My last post looked at whether you should reduce/continue/increase your marketing because of the coronavirus pandemic. I think some should cut back or stop, while it’s wise for most to press on or ramp up their efforts.

If you are continuing your marketing, one thing’s certain: this can’t mean carrying on exactly as before.

These are extraordinary times. Everything is being seen through a coronavirus lens — and your focus and message need to adapt accordingly.


People’s lives have significantly changed for the time being, if not been thrown into turmoil. They need things that can help them in new, meaningful ways – in many cases to cope with insecurity, stress, fear, isolation, illness or loss. The last thing they want is communication which fails to recognise the difficulties of the current situation or a hard sell on non-essential products.

While booze sales have shot up (and been categorised by the UK Government as ‘essential’!), surely no-one’s shopping for clothes, booking a holiday or buying a car right now. It feels strange to see car ads still on TV.

Companies which misjudge the market, misread the public mood or are seen as behaving badly at such a sensitive time will be remembered for the worst reasons, long after this crisis has passed.

Look at Sports Direct, whose brand has taken a hammering for the way it’s treated its staff and initially ignored the directive for non-essential shops to close. See the backlash against pub group JD Wetherspoon, who initially said it couldn’t continue to pay its 43,000 staff and suggested they look for new jobs with Tesco. And take Travelodge, who closed its hotels, turfing out on to the street the homeless people it was housing for local authorities with virtually no notice.

Refocus to stay relevant

On the flip side, companies that behave well and refocus to stay relevant – and even become part of a united effort to battle the virus – will surely strengthen their reputations far into the future.

Look at Timpsons and Whitbread, pledging to keep all staff on 100% pay while its outlets are closed; restaurant Leon, delivering free hot meals to intensive care staff; Unilever, donating £50 million of products to help fight the virus; and Brompton Bicycles, lending 200 bikes to NHS workers.

If you provide services or products people normally consume when out or in social groups, can you repackage them to help people get through living under lockdown?

If your business is luxury goods, forget chasing short-term sales: your best bet is to build long-term brand loyalty by finding a way to play a positive role. Take Burberry, who’s funding vaccine research and re-purposing its trench coat factories to make hospital gowns.

If you provide B2B services, how can you adapt your expertise to help businesses survive or even prosper in these exceptional conditions?

New message

We’re supporting several companies as they switch their business focus — and their message — in these kinds of ways.

For commercial landlord Sea Change Sussex, for example, instead of marketing their offices, we’re helping them explain that they’ll waive rents to help hard-pressed tenants, and support the business community in other ways.

And we’re helping consultancy Intralink ramp up its marketing to promote tailored services, including Virtual Roadshows and APAC support packages, to enable western companies to manage their business in Asia despite the COVID-19 travel ban. Asia’s recovering economies may well now be these firms’ most viable markets and Intralink is pivoting its business to ensure it can help.

Solidarity, empathy and hope 

Of course, your attention and message always need to be sharply attuned to the needs and concerns of your customers, employees, stakeholders and community.

In these extraordinary, turbulent times, this matters more than ever. And, for most companies, it means focusing on solidarity, empathy and hope.