Remote Education Realities: Challenges Faced by Students, Academic Institutions – and Employers

Watching COVID-19 infection rates spread around the country – with record infection rates now predominantly in the Southern and Western Tiers – only underscores how hard a decision it is for public officials to resist science and public health experts and reopen their schools later this month. Colleges and universities, both public and private, also are weighing this tough decision.

In the private-sector companies, in the service sector, most workers will remain remote – connected by laptops, wi-fi and Zoom calls. It’s been an adjustment that employers and employees have had to make – some of us willingly in our comfortable home offices, summer houses and outdoor patios, and grateful to still be working.

Yet in the education sector, remote education is not so easy for many students (and educators). At least that’s what a Marketing EDGE student survey – conducted in late spring and released in a report last month – has revealed. It’s one thing for a student to pursue an online education by choice. It’s wholly another scenario when all students are forced into this transition by circumstances.

Remote Education, Not So Easy for Everyone

Marie Adolphe, Senior Vice President – Program Development, Marketing EDGE | Credit: Marketing EDGE

I recently spoke with Marie Adolphe, the study author and senior vice president of program development at Marketing EDGE, about what education – and the workplace – can take from the findings to improve the situation for “remote realities.” [Disclosure: I am an avid contributor to Marketing EDGE, a marketing education non-profit organization. Marketing EDGE also is a client.]

Chet Dalzell (CD): Thank you Marie for undertaking this research – which I have to say made me most curious as to how students handled this forced adjustment, heading home mid-semester from campus and picking up their studies online. In short, how have these young adults handled the situation overall?

Marie Adolphe (MA): The majority of students have managed the situation quite well; but, a significant minority, 23%, have struggled with this mode of learning. These students are in danger of being left behind, and the colleges and universities are looking for ways to support them as many go back online for the fall semester.

CD: What were some of the most cited challenges they have faced? 

MA: As you know, Chet, individuals learn in various ways, and for many students the interactive dynamics of the classroom is not only a preference, it is a necessity. The students we surveyed struggled to focus on their schoolwork due to the increased distractions of their home environment and the general chaos surrounding the pandemic. Students also struggled with the different teaching strategies generally employed online. Some reported increased assignments to make up for the lack of classroom discussions and stated that they felt like they were teaching themselves the material. One reason the results of this research were particularly alarming to those of us at Marketing EDGE is that some of the students struggling are also part of the diverse group of students who are the first in their family to attend college. It is a wake-up call for the marketing industry, especially in light of recent developments that have elevated calls for a more diverse pool of talent in our field. For the last few years, Marketing EDGE has heightened its focus on creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Given these tumultuous times, we’re doubling down on our efforts to work hand-in-hand with industry leaders and academics alike to provide support and resources so all students know there is a vibrant community within the marketing industry who is eager to welcome them into our field.

CD: What aspects of remote education do they appear to have well embraced? (My summer intern made the most of working remotely, but I wonder if it was as rewarding and engaging as it could have been for him.)

MA: Many students who participate in our programs have been making the most of the career related opportunities available this summer. We had more than 800 students participate in our EDGE Summer Series webinars where they learned about personal branding, sports marketing, e-commerce, and leadership. Students have also made the most of virtual internships, micro internships, and other opportunities to connect with brands and marketers. The resiliency that these students are learning will serve them well when in-person internships return and more importantly, as they prepare to take leadership positions later in their career.

CD: Is there any guidance or suggestions you believe educators, educational institutions – and employers with remote work forces – might take away from this study? Is Marketing EDGE planning any additional research or follow-up?

MA: It is important to find ways to connect with students (and employees) and to have them connect with each other. Our best advice to educators and employers is to first seek to understand the experiences of your students and workers by really listening to them. When possible, involve them in finding solutions and try to find consensus on how to move forward. We are all in unchartered waters and unleashing our inner creativity to solve these problems is a must. The solutions we find will not only support those who are struggling, they will help everyone else thrive, too. We will follow up with some of the respondents at the end of the upcoming fall semester to see if their experience of online learning has improved.

Student Struggles From Online Learning Transition

Source: “A Sudden Transition to Online Learning: The Student Perspective,” Marketing EDGE (2020)

The full report may be downloaded here.

