No, Cookie Walls Do Not Work. No, You Should Never Use Them.

As a result of the GDPR, some websites have begun requiring that users consent to tracking cookies. This does not, nor will it ever, be a feasible tactic. Here’s why.

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation has been described by some as the death knell for programmatic advertising (via Ad Exchanger). Its strict rules surrounding personal data and consent make learning about and targeting one’s audience with personalized marketing significantly more difficult. Some websites and publications have created a new type of content wall — the cookie wall. 

It’s not as delicious as it sounds. On the contrary, it’s one of the stupidest, most blatant attempts at data harvesting yet. Locking off content until a user agrees to give you their personal information is not consent. 

Per TechCrunch, regulators even confirmed this in 2019, noting that the consent obtained from cookie walls is neither specific, informed, nor freely given. Nor is it consent if a user continues to passively browse your site without hitting ‘accept.’ And no matter how much you claim to respect everyone’s privacy, the use of such a scummy technique demonstrates that you don’t care about your audience.

You’re just interested in harvesting your audience’s data. 

In 2021, that kind of attitude is both archaic and unacceptable. At this point, some of you are probably wondering what alternative even exists. How can you effectively monetize your content and target your advertising without the capacity to collect user data? 

Simple — by being completely transparent with your users about what you’re doing. If you must request customer data, do not block out any of the on-page content. More importantly, give them the option to reject your tracking cookies.

Will that make targeted advertising more difficult? Probably. Will it make market research more challenging? Certainly. 

But the marketing landscape has been moving inexorably away from advertising for decades now. In 2018, reports Forbes, analyst firm The McCarthy Group released research indicating that 84 percent of millennials neither liked nor trusted traditional marketing, though 58 percent don’t mind paid promotions viewed to support their favorite influencers. 

There are other ways to learn about your audience without violating the GDPR, as well: 

  • Offer discount codes/special deals to customers who fill out a survey or consent to ad tracking. Note that you need to explicitly establish what you’re doing and why to ensure consent is informed. 
  • Interact with your customers as people, not leads. Engage with them on websites like Facebook and Twitter. Learn about who they are, what they enjoy, where their interests lay. Instead of using ads to push your products, provide them with an experience. 
  • Collaborate. Find other businesses that cater to your target audience, and reach out to them. Work with them to create marketing partnerships that benefit both parties. 

The GDPR represents the first death knell for traditional data collection and marketing analytics, but this is hardly a bad thing. Advertising has been stagnant for several years now, with agencies skating by on passively-harvested data. We believe that the GDPR and other similar regulations are just the kick in the pants it needs to start genuinely innovating again. 

3 Important Lessons the Games Industry Can Teach Us About Marketing

Gaming is now a multibillion-dollar industry. The unique characteristics of this sector and their associated challenges have the potential to convey some valuable lessons to marketers and advertisers.

According to video game analyst Newzoo, the worldwide gaming market is slated to reach approximately $200 billion by 2023.  For context, the video streaming market — which saw explosive growth during COVID-19 — is predicted by analyst Kenneth Research to reach around $102 billion over this same time period. Video games, in other words, have become a massive global market, a titan of digital entertainment.

Gaming is also unique as entertainment mediums are concerned, with an extremely high level of interactivity and multiple revenue streams and marketing channels that are unavailable in traditional media. This coupled with gaming’s rapid growth over the past several decades can teach us some incredibly valuable lessons about how we shape our own branding and marketing. 

Demographics Can Change, and You Need to Adapt

As noted by industry publication gamesindustry.biz, there is a demonstrably false preconception that video games are exclusively the domain of white, cis-gendered males. At one point in the past, maybe that was true — gaming, like tech, has in the past been markedly hostile towards multiple marginalized groups. But this is no longer the case.

The core demographic of the games industry has changed entirely, and studios need to pull their heads out of the sand and get with the time. Demographics change. Just because your core customer base falls into one category today, that doesn’t mean it always will.

