The effect of the COVID-19 crisis on daily life will be felt for a long time.
Although parts of the country are reopening, the “new normal” includes remote working, staggered school days and smaller class sizes, masked servers in restaurants and limited travel.
Businesses are having to adjust to what could almost be called wartime conditions, and they are seeing marked effects on their sales, marketing and communications strategies. Two quite different challenges are emerging, although they may have common solutions.
For many businesses, a major challenge created by the pandemic can be summarized as lack of engagement. For sales, that means a barren pipeline; for marketing, a sluggish top of funnel. For comms teams, the same challenge is reflected in the difficulty of finding an engaged audience for any kind of regular brand message. If the story is not about COVID-19, the faltering economy or the protests for which the health and economic crises form a backdrop, audiences turn the virtual page and move on.
A minority of businesses face the opposite challenge. Brands supporting the nationwide transition to remote working, such as vendors of video conferencing services or collaboration tools, are seeing such abundant demand that sales teams are overwhelmed. The comms analogy is that processing and responding to stories that are relevant to the crisis can be daunting. Incoming information is voluminous beyond belief, and media demand for crisis-related content is insatiable.
To add to the pain, the crisis has a different lifespan than a typical public relations emergency. Media attention for most brand mishaps is limited, but there will be no moving on from COVID-19 and related problems in the immediate future.
There may be no complete answer to these challenges, but a smart response will include flexibility at the strategic and human level, supported by a versatile and high-impact technology layer.
For many sales and marketing teams, strategic changes should include a readiness to adjust planning at very short notice. This environment is not hospitable to annual or even quarterly plans. As we’ve seen all too clearly, businesses fully committed to serving a segment hard-hit by the crisis – restaurants, for example, or travel – are suffering. The new normal will require many businesses to alter their go-to-market strategy with little notice, including changes in production and staffing.
Smart sales and marketing teams will lean on tech stacks that are responsive to rapid change. The hallmarks of high-impact software in this environment will be speed of implementation and ease of use, plus, above all, automation. Happily, cloud-based software might have been designed with remote working in mind.
For comms teams, the pressure will come from the difficulty of being heard, whether because you’re in competition with countless other crisis stories or because you have a message vital to the brand that is not about the crisis at all.
A responsive tech stack will form part of the solution for the comms challenge. The components, in addition to remote collaboration tools like video-conferencing, are likely to be:
Software supporting transparent workflows, with automated updates to show teams’ activity
Media lists that update automatically, as well as providing an automated record of interactions
Data-driven insights that provide a granular understanding of which audiences messages are reaching, and how those audiences are responding
Real-time metrics to inform optimization of campaigns
Data will be critical. Messages will need to be targeted with laser-like precision to not get lost in the ever-increasing noise. For many comms teams, this might be intimidating. But in the new normal, the old ways are going to fall short.