Marketing During Uncertainty: What Strategies You Need to Make Your Business Succeed

Marketing During UncertaintyHow do you market during uncertainty to keep your business going?

When your business faces unpredictable health and economic challenges how do you do handle:

  • Lost revenue, longer sales cycles, and delayed payments,
  • Reduced budgets including employee layoffs, and
  • Less resource and supply chain availability and/or obstacles.

But don’t worry-you’ve got this!

Because major corporations, competitors and substitute offerings face the same problems.

So let’s examine the strategies you can use to navigate this uncertainty. As a result, your business keeps going, maintains brand visibility, and builds the resilience and foundation for future growth.


Use Data To Inform Your Marketing During Uncertainty

Living in the most connected world to date, global events and trends have an impact on your business and marketing regardless of your focus or geographical footprint.


Macro Trends Create Uncertainty For Businesses And Individuals Globally

COVID-19 has created health and economic uncertainty so people face very real health concerns that can result in death. Further, we lack the data to predict this virus’s longevity or chance of recurrence. To slow its spread, non-essential businesses are closed.

At a macro-level regardless of business focus or location, you face 3 major trends:

  • The longevity of COVID-19 and its spread across geographic locations remains unknown. On average, people believe that the impact of COVID-19 will last over 6 months globally. Businesses and schools are work remotely and/or cancel operations. As a result consumers, cancel, restrict and/or redirect spending. This accounts for roughly 70% of the US economy.COVID-19
  • The start of a US economic slowdown, the economy shrank by an annualized 4.8% in 1Q2020. Since the coronavirus creates rapid changes in demand, this decline could reach 40% on an annualized basis.
  • The move to school and work-from-home, and to online buying and streaming entertainment accelerates digital transformation.

To keep your business going think scrappy, lean startup. Study the current playing field for your business, its product categories, and broader markets to find opportunities and problems.

Look for new ways to work in current unfilled needs and/or other ways to focus your business resources.

Also involve people from across your organization in this process to get insights based on their skillsets.

Actionable Marketing During Uncertainty Tips:

  • Analyze global business markets for potential opportunities and risks.
  • Examine major players across categories since their global reach yields greater internal information. Also assess different industries for insights and work approaches.
  • Reassess your competitive field across channels to determine their approach.


Micro Consumer Trends Create Business And Marketing Uncertainty

COVID-19 has a complex and uneven impact on consumer behavior.

Because people:

  • Moved to shelter-in-place with family or safer locations causing unusual buying demand.
  • Stocked up on food and other goods. This created short-term shortages and distribution issues, not  manufacturing or resource problems.

Consumer increased purchases of:

  • Foods, prepared and made-from-scratch due to people only eating at home.
  • Household essentials.
  • Entertainment to replace live options.
  • Exercise equipment supplement gyms and other outdoor activities.

Consumer Purchasing During COVID-19-

The impact of COVID-19 on oil prices acts as a broad economic indicator. Since global oil prices dropped to the lowest levels since the 1970s.

Because when sheltering-in-place, people don’t:

  • Commute to work and school.
  • Drive to recreational activities and socializing.
  • Do non-essential shopping.
  • Travel for work or vacations. This also hurts related industries like airlines, hotels and business conferences.


COVID-19 Oil Price Crash

Short-term behavior changes include:

  • Increased school and work-from-home. While businesses changed to remote work quickly, they may re-think on-site jobs in the future.
  • More healthy habits including family time, food preparation and exercise.

But these changes lack:

  • Dedicated work spaces, technology and software, and work-grade internet connectivity when everyone is home 24/7.
  • Support systems including schools, childcare and eldercare.
  • Time and/or space to decompress increasing mental fatigue and/or anger.

Your marketing during uncertainty must answer:
How will my business meet new or unfilled needs from these changes?

Actionable Marketing During Uncertainty Tips:

  • Plan for 3 distinct business phases:
    a.  Active COVID-19 sheltering-in-place
    b.  Slow emergence from COVID-19
    c.  New “Normal”


Marketing During Uncertainty: 5 Tactics To Keep Your Business Going For The Long Term

When facing health and economic uncertainty, marketers have a responsibility to:

  • Bring in sales to cover short-term costs to keep their businesses open,
  • Take care employees, customers and community, and
  • Keep their businesses and brands visible and viable for the long-term.

