“Should we be marketing right now?”

That’s the question a client asked for the first time the day before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national emergency by the federal government.

Since then, we’ve gotten the same question in some form by most clients and by every new business engagement at our agency.

In less than a week, we have reimagined a work environment that’s evolved over nearly two centuries, coffee spoon by coffee spoon, cubicle by cubicle, combo meal by combo meal.

Yet while it’s not business as usual, it’s still business and your customers still need your help.

Should we be marketing right now?

The answer is yes, and, if you think not, you may still be thinking about marketing all wrong.

Is Your Approach to Marketing Right?

In some instances, at the core of the question is an assumption that marketing is, by itself, invasive. And sometimes that’s true. Poorly planned buys that target the wrong audience, campaigns that haven’t been well-conceived that add noise to noise, awareness campaigns that do nothing but thump your customer against their forehead.

Remember first and foremost that marketing isn’t really about you. It’s about your customers.

It’s about what you can enable them to do.  Your marketing should never be an unwelcome intrusion to talk about your company. It should always focus on customer enablement. If it’s an awareness campaign it should be authentic and meaningful, not merely an expensive version of a pop-up ad.

Of course, we may not recommend launching a new campaign in the teeth of a news cycle dominated by a global crisis.  You can check Ad Age’s list of brands’ marketing response to see a few of the major brands who have delayed new campaigns. But even among the largest brands, the trend hasn’t been silence, but adaptation.

Why Continue Marketing?

Your Customers Need your Help.  As much as we may like to think the reason to run a business is to create great marketing campaigns with an agency like Bluetext, ultimately businesses exist because you have a service you think can help other companies or individuals. And you’re right. Marketing may interest or make potential customers aware of a product, but the reason they buy isn’t the company, but the solution it offers.  While customer needs may have changed, the fact that needs exist hasn’t changed.

It’s Now your Primary Contact Vehicle. Business-to-business and business-to-government sales are a high-touch sales market now in a no-touch world. Your digital marketing is now even important to maintain relationships. Webinars, email campaigns, video, and virtual events are now a critical way to maintain relationships when the days of hosted lunches and in-person meetings are temporarily in the past.

Even consumer brands like restaurants or sports lose their primary touch-point in the in-person experience. But that doesn’t mean they should surrender their place in the consumer’s mind.

Your Brand Journalists Know the Answers. The specialization of products and services has expanded massively at the same time traditional media has declined. Brand journalists have filled the gaps to be experts on their company’s offerings and their industries. Questions about VPN services or season ticket plans aren’t going to be answered by the media.  Understanding how you can modify SD-WAN to best handle the surge in traffic for the shift to BOPIS at a retail level and telework on a corporate level won’t have its own segment on CNN. The answers aren’t coming from traditional media gatekeepers. They will come from your marketing teams. Brand journalists can provide expertise about the market.

Because Information Is Always Better Than Silence. Reacting to a story puts a brand in a weaker position than telling its own story and moving the narrative forward. Saying nothing puts a brand in a worse position. Customers and prospects want to see that you have an understanding of the situation and that you’ll be able to continue to provide service. Companies will be able to build goodwill for their brands by instilling confidence in their customers.

What Should You Do Differently?

While you should continue marketing during the COVID-19 crisis, that doesn’t mean you should act as though nothing has changed.

Think about your tone. Realize that no matter how big or small a company may be, they’re all made up of people, people who deal with the same challenges and same stresses the rest of us are dealing with. Kids have to be monitored, communication tasks are more complex than ever (be prepared to hear “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was on mute,” between six and six thousand times a day).

Change the way you speak just as you would in real life. Make sure your messaging guides include standards on tone and conversation and aren’t just the partial script of tag lines and message maps. We were already beyond a world of one-way communication in marketing and now it’s even more so.

Be sure your brand is empathetic and helpful above all else.

Rethink Customer Needs and Challenges. Pull your campaign strategy and brand guides off the shelf. Review the customer wants, needs and challenges. How have they changed? How has your ability to deliver them changed? How does it impact your overall approach? The key to great marketing is understanding your capabilities and your customer wants and finding the point of intersection.

Polish Your Digital Presence. Your website, your apps, your social, your display ads. Your digital marketing is now your front door. (Of course, we would argue this was true long ago.)

  • Be sure your website is prominently conveying information most useful to your customers in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Be sure your website is communicating everything your customer needs to find, interact and communicate with you.
  • Spend time thinking about SEO. Examine your meta summaries and the language that appears on results pages. Think about how search behaviors are changing.
  • Take a closer look at your social properties. Are they relevant to your customers and employees? As the remote workforce finds new ways to foster two-way conversations, your social sites represent an increasingly important space to communicate internally and externally.

