As a virus few people even knew about just a few weeks ago spreads across the world, so does fear, panic, and alarm. The Covid-19 pandemic has reshaped our lives so abruptly, it’s natural for marketing executives to wonder what type of communication, if any, is most appropriate. In this post we’ll dive into early data showing consumer sentiment, our best practices for crisis direct mail marketing, review historical case studies of successful crisis marketing.
If I’m certain of anything, it’s that the marketing plan you developed for 2020 didn’t anticipate the rapid spread of Corornavirus. Tear up that plan because now’s the time for a different playbook – one that recognizes that in a crisis, direct mail marketing offers an excellent way to reach people and complement digital marketing messages.
Why Send Direct Mail In This Crisis? Because Everyone Is At Home
It is pretty simple. There are now far more people at home, for the entire day, than there were prior to this crisis.
Some people are able to work from home. Others have been furloughed or laid off from their jobs. An easy way to get your message to them is to mail to the home.
Think about what’s happening. We’re all cooped up, devouring TV entertainment, ordering food delivery, registering for webinars at unprecedented rates. Despite the disruption, we are all spending money. Just a bit differently.
Why? We’re bored and crave connection to the outside world.
Now think about that daily trip to the mailbox. Direct mail offers a tangible connection to the brands that we care about, and by extension the people that work for the brands.
A tangible connection that is deeper and more trusted than digital channels can provide.
With all recent stats showing how incredibly effective direct mail is in regular times, smart marketers are taking advantage of the fact that their audience is at home, and easy to reach.
Why? Because online channels have become overcrowded. Direct mail is a channel that enables brands to rise above the noise and live in the home with the audience.
What about B2B crisis direct mail marketing? Should you be sending business direct mail now if everyone is at home?
Many companies setup mail forwarding, so employees can receive business mail at home.
Better yet, there are now options to buy mailing lists, by industry and geography, and send targeted mailings to the home address of business executives.
The Void Left By Brands Going Quiet
“We are on hold.”
“Taking it day by day.”
“We’re hunkered down.”
These are just a few of the comments that I’ve heard over the past few weeks.
It’s certainly understandable. Some industries have been completely shut down. If there’s no business due to the crisis, direct mail or any form of marketing makes no sense.
Yet, for nearly every business, pulling back on marketing in times of crisis is a huge mistake.
That pipeline of sales leads – already smaller because of massive disruption to our lives – will likely shrivel to nothing if you don’t maintain a strong marketing voice. Customers will remember how companies communicated with them over tough times, so here is your opportunity to make a deep emotional connection — right now.
It is a pretty rare business that can cut its marketing and maintain sales.
If you go quiet, you’re leaving a void. It will be filled. Most likely by a competitor intent on seizing the moment.
From a strategic standpoint, cutting off marketing is even worse. What is the message you are sending your customers and prospects? If you don’t communicate, you’re leaving your audience wondering about the strength of your company, it’s leadership, and it’s ability to survive.
If you want sales, you have to market. You just need to modify your marketing to suit the times.
Marketing Messages During A Crisis
During any crisis – especially a global one like this – messaging must be on point, acknowledging all of the difficulties your audience faces, but in no way appearing to try to take advantage of these circumstances.
The first thing you have to do is shift the tone of your messaging from selling to communicating.
With all of the uncertainty that exists during a crisis, it is important to establish crisis messaging basics. For example:
- Answer key questions such as: Are you open? What are your hours? How can you be reached?
- Highlight ways that show you care. You’re in this with them and will serve them in any way possible. If your organization is donating or helping a local community, showcase it in a tasteful way.
- If you’re temporarily closed, it’s critical to keep your audience informed about your status and emphasize that you expect the situation to be temporary.
- Have you altered your business model because of the crisis? Perhaps moved to an online platform or started delivery service? You must communicate! If nobody knows about the change, nobody will use the new service.
- Tell your audience how your brand can help them during the crisis. Here’s where offers and programs can be detailed. Your segmentation is important in fine tuning your offers to help.
It is also important to be sure your messaging doesn’t do certain things:
- Don’t try to capitalize on fear. Your audience will recognize it and you’ll damage your brand for the long term.
- Don’t try to create a sense of urgency. While this is usually an effective tactic, avoid it in a crisis.
- Don’t make light of serious things. If you’re going to use humor, focus it internally or on obviously non-offensive topics.
