It almost doesn’t need saying. COVID-19 has turned 2020 upside down. Even for brands that have maintained their performance and managed to negotiate this unforgettable year with a successful or semi-successful trading record, that performance is generally the product of them being able to switch direction with their marketing to match up with the changed business landscape.  

Without doubt, the key to all this is holding the line on marketing - staying positive and maintaining your marketing efforts. If you’re in any doubt of the importance of this strategy, there is no shortage of articles on this subject – just type ‘keep marketing in tough times’ into a browser and take your pick. The most interesting thing about the findings of these articles is how similar they are across the last century. Evidence abounds that significant economic downturns in history all reveal how positive thinking companies that ‘keep their marketing on’ invariably end up ahead when the tide turns. This is not just about surviving the storm, it’s about coming out of this with improved market share. In fact, it’s a rare opportunity to capitalize on the chance to grow your market share. When the economic climate is ‘normal’ everyone’s out there competing. Right now, the stage is yours.

Positive thinking flips the flip.

So the economy is flipped on its head. Yep. We all know that. But what if you flipped the flip? What if you switched things up and railed against the tide of negativity?

This kind of thinking is happening now. There are organizations that are not just thinking differently – they’re committing to a completely different approach and acting on it. Telstra has decided to adopt this strategy by becoming ‘economic patriots’.1  When platitudes like ‘we’re here for you’ and ‘we’re in this together,’ abound, Telstra are instead ‘walking the talk’ by doing things like pulling their $1.4 billion 2021 marketing spend forward into ‘20.2 Madness? No. They’re grabbing the bull by the horns. Being positive. Being leaders. Not only have they kept all their sponsorship investments intact (despite sporting venues being shut down) they’ve actually renewed sponsorship arrangements that were due to expire in 2020 to give their partners confidence in the future.

Telstra have also relaxed their stance on late payments and contract pauses with household and business customers. They’ve ratcheted up limits on broadband data and gifted data boosts via their new app. Telstra CMO Jeremy Nicholas sees initiatives like these representing a new kind of business leadership that will ensure positive coronavirus behavior changes ‘stick’.  Make no mistake, this is not just about being a real leader and ‘economic patriot’. It’s about capitalizing on a situation that is unique in our modern history. ‘We are not wasting the opportunity presented by the unprecedented,’ Nicholas says, ‘we’re looking to come out of this really strongly… to evolve and change.”

Even when you don’t have the marketing budget, it’s actions that speak volumes. If anyone knows about budget cutbacks, it’s Australia’s National Broadcaster. Hit with an $84m round of job and program cuts recently,3 you’d figure it would all be gloom and doom at the ABC. After years of cuts, this latest one is eating into the muscle (because there’s no fat left). But in the midst of all this was a super positive flip with a rework of the ‘I am Australian’ song using a virtual choir comprised of ordinary Aussies singing from their homes as a spirit lifter for all Australians.4 And the great thing is that we can all identify with the imagery because we’ve all been sitting in front of screens at home in virtual meetings across the country. ABC Director of Audiences, Leisa Bacon5 believes the unprecedented nature of these times called for them to develop a ‘rallying cry for the country’ and uplift the spirits of Australians. Overwhelming positive response to the campaign suggests this kind of thought leadership has hit the spot.

While social and economic patriotism is fantastic, there is also a role to play for simple, consistent, authentic messaging. M&C Saatchi CEO Justin Graham sees it as ‘resetting the role of marketing as a critical function within an organisation’. With so much uncertainty right now, people everywhere are looking for a sense of normality and Graham believes that ‘Brands need to show up as themselves and hopefully in a way that’s true to a structure and meaning they have spent time building prior to this.’ This is about continuing to foster your relationship with the customer – or as Graham puts it… ‘showing up.’

The reason you need to show up is because if you don’t your competition will. They will see an opportunity to snare the customers you’re ignoring and by the time the economy turns and you’ve decided to start marketing again, those customers will no longer be there. To make matters worse, in your market absence, your brand awareness will have declined, so your renewed marketing efforts on the upturn will be spent trying to rebuild this awareness in a noisy marketing environment.

The bottom line? Use this time wisely. Keep marketing and capitalize on a rare opportunity to build market share and develop relationships with a whole new legion of customers.