Marketing during the coronavirus isn’t something I’m seeing discussed very much right now. There’s plenty of interesting articles about marketing after the coronavirus.
How will marketing look in a post-COVID world? Some suggest that we could be moving away from “novel and trendy” brands and back to “tried and true” ones — a hostile environment for new brands trying to launch.
But we are not ahead of this pandemic yet. In the Mid-Atlantic, at least, we are still in the throes of the first wave of coronavirus. Which companies will survive in a market where squeezing tomatoes in a grocery store is a bit taboo?
How far ahead should we be looking? Some smart people see waves, plural, of this pandemic as a possibility.
MARKETING AND THE CORONAVIRUS, NOW
We may be dealing with the coronavirus for a long time. And so I’m curious about marketing during the coronavirus.
For instance, what happens to influencer marketing during the coronavirus? It was one of my favorite topics during my recent graduate school studies. And influencer marketing may be even more critical now for businesses. What with many customers locking themselves indoors to avoid the Covid-19.
Many of which may be guarding their purse strings against unnecessary buys yet could succumb to the peer-influence they trusted before the world went to shit.
Peer influence worked pretty well for positively motivating purchase decisions, and for now, these influencers have a captive audience. Not to mention they can churn out no-frills branded messaging fairly quick.
And speaking of influence, many of the artists I follow were reminding me that one of my favorite games, Animal Crossing, was coming back to Nintendo. So, I ordered myself a Nintendo Switch Lite from Walmart.
I sold the purchase to myself as an early birthday gift/ finishing my graduate studies at SNHU/ pre-coronavirus distraction. The plan was to immerse myself in the new Animal Crossing for the couple weeks I thought I would be stuck at home (I was naïve).
EARLY-COVID CUSTOMER SERVICE
I ordered it through the Walmart pickup service, thinking I could just grab it and go. Which I did, I grabbed the box the lady handed me went to the meat aisle, bought some on-sale steaks, and bounced (I thought the virus might already be in my local stores).
When I got home and opened the box to my horror, I found a couple paperback books. More specifically, two copies of the same self-help paperback book. I don’t want physical books, the last physical book I read was Clandestine by James Elroy when I lived in Philadelphia, and that was like, 2008.
The self-help books were addressed to a woman in town, and I had this mental image of her playing my Animal Crossing already while I would be forced to putz around with her two copies of how to improve my inner-me through meditation.
CUSTOMER SERVICE VIA PHONE STILL WORKS GREAT, BUT…
I called Walmart’s customer service and had a friendly chat with the woman on the other line, and it was easy to describe the problem. I was in the safety of my own home and didn’t need to worry about speaking as little as possible to avoid getting or passing the virus in public.
The best solution was that the box that held my Nintendo was probably still waiting for me at Walmart, and I should just go back and exchange packages.
Unfortunately, there was no way for the call-center to pass along what we had chatted about to the individual store. She could definitely help with a return of the books, yet then I would need to wait for the refund, and then repurchase.
EXPLAINING, WHEN YOU DON’T WANT TO TALK
I knew that copious mouth-breathing, talking, and gesticulation awaited me… Explaining a problem can be difficult when you are trying to do it using as few words as possible (this all happened around the time when the federal government was suggesting against masks unless you were sick).
The night before, I just punched in my order onto a touch screen, which signaled I was there to pick up my Switch. I didn’t have to do very much talking then, just “Hi,” state my name, and “Thank you.”
As I had already picked up my order (as far as Walmart was concerned), the keypad was useless; I couldn’t find my order in the queue. Once you have picked up your order, the kiosk no longer knows who you are.
Maybe if the kiosk keeps orders for a short time after pickup, it can notify Walmart of a problem with an order if the number shows up again after the item has been retrieved.
Or better yet, there could be a selection to punch in for order issues. This is not the case, presently (unless I ham-handed the whole thing).
So I had to yell through the half-ajar “employees only” door to get someone’s attention. I imagined mouth particles floating from my face ala the movie theater scene in the Dustin Hoffman pandemic movie I saw while in college.
EXPLAIN IT ALL THE WAY UP THE CHAIN
After finally getting a woman’s attention, I explained my issue. Wrong package, wrong box of self-help, I haven’t read a paperback book since the aughts.
Just as I was finishing another employee joined us, and I had to retell the whole thing—package for a lady who likes two of the same self-help books, not addressed to me, queue the Seinfeld—
He was like, “well, why’d you open it if it wasn’t addressed to you?”
I hadn’t prepared for blame; I figured they would press some buttons and be like, oh, let’s check to see if your box is where the self-help lady’s package is.
