Digital marketing through a crisis

Marketing / 10.01.22
Mark Vaesen

The covid pandemic has presented challenges to every business. Many have seen their revenue decimated virtually overnight.

Change Formation logo

It has been a particularly challenging time for one of our clients. Change Formation is a people development organisation, working primarily with leaders and teams from larger organisations.

As covid hit, this didn’t just impact their ability to conduct face to face training sessions, it also caused many businesses to cut back on their people development budgets.

We started working on Change Formation’s digital marketing back in 2020, at the height of the crisis. In this article we explore a few of the ways in which we helped them ride out the storm and get into the best position for when the market started to open up again.

Don’t disappear

When a crisis hits there can be a tendency to pull back on marketing activity and wait out the storm. Why spend money on marketing when your market has effectively disappeared?

But this short-term thinking can do long-term damage.

Reassess your digital marketing strategy

One of the first jobs should be to review all your imminent digital marketing activities. If there are any which would be inappropriate or insensitive to their new context, remove them. Don’t scrap them though, they could still prove useful at a later date.

You should then take time to consider your situation. Here are a few useful questions to ask yourself:

  • How have my customers’ needs changed?
  • What might happen next?
  • What new limitations are there on the products/services we offer?
  • When could this be over?
  • Are our current goals still appropriate?
  • What support is available to us?

You need to adapt your business goals and strategy according to the answers.

Once your overriding strategy is agreed you can then look at what this means for your digital marketing.

Keep in people’s minds

Even if, like Change Formation, your ability to serve your clients has reduced, it’s critical to maintain your relationships with them and stay “front-of-mind”. No crisis lasts for ever – when things pick up, you want to be in the best position to take advantage.

Keeping clients up to date with the developments in your business is one way of doing this, and useful to demonstrate that you’re still ‘in the game’. Most importantly, you should let them know how you’re adapting your services to the new situation.

Remember, nothing says “business in trouble” more than a social media account which isn’t updated for months on end. If you really can’t find the time to post to social, at least pin a message to the top explaining why it is, don’t just leave it hanging.

During the covid crisis Change Formation were still able to deliver much of their people development portfolio online. We tweaked their digital marketing to emphasise this, by updating their training program information to include the online option, writing case studies including remote learning and providing advice on supporting learning for remote workers.

Switch from lead generation to brand awareness

As the covid pandemic took hold, organisations were, naturally, focused on adapting to their own challenges. In the people development sector, unless you were a Zoom trainer, the phone simply stopped ringing.

In a situation like this, you need to switch your mindset. Stop thinking about lead generation and instead focus on brand awareness.

For many months our work with Change Formation wasn’t measured in terms of enquiries. Instead we were interested in the reach of our work. Were the key website pages bringing in a solid level of website traffic? Have a reasonable number of the right people looked at our LinkedIn posts? Did our email marketing position the brand in the right way?

Keep up the SEO work

During a crisis it can be very easy to shift focus away from SEO. This isn’t a problem if it’s just going to be for a few weeks, but if you’re looking at over a year of not adding quality content to your website then your Google ranking may suffer.

And this will be further compounded if your competitors continue (or start to) build their content – you may come out of the crisis on the back foot.

(Read more in our article Marketing in an economic downturn.)

One thing to add here, is that you shouldn’t try to cynically chase search terms related to the crisis. This will not reflect well on you. And, in the covid pandemic, for example, Google would only return authority sites such as the NHS for covid-related searches. As our next section shows, demonstrating empathy and sensitivity is of paramount importance during a crisis.

Show empathy

While it’s important to keep your digital marketing going through a crisis, it’s also essential that you consider the context in everything you do.

Your digital marketing is an opportunity to listen to your market and reflect their situation in the messages you send out, and never more so than in a crisis.

More than ever, customers value brands which show empathy and a social conscience. This Australian research by McKinsey & Co demonstrates how people appreciate it when companies show that “we’re all in this together”:

At the start of the covid crisis this was quite a challenge for marketers. If you think back to the TV ads in the early days of the pandemic, there was suddenly far less variety. This was because companies quickly pulled campaigns they’d been working on for months and months which, for example, showed people not socially distancing. They had to suddenly become much more agile, creating new advertising creative in just a few weeks, to make sure they were reflecting the world they were being broadcast into.

Suddenly the glossy adverts were off our screens, replaced by humbler, but perhaps more human, offerings such as this NatWest advert.

During the covid pandemic we were acutely aware of our upcoming digital marketing activity, for Change Formation and other clients, particularly scheduled social media posts and email campaigns. We were ready to change them at a moment’s notice should the context change and our messaging become inappropriate or insensitive.

Always consider what your audience’s situation and fears might be, remembering that they might not be the same as your own. During a pandemic, if you have physical premises which customers come to, it becomes essential to reassure them about their safety by using digital marketing to explain the measures you have in place. It’s also important to communicate the alternative ways your customers can interact with you.

Consider your tone

In times of crisis it can be difficult to get the tone of your digital marketing right.

