Navigating COVID-19 – best practices marketers should adopt during times of crisis

From your value proposition to SEO, messaging, and more - this post will help you navigate COVID-19, regardless of industry or company size.

Director of Customer Success, Dynamic Yield

COVID-19 Marketing Resources

Last updated: April 30th, 2020

As we all work to manage the current COVID-19 crisis, it’s important for us to help the marketing community navigate through the initial shock and subsequent economic effects together. 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some helpful best practices teams should consider applying to their digital marketing efforts, regardless of industry or company size. From redefining your value proposition to investing in SEO, setting expectations for customers, and more – I hope you’ll continue to visit the page for guidance.

Now, let’s get started. 

Focus on creating a sense of value for your clients

With a potentially difficult market ahead of us, customer spend will tighten, and it’s very possible that many of your customers will be in a tough spot. 

According to McKinsey, during uncertain economic conditions, shoppers place a premium on value and tend to drift to lower-priced, non-premium items. Therefore, brands that command a premium can better retain existing customers and attract aspirational first-time customers by delivering increased benefits.

As marketers, we can create the perception of value and help customers stretch their dollars by:

  • Bundling products 
  • Extending discounts 
  • Highlighting Afterpay or other financing options, if available

Bundling is a classic value enhancement

Alleviate purchase friction with more price-sensitive customers, and in some cases, increase the average order value (AOV)

A few tips on how to effectively bundle your items

  • Experiment with adding free accessories to staple category purchases, leveraging the enhanced benefits to drive trials
  • When possible, display standard pricing to make the added value of bundled items more clear to the buyer 

Here’s a great example from Target:

Target bundling items during COVID-19

Discounting remains an essential tool 

Reduce the risk factor associated with purchasing and create positive brand associations during a time of crisis. 

A few tips on how to effectively discount your items:

  • Balance the timeframe of each promotion so as to create a sense of urgency without burdening consumers
  • When possible, tie discounting activity directly to the current COVID-19 pandemic, acknowledging the need for price cuts
  • Always display regular pricing to enhance the sense of value being offered to the buyer 

Here’s a great example from Nike:

Nike offering discounts during COVID-19

Additionally, a number of brands are embracing cause-marketing, which can generate real change in stopping the spread of COVID-19 while also demonstrating your company’s values – check out a few great examples, including some from a few of our customers. 

Invest more heavily in SEO

With paid media budgets being slashed as a cost-cutting measure, more stress will be placed on acquiring and converting your organic traffic. Therefore, your SEO fundamentals must be sound, and whatever mechanisms or resources you have to create valuable content are enabled. 

Here are some tips you can start implementing today:

  • Conduct a thorough site audit with this 40-step on-page SEO checklist
  • Leverage a tool like SEO Meta in 1 CLICK to do quick SEO health checks for each page
  • Ensure page titles, H1 tags, and meta descriptions are relevant and do not cut off in the SERPs
  • Maintain a consistent content-style, substance, and template across PDPs 
  • Check rank profiles for high-value keywords and prioritize those that require a boost
  • Use Google Trends to see how searches for your products are changing, or if your business can answer any trending searches
  • Take advantage of underutilized resources and produce product-specific content for SEO and, potentially, social – this does not have to be specific to COVID-19
    • For example, designers can write keyword-rich articles or film videos, where they discuss specific product features. Store employees can do the same, sharing details on product fit or any other unique insights.

Finally, if you do not have an SEO agency, now’s a great time to consider starting that search. Dynamic Yield has an amazing ecosystem of partners you can tap into for that.

Clearly communicate how you’re responding to COVID-19

Right now, everything is in flux, and consumers want to know you’re not asleep at the wheel. With that in mind, commit to over-communicating all of the levers your organization is pulling, particularly on the homepage. 

Be upfront, clear, and set expectations when it comes to any outages or service disruptions. Additionally, what steps you’re taking as a brand to keep your customers and employees safe. 

Adopt a human-first approach to your messaging

A considerable amount of research shows younger consumers expect brands to stand for something, not just sell products. What we can extrapolate from this insight is that brands need to create a more human connection with customers, particularly at a time like this. 

Show them you’re not just a logo and use this as an opportunity to be empathetic to their situation, anxieties, and needs throughout this crisis. 

