April 28, 2020

48 Resources to Help You Overcome Seven Marketing Challenges in the Era of Coronavirus (that aren’t necessarily new)


The coronavirus seems to have quickly pounded us with new challenges out of nowhere.

But has it really?

Yes, in the aggregate, we all face a new adversary unlike anything we’ve experienced in our lives, our careers and our marketing.

But in this article, we break these challenges down one by one. And as the title suggests, individually, they are not necessarily new. Read on to discover what you can learn from the past to address the challenges you face today.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

overcome coronavirus

(As seen in the MarketingSherpa newsletter. Click to get a free email subscription to the latest from MarketingSherpa.)

I’ve dealt with emergencies before; I live in Jacksonville, Florida, so hurricanes are a regular occurrence (or the threat of hurricanes at least). We see the run on supplies (bottled water instead of toilet paper). But those are brief. And local. This pandemic is global and ongoing.

Viruses and diseases were harmful and deadly before the novel coronavirus. But since other viruses have been around longer, much more is known about many of them, with more treatment options. None seem so easy to catch or pass on to others, so virulent.

And in previous hard times before, communal challenges always seem to pull people together. Now, we must literally stay apart, even from members of our own extended family, while digitally trying to be #AloneTogether.

In the face of such deep and far-reaching human impacts of COVID-19, it feels very small to talk about marketing challenges right now. But, as others in government, health care and the scientific research community address this coronavirus with their skills, we must also address it in the way we are most able to.

For MarketingSherpa, that means discussing marketing challenges. As I went through these, a thought occurred to me. None of these challenges are really new. In the aggregate, it is sadly true, that we’ve never seen anything like this before.

But taken individually and looked at broadly, perhaps these challenges aren’t so unprecedented. MarketingSherpa, along with its sister publication MarketingExperiments and parent organization MECLABS Institute, have been addressing similar challenges for more than two decades.

Please forgive me if this analogy lands poorly — but I couldn’t help but think that the marketing community already has some figurative antibodies from previous exposure to these marketing challenges.

We’ve filled this article with challenges you may be facing right now, along with articles, videos and other resources from the past 21 years showing how marketers have addressed and overcome, to help you come up with tactics and ideas to do the same for your company and/or your clients.

There’s a lot here, and all of this is certainly not meant to be read or watched in one sitting. Feel free to scan through and dive deeper into the pieces that help with your specific challenges. Perhaps, even bookmark this page and come back as those pain points evolve through the duration of this coronavirus crisis.


Challenge #1: Budget cuts

While some marketing departments (and entire companies) are having to make budget cuts across the world, this is of course nothing new.

Experienced marketers have likely dealt with budget cuts several times in their careers. Economies have always been cyclical, and budgets tend to get cut in a downturn. Even in a good economy, individual company situations — from losing a big client to getting acquired — force a budget cut.

Here are some articles to help you deal with budget cuts, many from the time of the last economic downturn dubbed the Great Recession:


Challenge #2: The move to digital

As stay-at-home orders have reverberated around the globe, an optimized digital experience has been key for many brands to still function and serve customers. Even after stay-at-home orders are lifted in many places, customers may choose to shop remotely more often (although, once customers feel safe again, we may see pent up demand to get out of the house and have physical, real-life experiences).

But again, this is nothing new. We’ve been covering brands making the shift to digital for decades and then optimizing those digital experiences. Some resources that may help:


Challenge #3: Working from home and managing a distributed team

Many of you are probably reading this article while working from home, and I am writing it from my house.

But I first worked from home back in 2004. The spread of broadband internet over the years has increased the number of marketers who work from him, even before the pandemic hit. If working from home or managing a distributed team that is now working from home has been a challenge for you, here is some information that can help.


Challenge #4: So much is changing so fast

We could all get whiplash from how quickly the world economy has changed. A robust labor market has given way to rapid unemployment. The stock market and interest rates dropped massively (although stocks are rebounding as of the writing of this article). Futures contracts for oil dropped to -$37 at one point. And demand tumbled in some industries (travel and tourism, automobiles) while rapidly increased in others (news, jigsaw puzzles, and toilet paper, sweet toilet paper).

