities.

First, let me start by saying, there are two ways that public relations, marketing and media relations professionals, and the organizations they represent, can react to the current situation: retreat and hide, or reach out and create. I choose to reach out and create and hope you will join me in this pro-active response.

For those of you who still believe in public relations (and for those who aren’t using it as a tactic, now is a great time to get started), media pitching can continue during a crisis or economic downturn. It should, however, be done with a large dose of sensitivity. Know what the journalist you’re pitching to is writing about. If they are focusing only on COVID-19, don’t pitch a new model home to them. Find the right reporters to share stories with – they still want to cover news that is not virus-related. Pitch with precision, don’t just blast it out there.

Also, understand that consumers are starving for content and the demand for content is increasing because people are stuck at home with nothing to do. Reporters and media who are not covering the coronavirus are looking to produce entertainment or human-interest stories. Find out what they need and pitch them – now is a great opportunity to get business news out.

Leaders must lead and leadership may come from surprising places within your organization. To lead during uncertain times, we need to stop making assumptions and start asking questions. This allows us to understand how people are feeling and what they are thinking. Only then, can we meet them where they are and help them.

There are no experts in communicating during the age of coronavirus. We are learning daily. Whatever life looks like on the other side, the role of crisis communications will have been rewritten.

I’m going to dive into the questions that I answered during our second session in this post. My hope is that you get a few ideas that make your job more effective.

Q. Are there things we can be doing behind the scenes to make our marketing more effective?

A. Use this time to get ahead and update, for instance:

  • Have a variety of materials prepared for everything from event cancellations to school closures, to government orders, to opening your models and sales centers when restrictions are lifted. Think through every scenario and plan ahead.
  • Review, revise, update – do a complete audit of everything you are doing in marketing. Look at each tactic critically and figure out where improvements can be made.
  • Make sure you have a strong marketing core, this is your foundation – website, content and brand. Use this time to shore up anything that has been neglected. Here is a blog to get you started – Your Marketing Foundation.

Q. How much marketing should we still be doing during the crisis?

A. Keep marketing at your normal pace. I would not increase or decrease at this point. You want to maintain a flow of information so that you remain relevant when this turns around. If it makes sense for your business and it is in your budget, consider adding online ads to local newspaper outlets or cable TV. There are WAY more eyes on traditional media right now than is typical, as people view traditional media as more credible.

Cable news viewing is up exponentially —  73% for the week of March 16, 2020, compared to the same week a year ago, according to Comscore. In addition, cable news network viewing rose 40% from a month ago and 8% from the previous week. The national broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX, rose 20% year over year.

Q. What type of marketing works best?

A. Here’s where I’d start with marketing during this crisis:

  • Social media (videos, virtual tours)
  • Retargeting
  • Email marketing
  • Referral marketing
  • Personalized videos
  • One-on-one with prospects who have already visited
  • Again, consider digital ads in your top local newspapers, cable or TV.

Q. What type of social media messaging should we use during this crisis?

  • Be current and transparent. Your customers are looking for information and trust your company to deliver, so make sure you proactively communicate any business or product availability updates. Make sure to tell them what your business is doing – tours by appointment, models open or closed, virtual appointments only. Be Clear. Remember to pin important posts to the top of Facebook and Twitter
  • To achieve good communication, spokespeople need to adhere to the three Ts; be transparenttruthful and timely in sharing information.  But they need more. They need empathy and wisdom to guide them in their choice of words.
  • Promote low-interest rates– they can buy a lot more home for their money. We have a high-end client launching a campaign along these lines – low interest and low inventory – buy now before prices go up.
  • Promote virtual shopping give them links to home tours, community tours, videos, anything that moves that they can consume online. Make it interactive. In a new report from Redfin, the brokerage said it saw a 494% increase in requests for agent-led video home tours last week alone. As of Sunday, 18.9% of its tour requests from Redfin.com were video-chat tour requests, which was up from 0.2% at the beginning of March, a 94-fold increase, the company said. Last week, Zillow said it saw a 191% increase in the creation of 3D home tours, and a jump of 326% on Friday when compared with the average number of tours created in February.
  • Adjust in real-time. As consumer behavior shifts, make sure product information is up-to-date across all channels and communications to ensure you’re striking the right tone
  • Be creative – In a Times Square ad, Coca-Cola spread the letters of its iconic logo out to promote social and physical distancing. The tagline: “Staying apart is the best way to stay united.” Here are some examples of Creative COVID Brand Messaging. Consider creating #WithMe videos – build with me, interior design with me – with me videos are incredibly popular.  Think with Google shared Consumer Insights on With Me Videos.
  • Create a live event – With social distancing the new normal, influencers who create communal virtual experiences are quickly breaking away from the pack. Don’t force it, though. Work to create content that uplifts audiences and shines a light on other creators doing a great job. Establish a regular cadence so viewers know to look out for your next live event.
  • Monitor what is being shared on social media – Monitoring social conversations around coronavirus can help communicators formulate action plans during this uncertain period. Social listening helps develop effective response strategies, establish community connections and build trust. Topics that our industry might be able to address:
    • Parenting in the coronavirus era (e.g. school closures, e-learning options) saw more than 2.75 million tweets, representing 1.3% of the conversation
    • More than half a million tweets are focused on remote work, with companies communicating policies and employees seeking and sharing best practices
  • LinkedIn and other platforms “are hungry” for thought leadership about how the business world is responding, and consumers are looking for infotainment and up-to-date information. Try to offer value versus selling to them.
  • The flood of information currently online is what the Center for Disease Control (CDC) called an “infodemic” during the SARS outbreak. This is when a data overload leads to information anxiety. Be extra careful not to contribute to the anxiety level during this time. Stay on topic about your company and continue to share the good news.
  • Coronavirus is also a great opportunity for corporate social responsibility. Lots of large brands are doing good. These acts earn “extra” reputation points. Doing good is always welcome. For instance, client McKinley Homes is donating 10,500 medical masks to two hospitals here in Atlanta. Both Gen Z and Millennials put a large emphasis on doing good and social responsibility. Many companies don’t like to talk about the good things that they do, but it is time to “get over it” and start sharing. Don’t miss out on future sales. Share the news of what you are doing to help others during this crisis.

As we navigate these uncharted waters, remember that we are all in this together. Please feel free to comment on what you’d like us to cover in our next webinar. Also, share your success stories in the comments, I’d love to hear them and share them with others.

Finally, if I can help your business or organization with crisis marketing in any way during these trying times, give me a call at 770-383-3360, ext. 20 or contact me through this website.

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