An industry shift can open up a business to an entirely new world, and it’s imperative that you understand that.

The Best Brand in the World Can’t Save a Shoddy Product

For years, Polish game development studio CD Projekt Red (CDPR) was among the most beloved brands in the games industry. They were widely held to be a pro-consumer organization, focused on quality, user rights, and creativity. Then they released Cyberpunk 2077 and completely shattered every illusion we had, setting fire to their brand almost as spectacularly as stock trading app Robin Hood. 

You’ve probably heard echoes of the controversy even if you aren’t involved in gaming, but in case you’re unfamiliar, here’s an overview. 

  • The studio broke multiple promises about the game’s content and capabilities. These included but weren’t limited to mini-games, advanced artificial intelligence, open-world events, player housing/vehicles, and a branching narrative structure. 
  • As reported by Screenrant, CDPR knowingly misrepresented Cyberpunk 2077’s performance issues on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The game on these platforms was so unplayable that Sony reverted its digital refund policy for the first time in history, allowing players to return their digital copies of the game and de-listing it to prevent future purchases. 
  • CDPR’s marketing of the title was called out multiple times for transphobia and other problematic behavior, running directly counter to the brand’s established identity as a forward-thinking organization.
  • Per Forbes Magazine, the studio was openly mandating 6-day workweeks in the time leading up to launch, despite promising this would not happen. Studio Head Adam Bedowski’s response to reports on this crunch can be described as tone-deaf at best; condescending and openly hostile at worst. 
  • In addition to being riddled with bugs, Bleeping Computer reports that the game launched with a bug that allowed malicious mods to take over people’s PCs, and potentially even gave hackers internal access to CDPR’s systems and data.
  • Most recently, CDPR was hit by a massive cyberattack in which the hacker locked down the company’s entire internal network with ransomware and sold off the source code for its games.

To describe CDPR’s implosion as catastrophic would be putting it lightly. It is quite possibly one of the worst brand disasters of the decade, and it’s still going. The lesson here is simple — no brand, no matter how renowned or beloved, is above reproach. 

And marketing is nothing without solid products/services to back it up. 

Influencer Marketing Is Incredibly Powerful

Released in June 2018, Among Us enjoyed several years of modest success, with a small and dedicated following on PC and mobile. Then a few influencers began playing it on video streaming service Twitch. As reported by CNBC, the title’s growth was both explosive and immediate, and it was downloaded nearly 126 million times in the first half of September alone

Influencers have always had a special relationship with video games. The medium lends itself incredibly well to a unique breed of performance on platforms like Twitch and YouTube known as Let’s Plays. Some of the most successful content creators, such as Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg, have adopted this format with great success. 

Even being featured on one of these channels can create an enormous surge in demand for a title. And although influencer marketing may not have quite the sway elsewhere as it does in gaming, it’s still an extremely valuable tool in your arsenal. You’d do well to leverage it. 

Game On

The games industry has come a long way from its humble roots. And as the pandemic wears on, there’s little doubt that it will continue to grow. You’d do well to pay attention to that growth — and not just because of the lessons it can teach you about marketing. 

What Is Outrage Marketing, and Should You Use It?

Few things are more effective at generating buzz than anger. Outrage marketing leverages just that. But is that a good thing?

These days, it seems like everyone on social media is angry about something. Like we’re all constantly on the lookout for the next thing to be outraged about. Buzzing with fury as we seek the next opportunity for an angry rant. 

But it also speaks to a negative tendency many of us possess. We gain a sort of perverse joy in outrage. We bask in shared anger and seek to spread that to as many people as possible. 

It’s why high-profile blunders by brands so frequently go viral. Why arguments on Facebook have become so common. Why there always seems to be an angry mob on Twitter that’s one tweet away from pouncing on someone. 

Anger, notes Dr. Jean Kim in an article published in Psychology Today, can be addictive. It feels good, giving us a rush that boosts our ego and triggers the reward centers of the brain. And for some people, it’s comfortable and familiar.

Outrage tends to be even more insidious. 

