March 25, 2020

Marketing In A Time of Fear: Three Steps for Getting Unstuck

Joshua Reynolds

We can stop calling it “uncertainty.”

It’s fear.

In the wake of Covid-19, many people are feeling scared, and marketers are no exception. Conferences and events have been canceled. Sales pipelines have been dented, if not broken. Our inboxes, social feeds and screens are flooded with pandemic updates, frightening forecasts and new restrictions on daily life. All but the most essential communications are often ignored. And the recent shelter-in-place orders have everybody on edge.

Everybody reacts to the coronavirus crisis in their own way. But there is one constant—Fear. We’re facing the upending of daily life on a global scale. We’re feeling fragile . We’re worried about our families, friends, jobs and financial security. We have no idea what’s happening next. And we’re not sure how long this will last or what the “new normal” will even look like.

You’re a marketer. You’re afraid. And so are many of your customers.

So … what are you going to do?

1. Acknowledge your own fear and deal with it intentionally.

Remember … fear isn’t the enemy. As my friend and colleague Guryan Tighe points out, it’s our knee-jerk, unexamined reactions to fear that get us into trouble. When fear of Covid-19 leads to more hand-washing, social distancing and other preventative measures, that’s a good thing. When that fear turns into panic and leads to hoarding toilet paper, generates constant anxiety and paralyzes us, that’s a problem.  

So as a marketing leader, become aware of your own reactions. If you’re feeling stuck, don’t panic. You can still do something. It’s better than doing nothing—even if you’re not certain what you’re doing will succeed. Just keep moving forward, learn, and adapt—as always. 

2. Become aware of the subliminal signals your messages are sending.

The usual marketing playbook leverages a fear of scarcity—convince people that they lack something, they’ll never achieve happiness or success without it, and that your product/service/solution is the answer. But when your target audience is already feeling overwhelmed, fragile and powerless, you have to switch up the approach. In the midst of this pandemic, the message that carries more impact is this: we all have more power than we realize. We’re going to be okay. We have the capacity to adapt, evolve and thrive. Through persuasive storytelling, you can help customers see themselves as heroes, and you can position your solution as a way they can tap into their own power. This message of hope is more likely to break through the white noise of panic and resonate on a deeper level.

In fact, my friend and innovation expert Charlene Li has already started a shared list of companies who are engaged in not only positive messaging but acts of compassion and kindness during these stressful times. These are prime examples of how to break through the static of fear with a signal of empowerment. 

3. Get creative about where and how you share that message.

Virtually every in-person event on the planet is cancelled, depriving companies of a critical marketing tool. But according to our recent survey of 500 B2B technology buyers across the U.S., events are just one way to drive new business leads and final purchase decisions. Word of mouth from peers, expert advice from industry analysts and experts, and trusted trade publications are even more effective than live events for rebuilding sales pipelines bruised by the global pandemic.

With a creative approach to content, you can generate positive word-of-mouth through the use of provocative open-ended questions posed in virtual roundtables, remote presentations and webinars, curated micro-communities, and a strategically orchestrated series of online experiences.

A live event’s keynote presentations become online videos—the tentpoles of your content strategy. Special-interest session tracks emerge as online roundtables that you refresh periodically. The pre-event registration becomes the basis of an online community-building strategy, and an “opt-in”strategy for what kinds of content, connections and keynotes would be most relevant.

In-person conferences allow for networking and camaraderie among peers. We cannot lose these bonds, especially with the reality of shelter-in-place and physical distancing. You must find a way for your customers and communities to continue connecting with each other – to keep the social connection (more important now than ever). Host periodic online meet-ups and virtual town halls. Survey people and find out what new challenges they’re wrestling with, and discuss them openly in an online forum.

Throughout all of these content strategies, guide your customers with provocative, constructive questions that help them discover new possibilities. Bust myths. Challenge assumptions. And help them see what they couldn’t before. Rob Roy Consulting’s recent research shows that two of the most effective ways for B2B tech companies to generate positive word-of-mouth is to provide new approaches to challenges and provoke new thinking with smart questions. And in our experience, the same approach works across multiple sectors.

In the coming weeks, we will continue to share tips and techniques for maintaining momentum with your customers, digitize your persuasive storytelling, and break through fear, uncertainty and doubt. Because in time we will get through this. And when we do, those companies who delivered a message of empowerment, stayed close to their customers, and led them through this crisis with compassion will have a distinct advantage over those who allowed fear to get the better of them.

We choose hope. And we hope you do the same.

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