Be Smart About Tactics. If you have the budget to do it, display ads may never be more useful. With the world behind computer screens, there has never been a better chance to reach a larger audience, segmented by any number of demographic factors to reach the people you can help. Even social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, long a small impact for business-to-business at best, are a potential opportunity. In 2019, Pew Research estimates 62% of people got their news from social media. The drive for more news, faster, is likely growing the presence of your customers on those platforms.

If marketing budgets are already a challenge, get creative. Focus on earned media. Spend time working on your SEO. Think about the best ways you can demonstrate a commitment to your current customers in ways that are not just noise, but meaningful to them.

Take a Deep Breath. The situation we find ourselves in likely isn’t going to resolve anytime soon. And as the adage goes, while few people remember if you do it fast, everyone remembers if you do it right. Having the first word is never as important as having the right word.

Keep Connection Going. The COVID-19 crisis will shuffle the deck for businesses. It’s time to rethink customer needs and usage patterns across all industries. It’s time to think about the acceleration of business trends like the remote workforce of curbside pick-up for brick and mortar stores.

But it’s not time to stop helping customers. It’s not time to stop telling your story. It’s not time to stop marketing.


Additional Resources:

Well…given the polarizing nature of the 2016 presidential election, it’s a fair bet that families will spend as much time on Thanksgiving “talking turkey” as they will devouring it. The phrase “talking turkey” has an interesting history, with some tracing it back to colonial times to describe when colonists and Indians would barter over wild turkeys.

Since then, the phrase has been primarily associated with stating something frankly and matter-of-factly. I’m sure there will be plenty of frank comments at the Thanksgiving dinner table about how a Donald Trump presidency will impact the stock market. The energy sector. Foreign relations. The economy. How about the cupcake industry? Ok, so Red Velvet cupcake sales will probably not be materially affected by a new president, but you get my point: When a seismic news event occurs, an avalanche of commentary soon follows on how, in this case, a Trump presidency will impact every nook and cranny of society.

Rather than speculate in those areas, the focus of this post will be to view Trump’s victory through a publicity lens. Is there a “teachable moment” for the marketing and public relations industry given the uniqueness of how Trump used his brand and marketed himself? What does his victory say about the value of the estimated millions upon millions of dollars in “free” earned media coverage national and local media lavished upon him for several months, reducing his need to spend on traditional TV, radio, print and online advertising?

Depending on which way you bend politically, each person will no doubt have their own opinion on why Trump won. Either way, ad and marketing agencies across the country are re-evaluating what they know and thought they knew about consumers in the wake of the election results. An article in today’s Wall Street Journal cites how ad giant McCann Worldgroup assembled top execs to dissect what Trump’s victory means from an advertising perspective. The broader article theme postulates on whether brands have overlooked the same rural voters who fell under the big data and polling radar to propel Trump in key battleground states.

The uniqueness of the presidential campaign offers some insights for marketing, advertising and PR agencies wondering if consumer behavior will match voter behavior in the coming months and years.

Modesty doesn’t always sell

Imagining how and why Trump’s message resonated with so many people harkens me to a person watching infomercials at 3am. Deep down, you know that the BackMassage 3000 can’t possibly cure your back pain in five minutes or less, but its three o’clock in the goddamn morning. You’re tired, and everything else you’ve tried hasn’t worked, so why not give it a chance?

Trump as a brand was not modest about what he thought he could accomplish during the campaign, and the results suggest many voters responded favorably to his ambitious promises. Perhaps some knew deep down that he wasn’t going to be able to deliver on all of it, but like the BackMassage 3000, it sounded bigger and bolder than anything they heard before.

Jargon can obscure the brand promise

As an acronym, keep it simple stupid (KISS) has been applied to endless use cases, from politics to sports to sales. KISS traces back to a U.S. Navy design principle in the 1960s, and has served as a reminder to avoid adding unnecessary complexity. Trump kept his messages very simple; and these messages were either embraced or reviled by voters because the messages were easy to understand. Brands often complicate the product message with jargon that may be technically accurate, but falls flat when it comes to establishing a connection with everyday users.

It pays to be memorable

And then there was one. The Republican party began the 2016 presidential campaign with 17 candidates. My bet is that if voters were asked to describe 1-2 unique ideas that the other candidates had – whether it was Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry or Jeb Bush – they’d be scratching their heads for quite some time.

Think about the commoditization of budget to mid-level hotel chains, who typically offered similar rooms, at similar prices, with similar amenities. How does a traveler pick one over the other? It can often come down to creating some calling card that is memorable. For Hampton Inn, it was the Belgian waffles at the free breakfast buffet. Guests remembered the Belgian Waffles, and returned to Hampton Inn just for the breakfast.