“Outrage is contagious…one of those emotions (such as anger) that feed and get fat on themselves,” Dr. Terri Apter, Ph.D. writes in Psychology Today. “Yet it is different from anger, which is more personal, corrosive, and painful.  In the grip of outrage, we shiver with disapproval and revulsion—but at the same time outrage produces a narcissistic frisson…Outrage assures us of our moral superiority.”

As you might expect, outrage can often be leveraged to do tangible good. 

It helps ferret out corruption. It helps bring criminals to justice they may otherwise never face. It calls attention to the misdeeds and moral failings of powerful people and groups. 

Some people even hold that it can act as the foundation of a new tactic known as outrage marketing. No, we’re not talking about the chaos that ensues when a brand unintentionally releases an utterly tone-deaf advertisement, as recently occurred with Chinese beauty company Purcotton (via Yahoo!). Nor are we talking about businesses that generate outrage by taking a moral or social stance. 

Outrage marketing is much more manipulative than that. It represents a conscious effort by a brand to shock and upset large groups of people — usually those opposite your target demographic. It plays off sociopolitical divisions, leveraging them in order to sell a product.

If that sounds reprehensible to you, that’s because it is. At best, you’re cynically exploiting actual causes for the express purpose of generating buzz. At worst, you’re being actively harmful and destructive, toying with people’s emotions and creating conflict.

Moreover, after the dumpster fire that was 2020, people are exhausted. It was an entire year of things going from bad to worse, an entire year of anger and frustration and fear and anxiety. Trying to manipulate people and deliberately sow dissent at this point in time is the height of moral bankruptcy. 

Outrage marketing is not something reputable brands engage in. There are better ways to generate brand awareness, better ways to bring in traffic and sales. Find them, because trying to leverage outrage simply isn’t worth the cost.

What Most Brands Get Wrong About Marketing to Millennials

If your marketing is geared towards millennials, then you should know how to connect with them. Because most brands don’t.

Millennial. 

It’s as much a pejorative as a descriptor these days. A buzzword used by marketers who seek to leverage the vast purchasing power of this golden demographic. There’s just one problem. 

Most brands have no idea what they’re doing where millennials are concerned. Sure, they manage to generate a few sales, bring in a few new customers. Sure, they might connect with some millennials. 

But for the majority, their marketing efforts amount to little beyond white noise. 

The problem here is multifaceted, but it ultimately boils down to one thing. These brands do not understand millennials. Many of them try to market to millennials the way they’d like to be marketed to.

Certainly, there are exceptions. Marketing agencies that have rid themselves of the old guard. Professionals who’ve taken the time to do their homework and generate audience profiles. 

But in most cases, they make a bevy of mistakes, including, but not limited to: 

Treating Millennials as a Monolith 

Millennials are among the most diverse demographics in the world, and the up-and-coming generation Z is geared to be even more diverse. You cannot simply go into your marketing campaign with the vague idea that you want to ‘engage with millennials’ and expect to have any degree of success.  While there are certainly common threads amongst millennials, you still need to be specific.

Ask yourself a few of the following questions: 

  • What are they interested in? 
  • What do they value? 
  • Why would they engage with your brand in the first place? What need are they seeking to fulfill? 
  • What demographic details define them beyond ‘millennial’? Examples could be income level, gender, cultural background, etc. 

Going Overboard Trying to Sell

As we said, there are a few common traits shared not just between millennials, but between millennials and generation Z. Generally speaking, they do not like being sold to. They’re interested in engaging with a brand that quietly understands and fulfills their needs.

That means blog posts that aren’t solely focused on driving sales. Social feeds filled with content that’s interesting, educational, or entertaining. They’ll still know you’re trying to sell to them, of course —but because you’re doing it in a way that’s not overbearing, most won’t mind.

It also means toning down the emails. Nothing is more annoying than purchasing a product from a brand only to have your inbox inundated with several emails a day. Sending a newsletter when there’s a new deal is one thing, but if you flood people’s inboxes with irrelevant nonsense, they’ll start tuning you out. 