Defensive, I was like, “Look, some lady handed it to me last night, I thanked her, bought some on-sale steak and bounced.”
“But you didn’t check it before you left?” he asked. “We have a ton of boxes back there.”
Well, no I didn’t realize that that was the procedure, I figured the folks at Walmart would get it right in the first place. “No,” I said.
“This sounds like a customer service problem; you’re going to need to go talk to them.” He pointed so widely I realized my journey was transitioning to the other side of the massive Walmart.
I DIDN’T WANT TO GO TO CUSTOMER SERVICE AND TALK EVEN MORE
Fortunately, the original woman I spoke with noticed something none of us had. While the biggest label on the package was addressed to the multiple-book woman, there was a smaller label with a barcode and my name.
The dude that wanted me to go to the other side of the store to plead my case with customer service just shrugged and walked away. A manager, I assumed, sidled over, and we had to rehash the story again. Fortunately, she sided with my Walmart advocate and me.
My Walmart advocate then led me down the aisles to the gaming section, and I was able to grab the device and skedaddle after picking up some more on-sale steak.
MARKETING AND THE CORONAVIRUS FOR SHIT I DON’T NEED
I had to delete Instagram off my phone for a bit. I’m a bit of a clothing junkie, I’ve always had a problem with new kicks and wool sweater vests. I especially fall prey to one-offs like the newer crop of Adidas Star Wars stuff and the Ghostbusters K-Swiss I couldn’t resist from last year.
So, when I started getting fed ads on Instagram for the Mitchel & Ness/ Bleacher Report NBA jerseys, I was beginning to come up with reasons for my buying one (even though my jersey phase happened, like 20 years ago, and I rarely wear them now).
Birthday present part 2 to myself? Help the economy, Ray, it’s patriotic to buy a jersey you don’t need. Look cool in my Zoom meetings!
I really had to have the E40, Golden State Warriors jersey. I’m not on the current Golden State bandwagon, but I totally loved the Mullen Warriors, and I’m a huge E40 fan… So… I had to fight hard to talk myself out of it.
EMAIL MARKETING DURING CORONAVIRUS SUDDENLY WORKS WELL (SORTA’)
Until Mitchell & Ness (smartly) started sending me emails to finish the order I had started, there’s only a few left and “take 15% off your entire cart,” the emails promised, and just below was an image of the jersey I coveted.
Birthday present to self 2, back on, so I went in and tried to buy it. Aaaaand, the code they sent didn’t work. So, I shot off an email. What’s the deal?
I received an email back from Mitchel & Ness customer service covering way more problems than my original query, but I did spot “products stamped with the ‘exclusive’ tag are not included.” I assumed that the jersey I didn’t need must have been stamped as exclusive and thus didn’t qualify for the 15%.
Finally, the nail in the coffin on that unnecessary purchase. I did contemplate just buying it anyway, I wanted the jersey and what is 15% anyway, but the email kinda’ harshed the whole thing and I decided to walk away.
ON THE OTHER HAND
I’m also a big Tom Snyder fan. Their stuff can be a bit on the pricey side, so I’m usually only shopping with them once or twice a year, and I can usually only really afford to buy from their clearance stuff when I do.
So, I was a bit surprised, and touched honestly, when I got this email from them at the end of March:
How are you?
I’m Amechi – I’m part of the Todd Snyder Madison Square Flagship store team, working from home (in my WFH uniform, Champion sweats, obviously).
We just wanted to check in our customers and see if there’s anything that you need from us. You name it, I’m here for you: how to wear what’s already in your closet, fit questions, style help; I’m at your service.
Also, we wanted to be sure that you know that we are offering free shipping and returns during these hard times.
We appreciate your support and look forward to working together in the future – don’t forget I’m NY local so please let me know how I can help in any way!
Stay healthy, and hope to be in touch soon.
Thank you, Amechi. While it may be a form email that a bunch of customers receive, I must say this is probably one of the most amazing emails I have ever gotten from a brand. There were no sky promises or anything else.
And I didn’t receive any emails close to this from any of the other brands I interact with.
There was some actual humanity in there.
COVID CUSTOMER SERVICE GROCERY GETTING
Up until recently, I have never been all that interested in Grocery stores in terms of marketing and storytelling. Primarily because, before the current global hell-apocalypse, grocery stores only sent me poorly designed flyers with bad photos of meat and cold cut party platters.
Now with marketing and the coronavirus, I think a lot more about supermarkets and how they could be communicating with their audiences.
