Cut-back or Pivot? How businesses can maximize Digital Marketing to survive a Pandemic

ben francia | by Ben Francia |Last Updated: April 8, 2020

Here’s how you can push through with your digital marketing campaigns STRATEGICALLY in light of a pandemic and a looming recession.


COVID-19 struck the world early in the year 2020 and it has so far affected major economic superpowers. While major conglomerates and corporations are able to weather the impact of this pandemic, small businesses owners and entrepreneurs take the brunt of the damage. Andre Marasigan of the Philippine Star writes that while SMEs face zero to minimal sales, they still have to provide salaries and pay other related expenses to keep themselves running.

Naturally, most SME’s reaction to this crisis is to cut costs. Small business owners get rid of non-essentials, cut redundancies, negotiate on rent and let go of people from their workforce. They have also, on varying degrees, deprioritized marketing or, in worse cases, stopped it completely. This knee-jerk reaction is natural considering the state of the world under attack from a Pandemic. 

So the question remains: Should you do the same and cut losses at the onslaught of the ongoing crisis? Not necessarily. Most businesses and organizations survive in the midst of trying times through ingenuity and good old-fashioned grit. As a business owner, the secret to thriving in a COVID-ridden world is to STRATEGICALLY ADAPT and push forward.

An Opportunity to Build Brand Relevance

In light of the current crisis, a lot of small businesses have chosen to be quiet because owners feel that marketing at this time is insensitive. This is most likely because the concept of marketing to most owners involves posting sales or promos they once had prior to the pandemic. 

In this regard, it’s important to shift to an audience-centric point of view and address the public in a way that’s sensitive and caring. Remind your audience that, in spite of what’s been going on, your organization – your brand –  will still be there to provide the product or service they need to cope.

There are many creative ways to achieve this that doesn’t involve you giving your products and services for free (although this can be a good idea as well).Giving free gift certificates can let your target audience know that you’re compassionate to their plight. 

By and large, a vast majority of brands have been thanking frontliners for their unprecedented battle against the COVID-19 threat. Enacting awareness and fund-raising campaigns for them might be a good idea to not only get the attention of the masses online, but also help win the war against the pandemic.

How should you start building your brand’s relevance in these trying times? The following action points can show you how.

In a nutshell, marketing online isn’t promoting whatever it is you’re selling, it’s telling your target audience that you empathize with them and that you’re still going to do your best to give them what they need in spite of. When the pandemic dies, they’ll remember that you were there in their darkest times.

Customers Spend More Time Online Than Usual

With COVID prompting nations the world over to establish lockdowns and enhanced community quarantines, it goes without saying that people aren’t going out as much as before. Instead, people spend a majority of their days online either through their desktop or their mobile device.

By and large, it’s safe to say that this behavior can extend even after these lockdowns and quarantines are lifted mostly because of how people have adapted digitally over the years. Also, mostly because of businesses adapting to suit their needs even while at home.

Given these, it’s important to BE THERE – to stay visible. Of course, this does not necessarily mean you should spend a ton on advertising or any of the sort. Being there means engaging them in a manner that you can help them. Here’s how you can do that:

Participating in online discussions, social media and online communities, for instance, are great ways to not only keep yourself updated on the latest COVID news. It’s a great way to pick up strategies on how other successful brands are managing the crisis and letting your audience know that you’re always there to help. Contributing value to these communities, of course, can grant you more followers in the long run.

Joining live online events and networking with other participants and organizers gives you an opportunity to learn from like-minded individuals and potentially find opportunities. With rumors of a looming recession happening, having a network whom you can help and get help from can help your business survive.

Lastly, publishing high value content that’s relevant to your audience incentivizes them to keep themselves updated with your content. After the whole crisis blows over, they’ll remember who to go to whenever they need what you provide.

Take Advantage of Cheaper Ad Rates

Because of the on-going crisis, companies have been cutting down on ad spend. Now because competitive advertisers have been making fewer bids and cutting down on budget, bids are at an all-time low and ad rates are becoming cheaper.

Approach this opportunity with not only caution, but strategy. If your business belongs to industries deemed essential, increase your ad spending budget. Reaching more people isn’t only going to help you, it’s going to help your people. Considering how difficult it is for people these days to get food, medicine and ways to transport these, the time to provide online is nigh.

If your business doesn’t belong in the category mentioned above, focus on campaigns that bring you the most results. Take a look back at campaigns that have worked well and find out you can improve and implement. Also consider investing on brand awareness and remarketing campaigns since people are most likely online and browsing.

It’s Time to Take That Pivot in Your Digital Marketing Strategy

It is in trying times when a person learns more about himself and how to improve. The same can be said for business owners and their respective businesses. Now is the perfect time to take a step back and find out how to do things digitally because of the lockdowns and quarantines. 

If you’re a traditional business that’s used to doing things offline, taking a pivot in the general direction of digital marketing means getting a website. If you already have one, start delving into creating content that doesn’t only sell but provide value to your target audience for free. You can do this by creating a blog and publishing content in it on a regular and consistent basis. 

You can promote and create content on your social media properties too, namely: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and, if applicable, Instagram. You may start investing in Facebook ads and Google ads as well and take advantage of lower ad rates as mentioned above.

If you’re a brick and mortar small business, start investing in an ecommerce platform to help you sell your products online. Finding a reliable logistics supplier is in line with that as well. If you’re providing services, consider partially (if not completely) automated billing and payment options.

Internally, consider how your processes and communications should work given the lockdown. Most local companies were forced to use online conferencing tools like Skype, Zoom and Google Hangouts in order to relay communications to different departments, teams and individuals. Rather than thinking that this option is something you have to deal with for now, consider it a norm – it’s the future! If anything, it can potentially help you save up on rent for office spaces.

Consider using webinars as a way to not only interact or train potential new-hires or your people with new skills, but also to engage your customers. While blog posts are really helpful, videos are more convenient and personal considering they can see a human person on the screen talking about your business. Email doesn’t have to be used for internal communication anymore, use if for your customers as well. Embrace the change brought about by the times!

Now Is The Time to Make That Choice

At the end of the day, the survival of a business plagued by a pandemic (or any other natural disaster) falls on two things: 1) its ability to adapt quickly to the changing times and 2) its owner’s ability to recognize opportunity amidst the challenges. Being able to see the silver lining amongst the dark rain clouds requires us to open ourselves to the change required to rise above. 

By and large, the COVID situation presents tons of opportunities for small businesses to not only reach more people, but also to engage with them in a more meaningful and personal manner. The choice falls on you: cut-back or pivot?

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