What a year 2020 was, eh? With all the things that happened this year—from COVID-19 to social justice, institutional racism, police brutality, elections, recession, working from home, urban immigration, and so on—I’ve been asked one question repeatedly: “Did all the unprecedented turmoil have an impact on marketing and branding? Do I need to change my approach, message, or planned campaigns?”
Marketing was a huge topic and an important element in the business milieu of 2020. After all, the atmosphere was… Let’s call it challenging. The changing climate and “the new normal” of marketing were among the hottest topics in blog posts, newsletters, email subject lines, webinars, and other content initiatives.
When it comes to budgeting for campaigns, change definitely was afoot. I wrote about utilizing budget in times of crisis in earlier this year (“Maintaining Momentum: Now Is the Time to Increase Marketing Efforts,” June 2020), noting the pandemic presented unprecedented opportunities for companies to stretch their budgets by targeting consumers in new ways. That has turned into a nine-month trend, and it may continue for many months to come.
Platforms-wise, nothing is clearer than the fact we live in an online world. If dealing with COVID-19 for so long taught us nothing else, it has taught us businesses absolutely must have an engaging online presence. The digital world doesn’t stop for anyone; as long as there is fast internet, the online world will be clicking. If you don’t harness that market, you’re bleeding revenue whether or not you engage in e-commerce.
No matter how overwhelmed you may be by the very thought of online marketing—and I completely understand if you are—you must overcome your hesitancy and move forward. The funny (or, actually, sad) thing is, more than 40 percent of small business owners do their own marketing even though they don’t understand how online marketing works. Here is a tip: Either learn the strategies or hire someone who is a marketing expert so you can focus on other ways to grow your business, not figuring out why your social media doesn’t convert.
In the big picture of marketing and branding, I believe the pandemic simply reinforced the fundamentals. The disease’s rapid worldwide spread caught us from all angles and reminded us we are only human. For the first time in recent history, we all are in the same metaphorical boat no matter how much money we have; no matter whether we are Lady Gaga, the queen of England, or a 12-year-old orphan in Bangladesh. Our common predicament brings to light the most important thing businesses keep forgetting: Marketing and branding are about people, not products or platforms.
If you have worked with me, attended one of my workshops, or follow me on LinkedIn, you’ve heard me opine, “People don’t care about your f*ing product. They care about themselves.” The pandemic has made that truth clearer than ever.
For proof, examine the decline in power of so-called BnB influencers on social media. (BnB is an acronym for “boobs and butts.”) After the years-long reign of half-naked females on Instagram, people started following influencers who helped them feel good about themselves. Influencers who hadn’t had a haircut or a man-pedi in months helped followers cope with real-world situations. Think about it: Dr. Anthony Fauci—the scientist to whom Americans turn when they want the truth about the pandemic, according to surveys—was on the cover of taste arbiter Style Magazine! The whole world is experiencing monumental anxiety; no one cares about bikini selfies.
This “marketing in a time of crisis” mode sharpened the notion that to be successful, your messaging should be focused on your customers, not your products. The best and simplest way to deploy good marketing in ads, website copy, content marketing, and so on is to answer the question “How is my product making my customers’ lives better?”
At the end of the day, that question is the core of good marketing and branding. It will always work, in times of crisis and times of peace and certainty.
Studies indicate habits are formed after three weeks to three months of repetition. Since COVID-19 has been a threat for longer than that, what used to be uncommon behaviors born of necessity now have become habits. Immature males will continue to drool over booty selfies and barely legal, barely dressed girls dancing provocatively on TikTok because that’s what guys do. But most people likely now look to social media as a support network and a source of information (the reliability of which is debatable). Tailor your marketing accordingly.
If they were smart, marketers spent time during pandemic lockdowns learning more about marketing and studying the core principle that what’s important to consumers, not what’s important to your business, is all that matters. Regardless what you sell—flower, edibles, topicals, accessories, or anything else—you sell your products to humans, and humans are emotional creatures. No matter how we try to rationalize our decisions, most of them are based on emotions.
Keep that in mind going forward and you’ll prosper in times of turmoil and peace.
Dino H. Carter is owner and chief strategist at D Branding, a brand consultancy helping clients develop unique strategies to grow market share, deepen brand awareness, and sustain growth. He possesses more than twenty years’ experience in marketing with companies including Levi’s and MTV Europe.