Trump marketed campaign promises that were very, very different from other candidates, which made these promises memorable and, by default, Trump memorable with voters struggling to figure out how each of the 17 candidates was difference from one another.

You can’t build a brand overnight

One of the most overlooked but critical elements of Trump’s success is that he had spent decades building an oversized brand that could be immediately activated for his campaign. This was critical, because while 17 candidates on the GOP sides sounds like a lot, many ran out of time and money to develop brand awareness – not only around who they were but what they represent. For every Jeb Bush and Chris Christie entering the fray with baseline brand awareness, there was a Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Scott Walker and Jim Gilmore – folks known inside the beltway but certainly not to most Americans. Trump came in with an established brand known to probably most every single voter, and the media fed this brand throughout the campaign with free publicity that negated his need to advertise heavily or introduce himself to voters.

Big data has its limits

Marketers and advertisers are stepped in big data today, but the previously referenced WSJ article makes another good point: Big data may not be telling them everything they need to know, and if this data skips over important source blocks such as rural voters, then it is by default flawed data. Finally, if the data misses key demographic segments, brands might make assumptions about who their customers aspire to be. Rural voters may not aspire to have the latest iPhone that celebrities and athletes use, but may just want reliable phone and data service that can be hard to come by in rural areas.

Will Donald make sales of Red Velvet cupcakes great again? Only time will tell.

Bluetext’s Chief Creative Officer, Jason Siegel will be speaking at MediaPost OMMA VR/AR in New York during Advertising Week on September 28th.

MediaPost saw the need for an event focused solely on Augmented and Virtual Reality as these new mediums have taking the marketing world by storm. The event will explore how marketers can take Virtual and Augmented Reality from the novelty phase into an opportunity to enrich branding and deepen consumer relationships.

Jason will be part of a panel discussion titled “Retailers Follow Pokémon Go”, which will examine the overwhelming success and influence of Pokémon Go, and how retailers can learn from this case study and incorporate AR or VR experiences into their marketing strategy to appeal to in-store shoppers.

Other topics the event will cover include:

  • How different types of VR/AR experiences map against specific brand goals.
  • Where do you start…small?
  • How to distribute experiences efficiently and connect VR/AR campaigns to other marketing platforms and programs.
  • Who are the players and how should marketers and agencies vet them?
  • Storytelling in 360 degrees

Make sure to tune in for the conference live-stream on September 28th at 4:00pm EST here. And to learn more about Bluetext’s VR work, contact us today:

Find out today how Bluetext can help you take your business to the next level.

If Dunkin’ Donuts plasters ads on the inside of city buses, it is because they believe riders exposed to the brand – over time – will be more inclined to stop for coffee and a donut at DD rather than at Starbucks, McDonald’s, Krispy Kreme, what have you. Or even that a consumer getting on a bus not thinking about coffee or donuts will exit the bus with these items at the forefront of their consciousness.

If Dunkin’ Donuts continues with this line of thinking, they will ask themselves what else could persuade riders beyond “seeing” an ad of the brand logo and pictures of the products? Would riders be further compelled if they could “smell” the coffee or glazed donuts on the bus?

Over the past few months, we’ve been talking a lot about augmented reality marketing and virtual reality marketing – two important pieces of the sensory marketing puzzle. Effective marketing requires engaging all or many senses, however, so CMOs must identify the right multi-sensory mix to positively impact the target buyers (whether they are consumers or business users).

Sensory marketing and experiences have been around for decades and examples abound. Much of it comes down to the effects of a desensitized audience. A theme park visitor who first rides the tallest roller coaster in the world will have a thrilling experience, but what happens when the visitor rides the coaster a second, third or tenth time? So theme parks might try and activate other senses through smoke, sound, lights, etc. If you want to know where theme park attractions are headed by the way, Legoland’s new Ninjago 4-D attraction offers a hint as the first ride in North America that uses hand gestures in place of physical devices to control a ninja warrior battle. The attraction also adds sensory experiences such as heat, smoke and wind for the virtual journey.

In a recent article for Harvard Business Review, a pair of professors shared results from four studies they conducted on when sensory marketing works and when it doesn’t for brands. The studies focused on taking product brands consumers were familiar – Nokia and Apple phones – and adjusting the product and packaging to gauge impact on brand perception. Prior to showing research subjects the new phones and packaging, the researchers first determine that Apple was viewed as the “exciting” brand and Nokia the “sincere” brand. This was important, because according to the study, brand perception impacted the amount of leeway Apple and Nokia had to fundamentally alter the product, packaging, and promotional experience.

The bottom line, according to the authors, is that consumer preference can be altered by sensory marketing tactics, but how well the tactic works depends on the brand’s personality. Apple as an “exciting” brand may be able to get away with surprising consumers with unexpected sensory experiences without undoing positive brand perception, whereas Nokia may risk alienating loyal customers if radical changes run counter to its brand sincerity.