It’s all about balance. Avoid being alarmist in your messaging, but don’t ignore the bigger picture. Consider what it would be useful for people to hear right now and stick to that.

You should also be sensitive to the needs of different customers. In the B2B world you may have some clients whose business is suffering terribly. Others might be seeing a boom in profits. Consider both of these and, where possible, segment your digital marketing so you’re sending appropriate messages to each one.

Like other forms of promotional activity, digital marketing is controlled by the Advertising Standards Authority. During the covid pandemic they took a dim view of businesses who appeared to use the crisis to their advantage. For example, a seller of British-made beds published an advert showing a bed covered in a Union Flag and wearing a facemask. Underneath it stated “no nasty imports”. The ASA ruled that it was “likely to cause serious and widespread offence” and banned it.

Create content that adds value

In content marketing there’s a general rule of thumb that 80% of your content should be about adding value for the reader and 20% about selling your products or services. The 80% keeps your readership engaged and they won’t mind so much when they see the odd 20% of promotional content.

This is never truer than in a crisis, when providing useful, interesting and relevant content can really demonstrate your empathy with your audience.

With Change Formation we dedicated time to considering what type of content would add value to their readership. As a result our blog articles and email marketing activity covered topics such as setting the right tone for management communications and how to run effective meetings with hybrid working practices. We also ran a Facebook Live event at the start of 2021 to help managers plan how to manage hybrid working in preparation for a partial return to the office.

Be more personal

It’s also important to consider that in times of crisis your customers may want the reassurance of more personal messaging.

Instead of sending out marketing messages from your company, personalise them to be from a member of your leadership team. Even better, ask them to record brief video updates.

And taking a more personal approach can be a useful way of showing your “we’re all in this together” attitude. Share a screen shot of the Zoom call where someone couldn’t remove the Simpsons background their kids had set up, or explain how you’re having virtual coffee breaks to keep moral going.

When we started working with Change Formation our original brief was to make the marketing less focused on the business owner, Rob McWilliam. But, as the covid crisis went on, we felt that this was not the right approach for the email marketing. Instead we adapted the emails to be from Rob personally, giving him an opportunity to speak directly to his audience and share his personal insights. We also added a “P.S.” to each email with a podcast recommendation, ensuring each message ended on a lighter note.

Be ready to hit the ground running

No crisis lasts forever, so it’s important to keep up your digital marketing momentum so you can hit the ground running when your market opens up again.

Increase conversion

Many businesses took the opportunity of the covid pandemic to refurbish their physical premises or their online premises – i.e. their website.

Optimising your website for conversion is an activity which is often overlooked but can make a dramatic difference to your ability to convert traffic into enquiries.

Your website must align to your customer’s requirements, which may well shift in times of crisis. Therefore, your website needs to shift too.

We made a number of changes to the Change Formation website during the crisis. Initially we tweaked the text and images across the website to demonstrate that they could provide their services remotely. We then carried out a page behaviour analysis on their key conversion page (which would also become their advertising landing page), so we could identify and implement improvements.

Online advertising

Online advertising, such as Google Ads, is a highly flexible way of raising your digital visibility, because it can be dialled up and down as needed.

However, to get them right, Google Ads require a period of experimentation and refinement. You should assume that the first month, or maybe two, will give you relatively few results. So, it pays to plan your advertising in advance, so it’s optimised ready for when you really need it.

We started a Google Ads campaign for Change Formation in early spring 2021. The market was very quiet so it received relatively few clicks, however this made it an excellent time to experiment and optimise the campaign without wasting budget. By late spring the campaign was performing well, just in time for the country to start opening up again.

The results for Change Formation

One focus of our digital marketing work for Change Formation was the Insights Discovery psychometric profiling service they provide. We started work to improve the search engine visibility of this in early 2020 and introduced Google Ads in April 2021:

Traffic graph - Change Formation's Insights Discovery page

As you can see, our SEO work improved the page’s visibility, causing a gradual but significant increase in traffic across 2020. With the introduction of Google Ads, despite a conservative click budget, we were able to provide an instant additional uplift in traffic.

In the last two years we’ve also helped Change Formation to double their LinkedIn follower numbers and built an email marketing list which enjoys a solid 30% average open rate for each email sent. This increase in brand awareness and engagement has helped to keep Change Formation at the forefront of potential clients’ minds throughout the pandemic.

Rob McWilliam

“I started working with Tomango on my company branding back in 2013. When the covid pandemic hit the impact on my business was massively challenging, however I was determined to keep the fires burning ready for when things picked up again. Tomango’s digital marketing support became instrumental in helping me keep the business in great shape ready for when the market started to recover. I’m now looking to the future with great optimism. ”

Rob McWilliamManaging Director, Change Formation

Speak to us about your digital marketing

Tomango offers expert digital marketing in Sussex. Our digital marketing services are tailored to the needs of each of our clients, and there to support them through thick or thin.

If this is the sort of marketing partnership your business could benefit from, then give us a call on 01273 814 019 or email