During the current crisis and beyond allocate scarce resources to support your audience and improve and/or expand existing assets.

So you prove marketing’s ability to drive profitable revenues . In the process, you lay the foundation for future business growth and an expanded marketing role going forward.


1. Assess Current Business Financials And Resources

With senior management and other departments, examine your business’s actual sales, costs and resources on hand NOW. Also track outstanding receivables and unpaid bills.


  • Understand your cashflow. Examine the source of current revenues and percentage of sales closed and collected. Check the past 30 days and recent weeks to show true sales during this period.
  • Analyze each product and/or service for on-going demand. Determine the resources needed to create, market and distribute them. Also, assess customers’ ability to pay.
  • Identify products and/or services with reduced demand. Find the cause. Include lack of short-term need, limited internal resources, distribution problems, and/or ability to pay.
  • Assess customers and leads. Start with your best customers. They account for most of your profitable sales. Examine them by different segments to see trends.


  • Reduce unnecessary costs without hurting current and/or future growth.
  • Keep employees working even with reduced hours or salary.
  • Provide necessary support to communities where you do business, and
  • Adjust marketing spend to meet audience needs and stay visible.

Supply chain for a global, national and/or local changes:

  • Track inputs for products and/or services. What do you have in stock? Do suppliers still have resources? Do you have cash to buy them? Is geographic location an issue? Do you anticipate problems getting inputs?
  • Check distribution for products and/or services. Are stores and/or other outlets closed or out-of-business? Do substitute distribution channels exist? Can sales move online?

Cashflow opportunities: 

  • Assess pricing changes. But measure fully-loaded costs before cutting prices.
  • Add other forms of payments. Include online and limited touch options. Also, change terms for key customers.
  • Renegotiate expenses including rent, resources and/or salaries.
  • Assess co-marketing and/or barter opportunities.

Marketing During Uncertainty-Bain&Co Chart


2. Help Leadership Show The Path Forward During Current Challenges

While more trusted than government leaders and officials, your CEO is less trusted than your technical experts and regular employees. (2020 Edelman Trust Barometer)

Experts and peers most credible

To build trust during the COVID-19 uncertainty, encourage your senior leaders to speak truthfully and transparently without sugar-coating or misrepresenting facts. Further,  they should propose achievable solutions with realistic deadlines.

During COVID-19, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has shown this type of leadership by:

  • Meeting with state and local officials and government employees, health providers, businesses, and others.
  • Working with other governors and the federal government to redistribute resources to COVID-19 hotspots based on need.
  • Staying visible and talking honestly about the virus and the economy.

Actionable Marketing During Uncertainty Tips:

  • Work with senior executives to determine what your organization can and/or must do across locations. Also provide care for essential employees who must work.
  • Redistribute work and customer interactions based on need.
  • Create trustworthy, consistent messaging and communications with your c-suite and front-line managers. 
  • Coach senior executives and other public-facing managers on presentation skills and work-from-home technology. Beyond empathetic messaging, help them to present an in-touch image. This includes: appropriate clothes, lighting, background and practice.


3. Support Your Business’s Broader Audience

Your business’s audience extends to your employees, customers, supply chain, and local community.

Tien Tzou - CEO of ZuoraAccording to Tien Tzuo, Zuora CEO, a subscription software platform:

“[i]t’s time to double down on relationships. … If the Subscription Economy is about anything, it’s about a fundamental return to relationships, as opposed to transactions.”

During uncertain times your broad audience worries about their personal well being including health, home and financial means to take care of their family.

So skip advertising as if nothing has changed. People dislike it! (GlobalWebIndex)

How consumers react to brand information & COVID-19 related advertising

Your business’ actions do matter, The crowdsourced, Did They Help, assesses brands reactions to COVID-19 in real time.

Leaderboard: Heroes and Zeros

Actionable Marketing During Uncertainty Tips:

  • Keep employees safe, especially essential frontline workers. Provide necessary protective work gear and instructions for proper use.
  • Set up and communicate special processes for this uncertain period to support employees, customers and/or others. Distribute and post this information across channels.
  • Reach out and offer to help your customers and local communities. Listen to what they say their challenges are and respond accordingly. When customers talked about the stress of child care and homeschooling, Degreed created an Activity Book for Kids.
    A kids guide to passing the time
  • Support local communities with money and/or necessary supplies. For example, New York hotel, The Four Seasons, transformed 225 of their rooms with enhanced safety protocols for medical workers.


