The Tricky Business of Retail Marketing In A Pandemic


Retail Dive | April 16, 2020


Marketing, in the sense of communicating with customers, is where things get tricky. The emphasis must be on "helping, not selling," according to Deb Gabor, CEO and founder of Sol Marketing and author of "Irrational Loyalty: Building a Brand that Thrives in Turbulent Times." Below are some key takeaways on how to navigate retail marketing during the pandemic.


1. Send Emails With Heart

In the age of social media, customers value email communication from brands, but right now there are a few new rules. "Turn off your automated emails," Gabor advises, providing some "don'ts" based on emails she's seen. "Don't try to sell. Brands have to serve their own communities, your employees, your customers. In the message from the CEO, don't call it a 'vacay.' If you're going to offer discounts, don't call it the 'COVID' coupon."


2. Pivot to Doing Good

A slew of brands and retailers, including LVMH, Nordstrom, Ralph Lauren, Gap Inc., Ikea, Nike and others have retooled their factories or turned to their vendors in order to provide masks, sanitizer and other needed equipment, including for medical workers on the frontline of the pandemic. 


3. Break Some Rules

REI demonstrated the value of this a few years ago when it made the counterintuitive move to shut down on Black Friday, encouraging customers and employees alike to spend the day hiking instead. Customers appreciate a level of transparency, understanding what's going on in people's lives, and thinking about real people can help engagement with customers.


4. Have A Strong Brand

The decision about opening is important, and as retailers make these decisions they need to think three-dimensionally. Right now, it's people over profits, and what is the long-term impact to my brand over short-term sales? We've come to expect good behavior from brands. In the absence of good leadership elsewhere, the people are looking for leadership from the brands they love.


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