Should I Still Advertise During the Coronavirus Outbreak?

Sara Thomas

Should I Still Advertise During the Coronavirus Outbreak? 1

Retail Marketing in The Time of COVID-19


Brick-and-mortar retail has faced plenty of challenges in recent years, but the eruption of the novel coronavirus into the U.S. has thrown many retailers for a loop. How do you adapt your marketing when foot traffic isn’t an option? What sort of advertising makes sense when the threat of quarantine is looming? How much should you be spending? And where should you spend it? These aren’t questions we’ve had to face before, and the solutions aren’t readily apparent.

The pandemic is a multi-faceted problem for retailers and restaurants, impacting labor, supply, sales, and marketing. With so much uncertainty looming, trying to figure out how to adjust your marketing plan can be overwhelming. Here are some tips on how to make sense of marketing during a natural disaster like the COVID-19 outbreak.


Adjust your operations first (be sure to walk the walk)

First things first: make sure your operations are in order. When a customer comes into your retail location, you want them to feel at ease. Extra sanitation, worker safety, and customer protection should be every retailer’s first order of business. Each retailer should review the CDC’s guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID- 19 and take the necessary steps to keep workers and customers safe. 

Communicate to your customer base that you’re taking precautions, and that their safety is important to you. Provide talking points to your employees so they’re prepared to address concerns, and arm them with an action item list in the event that they encounter a customer they think may be sick. Above all, listen to the concerns of your staff and your customers, and be honest about what you’re doing to address the situation. You don’t want a PR nightmare on top of an already tough-to-navigate circumstance.


Think long-term

As people start to adjust their shopping behavior to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, short-term transactions may take a hit. That can make some retailers weary about spending money on marketing. With the amount of uncertainty, it’s certainly good to keep a close eye on overhead. But it’s also critical not to lose all of your marketing momentum while the retail space is being affected by reduced traffic. Look for ways to maintain share of voice even though people are hesitant to leave their homes. When the market rebounds, you’ll still be top-of-mind with consumers. 

I often tell clients to think of their marketing like a boulder. The slower it becomes, the harder it is to push. Once it’s rolling, you’re golden, and you can push your plan along with ease. When the boulder comes to a full stop, it takes a lot bigger push (read: bigger budget) to get it going again. It’s important even in times of uncertainty not to let your boulder completely stop moving.


Take advantage of competition’s missteps

Even though you know not to let your share of voice deteriorate, many of your competitors may not. Less noise means easier access to your target audience. While others are turning their messaging down, turning yours up can have a positive impact.


Adjust mix and messaging for changes in media consumption

Taking advantage of others’ reduced media presence doesn’t mean just buying up every platform indiscriminately. Think strategically about how the virus may change consumer behavior, and tweak your marketing as needed.

For example, the increase in people working from home could have an impact on drive-time radio, so you may want to pivot to a streaming audio product. School closures and cancelations of large events might mean more time in front of the TV, making that a prime space for advertisers. News consumption will likely increase, so you may want to tweak your dayparting to capitalize. Buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) is an attractive option for consumers who don’t want to spend a ton of time in-store; if you offer it, you could ramp up your BOPIS messaging.

Changes in consumer habits have the potential to affect the reach, frequency, and effectiveness of your “usual” media mix. Stay flexible, think ahead, and make sure your marketing team or ad agency is ready to adjust your media plan accordingly.


Review media cancelation policies

An event like the novel coronavirus requires companies to be nimble with their marketing. As the situation evolves day to day (or hour to hour), decision makers need to consider the impact on their business, and on their marketing strategy. 

Let’s say you’ve placed a terrestrial radio buy. If wide-spread quarantine hits your area, you may want to consider shifting some of those already-placed media dollars to social media. However, many media companies require a lead time for no-charge cancelation. Some media is even non-cancelable. Be sure to review your contract carefully to avoid paying penalties. Your agency can help keep you in the loop as cancelation deadlines approach. Your agency partners may also be able to leverage their relationships with their sales reps to make the impossible possible.


Be ready when retail starts to bounce back

At some point, the current crisis will come to a conclusion. When it does, be ready with a plan to get your marketing boulder rolling again. Work with your marketing partners to assess budget impacts, and identify which platforms can work to quickly ramp back up transactions and store visits. Strategies like loss-leading offers paired with bounce-backs can help boost your sales and guest traffic back to pre-event numbers. When the world emerges on the other side of this crisis, be prepared to hit the ground running. 

Successful retail marketing during a major event like the coronavirus is definitely a moving target, but the solutions are out there. If you’re feeling lost, Charlton Marketing can help. Feel free to reach out… just be sure to wash your hands first.