Marketing through a crisis

Why start-ups need to find new ways to reach customers

Start-ups have been forced to reconsider how they can get their products and services under the noses of customers during the Covid-19 crisis. Marketing has never been more important for new entrepreneurs but everything from the channels you use to the tone you take must be carefully considered during the pandemic.

While you probably don’t have the resources for a major television ad campaign, many marketing success stories during the crisis have been achieved with minimal advertising spend. Cos Mingides, Founding Partner at London advertising agency True, cites snack brand Emily Crisps, which turned around what could have been a disaster – a debut outdoor poster campaign that was scheduled to launch just as lockdown hit – by introducing gently self-mocking copy highlighting their unfortunate timing.

“Social and content marketing have a role to play, particularly for a service brand,” Cos says. “Make yourself useful to your customers, make sure your content is supportive and empathetic, and be generous with your expertise. If you’re being forced to make decisions that will have a knock-on effect on your customers, be truthful. Consumers understand that times are challenging, and they respect honesty.”

Getting social

You could consider a paid for social media advertising campaign, which can be targeted at the customers you want. This has the advantages of reaching the right people and offering a measurable return on investment, and you only pay when someone clicks on your advert, which should make the whole process of reaching new customers more efficient. The important thing is to consider which social platform your customers are likely to be using. An average consumer might favour Facebook, for example, while a business contact might be best reached on LinkedIn.

It’s important to remember, however, that in the current climate your content and your advertising must be appropriate and sensitive. In March, no less of a marketing giant than KFC was forced to pull a major television commercial. The ad played on the brand’s long-serving “Finger lickin’ good” slogan, showing close-ups of diners savouring the flavour of their fried chicken by licking their fingers, and their companions’ – this at a time when public health messaging was strongly urging all of us to wash our hands and avoid touching our faces.

KFC wasn’t the only company to find its marketing and advertising strategy impacted by the unfolding crisis. The fast fashion retailer ASOS stopped serving digital ads for face mask-shaped piece of chain mail jewellery. Norwegian Cruise Lines came under fire when its sales agents were instructed to encourage customers to purchase holidays to tropical destinations, claiming the virus could only survive in cold climates. Hershey withdrew ads showing people exchanging chocolate bars, hugs and handshakes.

Cos says: “This is a challenging situation. “We’re currently coming into one of the sharpest recessions on record, with huge uncertainty surrounding everything from supply chain to customer mood. Some companies are really suffering, and have had to cease trading. Some are falling into a passive mentality. Others are being entrepreneurial and innovative, seeing opportunities in the situation. However, the key principles of advertising haven’t changed: the more famous your brand, the better your chances of survival. So now is the time to invest in your brand.”

Weak sales shouldn’t be reason to cut marketing spend, Cos advises – but that’s a bold strategy to take at a time when businesses are scrambling to retrench.

There is a direct correlation between share of voice and share of market, Cos explains. If you increase your share of voice, your business will grow, he explains. But getting the message right is more important than ever – and more difficult – in a time of crisis.

“There’s a heightened sense of emotion among consumers right now,” he says. “And the key thing is not to be seen as opportunistic. In these unfamiliar times, consumers are finding comfort in the familiar, thinking of times when things were better. Aggressive, competitive ads aren’t connecting, whereas those that emphasise a sense of between-ness, connections on a human level, and local community are resonating.”


This article is written for the St James’ Place Entrepreneurs Club newsletter. The opinions expressed by third parties are their own are not necessarily shared by St. James’s Place Wealth Management.