3 phase marketing framework to stay afloat in times of crisis

VUCANION 3 Phase Marketing Framework in Crisis

How to keep your focus on the True North when your world feels like it’s falling apart?

Norman Rohr - SVP Uberall

Summary - Proactive crisis marketing communication in times of crisis

In times of crisis, fast and precise response is required. Tackling the impact of the corona pandemic in a proactive way, we need to avoid falling into a “busy mode” engaging in an overload of unfocused activities.

The key question is how to transition from a ‘how to respond to the crisis?’ reactive mode to a  ‘how does your solution help to tackle the crisis’ conversation?

Instead of following a purely technical business approach, we need empathy and emphasis on the human element in interactions with colleagues, clients and the public. At the same time, businesses must not lose focus on the ‘True North’. Keeping personal relationships at the center while pursuing your business goals is the art.

To effectively do so I am suggesting a 3 phase marketing framework for crisis management. After the initial, short phase of “reaction”, your organization needs to get back into the driver’s seat to “lead the conversation”, which is followed by a third stage that focuses on “adjusting to the ‘new normal’”.

The faster your organization gets into phase three operating towards a crystal-clear Picture of the Future and a revised business and marketing plan, the better teams navigate through the stormy waters of the crisis and get ahead of struggle, pain and competition.

Introduction - Keep personal relationships at the center while focussing on the 'True North'

In times of crisis, fast and precise response is required. Tackling the impact of the corona pandemic in a proactive way, we need to avoid falling into a “busy mode” engaging in an overload of unfocused activities.

The key question is how to transition from a ‘how to respond to the crisis?’ reactive mode to a  ‘how does your solution help to tackle the crisis’ conversation?

Instead of following a purely technical and transactional business approach, we need empathy and emphasis on the human element in interactions with colleagues, clients and the public. At the same time, businesses must not lose focus on the ‘True North’. Keeping personal relationships at the center while pursuing your business goals is the art. 

To effectively do so, I am suggesting a 3 phase marketing framework for crisis management. After the initial, short phase of “Reaction”, your organization needs to get back into the driver’s seat to “lead the conversation”, which is followed by a third stage that focuses on “adjusting to the ‘new normal’”. 

The quicker your organization gets to phase three operating towards a crystal-clear Picture of the Future and a revised business and marketing plan, the better your teams navigate through the stormy waters of the crisis and get ahead of struggle, pain and competition.

3 phase crisis response model

In these days of the coronavirus, you’ve probably received sales pitches from companies leveraging the pandemic to sell you into their products and services. Many of the pitches may have lacked empathy towards the dire situation your business, your employees, friends or the general public may be subjected to – a clear indication of the transactional view these vendors hold of their relationship with you.

However, humans are inherently driven by social interactions, we prefer lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. As such, more than ever in times of crises, it is imperative to show empathy and a human face towards our clients, partners, prospects, as well as the general public.

Nevertheless, your business must not lose focus on the True North. So, how do you ensure your marketing team makes the shift from: “How to respond to COVID-19” to “How to leverage our solution to address Corona”? And how do you do this in a way that puts your relationships with customers, prospects, partners, etc at the center, and at the same time keeps the organization focused?

At Uberall, I broke this down into 3 phases:

  • Reaction;
  • Lead the conversation; and
  • Adjust to the ‘new normal’.

As a general advice: phases 1 and 2 live from over-communication. Times of crisis are times of confusion and feelings of helplessness.
Proactive, frequent communication provides your stakeholders a strong shoulder they can lean on.

3 Phase Crisis Response Plan

Note: the timelines are indicative and can vary depending on the situation

Phase 1: Reaction - what to do first

Phase 1 starts almost immediately after the onset of the crisis. While you want to avoid appearing alarmist, ideally you should be part of the early majority in your communication. Your primary audience during this initial phase should be your customers, partners, prospects and other immediate stakeholders such as employees and investors.