4. Invest In Marketing To Grow Your Business The Long-Term

Research proves continued marketing helps businesses to survive economic downturns. So show your marketing value to avoid management’s urge to cut your staff and budget.

Bain & Co’s Great Recession analysis of 3,900 companies worldwide revealed 2 types of performance during and after the 2008 economic downturn.

  • Winners grew at a 17% compound annual growth rate (or CAGR) during the downturn and increased growth to an average 13% CAGR after it!
  • Losers remained flat during the downturn and barely increased post-downturn.

the winners locked in gains during the last downturn and reaped the rewards

So align and optimize your marketing during this uncertainty!

Use a variety of tactics like small businesses during the Great Recession.

primary strategy for surviving the great recession

Also, continue advertising during a downturn since:

  • Lower advertising rates due to reduced demand.
  • Easier to break-through and get attention due to fewer advertisers.
  • Improved brand image due to continued advertising stability.

Actionable Marketing During Uncertainty Tips:

  • Take advantage of reduced advertising demand and prices to stay visible. P&G and Kellogg’s did this during the Great Depression.
  • Audit, assess, improve and optimize existing marketing assets to increase traffic and conversions and improve search rankings. Transform content into other formats and create new distribution presentations.
  • Review, create, and/or update customer acquisition, sales enablement, on-boarding and retention processes and communications.
  • Reach out and build customer relationships. Document and use these conversations to create different products, services and/or payment terms to maintain inflow.
  • Document internal processes. Where appropriate, adapt this information to create content.
  • Test co-marketing with peers and/or frenemies to expand reach.


5. Create The Foundation For Future Business Growth Post Uncertainty


Regardless of your business type, size or location: Now is the time to think like a scrappy startup! Click To Tweet


Based on your financials (see Tactic 1):

  • Diversify and/or increase revenue streams and clients. (Also, consider business acquisitions),
  • Source new customers, suppliers and/or distributors to reduce risks, and
  • Reduce costs and/or un-market unprofitable customers.

Your objective is to develop marketing resiliency so you can deal with environmental uncertainty.

Actionable Marketing During Uncertainty Tips:

  • Create new products, services and content to diversify revenues and/or take advantage of emerging trends and opportunities. Get ideas you can adapt to your specific strengths and resources from your competitive analysis.
  • Jimmy Daly
  • Based on client conversations, Jimmy Daly and his Animalz team applied “Paired Programming software collaboration” to content marketing. They created a new “test” offering, “Feedback As A Service”.
  • It supports clients’ need for strategic content marketing guidance. Even better, it provides monthly recurring revenue.
  • Do “Someday” Projects. Work on projects that  your organization never finds time to do. Include fixing and cleaning factories and machinery, auditing company files, and repairing existing data.
  • Prepare your teams for the “New Normal.” Use this time to upskill. Take free and/or low cost courses. Also attend virtual conferences. Employees seek highly transferable or flexible skills that help manage change.

changing demand for business skills during uncertainly


Marketing During Uncertainty Conclusion

Marketing during uncertainty provides opportunities to create the basis for your business’s future growth.

While stress-inducing in the short-term, economic downturns change the business playing field to the advantage of astute marketers.

Start with your business’s actual sales, expenses and cashflows now to determine:

  • Unnecessary costs you can eliminate (but take care to protect future growth),
  • Products and services customers find attractive in this context to promote, and
  • Customer collections worth renegotiating based on sales-to-date and payment history.

Then, use competitive analysis to find potential opportunities and/or unmet needs your business can fill. Where appropriate consider partnering to expand your reach..

Based on changing use and demand:

  • Redistribute your paid promotion (including advertising) to keep your brand visible consistently over time.
  • Change you messaging to be empathetic and relevant based on context to build your brand and trustworthiness.

Before you object about your lack of resources or experience:
Realize your peers face similar obstacles.

Further, the current uncertainty allows greater leeway to test new products and marketing.

So put on your big girl pants and find your path to future success for your business.

And if it doesn’t work out, then pivot to other more profitable options.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.


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