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Fear is a Terrible Marketing Strategy (And Five Things You Can Do In the Midst of Uncertainty)

I was just lying down to sleep on Thursday night when my phone buzzed with notifications. On the other side of the bed, my husband's phone also alerted him, and at the same time, my watch buzzed on my wrist. When all of the devices go off at once, it's almost always from the school district.

Sure enough, no school till April 1, at least.

When Uncertainty Strikes

It's been a rough week all over. Between fears of illness, political upheaval, financial instability, work disruptions, and runs on all grocery store necessities, tensions are running pretty high. As a bonus, at my house, we have a late winter storm brewing. I'm currently watching huge snowflakes cover my deck... in Oregon... on March 14...

In times like these, it's natural for people to draw inward--to take a protective posture around those things they can control. There's a normal inclination to cut back, save, and ration.

For businesses, that normal inclination often turns into cutting back on "unnecessary" expenses. To be fair, some cutting back in favor of other spending is justified. When sales are down, it makes sense to cut back where possible in order to pay employees or keep the lights turned on.

But sometimes, even the most rational administrators and decision makers can be tempted to use fear as a marketing strategy.

And fear is never a good strategy.

We've Been Here Before

Without getting political, I want to point out that we've been here before--both as a nation and as a world.

Two world wars

Two global depressions/recessions

A devastating terror attack that prompted a global outpouring of support

Multiple global pandemics, some of which are still classified this way

Major stock market crashes outside of the big depressions/recessions

... and that's just in the last century, give or take.

Historically, the only certainty is uncertainty.

And those who come out on the other side of uncertainty and thrive are those who don't let fear control their decisions.

Fear is a Terrible Marketing Strategy

Let's establish one thing: Fear is a feature, not a bug. In the right context, fear is a good and useful thing. Fear keeps us hidden from the sabertooth tiger or the stampeding buffalo. Fear reminds us that we need to be alert in dark parking lots and forests. Fear is, in some respects, the very thing that has kept the human race in the game for the last many thousands of years.

But fear that paralyzes is counter-productive. Once the sabertooth tiger moves on, you need to come out of your hiding place, find some food, and head back home.

Studies show that companies that continue to advertise during recessions position themselves better on the other side. Allowing fear to disrupt your marketing strategy is a terrible idea. When fear is your marketing strategy, you can:

  • Lose precious time that you will never get back, potentially setting yourself back months or even longer as you neglect to keep yourself in front of clients and prospects.

  • Fall behind your competition as they continue to market and advertise while you sit and wait.

  • Miss out on opportunities to actually take advantage of uncertainty through lower advertising rates and opportunities to put your products and services on sale.

So what can you do in times of uncertainty?

When Uncertainty Derails Your Marketing

Some disruption in times of uncertainty is inevitable. Again, prudence is understandable, and right now, when financial markets are topsy turvy and conferences are cancelled, marketing departments are likely looking at reallocating resources or shifting projects around.

One of the best ways to overcome fear is to take action and control the things that you can control. And right now, when employers are asking people to work from home and your budget may require you to put certain projects on the back burner, there are still things you can control that will help you keep your marketing efforts humming even while everything else is at a standstill.

Here are five ideas to keep marketing efforts going in the midst of current uncertainty:

Reassess your content marketing schedule or editorial calendar: The end of the first quarter is a natural time to check in with your content marketing efforts. What items might need adjustment at this point in the year? Can you plan some relevant content based on current events? Do you need to step up your content efforts to compensate for canceled events?

Engage in some digital marketing: If you are already sending e-mails regularly, maybe this is a good time to check in with your e-mail list. Can you send an extra marketing e-mail or two? Is there a product or service that your customers might need right now? For example, Cisco recently offered free 90-day trials on its telecommuting software. Some small local bakeries and delis who are bearing the burden of food orders for canceled events are promoting these surplus goodies via social media, hoping to make up some lost costs and potentially gaining new customers in the process. This is the perfect time for digital marketing!

Write some new content: If there's a big content project you've been postponing, now is a great time to get that content written while you're working from home. Sure, we're balancing family distractions with work requirements, but work distractions are likely at a minimum. If you can carve out some time to close the door and focus on content, this is a great time to work on those big pieces.

Go old school and use the phone: This digital age has changed how we communicate, and certainly e-mail, text, and social media are important modes of communication. But right now, when self-isolation could be making everyone a little starved for connection with the outside world, maybe the best marketing you can do is to pick up the phone and call your clients or prospects to check in. You don't have to even sell anything--just see how their businesses are doing, connect over shared struggles, and laugh about a lack of toilet paper in the grocery stores. People will remember later that you took the time to reach out.

Build relationships: Along the same lines, for those relationships that aren't at the level of a friendly phone call, take some time to build your connections. This might mean a personal e-mail, some engagement on LinkedIn, or a blog post that's relevant to our uncertain times. Though very few of us are actual experts on virology, economics, science, or political issues (whatever we might think about our own brilliance), we all have a perspective and a voice. Your take might be exactly what your clients and prospects need to hear. You might give someone hope or inject some humor into someone's day. Don't underestimate the value of relationship building right now. This polarized world could use more relationship building, whether it results directly in sales or not.

And Finally, Breathe

Take a deep breath. Without downplaying the severity of this virus or making light of very real disruptions, suffering, and upheaval, more panic doesn't do anyone any good. Look for the ways you can be a light, a pillar, a steady force in your own family and community. Offer to shop for those at higher risk of infection. Buy gift cards online for restaurants that are struggling right now. Trade childcare with just one family to minimize risk and still get work done. Place online orders with small, locally owned shops that won't be getting foot traffic for a while.

We've been here before. And if we don't let fear control us, we'll come out the other side ready to thrive.

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