WWTT? Barefoot Wine Pivots Summer Campaign to Be ‘Pandemic Appropriate’

Many marketers have had to scramble due to COVID-19 wrecking current and future campaign plans. For Barefoot Wine, which had debuted new Barefoot Hard Seltzers and Barefoot Spritzer cans in January, this meant re-editing a summer ad campaign shot before the pandemic to ensure it was still spot-on.

Many marketers have had to scramble due to COVID-19 wrecking current and future campaign plans. In some cases, this meant cancelling campaigns completely, and for others it meant having to pivot quickly. For Barefoot Wine, which had debuted new Barefoot Hard Seltzers and Barefoot Spritzer cans in January, this meant re-editing a summer ad campaign shot before the pandemic to ensure it was still spot-on.

Featuring Kenan Thompson and Aubrey Plaza, the original #SummerDream ad was shot in a pre-physical distancing world, and was directed by black-ish’s Anthony Anderson. However, Barefoot Wine knew it couldn’t share the campaign as-is for the summer during the current pandemic — but it doesn’t mean that the summer dream had to come to an end.

Anna Bell, VP of Marketing for Barefoot Wine commented:

“We had planned to launch this campaign just as COVID-19 became a pandemic, so we knew we needed to examine the creative to ensure it was appropriate and relevant for current times. We hit the pause button, brainstormed ways to present it in a different, more appropriate manner, and went back to make the edits. In the end, we wanted to ensure the content was uplifting and positive for our audience, and give them something that would make them smile.”

That pivot involved reworking the audio and adjusting the edits. Instead of the ad being about a current Memorial Day party, its new focuse has Kenan sharing a dream he had about a party he would have thrown. Still timely, topical, and gets the products front and center for summer.

Having Kenan also share the ad on Twitter with the reminder about social distancing (but hey, still enjoying a cold, tasty beverage), was also very smart of Barefoot Wine in terms of audience reach.

I can only imagine how hard it has been for marketers to adapt their work during the pandemic, while also remaining as creative as possible. But I have to say, when it works, it works.

Marketers, what do you think of the campaign from Barefoot Wine? How have you had to adjust your current campaigns, as well as plans for the future? Let me know in the comments below.

Also, next week marks the 4-year anniversary of “What Were They Thinking?”!!! I’ll be working on a post about some of my favorite campaigns to date, and feel free to let me know what some of your favorites were … or if I missed covering them!

WWTT? Coors Light’s New Campaign Calls It Like It Is — Times Are ‘Sucky’

Marketers have seen, and used, every available euphemism for COVID-19 in marketing messages. “Pandemic,” “crisis,” “uncertain times,” and “the new normal” are all accurate, but it’s beginning to sound a bit tired. Enter Coors Light’s new campaign, “#CouldUseABeer.”

Most marketers have seen, and used, every available euphemism for COVID-19 in marketing messages. “Pandemic,” “crisis,” “uncertain times,” and “the new normal” are all accurate, but it’s beginning to sound the same and a bit tired. Enter Coors Light’s new campaign, “#CouldUseABeer” and the fact that the brewer is calling these times like they really are: sucky.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWEwr3wrykQ&

As part of the ongoing “Made to Chill” program, Coors Light is giving away up to $1 million worth of beer via the new social media initiative. Legal-age drinkers can tweet at a friend, who can then receive a rebate equivalent to the price of a six-pack of Coors Light (in states where legal; Coors Light provides all promo rules here).

https://twitter.com/CoorsLight/status/1255128607682412546

What went from a 93-year-old grandma becoming an Internet sensation when a photo of her holding a Coors Light and a dry erase board reading “I Need More Beer!” turned into the brewery answering her plea for a cold one. And then, from that point, further inspired Coors Light’s new campaign, “#CouldUseABeer.”

Sure, this campaign isn’t necessarily changing lives drastically … it’s not providing PPE for healthcare workers, but it’s staying true to Coors Light and the brewer’s product.

Chris Steele, marketing director for Coors Light, commented:

“A lot of times, when you see someone working hard, doing something really good, you want to recognize them and you take them out for a beer. That’s not really possible right now, but we want to help people get that brief moment of pause and enjoyment that Coors Light provides.”

