Recently, I was in a meeting — via video technology — with two coronavirus-frustrated entrepreneurs.
They have a game-changing product, they’ve invested millions into it, and had the official rollout ready to begin this month with a big marketing and publicity push at major events like South by Southwest, all of which are now paused or canceled. Like so many entrepreneurs, they’re still getting over the shock of how the whole wide world just changed so dramatically and suddenly thanks to something so small it can only be seen with an electron microscope.
Business owners have to keep moving forward and find a way to market their brand. This is not a time for business as usual — it’s time to pivot fast, innovate and hustle.
An American in Italy recently wrote about his time under quarantine, noting that were it not for the internet, it would be an incredibly lonely and unproductive experience. But we do have the internet, and while it is already incalculably valuable, it’s going to be even more so for the next few months.
Products, other than essentials, that require physically going to a traditional brick-and-mortar establishment are going to be challenging to market. However, products and offerings available digitally may never realize a better moment to get right in front of their target customers. For the next few weeks and maybe months, untold millions of families will be stuck at home surfing on their screens for news, hard-to-find products, entertainment, innovative solutions to enhance the at-home experience, and last but not least, engaging in digital conversations on email, text, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
That means Utah companies such as Harmon Brothers — whose internet video campaigns for companies like Squatty Potty, Purple and Chatbooks have helped drive hundreds of millions in online sales — and Clickfunnels, one of the global leaders in turning digital visitors into customers, have gone from important to vital. And so is a company’s internet provider, IT team, cellphone provider, and anyone else connected to this virtual consumer ecosystem.
It also means that more families will be watching more Dry Bar Comedy, cruising through favorite YouTubers like The Piano Guys, Peter Hollens, What’s Inside?, Brooklyn and Bailey, Ellie and Jared, and JK Studios (especially with very little in the way of live sports to consume). These creators and entertainers have the attention of an audience, an audience that is hard to physically — but not digitally — get to, and an audience that might be keenly interested in what brands have to say.
There are three key elements to shifting in this direction or doubling-down on an already digitally-based marketing approach — a great digital content plan, a savvy social media ad buying capability, and a scrappy public relations strategy. Marketing is storytelling, and therefore it’s important to assess what stories can be told, and then identify where and how they can be told, understanding what channels are available, the costs to use those channels, and the most effective practices within each environment.
From large, multinational corporations to bright-eyed startups, in corona-era it’s not going to be acceptable to just “let the young people figure it out.” Everyone who wants to succeed needs to quickly gain a working understanding and move toward advanced know-how as fast as possible.
Simply put, a digitally-based content plan is how stories are told, a paid ad strategy finds people to tell it to, and public relations ties it all together, sharing the overall narrative through the media, earning credibility in a time where consumers want to know who they can really trust, and affording all-star brands the ability to have an outsized impact.
Ironically, these are the areas so many businesses look to cut in tough times, and yet in this particular tough time, cutting outreach means cutting off most opportunities to reach consumers. The virus we face is not like others that have come before it, and the marketplace is no different. What worked in the Great Recession — already ancient history given the advances in technology since that time — isn’t going to work this go around.
Once upon a time, marketers lamented the control that mega-events, broadcast and satellite channels, and big-box retailers had over their ability to reach customers. Now, it’s Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple, and news destinations like Deseret News, Huffington Post, CNN, Fox News and The Daily Wire who are holding the keys, and they don’t care if a business is big or small, they care if it is savvy enough to understand how to work with their platforms and how to tell a story to their audiences.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Innovating is the difference between “open” and “out of business” in our challenging days ahead.
–Matthew Faraci, first published in Deseret News. Faraci is founder of the Los Angeles media strategy agency Inspire Buzz.