Marketing Minute: Don’t let the virus infect your marketing effort - Nov 2020

By Paul Friederichsen

The floorcovering business has lost its marketing rhythm this year with the cancellation or postponement of many in-person events, gatherings and shows. The effect has been one of disruption, and coupled with the COVID-caused economic downturn, many marketers are at a loss for direction. This is unchartered territory.

When we eventually emerge from the pandemic, we will recognize 2020 as a dividing line in history between the way things were (pre-COVID) and what they will become (post-COVID). In the disruption of the pandemic, with its lockdowns and accompanying recession, most brands have struggled to maintain their footing. Survival, just as in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, is fundamental. If a brand can’t survive, its ability to market itself is, well, academic.

Not only has COVID challenged our approach to healthy workplace conditions and safety, it’s also reinforced a corporate survival mentality brought about by months of restrictions, cancellations and uncertainty. In the flooring business, without the traditional schedule of industry events to prepare for, brand marketers struggle to remain in a forward-leaning posture. The uncertainty of business in a pandemic world breeds caution and along with that a dialing back of marketing investments. Of course, the counterintuitive strategy is to ramp up marketing instead, especially considering that consumer demand is robust right now.

“Riding it out” assumes everyone else is doing the same, which they are not. Right this very minute, in a war room or boardroom somewhere, your competitor may be planning your business demise while you remain hunkered down, adding the money you’re not spending on travel, space rental, entertainment and ridiculous shipping and handling fees to the bottom line. The accountant will argue that you can spend yourself broke. The marketer should counter that you cannot save your way to success. People buy brands because they know and trust them, not because of the money the brand saved.

Overall, 2020 has been disruption on steroids. The often quoted “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is certainly applicable here. Use the transition to a post-COVID marketplace as an opportunity to reboot your brand. Rather than abandoning a marketing mindset, expand it. Rather than pulling back, throttle up. Rather than pocketing your travel budget, plow it back into marketing. In an uncertain world, all of us gravitate even more to the familiar and the trusted, so why not your brand?

Lost in all the disruption of the pandemic, the election and social upheaval may be what your brand is all about, so it’s probably time to rediscover your brand’s story. Every brand has one.

Recently, we began a discovery session for a new client with an analysis of the client’s numbers, from sales to margins to profitability comparisons between product lines, etc.-all good stuff and revealing about their business’ performance to be sure. But it wasn’t until we got down to the really fundamental questions about their brand story-how it started, why it started, what was overcome, how they serve their customers and the pride they take-that the whole mood changed.

While it may be true that numbers don’t lie, spreadsheets simply cannot tell you the complete truth either. This client’s recollections were all about their brand’s story, from the genesis of the idea to the “why” it even exists. And even though the owners have built their lives around this brand of theirs, it was as if they themselves were rediscovering it.

The simple truth is, if you don’t tell it, nobody else will. Or worse, it will be told to your disadvantage. Or even worse yet, it will never be told at all because your brand has been forgotten and will be left out of the conversation completely. All great stories have a hero that consistently and forthrightly serves, solves, rescues, saves and outsmarts for the benefit of others. You, like everyone else in the world, are in business to make money. Your brand, on the other hand, is here to serve your customer.

A well-balanced marketing plan should consider a mix of paid media (advertising), earned media (PR) and owned media (web and social) built on the foundation of your brand’s story. Every message, whether directly or implicitly, underscores the benefit you deliver your customer. And just because you were an active advertiser pre-COVID doesn’t mean your customers will remember you now or regard you in the same way.

Recently, our home needed some junk hauled away, but we didn’t know whom to call. My wife spotted an ad for a company with a catchy name and photo of a group of nice, clean-cut young men that do this sort of thing. They arrived on time, as advertised, and during the course of their work, she learned all about their story-how the now-20-year-old owner started the company when he was 15; how his dad helped him launch it; and that he now employs six others full time. I have no doubt my wife will retell this story and recommend this company to many others. This young entrepreneur has all the ingredients of an effective marketing plan: advertising, empathy, customer focus and a great story about a brand that provides a real benefit. This company is destined to go far.

If you were a successful brand before the pandemic, there’s no reason you can’t be a successful brand after it. To do that, you’ll need to shed the COVID-survival mindset, determine to get back in the game, remember what got you here in the first place and build on that. Shape your marketing strategy to fit the new realities of restrictions, social distancing and the like, to be sure. But the race to the top is still on, and it’s yours to win if you choose to get off the sideline and compete.

Copyright 2020 Floor Focus