The COVID-19 pandemic is seriously disrupting the world economy. For nimble companies with creative leaders, this presents a huge opportunity to remake the competitive landscape to their advantage. The key is being ready to rapidly rebound from this crisis when it has passed.
As the Boston Consulting Group put it in “COVID-19: Critical Business Response,” a paper it issued just as the novel coronavirus was landing in America, “Previous crises show that business positions will change as industries recover…. Business leaders need to be alert and active in understanding shifts and how to invest, position and build structural advantage for this new reality.”
While your competitors are hunkered down, working from home in their pajamas and basically treading water until the danger has past, you should be spending your time developing new marketing messages, new content and new channels that will enable your company to hit the ground running as soon as it is deemed safe. This will earn you a six- to eight-week lead on large, lumbering competitors who will wait will until the crisis is over to start developing their marketing campaigns for the brave new world that awaits us.
This is how a company with No. 1 market share falls to 4th or 5th place and a company with a small market share becomes a major player – in the span of a few months, versus the years this kind of shift would normally require.
Begin by determining what the inflection point will be in your industry, i.e., when the situation is stabilized and consumption confidence returns. You do this by staying in close contact with your salesforce and distribution network, looking for signs that your customers will soon begin buying at levels that approach pre-COVID rates.
Cision, the global company that maintains the world’s largest database of information about journalists, came out with a study in late March that can help you determine your inflection point. The study correlated the spread of the pandemic in China with news coverage of the disease to predict when consumers are likely to be receptive to “normal” marketing messages – that is, messages about something other than the pandemic, a point China has already reached. Since the U.S. is about seven to eight weeks behind China in arc of the disease, the Cision study predicts that the inflection point for most industries in this nation will be late spring to early summer.
The Cision study goes on to say that when this inflection point is reached, marketers will have about a six-week window during which consumers will be open to new messages. After that time, they’ll have less time available for news consumption, as they’ll be heavily focused on getting back to work and catching up. This is especially good news for fast-moving companies that are prepared to move when the inflection point arrives, as it means that their slower competitors are likely to completely miss this window of opportunity, given that it usually takes at least six weeks to create a new marketing campaign.
Preparing for your company’s rapid rebound is a two-step process: 1) figuring out what to do NOW to establish the credibility you’ll need to quickly succeed during the coming six-week window and 2) creating marketing messages and materials to deploy THEN.
Now, while we’re in the midst of the pandemic, only topics pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic will break through media clutter (as any publicist can vouch for). This is NOT the time to be putting out product news. Focus on corporate social responsibility issues to establish credibility.
But, your real energy now needs to be directed toward creating the marketing materials you’ll need for your rapid rebound. In preparing the materials to deploy during the six-week window this summer, keep in mind these lessons from the Cision China study:
- There will be a yearning for non-COVID news and information.
- Yet, the focus of your marketing message should be “health first” – people will still be wary of getting sick. We won’t return to “normal” for some time, probably over a year.
- Many people will still be spending most of their day sheltering in place; they’ll have lots of time to consume news and marketing messages.
- This will be a good time to run new digital formats, new creative, new messaging.
- “Contactless business” will still be very popular; make sure it is easy to do business with your company without physical contact.
So, what should you be preparing now for use later? Well, as an example, our PR firm is producing the following content for our clients’ rapid rebound:
- Publicity: before and after member survey; stories about new products, new locations, new technology, new markets; bylined columns by C Level executives about the post-COVID era; how technology can prevent or mitigate future crises; how to sell your business in a post-COVID economy
- Blog posts: lessons from the pandemic; stories about heroic and/or inspiring work done by employees during the pandemic; how to institute information management protocols
- Social media posts: launches of health-related products; information about financial wellness; photos of employees in newly social distance configured office space
- Videos: messages from CEO; customer testimonials; how to work productively from home
- Marketing Collateral: financial wellness kit; financial planning kit; post-COVID litigation kit
- White Papers: how to design offices for the post-COVID era; how to crisis-proof your estate plan
Bottom line: Rather than a business problem to be solved, the COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented opportunity for resourceful business owners to reset the competitive landscape and come out miles ahead of their slower moving, often larger competitors, who will wait until the coast is clear to begin thinking about operating in the reshuffled world that lies on the other side of this crisis.
(Originally appeared in Forbes)