Marketing Your Products in a Crisis

A Bellwether Insight

Photo: Lauren Fleischmann
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Ok, so we have some good news and some bad news. The good news: people are still buying products. The bad news: people are still buying products. And, why is this bad? Because during times of crisis, we have to redo how we market products and that takes time, resources and hard work.

That on top of the fact that our industry has been in a bad place for a while. Market caps down 40% since January, the overwhelming majority of publicly-traded fashion businesses in distress if store closures continue, and we are hearing every day about a new peer who has been fired or furloughed.

This pile up has made us ping-pong back and forth. We try new marketing techniques continuously and have to adapt to shaky times to not only keep up with competitors, but with the changing consumer.

For small businesses who doesn’t have the liquid cash flows that a larger organization may have (or the means to find that cash and reduce expenses quickly) are finding themselves at a near stand-still. Do you change your marketing to address the COVID-19 crisis? Will this coronavirus affect how my customer shops longterm? Should I use my resources to make products that help front-line healthcare workers? And the really scary question: will I still be in business when this is all over?

Alright, let’s not hyperventilate. We can all get through this together, let’s just tackle one thing at a time. Today, we are looking at how to continue to market your products. We aren’t going to give you a slogan to say or the top three keywords you can buy to target your ads. We are going back to some tried and true marketing concepts for you to think about when crafting your messages; and, some strategies for further success.

Shared Value

We talk about in our Sustainability Basics for Fashion Business course about the concept of shared value. This simply means that you and your customer (and the planet) all have a stake in the world we live in, and the products you sell have to provide a need or want of the consumer…a value to them. This goes in reverse, too. A customer buys your product, and provides the value of giving you money to stay in business and make more products. We are all offering solutions for each other.

In times of crisis, especially, we must ensure we are educating our customer on the value we provide for them. What needs are we fulfilling? What want are we satisfying? How can we more authentically have a conversation with our customer? Have a discussion around these questions and message your products accordingly.

(And, don’t worry, shared value also includes our value to the planet and the planet’s value to us. You can check out the course for more on that.)

Another way to equate value in a time of crisis is comfort. Many of us are working from home. We are zoom-ing with a business casual lewk on top, and on the bottom we are wearing whatever the closest pair of pants to our bed was. Or at least some janties, depending on how wide angle our camera is (this link was not paid for, but we are looking for a free sample). Think about how your products can provide a comfort for your customer. Do your products make it easier for them to complete a daily task? Do they help make them feel secure? Do they just literally make them feel comfortable when working? How is it doing that?

Redefining your competitive advantage

Your competitive advantage is all of the things you do that are better than your competitor. They put you at an advantage when you are trying to get your customer to pay attention to your brand when faced with a lot of different brands. During times of crisis, different parts of our business may put us at an advantage over our competitors. Internally, you may have invested in better technology for sample approvals that eliminated the need to have clothes shipped to your office. Or, maybe you moved some of your production closer to your distribution hubs to be less affected by shipping disruptions.

In marketing, the companies who easily adapted to COVID-19 were the ones who invested heavily in digital communication and building communities online. Nike is a typical case for making bold messages that connect to people. But, look at smaller brands like Gelareh Mizrahi. Her hilarious social media accounts gained a big following among consumers. Now, she has transformed her Instagram into a page for sharing about how customers can donate to help buy supplies and deliver them to healthcare workers.

Christian Siriano did the same thing. He was among the first set of brands to transform their production spaces to make personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers. Now last season’s deadstock fabric may be this season’s face mask. And, they both are gaining credibility and a larger fanbase and earned media because of it. (Not to say that is why they are doing it, but the concept of shared value works here too…you do good things to do good things but there is still additional value outside that.)

Other companies were able to repurpose old footage to make new ads. They were quick to act on changing the tone of their messaging to reflect the times. Some brands continue to share their old ads, and the tone does not always fit in with what people are thinking.

What strengths in your business can you use to push your products and marketing forward? Think creatively and leverage what you can. This is also a great time to preform a quick competitive analysis so that you can understand what your competitors are doing, how they are sharing information and how you can make your marketing different.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

We are on our phones and computers more than ever. We also want information on what is happening out in the world, or at least an escape from what is happening in the world. Figure out what your customers want and then give them that message everywhere you can.

First, make sure all of your social media channels are optimized with fresh, up-to-date content and links to your website. It’s also a good idea to have at least one dedicated person responding to comments and questions. Build that community while you have a more captive audience!

Second, start testing new ways of digital communication while the potential audiences are larger. Set up a text notification system, offer an additional eNewsletter, set up a low-cost loyalty program that focuses on digital sales. See what sticks and build upon that when we return to (somewhat) normal.

Communication means you also need to be aware of your messaging. Do not abandon your brands identity, but don’t be insensitive. Using Nike again as an example, they are masters at getting a message to literally make your heart go “omg yaaaassss.” And, they do it in a very authentic way. How can you use that mentality for your own messaging? If you are funny, make some light-hearted jokes. If you are quirky, highlight some of the ways your customers are handling the coronavirus. If you are a more serious brand, offer an authoritative look at what your business if doing to mitigate the crisis.

Always seek to be authentic with what you say. Your customers (and the rest of us) will appreciate it. Check out our COVID-19 page for information on using influencers and give back messages during the crisis.