I recently came across a meme saying that 2020 feels like it’s being run by the same organisers of Fyre Festival. It may have been the first time I laughed and felt depressed at the same time because of an Instagram post, but it is accurate.
In late January, Hong Kong got its VIP ticket to the Covid-19 party - if that party were a terrible concert that your parents dragged you to. Oh, and if the music could literally kill you. Eight weeks later, it appears that the rest of the world has broken in through the back door and swarmed its way to the front to form a mosh pit, front and centre.
The Western world is experiencing the chaos we went through during Hong Kong’s first wave of coronavirus, and not just in terms of government-imposed quarantines and panic buying toilet roll. The global business landscape is experiencing severe repercussions, including the marketing and communications industry. Events have been cancelled, food and beverage and retail operations are shutting down permanently. Consumer campaigns have been pushed back to accommodate drastic shifts in production cycles.
The elephant in the Zoom
It’s been over two months since many offices in Hong Kong have closed as a safety precaution and I, as well as my peers in the industry, seem to have found our footing in terms of remote working. My colleagues in London and New York have also embraced the #WFH life, which oddly enough, has brought us much closer. We’ve learned more about each other’s hobbies, e-met each other’s families and have (in a non-creepy way) seen inside each other’s homes.
I’ve seen many relatable articles, posts and memes online about working virtually. I too have a love-hate relationship with Zoom, wear pyjama bottoms during video calls, and have to resist the urge to nap after I eat lunch while watching Tiger King on Netflix. That said, there is a bigger picture we’re all trying to address, now that we’ve found our remote working groove: How can we marketers sustain growth despite the negative impact of Covid-19 on the global business landscape?
Back to the drawing board
It makes no sense for brands to ignore the pandemic when it comes to marketing. Many multinationals have taken this opportunity to align their campaigns with the current situation. Some have been successful and some have missed the mark. What communications professionals should take away from these efforts is the role that authenticity plays in developing a campaign strategy. There’s no point in being woke for the sake of it, especially in light of a global crisis.
Audiences today value brands that act in congruence with their messaging and marketers cannot afford to hang their tactics on the coattails of current events without buy-in or follow through from a company’s key decision makers. There is a real opportunity here for them to revise their communication strategies, even if that means redrawing them from scratch.
Tech to the rescue?
Despite the impact coronavirus has had on our clients, we’re fortunate to be living in the age of, for lack of a less cringe worthy buzzword, digitalisation. Until artificial intelligence finally turns on us and we have to resort to communicating with homing pigeons and smoke signals, there are many tools at our disposal today which we can use to develop high performing campaigns.
We now have the ability to identify relevant keywords, track engagement, measure sentiment, target audience segments and more. These are crucial to gathering the data necessary to formulate an effective marketing strategy, especially given the current global situation. Now is the time for brands to audit their market positioning, reassess their audiences’ needs and position their offerings in line with those insights.
The human (virtual) touch
Investing in all the shiny, new tech that can help with the heavy lifting when it comes to revising campaign strategies is only half of the equation. One thing I’ve learned from over two months of working remotely, social distancing and self quarantine is that the ability to connect with each other on a basic human level is a lifesaver in times of crisis. This got me through the two weeks I had to self quarantine in my tiny Hong Kong flat. Neighbours dropped off groceries outside my door.
My colleagues in London sent me a care package of antibacterial wipes, face masks and personal care essentials. My besties organised a virtual happy hour via Zoom. We may be living in a time where physical contact has been replaced by gifs and emojis, but that doesn’t mean we have to feel isolated. The same is true for brands looking to connect with their target audiences. Data analysis can only get one so far. At the end of the day, people still want to feel an emotional connection and that’s still what builds a successful brand.
While we can’t ignore the gravity of the coronavirus situation, we don’t have to let it snuff out our creativity. There are ample opportunities to connect with our audiences in this time of crisis, whether it means reframing our messages or using digital avenues to maximise reach. The important thing to remember is that speaking to our audience’s humanity is key.
That, and washing our hands.
Francesca Ayala, senior account director for TVC Group