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Marketing in the Time of COVID-19: The Importance of Authenticity
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At the best of times, marketing is a delicate balance between mission and margin. It’s sharing your brand’s story through the value it delivers and sharpening why your company exists. In the context of a society scarred by a global pandemic, this delicate balance becomes even more fragile. Clear-cut programs have become negotiations in temperament and tone.
Before the gravity of this pandemic set in, my reflex was to flaunt the rewards of our software to the masses; for every headline that spoke of fragmented or inflexible supply chains, our field team shared with us riveting stories of response and resilience. I wanted to shout from the rooftops, “This is why we’re in this business!” Our software was doing what it does best, and in business, we’re supposed to make hay while the sun shines.
Of course, marketing is not framed by impulse. And celebrating wins at a time when the world is losing and grieving is terrible form. So how does a marketer square the circle; how can a company strike a balance between commercial interests and a market in crisis?
Leaning In vs. Staying the Course
I am growing inured to any commercial that begins ‘in these uncertain times’; but ‘this uncertain time’ is the elephant in the room, and to not make mention of the global upheaval underway is disingenuous.
In many ways, marketing against the backdrop of a pandemic is not dissimilar from marketing at any other time. There are always people losing battles to illness and disease, families losing their livelihood and businesses collapsing because of forces outside their control. And in fact, those watershed moments are often the impetus for change or investment, because the ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach is not uncommon. And there are always businesses out to help while others are hocking snake oil.
But somehow it feels different. And any effort to execute an offer feels misguided like it could be perceived as taking advantage of a situation.
If you find yourself in this predicament, step back. The lens through which you must focus your message is not by the crisis afoot, but by the purpose of your business and your brand.
Now, and always, brands need to communicate authentically with their customers. If you are simply paying lip service to your customers, stop. It will only disservice your brand when customers spot the disconnect. You are far better to chart a course that reflects your purpose and deepen the trust you are building with your customer.
Reflecting on Your ‘Why’
Understanding your company’s ‘why’ is your best way to forge a lasting customer connection. While Simon Sinek’s concept of ‘starting with why’ is etched into most modern marketers’ psyches, how well the principle is executed is likely coming to light in the face of this pandemic. And there has never been a better time to reflect on the ‘why’ of your business.
It isn’t hard to be a marketer amid a pandemic if your ‘why’ is in line with the betterment of others. I’ve read countless stories on inspiring ways companies big and small are getting creative to quickly adapt during this time.
But why is it inspiring—and not confusing—that fashion retailers are opening production facilities to make masks, that Starbucks is giving free coffee to front-liners and that brands like Dyson are designing ventilators? It is because the ethos of these organizations is driven not by the products they produce, but by the value they deliver.
Dyson reinvents the ordinary to create the extraordinary. Starbucks seeks to nurture the human spirit one cup and one neighborhood at a time. Fashion retailers inspire the masses. In each case, their ‘why’ is customer-centric and gives them the latitude to authentically pivot their marketing strategy.
Within your brand’s ‘why’ exists the driving force behind every marketing decision you make. As you navigate your communication strategy in the time of COVID-19, look back to that ‘why’ and reflect on its resonance; it should remain your North Star.
A Lesson with Staying Power
At Tecsys, our ‘why’ is to equip our customers with the tools they need for supply chain excellence. In practice, this comes in many shapes and sizes, but the constant that emerges is that customer successes are often buried in turbulence, and that times of radical change are often the greatest opportunities. As we equip our customers for their supply chain recoveries, we trust that that message will be familiar, because it is carefully crafted to reflect our ‘why’ and so fundamental to our brand promise.
The level of scrutiny we give to our messaging should not be reserved for times of crisis. We are all stewards of our brand, and that means staying accountable to how our story unfolds. The questions we ask ourselves today about the value we are delivering with each message, and our efforts to avoid the perception of opportunism, even if it isn’t intended as such, are the hallmarks of meaningful marketing.
With ‘why’ as our barometer, we must consider the authenticity of every campaign, brochure, press release and presentation, and how each is a stitch in the tapestry of our brand.
Chief Marketing Officer