But when have marketers not had to be flexible? When have they not had to pivot to find new opportunities based on changing market, industry and competitive conditions? We’ve seen rapid change many times before from upstarts challenging seemingly entrenched rivals (hello Google, goodbye Yahoo!), new technology (hello VOIP, goodbye landlines), new business models (hello DTC mattresses in a box, goodbye mattress stores), and macroeconomic swings in economic cycles (conspicuous consumption is in, thrift and savings are out … and then thrift and savings are in, and conspicuous consumption is out).

If you’ve had any length to your career, you are likely doing something very different than what you started doing. I started out copywriting for advertisements that appeared in the print edition of The Wall Street Journal, and the call-to-action was a phone number. Now I’m writing content marketing that people read directly on their telephones.  

When I think of the flexibility necessary for a marketing career, it reminds me of the Bruce Lee Quote, “You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup … Become like water my friend.” Here’s some content to give you ideas for staying flexible and finding the opportunity.


Challenge #5: Customers are very concerned

Anxiety is high these days, and probably the biggest concern has nothing to do with purchasing your products and services directly. People are thinking — will I get sick? If I do, will our health care system be able to take care of me, or will I be overwhelmed? Will I get someone I love sick? Will I get someone who is helping me as a friend or as part of their job sick? Will we die?

First and foremost, people are concerned about the human impact of this new virus.

Out from that are secondary concerns that relate to your product and your marketing. Is it worth it to shop in this store or get this delivery if it gets someone sick? Is there a risk in getting this service performed at my home?

And out from that are a myriad of other concerns: Can I still afford this purchase if I lost my job? Should I wait to see if the price drops on this? What if things change further in society and this purchase is no longer a good idea? Will the value of the dollar or the stock market drop and hurt my savings? Do I still really even need this product or service? Etc., etc.

The rapid spread of this novel coronavirus has brought many new concerns to customers that we marketers would never have considered months if not mere weeks ago. That is true.

But customer anxiety itself — that is nothing new. Marketers and business leaders have been dealing with it since the first economic transaction. Is that fur worth 10 seashells, or should I only pay five? Will it keep me warm, or should I invest in fire instead?

Here are some ideas to help you address customer anxiety in your marketing.


Challenge #6: Traditional processes have broken down

Perhaps customers can no longer order in your store and get direct help from a sales rep. Or your refund and return policies have had to change several times as the situation has rapidly deteriorated. Or maybe your supply chain has had issues causing product delivery or repair delays.

Some of this can be addressed in your digital platforms — on your landing page, through email, on social media, etc.

However, partly due to quick changes in society and the marketplace and partly due to increased customer anxiety and the need for some customers to get direct human help, customer service is crucial now more than ever.

While in normal times an optimized pre- and post-purchase funnel could handle most use cases, customer service has always been necessary to handle edge cases. The challenge today is, there are so many more edge cases.

Here are some articles to help your organization’s customer service operation, and how it relates to the marketing department.


Challenge #7: Marketing a product or service when your customer isn’t buying

In their day-to-day jobs, marketers are thought of as the group in the organization that is driving leads, sales and revenue. But amidst coronavirus, customers may not be interested or ready to buy your product. Or they may be unable to purchase because using your service is closed due to public health and safety orders or your company cannot produce and sell products now because of supply chain and sourcing issues.

Makes it seem like the marketer has no purpose now?

Not true. Even when the economy is robust and normal, it doesn’t make sense to be constantly promoting and selling for most products. Customers don’t purchase these products right away. They must go through a micro-yes sequence of decisions before they purchase. Marketers who don’t respect this buyer’s journey and ask for the sale too early are turning away potential customers before they are ready to make the purchase decision.

So what should your marketing be doing now? In a way, the same thing it should always be doing — helping potential customers, whether they buy from you or not. Your KPI might change now from purchases to engagement — a metric some direct marketers are loath to see any value in.

But remember, even an email subscription, form fill or social media follow is a purchase of a product on some level. Customers aren’t paying with their money, but they are purchasing with their time, information and trust. By building those engagements during this time, you are setting up your business for success when customers are ready and able to buy.

Related Resources

Marketers Stand Together: 3 powerful ways your marketing can combat coronavirus COVID-19’s impact

The Hidden Opportunity Within the COVID-19 Crisis: Three ways to transform your work and your life

8 Examples of How Business Owners and Marketing Leaders Can Respond to the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic

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