Not Putting the Customer First

How’s your return policy look? What about your checkout process? Shipping and handling? Customer support? 

For a millennial demographic, these need to be as seamless as possible. Don’t shove popups in people’s faces, and make sure your checkout process is both simple and transparent in terms of shipping costs. Perhaps more importantly, make sure you have a concrete, generous return policy.

Too many brands operate on a purely selfish, money-first basis. While that might work for the older generation of consumers, for everyone born after the early 80s it’s incredibly aggravating. If you make it clear to your audience that you’re prioritizing their wants and needs, they’ll reward you with far deeper loyalty.

The Millennial Puzzle

Marketing to millennials is neither as difficult nor as complex as you might think. Provided you understand them as a demographic and do your homework, you’ll do just fine. And as an added bonus, you’ll distinguish yourself from the countless brands that simply cannot be bothered.  

3 Critical Steps to Avoiding Tone-Deaf Marketing

Coming across as tone-deaf is the worst thing you can do with your marketing. Here are a few quick and easy tips to help you avoid making that mistake.

One of the more unfortunate marketing trends centered around the pandemic is how often we’ve seen businesses and brands act in ways that are outright tone-deaf. Now more than ever, that’s an extremely bad thing. People are on edge.

We’re nearly a year into a global pandemic, a time marked by economic recession and social unrest. Some people aren’t even certain where their next paycheck is coming from, and others are constantly worried about their friends and loved ones. What that means is that their patience for brands that behave badly is at an all-time low.

You cannot afford for yours to be among those. 

Listen to Your Audience

The most important piece of advice we can give you is to look, listen, and learn. Ignoring your audience is one of the most critical mistakes you can make as a business. If you don’t make your audience feel heard, they’ll jump to another brand without hesitation.

Understand their sentiments, their needs, and their values, and focus your communication on aligning with those.

You might also consider looking at what other businesses and brands are doing. Learn from their missteps and mistakes. Pay attention to what they’re doing that works, and what they’re doing that you should avoid.

Don’t Schedule and Forget Social Posts

Scheduling your posts is an important part of any successful social marketing strategy. However, one mistake we frequently see brands making involves a ‘fire and forget’ approach. They’ll schedule content months in advance, then let it fly into the wild without a thought to how the social climate has changed in the meantime. 

We saw this in the early stages of COVID-19, with many tourism-related companies promoting holiday packages right as lockdowns started to come into effect. We saw influencer-style promotions of luxury resorts and first-class flights, celebrities enjoying travel and privilege while everyone else struggled, and brands effectively acting as if it’s simply business as usual. 

We’d advise taking a bit of time each day to double-check your scheduled content in order to ensure you aren’t stepping on anyone’s toes. 

Be Comical With Caution

Everyone loves entertainment, and everyone could use a good laugh right now. Just keep in mind, however, that comedy is subjective, and in some cases, can be incredibly risky. And if you make a joke that fails to land, you might be looking at more than a bit of cringe. 

As a general rule, you should avoid making too many jokes about current events. Instead, focus on creating a human voice over boring, corporate jargon. Reference the news with a light touch, showing that you understand what’s going on without being too pithy, mocking, or sarcastic.

Above All, Be Accountable

Even if your intentions are completely innocent, it’s all too easy to come off as uninformed, ignorant, or uncaring. At the end of the day, it’s impossible to predict exactly how a piece of content will be received by your readers. As such, if you do end up making a mistake and offending your audience, the best thing you can do is apologize. 

Own up to what you’ve done wrong, and resolve to do better in the future.

Today, it is more important than ever that your brand messaging is both direct and sincere. Give careful thought to the content you’re putting out into the wild, and avoid reacting too hastily or spontaneously to new developments. You currently have a unique opportunity to act as a positive influence during one of the most difficult times any of us have ever experienced.

Be careful not to squander it. 