Coors Light’s new campaign features 15- and 45-second ads narrated by  Paul Giamatti who reminds us that Americans have dealt with really had times before, and during those times, beer kinda helped.

The marketing is relevant, and in my opinion, the message is spot on. These times DO SUCK. They’re hard and they’re scary, and the only thing we can do is take care ourselves and our loved ones, and make it through to the other side. And if responsibly enjoying a cold beer helps, I say go for it.

Because I’d rather see an ad from Coors Light — a beer I don’t drink — being unapologetically themselves than to have to sit through some somber ad telling me for the umpteenth time that some brand is “there for me.”

Better yet, if you want to talk about a brand offering value to its audience, Coors Light also has shared recipes for beer-battered waffles and beer bread for home chefs to try out. And on a philanthropic note, the brewer hosted a pre-NFL football draft happy hour with pro football MVP Patrick Mahomes and college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit on April 22. As a thank you for their participation, Coors Light made donations to the charities of choice for both men.

I think it’s amazing when brands step up and show how they can affect positive change during a catastrophic event such as this. But I also think it’s pretty great when a brand finds ways to just be there for their audiences, bring some joy and fun, and stay relevant.

What do you think marketers? Drop me a line in the comments below, and in the meantime, check out this really handy infographic from our friends at Hero’s Journey Content about how you can be a bit more creative when talking about these “sucky” times.

30 New Ways to Say Unprecedented
Credit: Hero’s Journey Content

WWTT? Yeti+ Launches for Earth Day, Offers Unique ‘Streaming’ Content

This past Wednesday was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Despite dealing with a pandemic and quarantines, a number of brands put out campaigns to celebrate the environment, including Yeti’s launch of Yeti+.

This past Wednesday, April 22, was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Despite dealing with a pandemic and quarantines, a number of brands put out campaigns to celebrate the environment, but the Earth Day campaign that caught my eye the most was from Yeti.

The Austin-based brand, known for its outdoor lifestyle products, created Yeti+, along the same vein as Apple+ or Disney+. But unlike those streaming video subscriptions, Yeti+ is free (though available for only a limited time), and has some pretty great content to watch, especially during these super stressful times.

Yeti offers Yeti+ streaming service to celebrate Earth Day
Credit: Yeti

What sort of goodies can you watch? Some fun nature documentaries? Action-packed outdoor events? Nope. You can watch streams be streamed.

The site copy reads:

We’ll be back outside before we know it. Until then, kick back, grab a cold one, and wet your appetite for the wild with one of our streams.

Click on any of the options, the video goes full screen, and you’re treated to the calming serenity of simply watching a stream — literally a body of water (each one runs about 10 minutes). If you’ve ever been to a holiday party where someone puts on a festive Yule Log video, then you get the picture.

But where the holiday Yule Log videos are often more about kitschy ambiance, I think the video offerings of Yeti+ are not only clever, but honestly, good relevant content.

They’re soothing. They’re beautiful. They take us out of our homes and transport us to a place of calm. Maybe to a place we’ve never been before. And though many of us may still be able to go outside and exercise while maintaining our stay at home rules, not everyone lives someplace this beautiful, green, and lush. Or is even physically able to go outside at all, for whatever reason.

Yeti+’s website copy may be a little tongue-in-cheek, but I think their Earth Day campaign offers a much-needed escape from the harshness of this world. And in my opinion, every little bit helps. We talk about how important it is to offer value to our customers and prospects. Well, I think Yeti+ nailed it.

What do you think, marketers? Leave me a comment below!

The Art of the Virtual Pitch, Part 1: Perfecting Pre-Pitch Engagement

Pitches aren’t always won in the room. That’s great news right now because it might be a while before we’re even in a room together again. Pitches are won by what you do before, during, and after the pitch. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my best insights on the art of the virtual pitch.

Pitches aren’t always won in the room. That’s great news right now because it might be a while before we’re even in a room together again. The flip side is that every other element of winning business has become a little more challenging. Pitches are won by what you do before, during, and after the pitch. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my best insights on the art of the virtual pitch.

First, let’s talk about wowing potential clients before the pitch even happens. Without the benefit of face-to-face meetings, you’ll need new ways to engage with the client and show that you’re hungry for business.