At what times are local supermarkets less busy during my state’s shutdown? My preferred pre-coronavirus shopping time was Sunday morning while most folks were at church, which is no longer the case. My other favorite time, shopping late has been nixed by most stores closing early for cleaning.
I wonder which stores might have the cuts of meat I’m looking for because shopping around could be risky. Who consistently has decent produce? And ultimately, who has the less confusing layout? Some stores nearby are even making aisles one-way, which, for a good reason, yet it would really send my dyslexia down a rabbit hole.
GETTING LOST IN WORRY
At the very beginning of our state’s lockdown, I went to pick up some last-minute items to tide my small family over for the next 2-3 weeks and was utterly lost in a store I had been in every weekend pre-coronavirus. I had to search for things I found instantly just a bit more than a month before. Having to backtrack several times in my fog of personal and global worry.
Wegmans and Whole Foods are out for me right now; their store layouts once held an air of discovery to me, now they just confuse. I enjoyed roaming the aisles and produce sections finding unexpected items, and often times I had to double back after missing the soft drink or bread aisles.
It’s not something I want when my mind is conjuring millions of microscopic boogeymen floating about… It’s easy to get lost in their layouts.
GROCERY STORES CAN REMOVE LOST CUSTOMERS BY GIVING US MAPS
If I were to design a social media strategy for grocery stores now, I would keep in mind that customers probably want to get in and out fast. A store could create custom maps that plot the exact locations of items and how to capture them quickly to limit exposure to others in the store.
The map could go even further by combining beverage needs for themed dinners, like suggested wines for spaghetti nights or Mexican beer detours for taco-nights. Maps would be great for tracking down items for quarantine date nights and birthdays as well.
YOU CAN’T EXPRESS YOURSELF FACIALLY
“That is a great shirt! What does it say at the bottom?” the woman at the grocer deli counter asked me last week.
I parted my jacket and stretched my shirt down for her to read it. The shirt is part, hip-hop fandom, and part design humor. It is the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony font logo with the word “typography.”
“I don’t totally get it,” she said, “I absolutely love Bone Thugs—have all their albums, even all the Mo Thugs albums.”
I smiled, then suddenly realized smiling is pointless when no one can see your lips.
The problem with masks is it hides the kind of communication an introvert, such as myself, usually likes to employ heavily in public. Passionate discussion has never been my strength as a social introvert.
Passionate discussion also leads to excessive expectorating. So now isn’t exactly the time for me to finally come out of my shell.
CUSTOMER SERVICE SANS EXPECTORATING
Now more than ever, we need to avoid aerosolizing germs into our surroundings by holding court on favorite topics like design, hip-hop, and customer service.
Facial communication was my goto before coronavirus. Smiling, frowning, winking, nodding, etc. And this communication is useless right now, forcing me to have to talk my way through everything in (hopefully) short bites.
The same thing should be happening with customer service, short and distant. No one wants to pick up drive-thru food and have the dude practically lean into your car chatting you up sans mask.
We should fix problems without a gigantic discussion while wearing masks.
MARKETING AND THE CORONAVIRUS IS MOSTLY PRE-COVID ANTIQUITIES
Obviously, a lot of what we found fun and essential or what we thought we needed 3 months ago no longer applies today. People are dying, people are sick, people are struggling. None of what I said above matters at all, big picture (outside of marketing circles).
While customer service and marketing during the coronavirus are exciting topics for me, the struggle to make it through every day for many people has gotten very, very difficult.
People are looking for a job in the midst of all of this. How hard is it to interview for a job while social distancing? How difficult is it to interview over video conferencing? I couldn’t imagine listing off my qualifications to 4-5 squares of unfamiliar faces.
Will in-person interviews soon require a suit, tie, and mask? Will they go away altogether?
Forgive me for going off into my own musings on marketing, it’s one of the few things I know how to do to keep my mind off of some stark realities.
Have you been interviewing recently? What has it been like? Let me know below (and good luck to you).
And while this year has been pretty brutal for me and others, it’s probably worse for our frontline workers: medical, safety, military, delivery, grocery, and more.
And far worse for those who have lost their loved ones to this terrible pandemic.
Some of these workers are rarely heralded for the work they do for society, like folks that pick up our trash.
Life before coronavirus, we would just bring our trash bins around, and when we get home, take for granted that the refuse has disappeared. These guys and gals are still out there managing our trash right now, and they should be thanked heartily for that.
So, while this marketing and coronavirus blog was fun to write on a Sunday in my kitchen, in the end, it’s not significant compared to what people are and will be going through.
Thank you to our frontline workers and my love is with those who have lost someone whom they treasured.