COVID-19 Marketing

Gavin Hirst - Monday 22nd June 2020

Why New Zealand businesses need marketing to recover after the COVID-19 pandemic

New Zealand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was decisive. Essentially closing down the whole country for four weeks whilst in alert Level 4 was a bold move by our government and as we head towards the end of the second week of alert Level 1, we can look back and say that it was a move that helped to save lives.

The impact on businesses, however, is still being widely felt across the country. Businesses large and small are feeling the pinch and now it is our turn to be bold and decisive.

Economic recovery is at the heart of this conversation. As reported by Dr Tadhg Ryan-Charleton,  a Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management at the University of Otago for RNZ, “we are going to rely on new business for innovative ways to meet societal needs, to replace imports that no longer exist, to create new jobs for New Zealanders, and to help get our Treasury moving again.”

What does the mean for the marketing sector?

Like many businesses, we are also feeling the pinch. However, we are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel and since the move to alert Level 1. Clients are starting to see their customers returning and whilst they might not be seeing the same numbers as this time last year, there is hope for many businesses that a corner has been turned.

Of course, just because you are back open and operational does not mean that you will continue to get customers through your door.

The size of most markets here is New Zealand has shrunk considerably with the closure of borders as well as the economic downturn that has impacted on people’s spending power.

That means competition for each and every customer has increased significantly and those not doing any form of marketing activity at this time are the ones that are most likely to struggle.

Whilst committing budget to marketing can seem insensitive, especially for those companies that have sadly had to lay people off during this difficult time, marketing is an essential part of getting your business back up and running and in the long run, will hopefully help you to secure the jobs not only of those you have retained, but also help your business to grow and to create new jobs.

How your marketing needs to adapt post-COVID-19

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic here in New Zealand, finding a balance when it comes to marketing activity has been tricky. Companies were reluctant to seem like they were being ‘pushy’ with their marketing activity during a tricky time, however this did not mean that marketing activity should stop.

For the most part, consumers are receptive to some marketing at this time. A recent study from the American Association of Advertising Agencies found that 43% of consumers find it reassuring to hear from brands. In addition, 56% said they like learning how brands are helping their communities during the pandemic. Only 15% said they would rather not hear from companies.

Sensitivity is the key with your marketing activity, both now and moving forward. It is important to understand that the impact of COVID-19 is different for every individual and be sensitive to the needs of all your customers and prospective customers.

A Harvard Business School report says that in a downturn marketing expenditure is often cut, however this is a mistake. It also mentions, “Reassuring messages that reinforce an emotional connection with the brand and demonstrate empathy are vital”.

Here are some of the things you can do to get a better understanding of your customers:

Carry out research

What you knew 6 weeks ago, never mind 6 months ago about your customers is likely out of date already. The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a huge shift in consumer behaviour as well as our day to day habits.

It is important to be proactive about understanding the changing habits of customers and shift your marketing strategy to adjust to these changed behaviours.

Be empathetic

Your research should help to provide insights on the underlying emotions people have towards not only your brand, but the market as a whole. Setting up listening programmes and research programmes can help to uncover these emotions and give you a better understanding of the shift in people’s attitudes and behaviours.

Your empathy towards customers must be genuine and create an environment where customers feel comfortable with the information you are providing them with. Be that beacon of hope for them and you will reap the benefits.

Tell relevant, authentic stories

This is probably not the time for the hard sell. Your marketing activities need to shift and story telling has never been more important.

This is a time to create a positive glow around your business and your actions speak louder than words. Some of the world’s leading brands have already launched campaigns which are acutely tuned in to the emotions of their target audience. Dove created an ad campaign that shone a light on the courage of health care workers.

Other brands, including Budweiser, Burger King and McDonalds all launched campaigns around the globe that encouraged people to stay at home and promoted social distancing.

This is your time to shine. Tell stories that really matter to your customers and make them relevant, not only to the customer but to the situation we currently find ourselves in and how you can help.

Give back

During the highest alert levels here in New Zealand, we saw many examples of companies giving back. Les Mills provided free daily workouts through TVNZ. Nike eliminated subscription fees to their fitness app, helping people to stay active when gyms and leisure facilities were closed.

Overseas, there have been similar stories. A great example is Jägermeister who hosted a virtual event to help raise funds for New York restaurant owners. In Canada, big-box retailers Loblaw and Save-on-Foods increased the wages of their front-line staff to show appreciation for their efforts.

In our own way, we have tried to support all our clients through this difficult time, committing over $35,000 worth of our time for free to help those clients through tough times.

Whilst these tactics might not deliver immediate results, they will help to build goodwill and drive long-term loyalty.


These are unprecedented times both here in New Zealand and around the world. Now is not the time to sit back and rely on tried and tested marketing tactics to pull you through this crisis. Now is the time to be bold. To be decisive.

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Director, Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland recently wrote a thought-provoking piece that ends with him stating, “New Zealand must be bold and outward looking in a world that may turn inwards”.

Now is the time to be a beacon for your customers. Gain an understanding of them at this time and your marketing activities can secure you customers for life.

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