Marketing during a pandemic

Management July 1, 2020

Companies that maintain or increase their marketing spend during a tough time recover much faster than their tight-fisted competitors, writes Don Strachan.

For many in our industry, February was a month filled with optimism. The rains had come and were looking to be widespread. A three-year drought was breaking and the future looked bright.

By March, the world had changed again.

Covid-19, a term that no-one had heard before the 11th of February, was on everyone’s lips. The country and the world were going into lockdown. Corporate head offices lay empty as staff worked from home and company reps ran up phone bills instead of road miles.

In light of this unprecedented situation, many marketers were asking, what do we do now?

Some companies had the answer forced upon them as their global parents closed the chequebooks. Some were distracted as they focused on supply chain issues brought about by interstate and international travel restrictions. Others looked inwards to set up procedures that kept the lines of internal communications open.

With many teething problems now solved or at least being accepted, the question being asked is what do smart marketers do now?

The answer, as with so many things, lies in the lessons of the past. Yes, Covid-19 is new and the language we use and the channels to market we utilise may have changed, but the data from previous downturns is unequivocal.

Research from previous downturns shows that brands that increased their marketing spend during a tough time, increased their market share three times faster afterwards. Brands and companies who maintained their advertising spend during the 1991 recession had a five-year sales advantage of 25% over those who did not.

One client I spoke to took the opposite approach, saying, “Agriculture is one of the least affected sectors, producers need my products, why spend money when I don’t have to?”

There are a couple of answers to this. Firstly, informing your customer base. Your customers still want to know what to expect from your product and where to find it.

The second reason is market protection. If customers don't feel forced, but feel like they like you, they are more inclined to choose your product over a competitor and potential competitors may shy away from your market.

One silver lining for marketers is, that with so much of our television and film industry in hibernation, some great Australian talent is available at affordable prices. My agency is in the process of finalising a television commercial in which we were able to use a cameraman with films such as The Hobbit, Superman and Star Wars on his CV.

Our animator recently worked on a little TV show called Game of Thrones. Talent such as this is not often available, and when it is it is usually well beyond the budget of agricultural marketers.

The other challenge I mentioned above is how to communicate with end users and retail outlets when your reps are grounded.

The answer lies in innovation. The East Gippsland EGVID field days this year were livestreamed via Facebook, with viewers being walked virtually through company trial sites.

Marketers communicating with resellers will have to be cognisant of cutting through the avalanche of email now flowing into the inboxes of rural resellers. To do this they will need to stand out. Perhaps a video link to their local rep giving product training or information.

With everyone getting used to seeing mobile phone footage on broadcast TV during this pandemic, production quality expectations have dropped. This allows video production and distribution on a low budget.

The other somewhat obvious answer is through publications such as this one. Rural Business magazine can still be found in the break room of almost all rural resellers nationwide, taking your information to a receptive audience.

Paralysis by analysis is a sure way to reduced audience engagement. Smart marketers are not looking for reasons to hold off on marketing, but rather looking for clever ways to keep communication throughout this crisis with the expectation of reaping the rewards when it is over.

* Don Strachan is managing director of Axiom Agrimarketing and has over two decades of specialist agrimarketing experience. Axiom has worked with leading crop protection, animal health and machinery companies, marketing themselves and their products to Australian agribusinesses.

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