It’s Business, and It’s Personal

Now is the time to get super creative about showing off your personality. Clients aren’t just buying capability; they’re also looking for chemistry. You’ve already put some thought into the team pitching this client, so dig into your thought process there. What are the skills each person has? What makes them indispensable to your team? When clients feel like they already know you before your pitch meeting, your proposal will go that much smoother.

A technique I love (and that you can tweak and reuse often!) is compiling something engaging to show off your team. Think of it like a totally juiced up business card. You could frame it as a yearbook, a set of baseball cards, the cast of a TV show — anything you think will get a second look. Including names, photos, and specialties is a given, but this should be fun, too. Consider including information like favorite quarantine activity, preferred pitching soundtrack, or last book read. Or lean into the yearbook concept and give everyone a superlative. Emphasizing personality is going to be crucial in the era of virtual pitches.

Make a Grand Gesture

When I was assisting Paypal’s push to expand into working with small businesses, we set up interviews with small businesses and profiled how PayPal could help. One of those small businesses was a great little chocolate maker, so we had them design special PayPal logo chocolates that we delivered on Valentine’s Day.

I also fondly remember a campaign we orchestrated for Discover. We wanted to upend the old notion that Discover cards aren’t widely accepted. It was at the height of the Cronut craze in NYC. So, a box of the city’s most sought after treats with a receipt showing we paid with a Discover credit card said it all.

Okay, so both of those involved snacks, and we know food can be a positive motivator and fan favorite to receive. But right now, something that supports your clients’ community could be a great move as everyone is looking to support one another through a public health crisis.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Be Afraid to Be Different

The virtual pitch isn’t new, but conducting remote business on this level is uncharted territory for many, so feel free to break out of your usual approach. Ultimately, this all comes down to romancing potential clients, so if you missed my post about “dating” clients, check it out now.

Remember, clients are not just buying capabilities from you, they’re also buying chemistry with you. Help them get a sense of who your team is and why they’d be awesome to collaborate with.

I’ll be back soon with tips on collaborating on a winning deck … remotely.

USPS’s Mobile Shopping Promotion Still Available for 2020

The USPS has confirmed that despite the current pandemic, all discount programs are still in place, including the 2020 Mobile Shopping Promotion. This program encourages mailers to integrate mobile technology with direct mail to create a convenient way for consumers to online shop, as well as earn a postage discount.

The USPS has confirmed that despite the current pandemic, all discount programs are still in place, including the 2020 Mobile Shopping Promotion. This program encourages mailers to integrate mobile technology with direct mail to create a convenient way for consumers to do their online shopping; provides a 2% postage discount for standard and nonprofit letters and flats; and runs from Aug. 1 through Dec. 31, 2020.

The registration period runs from June 15 through Dec. 31, 2020, giving marketers some time to consider the program and how they can benefit from the popularity of mobile shopping to boost response rates. So how can you take advantage of this discount? Qualifying mobile print technologies include one of the following:

  • Open-sourced barcodes: QR Code or Data Matrix code. “QR” stands for “Quick Response”, which refers to the instant access to the information hidden in the barcode. A Data Matrix barcode code can store up to 2,335 alphanumeric characters.
  • Proprietary barcode or tag: SnapTags or MS Tags. SnapTag technology is very similar to QR code technology, but, consumers with any camera or smart phone can take a picture of the tag. From there, information is sent via text or email. Microsoft Tag allows data to be stored in a graphical bitmap using shapes and colors. The difference is not using square pixels, but triangle shapes and colors to store data.
  • Image embedded with a digital watermark: A digital watermark is a kind of marker covertly embedded in a noise-tolerant signal such as audio, video or image data.
  • Intelligent print image recognition such as augmented reality: Augmented reality (AR) is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, and more.
  • Shoppabble Video: Today’s technology enables you to set interactive touch points in any video (or image), allowing your audience to expand on any product with more details and the ability to purchase.

You can use one on these options on your mail piece to send prospects and customers to a page where they can purchase the product or service you’re marketing on your mail piece. This particular promotion has been around for a while now and is very popular with both marketers and customers, especially because it extends through the whole holiday season.

