In the next few weeks, Malta will have fully vaccinated 70% of its population.
The pandemic will be on its way into the history books.
And your industry can start to recover.
But it will never be the same ever again.
The Great Restart
Every stage of the pandemic brought new changes to how we did things.
To a certain extent, that’s human nature. Whatever challenge we face, we adapt to it, we survive it, and we come out on the other side with a handful of new skills and more ideas than we can use.
It’s the best part of humanity.
When offices shut down, we went remote. When events stopped happening, event managers turned to the virtual. Restaurants delivered. Art went viral. Connections happened through audio-only, text-only, visuals-only. Little by little, the better bits of being won.
Now that the pandemic is hopefully on its way to becoming a footnote in history books, those ideas and changes aren’t going to budge. People got used to the faster, easier, more convenient, more human-centric way of living that the pandemic gave us. To take it away makes no sense.
But there’s ways for brands to talk post-pandemic. And there’s ways to get back to your marketing without going back to the old ways of marketing: buying enough ads to populate a small browser, pushing hard on selling, making people feel like your product is the only product.
Those methods don’t work the way they used to.
Here’s how to use methods that do.
How to set up your marketing for the restart
The future is stable.
It’s also still really, really vulnerable.
The world as we knew it is gone.
(And if I hear anyone mention the new normal once again, I think I’ll throw a burrito out of the window.
Don’t worry, it will be into the yard, and our dog will scavenge it at some point. I don’t waste food).
Brands should, and do, need to work to boost the economy. On this, everyone is in agreement.
The question they seem to struggle with is how.
So what should brands be doing to restart the economy right after one of the biggest shocks to the economy in living memory?
They should be communicating.
Brands should be screaming from the top of rooftops in a way that matches the expectations of people in a post-pandemic world.
Brands should be screaming about how they can understand the position that people are in and that they’re there for them. Brands should be talking about how they experienced it too: they know what their consumers have been through, and they’re here to help them.
If there ever was a time for new beginnings in brand communications and marketing, then this is definitely it.
This is a clean slate.
This is the time to revisit everything you were doing to bring it up to scratch with where you should have been before the pandemic, and to where you have no choice but to be post-pandemic.
And I can talk about it forever, but this is a blog post, not a book, and even blogs have a word-limit.
So let’s focus on the questions you should be asking yourself, your marketing team, and your marketing agency (if you have one or if you’re looking for one).
Your (Brand) Story
What brands do you remember from the first lockdown?
It’s fine if the answer is ‘none’. Most brands struggled to communicate to a literal captive audience, not through messaging but through getting their messages heard, and getting people to respond to them.
There are a few reasons for it: disposable income dipped, people couldn’t purchase a product, there wasn’t enough demand to make the marketing worth it.
Mostly, though, people just didn’t want to listen to brands.
And they especially didn’t want to listen to brands that only wanted to sell.
Or brands that ‘stood’ for nothing.
Think about it.
The world shuts down overnight. People lose their jobs. Most get separated from their families, isolate themselves within four walls, and do their best to keep their heads above water.
Brands that threw money at the problem – that competed against other, small brands by slashing prices, increasing sales, going doggedly and viciously after each customer – are not going to come out of the pandemic well. If you somehow got by solely on shady economic practices or simply by competing in a commoditized fashion, then there is likely a nasty wakeup call waiting for you as soon as the lockdown restrictions lift properly.
People remember. And they’ll especially remember brands that didn’t help, that had nothing to offer them when they needed it, that only wanted to use them for money.
That didn’t build a connection.
2020 was harder for a lot of people. The more isolated and miserable they were, the more they looked for small enjoyments, tiny little links, an understanding that there was someone there at the other end of the screen.
Brands that understood that – that leaned into it – did well. Brands that spoke back, built their campaigns about people, switched their messaging inwards, did what they could to answer every message with, hello, we’re here, we want to help, stayed relevant and talked about.
People wanted the escape. People wanted brands to talk.
And people are going to look back at the brands that had a story to tell and reward them with loyalty that lasts.
Brands that didn’t had their own notoriety, and it won’t be as quick to fade or as easy to bury as it used to be. If you used the pandemic as a way to make a quick buck in a money grab then you’re going to have as much success as a bunch of greedy football clubs who tried to launch a breakaway football league.
Your Social Media
A lot has changed since Zuckerberg made Facebook to creep on the pretty girls in his class.
Digital advertising and social media marketing have become two separate behemoths. You can’t talk about one without the other, but there’s a lot that you can miss by putting them in the same playground.
Digital advertising is where you live on the web.
Social media is how you live.