The researchers went on to conclude from the four studies that overall, individuals prefer sincere brands (hallmark, Ford, Coca-Cola) over exciting brands, “when the brand’s packaging or promotional accessories felt and looked the same, but they preferred exciting brands (Mountain Dew, BMW, Pepsi) when the brand’s packaging or promotional accessories did not feel and look the same.”

As sensory options for marketers extend from see and hear to smell, touch and immersion, a host of new opportunities open up for CMOs – opportunities that become risks if the CMO overlooks some key takeaways from these studies. Creating a virtual or augmented reality experience in and of itself will not necessarily turn off users of a sincere brand, but marketers must be mindful of risks if the experience itself does not stay true to sincerity of the brand. To learn more about the importance for VR marketing, reach out today:

Find out today how Bluetext can help you take your business to the next level.

Apologies in advance if you now have the 1981 Olivia Newton-John classic stuck in your head for the rest of the day. If you live on the East Coast you have no doubt been getting “very physical” the past few days if you catch my snowdrift. After all, it’s hard work moving bottomless mounds of snow from one heap to another. What did you think I referring to? C’mon now, let’s keep it kosher.

Digital marketing became increasingly essential to consumer marketers in 2015, but there is strong evidence that digital is being elevated from just another item in the CMO toolbox to a pervasive ingredient to all marketing activities.

Exhibit A is findings from the Gartner 2015-2016 Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Spend Survey, that focused on business leaders responsible for marketing – digital marketing in particular – across 339 large and extra-large (whatever that means) companies in North America and the U.K. A whopping 98% of CMOs consider digital marketing mainstream and that online and offline marketing are merging.

Commenting on the results, Yvonne Genovese, group vice president at Gartner, notes: “Marketers no longer make a clear distinction between offline and online marketing disciplines. As customers opt for digitally led experiences, digital marketing stops being a discrete discipline and instead becomes the context for all marketing. Digital marketing is now marketing in a digital world.” 

In our marketing projects with leading consumer, business and public sector organizations, we are seeing significant demand for the “digitally led experiences” that Gartner references. There are a few digital marketing trends in particular that consumer marketers should keep their eyes on in 2016:

Smartphone ad geo-fencing

Consumer marketers recognize the need to map digital marketing into the consumer buyer’s journey when these digital assets can have the biggest impact. At what moment and location will the consumer be most inclined to play a video, read a text message or view an in-app ad? Smartphone ad geo-fencing enables marketers to reach an audience when they are most receptive to your brand, product, or service marketing.

Think about a consumer’s mindshare when entering an airport. In the traveler waiting for a flight, you have a captive audience thinking about various aspects of their business or leisure travel. Do they need accommodations, transportation, dinner reservations, or other concierge-type services? Smartphone ad geo-fencing can feed location-based ads to travelers once they enter an airport at a time when they are primed to take action.

Virtual Reality

Yeah, yeah, you’ve been hearing about virtual reality headsets for years. But VR is primed for mainstream in 2016. Oculus Rift has set an April release, in addition to other planned releases for HTC Vive and Playstation VR, are poised to put VR in the hands of consumers for hundreds – not thousands – of dollars. But the fact is that consumers don’t need to even shell out this kind of cash to experience virtual reality.

My colleague Michael Quint recently blogged about how Bluetext is leveraging Google Cardboard to bring virtual reality to the masses. Today, we are designing a digital briefing center for a client in virtual reality by marrying, in Michael’s words, “our creativity, advanced video capabilities, and cutting-edge app development to help a software company more effectively tell its story.” In this case it’s a b2b company, but we fully expect b2c virtual reality projects to become increasingly commonplace as the year progresses.


Consumer marketers are not alone in trying to get their hands around the Internet of Things, and how to leverage IoT for digital marketing efforts. In my end-of-year blog post, I looked at the IoT opportunity for digital marketers in 2016, and what it comes down to is that marketers will be able to capture a growing volume of data on consumer behavior and consumption patterns from connected devices and sensors, and then engage with consumers more effectively based on this data.

Marketing Automation

In a Forrester report, “2015: The Year of the Big Digital Shift,” more than half of marketers admitted their digital marketing is more tactical than strategic. Digital marketers are a victim of their own excess: Forrester reported that investments in marketing technology grew 3.4 percent in 2014 and is projected to rise another 4 percent this year. So consumer marketers will not lack for tools and options, but 2016 is the year when CMOs and their teams must invest time to identify the optimal set of tools to catapult their initiatives. They also most move beyond an understanding of the ‘basic’ capabilities of marketing automation tools, and shift from students to experts fully versed in the in’s and out’s of marketing automation.


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