New for this year is the Shoppable Video option. The experience involves viewing a video on a mobile device which contains clickable spots on the video where customers can make a purchase.

The easier you make it for your customers to buy, the more and faster they do so. Because of promotions like this from the USPS, marketers can capture impulse buys with direct mail. The Mobile Shopping Promotion also shows how the buying experience does not have to be boring. You can add elements to spice up your landing page and still be able to make transactions like the promotion rules call for. Think of all the fun and creative ways you can integrate mobile technology, while benefiting from a savings of 2% on your postage! It is a good time to try something new.

This is not the only promotion the USPS is offering this year. If interested, check out my previous coverage of two other promotion programs that are currently running, but with registration still open:

Are you ready to get started?

 

How Do We Leverage Data to Drive a Faster Economic Recovery?

As growth leaders, we will be waking to a world with fewer resources and businesses desperate to grow again once we get past the coronavirus pandemic. However, in our struggle to regain our financial footing we will have a very valuable resource that previous generations did not: data and data science.

As growth leaders, we will be waking to a world with fewer resources and businesses desperate to grow again once we get past the coronavirus pandemic. And despite the global hardships that will be felt by many, in our struggle to regain our financial footing we will have a very valuable resource that previous generations did not: data and data science.

When used well, data science will help direct scarce resources to the right opportunities and efficiently drive growth. I am convinced this will be a big differentiator versus previous recoveries of this magnitude.

Over my career, I have consistently encountered inefficient and counter-productive practices in data-driven decision management and have written about them often. They are paralleled in the crisis today. Below are three issues I would like us all to think about when we leverage data science to rebuild the national and world economy.

1. Customer Data Hoarding

Companies collect so much data that many are “drowning in data.” If you have no idea of the value of what you are collecting, then it is digital garbage.

We were led to believe that AI and data mining would help make sense of the data. It does to some extent, but more often it leads to head-scratching conclusions. We can’t leverage what we can’t understand.

As a data-driven consultant, I am amazed at how much time is spent sifting through data just trying to make sense of it all before any valuable insights can be generated. Going forward we cannot afford this luxury. If there are 10 gallons of fuel in the tank, we can’t spend five gallons trying to figure out if the engine works. However, when it comes to mining company data, we often do.

2. It’s About Qualitative, Not Just Quantitative

We can’t be slaves to the data we have. Collecting the right data is often cheap and easily done, if time is taken to plan. This means that measurement strategy can’t be a retrospective exercise. Too often, I have engaged clients in the post-mortem analysis of very important projects. In many cases, my team is often limited to the data that is available and not the data that was needed. Critical answers are sometimes left unanswered. This is a waste of time, resources and most importantly, valuable information.

3. Data Is Not the Solution, It’s the Tool

We must regularly remind ourselves that data does not solve problems or create opportunities. Rather, brave decision making solves problems and creates opportunities. Data is a valuable tool that can only inform the decisions we need to make. It can help lower the risk and provide valuable insights. Sometimes, collecting more data before acting can be wise. Other times it can also be the delay in action that leads to disaster.

What is happening today has no parallel in recent memory. While the 1918 flu pandemic had similar infection rates, the world was a different place then. Today, we have advanced tools and technology to aid our recovery.

Data science will be one of those important tools, especially if we collectively decide to use it to its true potential. As a result, I am hopeful that we can come out of this faster than we realize.

Remote Workflow Crash Course: Best Practices for Working From Home

So here we are. Whether by government mandate or executive fiat, at some point in the past few weeks the brand you and your team usually work on from a company office landed in your living room. It probably happened suddenly, in many cases with almost no time to prepare. So here are a few suggestions to point you in the right direction as you adjust to a remote workflow.

[Editor’s Note: While this piece was written for the publishing audience over at our sister brand, Publishing Executive, we know marketers have remote workflow issues to deal with as well. We think this article is relevant to our marketing audience, and hope it offers some additional advice as you navigate these uncertain times]

So here we are. Whether by government mandate or executive fiat, at some point in the past few weeks the publication you and your team usually write, edit, produce, market, and distribute from an office landed in your living room. It probably happened suddenly, in many cases with almost no time to prepare. And you may have discovered – quickly – that the workflow underpinning the whole operation did not make the transition with you.

