What the COVID-19 Pandemic Taught Us About Marketing

Columns - PPMA Pulse

Marketers must adapt to every situation thrown at them, and this year especially has had its share of curveballs.

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December 7, 2020

As we get ready to enter a new year, it’s imperative to look back on an important lesson this tumultuous year has taught us. In times of crisis, a customer’s interaction with a company can have a significant effect and a lasting impression on his or her attitude towards that company during the crisis, and beyond. As marketers, we must adapt to every situation thrown at us, and this year is no exception and has proven to be the most challenging. This column will take a critical look at what the pandemic has taught us and how we can integrate these teachings into our own marketing programs and strategies moving forward.

GO DIGITAL. At the onset of the pandemic, it quickly became clear that many industries would need to go virtual to stay afloat. Businesses that historically operated completely in person had to quickly assess the evolving situation and pivot their strategies accordingly. Those that were able to make decisions quickly and confidently stood out from the pack. As an example and according to research from global management consulting firm McKinsey, fitness companies have seen between an 80 and 250 percent increase in app downloads and new signups in recent months, showing one industry’s success in quickly adapting to digital. It’s likely that many customers who have converted to digital services during the crisis will keep this preference afterwards. Companies that successfully transitioned their services to digital are the ones customers will continue to rely on even after COVID-19.

Similar to the fitness industry, professional pest control is one that also relies on in-person interaction. However, there are plenty of ways to digitize your services to help keep both employees and customers safe. An online service portal is one option your company can adopt now and continue to use in the future. Supplying customers with an app or online location where they can book appointments, upload images of suspected infestations and even video chat with a technician is a great way to limit in-person interaction and streamline services. Investing in these digital options now is an investment in your company’s future, as it is predicted customer preferences toward digital options will remain well after the pandemic subsides.

LISTEN TO EMPLOYEES. Employees on the frontlines serve as liaisons between your business and its customers and have invaluable, firsthand knowledge of their wants and needs. According to McKinsey, while 78 percent of employees report that leaders have made customer experience a top priority, almost 60 percent say they feel like their ideas for improving that experience often go unheard. As a leader, ensuring your employees have adequate tools, training and support both during times of crisis and beyond should be an integral part of your business. If you haven’t done so already, consider hosting a town hall or some sort of open discussion forum with employees where they can air any concerns and express how they are feeling. You may find there are other measures you can put in place to ensure employees feel heard.

It’s also important to maintain an open and transparent line of communication between upper management and employees to foster that sense of care and comradery. Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson created a video to address his employees directly as he felt it was important that crucial company news came directly from him. In the video, Sorenson was transparent about the company’s performance and outlook, announcing pay cuts for himself and other Marriot executives. The video was extremely well-received by employees as it conveyed the message that “we’re all in this together.” While it may not be necessary to address your staff via video, sending a company-wide letter or hosting a virtual town hall are great ways to connect with your employees to let them know their feedback is encouraged and welcomed.

ALWAYS BE AUTHENTIC. At a time of such uncertainty and confusion, consumers want and need one thing from companies above all else — real stories from real people. According to research from Stackla, 92 percent of marketers report feeling like most or all of the content they create is authentic, yet 51 percent of consumers say less than half of the brands they interact with create content that feels authentic. So, how can you ensure your marketing messages resonate with consumers? Have it come from consumers.

Seventy-nine percent of people surveyed said user-generated content (UGC) highly impacts their purchasing decisions as opposed to brand-created or influencer-created content. This means that reviews from real customers about your company’s services are going to have the biggest impact on other consumers. Follow-up with happy customers and encourage them to leave reviews that you can then incorporate into impactful UGC marketing campaigns like testimonial videos. If potential new customers hear from current ones what a great job your company did during the pandemic, they will be motivated to begin using your services as well.

2020 was certainly a year we won’t soon forget. While the pandemic surely upended our daily lives, it also taught us a lot about our customers and the importance of being nimble and flexible to ensure the future success of our businesses. If you can invest in digital and contactless service options, listen to and care for your employees and prioritize authentic messages that resonate with consumers, you’ll be well-positioned heading into 2021 no matter what it has in store for us.

Cindy Mannes is executive director of the Professional Pest Management Alliance and vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association. She can be reached at cmannes@pestworld.org. For more about PPMA, visit www.npmapestworld.org/ppma.