Here are a few great examples I’ve rounded up of how others are doing this effectively:

Walmart COVID-19 corporate communication example

Walmart built a page on its corporate site dedicated to sharing important store info, how it’s supporting its customers, and answers to frequently asked questions

DSW responding to COVID-19 on its eCommerce site

DSW has put COVID-19 front and center, highlighting important messages, promotions, and service updates visitors should know about across its site

Best Buy highlighting COVID-19 communication to customers

Best Buy uses a main content module and top skinny banner on the homepage to direct visitors to a landing page with resources related to COVID-19, including a regularly updated blog post

Amazon dedicated two main content modules on its homepage to COVID-19 resources

Amazon’s first content module on the homepage sends visitors to a daily updated blog on how the company is supporting its employees, customers, and communities, while another urges visitors to donate

Zappos encouraging visitors to learn more about how the company is handling COVID-19

Zappos is using its homepage hero banner to encourage shoppers to visit its COVID-19 page where it not only highlights its 24/7 customer service but also ways Zappos is giving back, and how customers can get involved

Lastly, I wanted to share this email from Harbor Freight tools that not only updates their clients on how the brand is responding to the crisis but also all of the ways they’re working to create value for their customers.

Lean on or grow your digital capabilities

If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that the impact of COVID-19 is being felt across countries, industries, and companies – for some more so than others. And with business operations completely thrown for a loop, it’s important to try and find ways to adapt and thrive, evolving with your customer’s new buying process. 

For example, is there a digital service or product you can spin that aligns with your value proposition? The goal is to think of how your brand can best utilize the resources you have available to meet customer needs as effectively as possible not just right now, but also after the crisis subsides.

Here are a few great examples I’ve rounded up of how others are doing this effectively:

WW weight watchers virtual workouts

WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) digitized a staple of their product offering at the beginning of the crisis, showcasing it did not miss a beat while also protecting the health of their members and staff.

Barilla live cooking classes throughout COVID-19

Barilla pasta Italy combined compassionate marketing with its brand promise, creating live cooking classes on Instagram when the lockdown began.

MyMenu helping restaurants get online during COVID-19

MyMenu, which provides digital technology for restaurant menus on tablets, seamlessly pivoted their product to help restaurants get online, for free.

Walgreens teams up with Postmates during COVID-19

Walgreens has partnered with Postmates to deliver prescriptions, creating a mutual lifeline for the two services that have been very much impacted by the crisis.

OpenTable expands to reserve grocery slots amid COVID-19

OpenTable expanded its offering to reserve time slots at grocery stores – a brilliant idea after the restaurant dining experience evaporated overnight.

This level of innovation requires an organization-wide response, with clear business goals and strong executive sponsors to push the company forward. Additionally, tight collaboration between the different digital teams who will need to be involved.

The importance of strong digital strategy and management structure is likely to be a lasting legacy of this crisis, so if that’s not in place today, this is a good time to initiate those conversations.

Prepare your operations for reopening, recovery, and beyond

First, decide who owns what.

The most consistent mistake we’ve seen organizations make as of late is failing to assign a personalization/testing owner and ensuring accountability for success. If no one is paid to care, these efforts will generally fall through the cracks. And that, of course, applies to anything.

With the scaling back of many departments and operations due to the crisis, it’s time to decide which areas are a priority and who is responsible for each. 

This is crucial as we head into recovery as all eyes will be on eCommerce to carry strong revenue generation when physical retail begins to come back online.

Even once stores are up and running again, physical and digital will have to collaborate more than ever given the need for buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), delivery, and running through inventory that has been locked up for a few months.

If you haven’t already, we recommended determining a stated owner for each of the following: 

  • eCommerce 
  • Merchandising and recommendations 
  • SEO
  • Social
  • Paid media
  • Personalization and testing (including segmentation/audiencing

Additionally, it’s important that everything you do is measurable and accountable by the numbers.

With the increased visibility on eCommerce teams during both crisis and recovery phases, it’s crucial to set clear KPI-based goals (prioritized based on business impact) as well as to measure and analyze them with a consistent, transparent process. 

This is not groundbreaking advice, and you’ve probably already had meetings about becoming more data-led, but this is the time to finalize your team’s approach.

If you haven’t already, we recommend you take the following actions: 

  • Determine the ultimate site KPIs for your department (by execution and task)
  • Decide on the reporting template your team will look at on weekly / monthly basis
  • Agree on how your team will regularly communicate to the organization
    • Including the impact of testing and experimentation on your defined KPIs

Lastly, keep it simple and consistent – piling on too many metrics to keep track of will likely confuse your team rather than prime them for action. Scale it back to what’s important and then measure that day in and day out.

Come back next week for more tips 

We’ll be updating this post next week with additional tips, so be sure to stop back in. And visit our COVID-19 marketing hub, where you can find strategies and insights for dealing with coronavirus’ many challenges – we’re updating the resources there (in addition to this one) on a regular basis to ensure the most up-to-date information. 

See you soon.