- Unless you’re a healthcare provider. Don’t provide medical advice. For obvious reasons.
- Don’t say the exact same thing as every other company. Sometimes it seems like crisis messaging all came from the same playbook. Be creative!!
Adapt to Audience Sentiment by Adjusting Offers, Copy and CTAs
Survey data is giving us early signals of what consumers and business people are feeling during this crisis. There are some pretty clear indicators of what is working and what isn’t.
Early crisis survey data is showing:
- Many of us are frightened — for our health and finances
- People are confused — what’s open, what isn’t?
- We are looking for value — everyone knows great deals are or will be coming
- We’re bored and looking for an escape
- We want to find ways to connect while we’re quarantined
Your crisis direct mail, and all of your company messaging should reflect the sentiments of the audience you are addressing.
Learn From Email Marketing Data: Key Words To Use (Or Not Use) In Crisis Direct Mail
Email marketing open and click rates are also a good source of clues into sentiment. You can see what is driving engagement, or not, and adjust your offers, calls to action and copy accordingly.
Words in emails that now drive surging click through rates include:
B2B: Virtual, Online, Home, Essential, WFH (work from home), Tips, You/Yours, Insight, Free (biggest)
Survey and webinar participation is now skyrocketing because people want to learn what experts say they should do.
B2C: Home, Delivery, Shipping, Bored, WFH, Open, Your/Your, Yes, Free (biggest)
Words to avoid: Urgent, Hurry, Critical, Serious, Alert, Rush – you need to be subtle about urgency now.
What about history? Can we learn from previous crises, and what marketers have done?
Case Studies: How Marketing During A Crisis Can Make Or Break A Business
A national or global crisis can serve as a change agent. The behavior of customers can turn on a dime as they face a new reality. We can look at previous crises and see what great brands have done (or not done) and learn.
The Great Depression: Kellogg® vs. Post®
In the late 1920’s, the boxed cereal market was just beginning to grow. So when the Great Depression came, it was hard to know what would happen to demand. The two main players were Post and Kellogg, names that we continue to recognize today.
Post did what most businesses did at the time, it cut back on marketing. Kellogg, on the other hand, doubled down on marketing. Recognizing that their audience was at home, Kellogg jumped all over radio advertising to promote their new product, Rice Krispies.
General Motors After 9/11
In the days after the horrible events of 9/11, it was hard to tell what was going to happen. Nobody knew if other attacks were coming. The financial markets were paralyzed. Air travel was shut down, oil prices had skyrocketed.
Rather than retreating and trying to save cash, General Motors rolled out its “Keep America Rolling” program, that combined a patriotic theme with zero percent financing.
The president of GM’s North American operations, Ron Zarrella was quoted on the eve of the campaign: ““We know this is a difficult time to talk about an incentive program, but GM has a responsibility to help stimulate the economy by encouraging Americans to purchase vehicles, to support our dealers and suppliers and to keep our plants operating and our employees working.”
When many marketers retreated into their shells, GM came out strong.
What happened? U.S. auto sales broke a record in October 2001.
You’re leaving a void. A void that will be filled by something, or someone else.
“Be Greedy When Others Are Fearful” — Crisis Advice From Warren Buffett
Legendary investor Warren Buffett was advising other investors with this famous line. We think it applies to direct mail marketing in a crisis as well.
This isn’t a call to start taking advantage of the fears of your customers. It is a time to take advantage of the fears of your competitors.
As others cut back on their marketing, you have less competition. Your message resonates more, your brand awareness grows while theirs deteriorates.
If you’ve got budget to deploy, take advantage. You’ve got a captive audience at home, with fewer marketers competing for attention and mindshare.
Those of us who’ve managed through other crises have seen the impact. The brands that double down now will be the brands that rebound faster and will take market share when the economy rebounds.
Send Direct Mail Via Automation In A Crisis. It’s Faster, Easier and Better.
Postalytics pioneered the direct mail automation category. If you’re going to truly take advantage of the strengths of the direct mail channel and deliver your messages directly into the hands of your audience, why not automate as much of the process as possible?
Your team may distributed in a crisis, working from home. With Postalytics, a single marketer can build deploy, manage and measure direct mail campaigns from any internet connection. There’s no point in deploying a channel using outdated technology when there’s better technology available, with no risk and fair pricing.