At this early stage, general content about the nature of the crisis, as well as early guidance are highly appreciated. Recognize the situation, show empathy and understanding and provide early, helpful tips. Given the novelty of the situation, nobody expects you to have fully fleshed out solutions. But for sure they expect to hear from you.

Don’t forget to adjust your marketing activities. Pause your campaigns, adjust your homepage and creative and make it easy for incoming inquiries to access relevant information and support.

Here is a non-exhaustive selection of actions Uberall took during this phase:

  • Outreach to all customers and partners
  • Email to prospects
  • Extensive communication to internal stakeholders via Town Halls, team meetings, email and intranet
  • Website adjustments: change homepage and build coronavirus hub, including a large FAQ section
  • A series of blog posts illuminating the situation and providing helpful advice
  • A series of Ask-me-anything (AMA) webinars for our customers and partners
  • Pause and rework existing outreach, promotion and nurturing campaigns

Phase 2: Lead the conversation

After the initial phase immediately following the external shock, most will have assessed the situation and gotten some grasp of the new status quo. In consequence, the market has caught up and there will be plenty of information on the symptoms of the situation available.

Phase 1 response came natural to most of us. However at this point, high-level articles with general tips will not cut it anymore. Instead, your customers, prospects and partners are looking for deeper insights, i.e. information that actually helps them address their most important challenges. They want to lean on you as their experienced subject matter expert. Focus on hidden, surprising facts and recommendations, and show your mastery of the situation. Naturally, the tone of your messages should continue to display empathy, but at the same time instill confidence.

Again, here is a non-exhaustive list of actions Uberall took during that phase:

  • Adjusted content to reflect the impact of Coronavirus: tips and best practices, now focused on deeper analysis of the situation, including impact on location marketing and digital marketing in general
  • Leveraged PR to publish Uberall insights and advice to the wider public about our customers’ best practices in tackling the crisis by leveraging Uberall solutions
  • Hosted webinars and video stories to customers, prospects and general public
  • Updated campaigns and creative to relate to the current situation
  • Associated Uberall with internal and external opinion leaders, who can support and amplify our message

Phase 3: Adjust to the ‘new normal’

Not surprisingly phase 1 (“Reaction”) and phase 2 (“Lead the conversation”) tend to be quite taxing to your organization. You have had to abandon your regular marketing plan, and prioritize ad hoc activities. And sure enough your team and both internal and external stakeholders have more than enough additional ideas for further phase 1 and 2 actions.

However, now it is critical that your organization makes the switch again: based on a revised business and marketing plan, you ought to segway back to the ‘True North’. You are still leading with corona-related topics but they now serve more as a conversation opener for you to explain how your solution helps specific problems encountered by your prospects due to the crisis. The rationale is pretty simple: you don’t want to be one in a million companies generally talking about the crisis, but the expert in a well-defined subcategory with an equally well defined audience.

At this stage, your content focuses on engaging your target personas, who — after the initial weeks of hectic emergency response — should now be more receptive to you.

A word of caution though: this is definitely not the time for sales and pushy messages. Remain helpful and understanding, and display confidence in the value you bring to them.

 

Here are some of Uberall’s activities at phase 3 stage

  • Launch new marketing plan/strategy
  • Adapt narrative to new circumstances
  • Adjust relevant marketing material to this narrative, e.g. outreach or nurture campaigns
  • Deliver content that will help your audience prepare for and master the time after Covid-19
  • Prioritize marketing activities with proven RoI and low cost
  • Test which activities work and iterate quickly

Summary - Communicate from the driver's seat

With the help of this simple framework, companies can swiftly and successfully adjust their marketing communication to respond to unforeseen crisis situations in a controlled and proactive way.

Hence, I find it so striking that many companies seem to struggle to do so. Even now weeks or rather months into the Corona-virus crisis, there are still companies which appear reluctant in taking justified steps. I am still receiving emails promoting products and services with creative dating back from the happy boom times. And even now there are organizations that shy away from canceling or postponing events that are supposed to happen even in the near future.

Please avoid driving in reactive mode throughout the crisis — otherwise, your customers may not forget and forgive your omissions.