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Meaningless Marketing Plans: Tips for Marketing during COVID

Apr 21, 2020 | Marketing

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Imagine for a moment: it’s wintertime 2019, and your marketing department has gotten an email from the future. All of your team members couldn’t be more excited. Just imagine what secrets you’ll be privy too, all that secret info! And the subject line of the email? “URGENT: Marketing during COVID.” 


At that time, no one was really expecting something to rock the entire globe. So, why would your 12-month marketing plan, of all things, include any mention of it? 

But “no problem!” your marketing team says around the meeting table. You “pivot,” like so many recent, silly, and regurgitated Forbes and Entrepreneur have told you to do. And your team puts together high-relevancy COVID emails that show your company’s human side. (I’m trying not to roll my eyes and gag while you do this).  

Now for the plot twist: imagine right now you get another email from the future.  And this new email says that, after the lockdown, half your friends won’t have jobs to return to.  

When it rains, it pours. 

Why You Can’t Just Pivot on a Dime 

Anyone with half a brain knows you have to adjust your message when the world suddenly is afraid of dying. 

And from what I can tell, based on my inbox and other marketing avenues, many teams quickly latched onto the one thing they could understand about this crisis. And that was COVID. Of course, it took a minute for many of them to get it. But after a couple weeks of tone-deaf advertising in mid-March, content that was clearly made before COVID, they all jumped on the bandwagon. 

My impression? I cannot tell you how many idiotic emails I got about the virus from brands trying, in any way they could, to tie themselves to it and justify the spam. And they were all pivoting… to exactly the same thing.  

Although your marketing team probably tried not to sound opportunistic, it almost certainly sounded as if they were. And for good reason, because all that was being sent was the same spiel. And make no mistake, it was a spiel the entire marketing industry was engaging in.  

And I didn’t only feel like COVID was another gimmicky #specialholiday cooked up by the industry. The entire “pivot” laid bare how in lockstep marketing departments nationwide operate in their “creativity.” 

You can’t just pivot during a crisis, not for marketing during COVID. Instead, you have to re-think your entire approach. 

Perspective & Tips for Marketing During COVID 

Right now, the world is dealing with a… septuple whammy. That’s right, it’s not just about COVID, you ever-so-big-brained marketing directors. Let’s take a look, in a rough order of importance. 

What does your audience have on their mind right now? 

  1. A full-on collapse of the economy and financial markets 
  1. Shortages of needed goods due to global supply chain disruption 
  1. Internal upheavals at their places of business 
  1. New rules of social interactions when they do go out 
  1. Getting COVID-19, if they’re above 50 years old. 
  1. Maybe glancing at your marketing communications 

Try to pivot to that mix! 

Can your organization address all of them? Obviously not nor is it your job to. But I’ll bet none of those things were in your ever-sacred marketing plan. And clearly, putting together the same generic message as literally every other marketer in the country isn’t going to work. It makes you seem out-of-touch and frankly, stupid. 

So, what can you do differently? 

  • Dump your 12-month marketing plans ASAP 

Like… right now, today. They’re all but useless (and they always have been). In the real world and during major crisis, it’s better to get tactical and logistical about your organization’s communications. 

  • Tap the most experienced members of your team 

Although the news will have you believe that this is something that has never, ever occurred before… they’re wrong. Pandemics and financial crisis are the easiest of crisis to foresee. And some of your team members likely lived through the 2008 crisis. Use that experience to your advantage.   

  • Anticipate what communications your audience will receive 

If you’re sending emails, stop thinking about right now. Think about what your audience will get in the next week or two. How can you complement or differ from the basic messaging they’re already receiving? 

  • Wait a God damn second longer 

If you can’t be first in line with your marketing communication, you might want to consider waiting just a bit longer before sending any at all. This can sometimes give you perspective and allow you to better position your message, rather than jumping on the first trend your company sees. 

  • Know exactly what you should be talking about 

Imagine it for a second: your team has sent a bunch of 20 year old college kids a heart-felt message about COVID. The only issue is… they literally do not care. Now is the time to re-assess who your audience is, what matters most to them, and who you really are as a business or nonprofit.  

  • Don’t emotionally manipulate your audience 

Half of what I received acted as if marketers know me… which they most certainly do not. Sorry, Apple, Whole Foods, Intuit, and everyone else. You’re not being authentic; you’re being cheap. During this time, I would imagine many people, especially men between 30 to 50, see right through your bullshit.

And for the love of God, don’t ask me to buy or donate right now unless you know 100% I’m that far in the process.

Instead, go the route of say, USAA, who immediately cut costs and gave consumers dollars right back in their pockets. And then let them know via their online portal. Now that’s putting your marketing where your mouth is.  


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