Avoiding The Biggest Mistake Most Businesses Make With Social Media

The value of social media as a marketing tool has already been well-documented. Everyone knows by now that any brand worth its salt needs to at least have a presence on Facebook. What people aren’t clear on, however, is what exactly that presence entails.

The issue, as it were, is that businesses don’t take the time to learn what makes social networks unique. They treat Facebook as just another advertising platform, Twitter as a tool for rapid-fire sales, and Instagram as a product showcase. 

And that’s a problem. Not just because that’s not what social media is meant to be used for, but because audience attitudes towards sales-focused content have shifted.

Dramatically.

Today’s consumers don’t want to be sold to. They don’t want to be bombarded with marketing pitches, harassed with product information, and flooded with cold calls. Many of them have spent their entire lives dealing with that kind of thing — and at this point, it’s little more than digital white noise.

Consider, for instance, that as reported by online publication The Drum, a recent study by consulting firm Kantar found that just 14 percent of people trust advertisers. The Spring update to the Edelman 2020 Trust Barometer, which measures consumer trust in business and government, meanwhile, found that only 32 percent of people believe businesses are putting people before profits. Taken together, these two studies paint a very clear picture.

People do not trust any business they view as overly profit-driven. And that means that if you use social media as little more than an additional sales platform, your audience is just going to lump you in with every other brand they dislike and don’t trust. So what’s the alternative? 

Instead of focusing on your business’s bottom line and trying to drive sales, focus on your brand’s relationship with its audience. Instead of spending all your time talking about your products, think about what your audience might actually be interested in seeing. In short, instead of using your social channels as ad platforms, leverage them for engagement.

Ask yourself the following questions.

  • What content do my followers typically engage with the most? What sort of stuff do they share?  
  • Why do people follow my brand on social media? 
  • How are my competitors using social media? 
  • What sort of personality do I want my brand to present to its audience? What sort of content would best present that personality? 
  • What type of content can I produce in-house? 
  • What kind of third-party content do I want to share? 
  • How frequently should I post, and at what time of day? 
  • Does my audience differ at all across my social channels? 

In short, the most important thing to remember when establishing your business on social media is that at the end of the day, it’s not really about you. It’s about your customers, and how they relate to your brand. Focus on them —their interests, their needs, and their values — and you have an excellent starting point. 

How COVID-19 Has Changed Influencer Marketing

According to a survey released in April by market research SaaS firm Global Web Index, 87 percent of U.S. consumers increased their overall media consumption as a direct result of COVID-19 This doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Over the course of the pandemic, people all over the world have had to cope with lockdowns, social isolation, and in some cases, loss of income. 

What else is there to do but spend time on the Internet? 

As you might expect, this increase in media consumption means more people than ever are paying attention to influencers. People are looking for a sense of normalcy. Looking to distract themselves from what’s going on in the world.

Streaming media and video games aside, influencers provide the opportunity to do just that. 

This is a double-edged sword, however. The fact that more people are paying attention to influencers also means more people are scrutinizing them. And make no mistake — the Internet personalities who commit significant missteps during this pandemic will become functionally radioactive from a marketing perspective.

Take YouTuber Jake Paul. As reported by publication Insider, Paul was already a highly controversial figure before the pandemic. But over the last several months, Paul has made blunder after repeated blunder.

Per Vanity Fair Magazine, Paul recently threw a massive party at his California mansion. His reckless disregard for the coronavirus quickly made the news. And it wasn’t just the media who were lambasting Paul, either.

“Everyone who saw the video [was outraged],” Said Calabasas Mayor Alicia Weintraub “They’re having this large party, no social distancing, no masks, it’s just a big, huge disregard for everything that everybody is trying to do to get things back to functioning. It’s really just a party acting like COVID does not exist, it’s acting like businesses aren’t closed.” 

Will Jake Paul make it through this incident with his fame relatively unscathed? More than likely. At the same time, he’s a perfect example of an influencer your brand cannot, under any circumstances, engage with — at least, not if you want to present your business as socially conscientious. 

