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Digital Marketing 10 min read

Expert Insights: Running a Marketing Agency During a Pandemic

Dallin Porter photo

Dallin Porter

Communications Manager @ Galactic Fed

Published 27 Apr 2020

Recently we sat down with Devin Schumacher, Co-Founder of SERP Co, a profit focused digital marketing agency for businesses who want to grow. and chatted about the impact of COVID-19 in the digital marketing space, and insights from his own experience.

Can you share some insights into how brands are changing their marketing strategies since COVD-19?

Some of the things that I’ve seen is that they’re just stopping ads. Their marketing strategy is to pause everything. Which is valid: If you don’t know when the end is going to come then you don’t have a very good grasp on how long you can stay solvent.

The first thing my agency did was run a burn rate calculator to figure out how long we could survive and made a decision after that. I follow a lot of other marketing agencies and I’ve seen a lot of people, the young agencies change their niche.

So for example, an agency was doing facebook advertising for some kind of nonessential business and that business is now closed. A lot of them are pivoting to essential businesses so that they can advertise for them. A lot of brands are definitely pivoting their marketing strategy to try and provide covid-related resources.

And of course, some of them are scrambling. Some of them are being a little more systematic. We are creating a lot of content we’re trying to give out to our audience. We’re trying to get more people that we want to serve in our ecosystem for free rather than making them pay for it and then hopefully when quarantine lifts we will have established trust.

How can brands avoid coming off tone deaf? What should be a complete no-no?

I got pretty ad blind to the COVID ads quickly. If you’re not a first mover, you better be a fast second mover. I follow a lot of gym marketing agencies and I noticed a lot of them doing the same things, and then a week later, a couple more. It would be posting the same stuff and I just was ad blind to it already, so I think at this point people don’t need to be reminded about what to do when they’ve heard enough of that already. I mean how annoying it was to get all those emails from companies you don’t care about, random companies saying “what we’re doing for COVID”, but we don’t care, nobody cares what you’re doing.

I would say putting your brand first and addressing the situation. Telling people what you’re doing about it when it doesn’t affect the end consumer at all is like, that is really annoying. I saw a lot of brands doing that.

And now you just wasted my time having to put that into my inbox. I unsubscribed because it was getting annoying and they didn’t offer me any value. Why do I care? Address the situation without sacrificing consumer value.

What are some of the key changes we can expect or have seen in consumer behavior during COVID-19?

Clearly e-commerce is going to be huge. More and more people are going to be used to sitting and getting things delivered. Do you remember that scene in Wall-E where everybody no longer even moves? I think we just accelerated our way towards that. I think e-commerce is going to change the game. A lot of people are going to be more open to shopping from home.

Also, working remotely and teleconferencing will continue to grow. For the last three or four years anytime a client has said “Hey, can I meet you somewhere to learn about becoming a client of yours?” I’d just rather not work with them. It is such a waste of time to drive, arrive somewhere, meet someone, have the meeting and drive back. It’s exhausting and that’s time wasted. I’ve just been doing everything from Zoom. I’ve never met a client in person that I didn’t already know and I never plan to, and it was weird and people freaked about it, but I think it’s going to be more normal now.

Should COVID-19 be somehow related to all brand communications and content produced at this time? What about, say, a company that just had a rebrand, or launched a new website; should this be put on hold, or somehow tied into the current situation?

Nope. If you have the money to continue to do what you are already doing, do it. I’m putting out blog posts, but I’m not promoting them. Like I was writing blog posts about hyperlinks and what is SEO or backlinks strategies and people don’t really care about that right now because their business isn’t even open. They have other problems, so I’m not pushing that in front of their face, but I’m still working on my agenda. We’re doubling down on the things that we wanted to do because it freed up some time for us. I’m just holding back on promoting a lot of that stuff because nobody cares about hyperlinks right now.

I don’t think you should put anything on hold. I think you should go even faster and be mindful of what you put in front of people’s faces. If it was boring to begin with, they’re going to to doubly tune it out right now because they have real life.

It’s like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If you look at the marketing industry, it’s in the self actualization category for sure. Business owners are “achieving one’s full potential,” like growing your business. But right now people are in basic needs. If you don’t have these basic needs taken care of, you’re never going to get to the self fulfillment needs.

The whole world has been shocked back into the basics needs section of the Maslow’s hierarchy. You know, a lot of people are just going to be like, I don’t care about that right now because I can’t even get food or money or pay my rent. I don’t want to hear about your case studies on technical SEO because I can’t even buy toilet paper.

What are some important KPIs or metrics to keep in mind for brands during the ciris? Should they shift at all? (e.g. focus on reputation metrics over performance metrics etc.)

This is a good time to reach out and touch base and say like ”hey, I know that you’re probably not open and we’re not open either, but we want to see how you’re doing and try and get some reviews” or something like that. I would focus the metrics on those things that brands notoriously don’t have time for: trying to get Google reviews or customer testimonials, things like that. But also your burn rate, how much cash are you using? How much content are you producing? And how well are you becoming positioned to take off when things go steady?

How can brands strengthen their relationships with their consumers during a time of uncertainty? What are some ways to show they really care about their audience and not just their money?

Just communicate, ask questions, and produce resources for the things they need help with. We work with a lot of dentists, so we’re telling our dentists to communicate with their customers and express that we know we can’t see you to help if your tooth hurts but oral health is a huge part of health and if you have questions, we are here, we are doctors so please keep this line of communication open.

Communicate relevantly and ask them what they need. Don’t try to assume. Just ask them.

What are some key strategies to stay connected to customers when they may not necessarily be in the market to spend money?

We’re producing content and giving them things to do. We are putting out content that’s going to keep people busy. I’m putting out a lot of courses and sending it off to people and making them learn stuff if they’re sitting.

If you have too much time and not enough money, then do stuff yourself. If you have too much money and not enough time then pay for someone to help you out. So pre-COVID, people had more money than time, so they would hire an agency to do the work. Now they have more time than money, so now they can put in the work.

What are some do’s and don’ts of a successful pivot?

I would just say the don’t is don’t act rash. Don’t just go off of emotion because this thing might be over. If the pivot is going to take way more work and be a short term solution then you will waste time.

Let’s say you serve a non-essential business as a marketing company and you’re like, I can’t get any more clients right now, I’m going to switch my niche. And it takes you two and a half months to switch your niche, and now you’re starting to advertise to these people, and then the quarantine ends a month later. That was a really short term move, and now in the long term, you might’ve just set yourself back even more. I would say don’t trade long term success for some short term gains.

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Dallin Porter photo

Dallin Porter

Communications Manager @ Galactic Fed

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