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Marketing In 2020? As A Brand, Here’s How You Should Be Thinking About Communicating With The World Right Now

Siddharth Taparia

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There are two major issues affecting the world right now—and specifically the United States.

One is the pandemic, which has proven itself to be much more than just a health crisis. The economic impact alone has been catastrophic, with unemployment higher than it’s been since the government started tracking this data in 1948. Individuals, families, communities, and companies have all been affected.

Second, the United States is finally beginning to wake up to the racial injustices that have long divided our country. The nation-wide Black Lives Matter protests that have occurred demanding change, have proven to be a modern-day civil rights movement. Now more than ever, people feel the need to speak up for these issues, and be part of moving forward—not backward.

As a result, if you are a “customer” in North America right now, of any brand, business, or company, then these are the two biggest issues at the forefront of your mind: the coronavirus, and racial injustice. Which means, in order to be heard as a brand or company in today’s environment, you need to meet customers where they already are. You need to keep in mind what we’re all going through and experiencing right now, collectively.

The question marketers are asking now is, “What can we do in this environment?” 

For context, this unconventional environment is set to remain through the end of the year, with cities like Philadelphia already projecting large concerts, sporting events, etc., to be halted until 2021

  • Marketing and networking events are off the table. Here at SAP, we’ve canceled all our events for 2020 —and we host plenty of them
  • Sponsorship opportunities have dramatically decreased. You can’t sponsor events that don’t happen, arenas that aren’t filled.
  • Product launches have been postponed indefinitely. You can’t really launch new products unless they are hyper-contextual to what is happening right now.
  • Guerilla marketing and transit advertising are nonexistent. These forms of marketing require foot traffic and people being out in the world.

What marketers are facing is the reality that marketing plans tend to be built around spending money across a wide variety of channels (not just digital). And when events, sponsorships, display, and transit advertising all go out the window, you’re not left with very much. Furthermore, as the coronavirus continues to remain the epicenter of the world’s attention, you can’t just execute marketing tactics for the sake of marketing. You need to carefully and deliberately consider the marketing methods that will be more relevant.

Here are a few ways you should be thinking about marketing throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Speak to what’s happening in the world at this moment.

In 2012, still recovering from the 2009 mortgage crisis, Chrysler aired a Super Bowl ad that spoke directly to what people were thinking and feeling at that time.

Narrated by Clint Eastwood, the ad drew a parallel between the Super Bowl halftime, “Both teams sitting in their locker rooms discussing what they can do to win in the second half,” and America—and how people were out of work, wondering how they were going to make it back as well. The ad was extremely relevant to the moment.

What happens in a lot of cases, however, is that because marketing lead times are so long, you end up missing the moment. You have an idea. You work with an agency. You shoot it. You review it. You refine it. And then by the time you actually share it with the world, the world has moved on. 

But this is one of those few times where the news has essentially stopped. And the only things that people care about are COVID-19 and racial justice.

So, talk about it.

2. Marketing mixes need to abandon physical tactics for a while—and move entirely to digital.

Our marketing mix at SAP has been completely upended and moved to 100% digital as a result.

What this means is we have had to recontextualize many different roles within the company, and move them over to a new model for communicating with the world. We’re moving people and budgets from hosting physical events to hosting virtual events like SAPPHIRE NOW Reimagined, because that’s the only way to curate large and small groups of people without being able to be in-person. We’re reallocating sponsorship resources to digital tactics, and even exploring some newer channels that had been lower priorities for us in years past. `

Now is the time to experiment.

3. Your messages have to convey empathy.

Roughly half our customers, 225,000 or so, fall in the small and midsize enterprise space.

Well, small and midsize companies are going to be hit particularly hard by all of this. Entire companies have fallen apart overnight. Macy’s, the GAP, StubHub, Live Nation—these companies had to furlough nearly every single frontline employee working in their stores because their customers were stuck at home. Demand for anything that required an in-person interaction plummeted overnight.

With that in mind, whenever you talk about anything (whether it’s a product, a new campaign, a keynote event, even a single banner ad), it has to be done with empathy right now. It has to be rooted in the awareness of what’s really happening in the world. Empathy is what causes customers to feel like you’re there to help and support them. 

Meet your customers where they are.

Siddharth Taparia is the Senior Vice President and Global Head of Brand and Experience Marketing at SAP where he has the global end to end responsibility for SAP's Corporate Marketing functions including Brand, Media, Advertising, Sponsorships, Digital Content, Events and Experience Centers. He is responsible for growing the SAP Brand, the 17th most valuable in the world and the most valuable brand in Germany as well as driving awareness and demand generation.

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