There may be a lot of scrambling going on, so here are a few suggestions to point you in the right direction as you work on getting a remote workflow in place. The good news is that, once you make the transition to a digital workflow, life will improve. Possibly dramatically and probably fast. It is even likely that your remote workflow will become your regular workflow once you are back in the office.

Step 1: Assess the Damage         

You can’t fix what you can’t see. The only way to fix a broken workflow is to make it visible and start to tinker.

If you are the boss, bring everybody together in a virtual space of some kind and map the workflow you currently have. Identify problems together. Your job is to ask your team what they need and give it to them; their job is to brainstorm and implement solutions.

Step 2: Address Skills Training

Now that everyone is working from home, everyone needs to be self-sufficient with regard to technology. That means there may be skills gaps to address.

My go-to tech tools, which are simple and accessible to most people, are Zoom (useful to connect face-to-face, share screens, and host meetings), Google Docs (a group editing tool in which multiple people can make changes and comments in real time), Trello (allows list-making, process-tracking, and tagging for assignments), and Slack (useful for internal team communication).

Find out up front who is familiar with what, and how much each individual thinks they can handle. Then ask those who have more skills to bring those with fewer up to speed. Publicly document and track each person’s skill set as it evolves and make sure to celebrate improvements!

Step 3: Stop Emailing Documents

Immediately. Most of us no longer print out paper proofs and documents and send them around for colleagues to review, but emailing multiple rounds of PDFs so everyone can sign off on text changes is essentially the same thing. I’ve seen editors add weeks to an editing process as they lobbed a manuscript back and forth on email, and the lack of transparency means no one can ever be sure what state the text is in.

Use Google Docs or some other cloud-based tool to edit, and make the link available to everyone on your team. Use Slack for intra-team communication. And lead by example: I also once watched two CEOs stretch a two-day editing job into four months then wonder why their employees worked slowly.

Step 4: Create Checklists and Standards

Each part of your remote workflow should have a checklist and a set of standards. They should be available online so the whole team can access and update them as things change. (Do not keep these documents on paper; none of the dozens of paper standard books I’ve seen in 20 years were less than two years old.)

Consistently adhering to checklist procedures and applying standards simplifies and increases output per person. The New Yorker just produced their first completely remote issue essentially by following the rules – stored in checklists and standard documentation – that they created for each part of their workflow.

Step 5: Add Structure

Many editors are used to seeing exactly how a text will flow as they work on it, and continue to make small adjustments until the very end of the production process. This can create delays in an office setting and all-out chaos when remote.

The solution is shared access to a text for everyone who needs it, keeping editorial review and sign-off as far upstream as possible (in Google Docs). This allows copy editors to read rather than constantly reread the text, production people to make things fit only once, and I have yet to meet an art department that isn’t thrilled to avoid last-second changes. If you are an EIC who wants to reread entire articles, simply do so in the Google Doc stage like everybody else.

Step 6: Put Content First

Essentially, this involves each story working its way through the editing process as a single Google Doc. Everyone contributes to that document, and it includes all revisions, comments, research links, and images. The simplicity virtually eliminates the time and effort required to prepare content for specific channels, and anyone responsible for distributing that particular story – in print, on the web, on social media, or in audio form – need only verify that the text they are working with matches the master copy.

If web headlines, keywords, and social headings go through the same process before being routed to their respective channels, any fixes are made only once. It’s much easier to maintain consistency and fact checking is a breeze.

Step 7: Step Back

It may feel like a leap of faith, especially in a remote setting, but it’s important to give your workflow permission to operate. Make sure your people have the tools and skills they need, keep the communication channels open, and let them do their jobs.

These practices will pay dividends: One of my clients was able to reduce the lead time between idea and reader from four weeks to four hours. In another case, six editors now take less than three hours to write, edit, check, post, and send a weekly newsletter. America Media group-edits each text, allowing queries and changes to happen simultaneously, and the many hours (if not days) it once took to do exactly the same thing on paper have been reduced to minutes.

Most telling of all, America’s workflow has been fully digital for four years, and when the coronavirus closed their offices two weeks ago, the tweet from their EIC read: “Readers and subscribers should expect to receive their print issues as usual. Digital coverage will be similarly unaffected.”