It is, in other words, now more important than ever that you do your research before engaging with an influencer. Moreover, once your brand starts working with an influencer, you cannot simply leave them to their own devices. Pay attention to what they’re doing, and be prepared to cut ties with them if necessary. 

People are exhausted right now. This is no secret. As you might expect, this means their patience has worn thin.

They’re more discerning with their purchases. They’re likelier to vote with their wallets. They’re likelier to write off a business or influencer who doesn’t appear to mesh with their values. 

The pandemic will eventually end, and the world will regain a sense of normalcy. However, the increased focus and scrutiny to which influencers and businesses alike are subjected is likely to remain.  Keep that in mind moving forward, and you should do just fine. 

The Critical Role of Experiential Marketing on Social Media

Social media isn’t exactly untrodden ground. 

It’s been 16 years since Facebook was founded. Twitter has existed for 14 years. There is an entire generation of people who have never experienced life without social networks.

With this in mind, it’s somewhat baffling that there are still so many businesses that don’t understand social marketing. Some of them still treat social networks like traditional advertising platforms, talking at their audience rather than engaging them. Others, meanwhile, shamelessly promote their products and brand without much thought for what their audience actually wants. 

Neither of these approaches is likely to meet with success, especially as younger audiences grow warier, wearier, and more focused on privacy. Rather than interacting openly with everyone who crosses their path, many users are now focused on smaller, more intimate groups of friends and acquaintances. Brand and digital content strategist Sara Wilson refers to these micro-communities as ‘digital campfires.’ 

“If social media can feel like a crowded airport terminal where everyone is allowed, but no one feels particularly excited to be there, digital campfires offer a more intimate oasis where smaller groups of people are excited to gather around shared interests,” Wilson explains. “[Marketers] must identify the communities and parts of the culture that their brand fits into. Then, determine the online experiences these audiences seek.” 

In other words, unless you want middling results on your social marketing efforts, you cannot simply focus on selling your products. Instead, you need to immerse your audience in your brand. You need to focus on interacting with your customers, brainstorming a unique, creative shared experience that people are excited to be a part of.

In order to do this effectively, there are several questions you need to answer. 

  • Who is your audience? This includes their average income, country of residence, average age, and general information about their career/industry.
  • How does your audience communicate? What sort of language do they use, and what sort of content do they usually engage with? 
  • What does your audience value? What are their beliefs, and what social causes do they tend to support? 
  • What are your audience’s hobbies? This may include video games, musical genres, what type of media they consume, and so on. 
  • Why is your audience interested in your brand? 

Spend some time studying your customers. Track down your competitors, and see who’s engaging with their brands. Study, listen, learn, and brainstorm. 

Once you’ve taken the time to figure out who your audience is, it’s time to get creative. You might consider partnering with other businesses or brands to create a more immersive experience, as multiple organizations have done with video game publisher Epic Games and their title Fortnite. You might consider creating an explorable virtual space or designing a competition or event that spans every one of your marketing channels. 

The goal here is to do something that uniquely meshes with the personality of your brand and uniquely resonates with your audience. To engage with and immerse your customers without attempting to sell to them. To cultivate a relationship based on their wants and their needs.

Do it right, and you won’t need to sell to them — they’ll find their way to you themselves.

The Critical Role Mental Health Awareness Plays in Modern Marketing

Millions of adults worldwide live with some form of mental illness. Amidst the ongoing pandemic and social unrest, it’s highly likely that people are struggling. Isolation combined with the myriad stressors of current events has created a perfect storm of stress and anxiety.

Now more than ever, it’s important that your marketing takes mental health into account. Because even in spite of how many people suffer from it, even in spite of how difficult things are for people all over the world, there’s still a stigma around mental illness. A pervasive, unpleasant, ingrained urge to push it under the rug.

Removing that stigma requires that businesses and brands do what they can to spread awareness, yours included.

