How to Gain a Competitive Edge in Times of Fear & Uncertainty with Rand Fishkin

Rand Fishkin, CEO & Co-Founder of SparkToro
Rand Fishkin, CEO Co-Founder of SparkToro, has led companies through tough times before. And while this crisis is unique in some ways, there are lessons to be taken from experience in how to respond as marketers, and business owners to Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Marketing feels wrong right now… But should it?

From a moral and ethical standpoint, taking advantage of the people spending a lot more time on the internet during this pandemic, just feels dirty. But the truth of the matter is we’re in a socio-economic crisis and it’s our job as marketers to help support the people in any way we can. Now, the temporary economic shutdown was absolutely the right thing to do, health before wealth. But by businesses closing their doors it has caused this ripple effect whereby people have been unable to work, which has further resulted in a lot of people getting laid-off and subsequently, the economy has suffered. 

It’s fair to say people suffer less when they have an income and a functional economy. Not to delve into an economics lesson here but, economies support one another. During this time of crisis we as marketers are fortunate enough to be able to keep on working. This means our sub-economy can stay strong and perhaps even grow, which in turn supports the wider economy. This allows us to create our own ripple effect that will help get those people suffering back into work quicker. We can aid the recovery process. 

However, before we can begin any of that, we need to…

Understand our position in the current market

All of our organisations, in one way or another, have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Before we launch our new marketing efforts we need to know how we’ve been affected. Rand breaks it down into three categories and gives us a few examples:

Directly harmed
The companies directly harmed are those that absolutely cannot serve their purpose. The events industry for example, can’t function due to the government ordered lockdowns preventing people from travelling. It has impacted what we do directly as we can no longer run events.

Directly benefiting
The companies directly benefiting are those whose purpose has now become more relevant and relied upon than ever. Zoom is a good example as we’ve seen thousands of companies now using their platform to conduct business meetings.

Indirectly impacted
Those indirectly impacted are the companies that have been put in the middle of the seesaw. FitBit for example, their primary product is fitness trackers yet people aren’t supposed to be going outside. On the other hand we’re seeing a massive push from the fitness industry to assist in keeping people healthy. 

The reason it’s important to know where we fit in to this, is because it should mould our tone of voice moving forward. It allows us to…

Change our positioning to match the current climate

We are all hypersensitive right now, but that doesn’t mean the world is coming to an end. Selling is still relevant, we just need to do it in the correct manner. 

What does this mean? Well, to put it simply, say you’re planning on launching a new product in the current climate, and your product is geared towards making a profit and not towards helping others, don’t. Take the people that bulk bought hand sanitizer as an example. They decided during a time of crisis they would profit off of other people’s misery. It’s insensitive, it’s unempathetic and it doesn’t help anybody. 

Right now empathy is king. We’re all in the same boat and we’re all looking to others for help and guidance. So, what we should be doing, is aligning our goals with the philosophy and empathy of the moment. Doing this will build brand, and if you can build your brand as one that helps those in a time of need, that shows empathy, that goodwill will be repaid and your brand amplified.

As for the tone of voice, here are a few ideas for your brand, based on Rand’s categorization mentioned above. If your organisation or company has been directly harmed then your tone could be that of showing others who are in the same situation as you, how you’re dealing with the problems and overcoming them. If you’re benefiting then you don’t want to rub it in everyone’s face, so pull back on the sales and focus on helping others. If you’ve been indirectly impacted then it’s your time to experiment. Keep the sales ads running, but change the tone, show your customers how your product or service can help them in this time of crisis.

Opportunities are opening up…

There’s just a process we have to follow, Rand calls it “The three stages of Covid-19”.

Nothing but Covid
Everything we hear, see or talk about is Covid. The internet is flooded with millions, if not billions of regular and new users, all with one thing on their mind, Covid-19.

This influx of traffic, as well as a lot of businesses pulling their marketing efforts entirely, presents those of us ready to act with a very unique opportunity. We’ve now got more ad inventory than ever before and better yet, it’s cheaper than it’s ever been due to the decreased competition. Think about it, more ad space, cheaper prices and increased visibility, it’s a marketers dream! We do however need to act soon, as budgets may be down at the moment, but they will rebound.

Moving online
After some time of us putting our resources out there for the world to see, more businesses and people will start moving online, and they’ll be looking to us for guidance. So, solidifying our presence and value proposition now, before this happens is crucial, as it lays the groundwork for what’s to come. 

This phase is where the real leaders will shine, which presents us with an opportunity for a wider, targeted outreach. There will be leaders or news outlets you follow, and you follow them because what they’re talking about resonates with you. This means your goals are aligned with all of their other followers, take advantage of that. Find what messages are resonating with their audiences and mix them into your messages. Not only will this keep things relevant for your current audience, but it has the potential to bring in more.

This stage also allows us to experiment. It is the time to run that campaign your boss said no to last time. Budgets are low and you will need fresh ideas. Repurpose the campaign, align it with your organisation’s new goals/restrictions and pitch it again. During times of crisis people are desperate, which makes them open to new ideas.

The new normal
We don’t yet know what the new normal will be, it’s unpredictable right now. Put it this way, remember when you used to go to bed on a Sunday evening knowing you were working for the next 5 days, and at the end of those five days you knew you had the weekend? Well it’s not like that anymore is it, nowadays it’s just yesterday, today and tomorrow. What we do know is this will be the time to reap the rewards of the goodwill we spent all of this time building.

Above all, remember to be empathetic!

If there’s one point you should take away with you from this, it’s to be empathetic. Otherwise there’s a good chance you’ll upset a lot of people and ruin your brand’s reputation.

Here are a few examples of great marketing published during this pandemic – Captain obvious social distancing – Generating funding for those creaters affected by Covid-19 – Guide to SBA disaster loans for Freelancers