The Grand Reopening of the U.S. Economy Will Happen, Plan for It

We are in uncharted territory, much as we were in previous economic downturns and recessions. Yet, do know, another expansion will follow … eventually. There will be a grand reopening of our economy, and as marketers, we need to plan for it.

I love defaulting to optimism – even in the darkest of times. It’s been part of my survival mechanism through all sorts of crises. That being said, we are in uncharted territory in this new normal, much as we were in previous economic downturns and recessions. “The Great Recession” of 2008-2009 was largely Wall Street born and Main Street slammed. But remember, the Great Expansion followed. A possible recession stemming from COVID-19, however, would be largely reversed, with millions of livelihoods suddenly denied, and both Main Street and Wall Street being slammed in tandem. Yet, do know, another expansion will follow … eventually. There will be a grand reopening of our economy, and as marketers, we need to plan for it.

Listening to the U.S. President talk about getting parts of our country back to some semblance of normal by Easter may seem wild-eyed and some might say irresponsible. In reality, China is reportedly already back on line – after six-to-eight weeks of paralysis. Does this mean a possible “V-shaped” recession (very short), a “U-shaped” one (mild), or an “L-shaped” one (long term)? We don’t know.

It’s always dangerous to make prognostications, but we can learn from patterns elsewhere in the virology. With the United States now the most afflicted nation in sickness, we yet have a massive fight ahead to control viral spread. And doubt and fear have taken hold as two debacles have come about, one public health and one economic.

Unfortunately, there is no “on/off” switch for the viral crisis. Even when its spread is curtailed, which will happen, we’ve been shaken and edginess is going to remain. That’s only human.

Patterns of consumption will not resume as if nothing happened. Unemployment shocks will not reverse as easily as they came. So there will be a “new” normal.

However, a reopening is coming. You might say that’s my optimism, but folks – we are going to be okay in a time. It may not be of our choosing, as Dr. Fauci faithfully reports, but one that will be here nonetheless. As marketers, let’s get ready for it.

Look to Your Data to Prepare for What’s Next

Recessions are actually good times to look to the enterprise and get customer data “cleaned up.” The early 90s recession gave us CRM, and database marketing flourished. The end of the Internet 1.0 boom in 2000 brought data discipline to digital data. And the Great Recession brought data to the C-suite.

So let’s use this time to do a data checkup. Here are four opportunities:

  1. Data audits are often cumbersome tasks to do – but data governance is a “must” if we want to get to gain a full customer view, and derive intelligent strategies for further brand engagement. Quality needs to be the pursuit. Replacing cookie identification also is a priority. Understand all data sources to “upgrade” for confidence, accuracy, privacy, and permissions.
  2. March 15 might be a good date to do an A/B split with your customer data inputs – pre-virus and during-virus. What new patterns emerged in media, app usage, mobile use and website visits? Are you able to identify your customers among this traffic? If not, that’s a data and tech gap that needs to be closed.
  3. Customer-centricity or data silos? It’s always a good time to tear down that silo and integrate the data, yet sometimes healthy economic growth can mask this problem. Use the recessions to free up some time to actually get the work done.
  4. Test new data and identity solution vendors to increase match rates across your omnichannel spectrum – to better create a unified view of audiences, both prospects and customers. I’ve already seen one of my clients come up with a novel offer to analyze a subset of unidentified data to drive a substantive lift in matches.

As we work remotely, it’s important to understand that this current state of crisis is not a permanent state. Only once the virus is conquered, on its weaknesses not ours, can we really have any timetable to resume the economy. That being the health science, it just makes great business sense now to “stage” your data for that eventual Grand Reopening.

WWTT? So Many COVID-19 Emails … But Are There Any ‘Good’ Ones?

Right now, the world feels like a very scary, uncertain place, as we all make adjustments to our daily lives during this pandemic. But there is also a lot of room for hope and positivity. For today’s “What Were They Thinking?” post, I want to look at some COVID-19 emails I’ve received from brands and nonprofits to my personal email account, showcasing a couple that I think did an excellent job at standing out in my inbox and offering value.