This starts from within. Because there are rarely any visual indicators that clients or staff are suffering from mental illness, you need to promote a culture of support and understanding. Make it clear that people can ask for help, and you’ll do what you can to provide it without judgment. 

Some people find it incredibly difficult – even mortifying – to ask for help, even when they desperately need it. The sooner we as a society can destigmatize mental illness, the better.  Free medical support for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety will go a particularly long way, especially in marketing.

Consider, for instance, that in a 2018 study by online job board CV library, over a third of marketing professionals indicated that they were driven to depression and anxiety by their career.  Then, consider that according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of North America, only 18 percent of the population suffers from anxiety. That’s a significant gulf. 

Beyond promoting more internal awareness and acceptance of mental health, you can also weave this complex topic into your marketing efforts more easily than you might expect. You might start simple, with marketing materials such as stress balls, fidget spinners, or fidget cubes. You might publish blog posts or social campaigns in support of a particular mental health issue, or even participate in a podcast on the topic.

You might also consider hosting events dedicated to mental health and awareness, something which can more easily connect you with the community. Partnering with other local businesses can go a long way towards expanding your reach, as well. Moreover, demonstrating to your core audience that you’ve put time and effort into considering their well-being can do a great deal of good for everyone.

As far as engaging with current events is concerned, it’s not strictly necessary. The best your business can do is emphasize to both customers and employees that their health and wellness is a priority. Emphasize that mental health need not be an invisible problem and that people need not suffer alone. 

Why Empathy is a Critical to Marketing Post COVID-19

Financial instability. Anxiety over the possible loss of loved ones. The strain of prolonged isolation. 

It’s unlikely that any of us escaped the coronavirus pandemic entirely unscathed. It’s been an incredibly difficult and trying time for virtually everyone. Unfortunately, it seems like many brands still haven’t gotten the memo.

Some of them tried to pretend it was business as usual. Customers were bombarded with typical marketing copy and advertising campaigns. Refusing to even engage with the pandemic carried with it the implication that it – and the suffering of their audience – was unimportant. 

On the other end of the spectrum, others hopped on the COVID marketing bandwagon. We’re all in this together, they told their audience, and we care about your struggles. Unfortunately, a lack of clear effort and personalization made this messaging come across as wholly insincere. 

Both approaches fail because they lack one crucial component: empathy. 

You need to understand what your audience is going through and acknowledge it with your messaging. Focus on connecting with your customers on a personal level rather than trying to sell your products to them. Relationship-building was already important for successful marketing before the pandemic; it’s only going to grow more important in the coming month.

There are a few stages in this approach: 

  • Start with buyer personas. Who is your audience? What do they value? What are their likes and dislikes? What are their hobbies and aspirations? 
  • Ask questions. Talk to your audience. Connect with people who’ve left positive or negative reviews to see why.  Make it clear that you’re always open to customer feedback, and most importantly, listen.
  • Know your own values. What morals matter to your organization? How can you inspire good and promote positivity in a way that aligns with your business’s brand? 
  • Leverage emotion.  Focus on positive emotions like happiness, nostalgia, and triumph.  People have already dealt with enough fear, uncertainty, and angst throughout the pandemic. Don’t try to play on those negative emotions simply to make a sale. 
  • Communicate, don’t sell.  Your goal here is to give something valuable or positive to your audience. If they decide to buy your products or services afterward, that’s their decision. They shouldn’t feel pressured to do so. 
  • Don’t tear anyone down. Focus on the positive elements of your brand or industry. Again, you want to stay away from overt negativity here. 
  • Show you understand. Demonstrate to your audience that you know them and care. There are many ways to do this, such as a how-to they’ve been asking for, an advertising spot that shows real, human footage, or a vow to donate a portion of your proceeds to charity. Focus on ways you can make the lives of your customers better. 

People are tired. Amidst all the fear, uncertainty, and angst suffered at the hands of the coronavirus pandemic, they have little patience left for manipulative or predatory marketing efforts. If your brand is incapable of demonstrating empathy, you will end up paying for it – both in the short-term and the long-term.