Everything has changed but it’s still the same.
Whenever there is a major shock to the system it’s helpful to return to basic principles, understand the situation and plan the best move forward. In business, much of what we took for granted and considered reliable has altered in the past few weeks. Whether these changes and limitations are temporary or permanent remains to be seen, but it is certain that some are going to be with us for a long time.
The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the immense disruption that is possible to our lives in an instant. I’m 53, and been in business for 30 of those years. During all that time I have not experienced disruption to daily life or business on this scale. The events of 9/11 offer some insight, as they were similarly shocking and left lasting changes to lifestyles, attitudes and business practices, but not on this scale.
There is much talk about how business will function ‘post-pandemic’, however the most important consideration for all business is how to function with Covid-19.
The Government and its professional advisers have been consistently clear that we are not returning to business as usual any time soon, and certainly not in advance of either effective anti-viral treatment or a reliable vaccine. And neither of these is expected to be widely available within the next 12 months, if at all. In fact, there is currently no effective vaccine for any existing coronavirus.
We can’t shut down our economy for 12 months, it simply isn’t practical or possible to sustain our society without trade for that length of time. So we need to adapt our way of life and our way of doing business to function alongside this untreatable virus.
Much has been talked about Test, Track and Trace. My expectation is that once the infection rates in the general population have fallen to an R0 level of around of 0.5 (10 people infect only 5) and the number of daily new infections has fallen to double digits per day, then an effective Test, Track and Trace system will be established to control the spread of the virus. Alongside the shielding of the most vulnerable in Society, we can then fire up our economy once more.
So, back to the marketing. As so much is now different, do the same rules of marketing still apply? Yes they do, and they will help us to navigate our businesses through the current rough seas.
Professional marketers are guided by the marketing mix made up of the 4 P’s – Product, Price, Place and Promotion. And a review of all of these for your own business will help you to formulate a plan to adapt and survive in the short term, and ultimately grow your business profitably.
Product – are your current products (or services) still relevant? If you provide services to the public you may need to redesign these to offer safe distancing between customers or comply with new safety rules in respect to hygiene. With more people expected to be at home, either not working or working from home, do you have products that can be tailored to this demographic? A number of clothes companies have been promoting WFH (working from home) clothes. Restaurants have been offering take-away services, breweries and garden centres delivering locally and pubs opening pop-up shops.
Price – The basic laws of economics used in marketing will tell you that if something is scarce and in high demand then the price should increase. But you need to be careful here. The practice of price gouging (exploiting excess demand with price increases) sits badly with public opinion and is widely viewed as unethical. Online platforms such as Amazon have worked to subdue the practice, but customers may well pay more for delivery and convenience so long as they can see a real benefit to them in the price lift.
Place – How do you distribute your products? If you are in general retail then your store is most likely closed for now. But if you sell online you could well be very busy if people know how to find you, and you have the products that are in demand. If you normally sell to trade customers this may be the time to sell direct to the public. The opportunities will exist for new distribution channels if you step back and look for them.
Promotion – Once you know what you are selling, where, to whom and at what price – you now need to communicate this to your customers. Many people consider this part to be the marketing, but it is just the final step after all the other hard work has been done. And once you understand the basis of your marketing mix then the promotion, or communication, becomes much easier. Online, offline, social media, print advertising, radio and TV – all of these slot into place once you have the marketing plan in place.