It’s the place where you can actually let your brand out to play. It’s where you can tell your brand’s story, have people respond to it, and engage with your audience without boundaries.
(Well. Some boundaries. We don’t recommend harassing your audience, for example).
And social media worked beautifully during the pandemic. There was a slower shift in actually using social media to communicate – from static stories, for example, to pick-your-own-answer polls – but once it did, it spread like wildfire. The idea that you could reach out through your Facebook, your Instagram, your Twitter, and get a response back from your audience gave social media communication a new boost.
Everything old made new again. Every conversation restarted.
It’s hard to remember what social media was like before the pandemic.
That’s a good thing.
Social media has to stay as it is: a newer extension to communication, a way of reaching out to your audience. The point of social media can no longer be just to sell, if it was ever successfully that.
Social media needs to be a linking point. You, and your audience. Your audience, and your brand. It should be a way of generating goodwill sustainably, and cheaply. It should let you talk to the people you want to reach, and convince people you haven’t reached yet.
It needs to be your voice.
Seeing social media as just another way to advertise your business cuts down all the possibilities of what you can do with social media.
And it’s going to hurt you in the long run.
Have you updated your website since the pandemic?
How about before the pandemic?
If you’re still rocking the geocities maximalism, or the WordPress drag-and-drop, you might want to consider branching out and rebranding your website. Like social media, your website is no longer just a placeholder on the internet, something you have just to say that you have it.
You might have entered the Covid era happy with a site that’s just a decent showcase for who you are and what you do, but you definitely can’t expect this to be enough as the world moves on.
Your website should become your absolute top priority once again.
Social media has started – and will continue to – fragment. Tinier and tinier groups are spreading out across social media platforms and communicating in increasingly insular ways. It’s becoming harder to search on social media.
Besides, if your social media has become the place where you talk, you need a place to sell.
Your website can be that place. From information about your latest products to updated listings, your website can be your selling point – literally and figuratively. Using your website as the sole point of information means that you can generate interest and interaction, to sell and to build a loyal following that’s not at the mercy of social media giants who can just kill your page or throttle your traffic at a whim.
Once you have a decent website set up, you really need to think about the content you’re producing about and around your brand and industry.
It’s true that people expect more now.
What’s equally true is that it’s easier to fulfill those content demands, especially if you care about building and bridging a connection to your audience.
With content that resonates, connection to an audience is easier to build. If you’re focused just on selling in the short-term, the longer-term will get pushed aside. After all, there’s only so much talking you can do.
But higher-quality content gives you an abundance of topics to talk about. It’s geared towards the longer-term; towards building a connection that will last throughout the days of silence when you have nothing to say, and through any mistakes you might make until you figure out who your brand is and what it stands for. It’ll last through a pandemic.
It’ll outlast you.
Brands are not finite, fragile things. With high-quality content, a brand can become effectively immortal, effectively immune.
Everyone wants to believe in something.
Why not you?
And the way to build and hone that belief is through content that shows the better side of your brand. Through content that sings. Through content that brings it to life.
Through content that works.
The argument over whether or not we ‘truly’ need SEO has been going on since SEO practice developed. My opinion is that you do.
The market has broken. What could previously have taken you a handful of minutes to find now takes you through a parade of Facebook, website, google, Twitter, Instagram – and it’s a lot. Most people won’t go through the effort of digging through your social media to answer the question, ‘do you carry this product?’ Most people will try and find a website. Or reach out on Facebook. Or just give up and go to the person that does carry that product – the one whose listing comes up when they type the query into google.
SEO is vital. As people are searching from devices all around the home, search engines are becoming even more relevant. It isn’t just a case of coming up in the results: it’s a case of coming up fast enough that you’re always top of mind.
And that only works if you’ve taken everything else into account. Your website. Your social media. Your content. Where you talk. Where you advertise. Where you sell the most.
You can only be present if you’re checking all of the boxes above and working on both technical and content-based search engine optimisation. There isn’t an option to do just one or the other; you need to do it all. Competitors – bigger, stronger – will.
Keep in mind that the industry you’re advertising in has broken. It’s no longer one long, whole object, but something granular, split into multitudes. To address all of the people that live in those multitudes, you need SEO.
And you need good SEO.
I know it seems like a lot.
The truth is it probably is a lot.
But it’s equally true that you have something in place that you can build on. Nobody starts a brand with nothing anymore: no social media, no content, no website. You have a stepping stone somewhere. You have a way in.
And the thing is, it’s easy to work on when you start working on it.
Everything above links to each other. It’s one looping circle of possibility.
So pick your direction. Start working. Get help, if you need it.
Once you see the progress in one area, you’ll see the progress in the rest of it.
Just don’t ignore it, and you’re golden.