Right now, the world feels like a very scary, uncertain place, as we all make adjustments to our daily lives during this pandemic. And while each day often seems weirder or scarier than the one before it, there is also a lot of room for hope and positivity. For today’s “What Were They Thinking?” post, I want to look at some COVID-19 emails I’ve received from brands and nonprofits to my personal email account, showcasing a couple that I think did an excellent job at standing out in my inbox and offering value.

Because if you’re not offering up value right now (and no, I don’t mean a sweet sale on a pair of shoes), then maybe think twice about what campaigns you’re running, especially if they include COVID-19 messaging.

Also, a little tip I’d like to offer: Consider removing inactives from your list BEFORE you message your entire list. I don’t need to know that you’re keeping your establishment clean and being decent to your employees if we interacted maybe once, back in 2014. If you can wash your hands, you also can take some time for list hygiene.

So much like an episode of MTV Cribs, step into my inbox with me, and let’s look at some examples of COVID-19 emails done right:

COVID-19 email message from Lush I received this email from Lush on March 14, and the headline reads: “Be safe, get clean.”

Already I’m thankful the subject line isn’t the usual canned “[Company name] and COVID-19 update.” Yes, in some cases we do need an update from a particular company we do business with — for example, when my hair salon emailed me how they were were taking care of their staff and the salon, how this would affect services, hours, etc, I definitely read that email. My salon is a very personal marketer to me … some others who email me, however, are not.

Back to Lush. So the subject line is great and has me curious enough to open. The main message is simple: “Wash your hands for free at Lush.” The rest of the short email says that their stores are still open in North America, come on in and wash your hands for free with no expectation of purchase.

Now yes, this can be looked at as a way to increase foot traffic, but they are offering a service that is very relevant right now (How many of us have replaced our usual goodbyes with “Wash your hands!”?) Sure, some people might make a purchase, but the focus of this email is about a beneficial service Lush wants to provide the community, wherever one of their brick and mortar stores reside.

Unfortunately, the next day I received a second email from Lush alerting me to North America store closures from March 16-29, but even that didn’t feel like a boilerplate email. You can check it out here.

The bottom line about Lush is that their emails were compassionate, offered value to their customs, and were on-brand.

Now, let’s look at a nonprofit I support:


The Western New York Land Conservancy is a nonprofit land trust that permanently protects land with significant conservation value in the Western New York (WNY) region of the Empire State. It’s a second home to me, due to the fact I went to college there and I have friends and family in the area.

While the WNYLC’s subject line is a bit closer to some of the boilerplate ones I’ve seen out there on other COVID-19 emails, what works so well is the message. It starts with a note from their Executive Director, leading off with a cancellation of a specific hike for the safety of others, as well as information about how future events will either be conducted via phone or video, or rescheduled. All important info, especially if you’re a donor who actively participates with this organization.

But what I appreciate the most is how this email ties into part of the land conservancy’s mission — to experience the land. The call to action to go outside and take it in during these uncertain times is what a lot of people need to hear: to take a break, step away from the constant news cycle or ding of email, and go breathe some fresh air. The specific mention of the Stella Niagara Preserve (land the WNYLC has protected) is fitting, and the P.S. includes a reminder that social distancing is great for the outdoors, so send photos of your favorite moments.

This call for photo submissions isn’t only user generated content, but when the WNYLC posts these images, their follows can enjoy them and feel a little less distant. Something we all need.

As marketers, before all of “this,” our jobs were to educate prospects and customers about our services and products, and to often help people be their best selves, whether professionally, personally, or both. Our creative and analytical minds were put to work building campaigns and helping support sales teams. And yes, those are all still our jobs right now.

But I think we have some new ones. We need to be there to help lift up our customers and donors (when appropriate and relevant, don’t just barge in out of nowhere). We need to make sure we share good, accurate information, no matter what the topic is. And we need to be positive … because I think keeping a positive attitude through the darkness is the only way through this. And we’re gonna get through.

Marketers, what do you think? Tell me about some thoughtful, well-executed COVID-19 emails you’ve seen in your inboxes (and if you’ve seen some cruddy ones, tell me about it on Twitter, over at @sass_marketing). And take care of yourselves, each and every one of you (Gary, stop touching your face.).