There's a big, captive audience at home thanks to COVID-19

March 13, 2020


And with big audiences come big opportunities.

There's little doubt that as COVID-19 continues to spread, uncertainty is spreading with it, adding confusion to the marketing landscape like few times in recent memory. Marketers are scrambling to figure out the best course of action. Do we pull back? Shut down? Or do we go into a purely tactical, hard sell mode?

Before you hit the panic button, consider this. As we speak, millions of Americans are settling in at home. Kids are out of school and bored. Moms and dads are either working from home or just stuck there. Everyone online, eyes glued to their screens. And appointment television like sports and other live programming is all but gone. Think about those cruise passengers, stuck in their rooms, attached to their phones, tablets, and televisions. For many people, it's going to be like that.

In other words, they're a captive audience that can be reached more readily than at just about any other time. The challenge, then, is not if they can be engaged, but what to engage them with.

Our advice? Instead of basing decisions based on whether or not you think people will buy, think first about what it is you can provide them, right now, in their current state, at this extraordinary time. You may be surprised at the value you can offer.

We suggest you start by asking these four questions:

  1. How has their behavior changed?
  2. What are their current needs?
  3. What can we do to fulfill those needs?
  4. What can we do to provide reassurance?

How has their behavior changed?

In many ways, as we mentioned above, it has changed substantially. People will be staying home more. A lot more. Out-of-home activities such as restaurant dining, movies, and shopping will all be curtailed. And yet, they'll also be doing everything they can to maintain as much normalcy as possible. It's true for businesses as well. While conferences are getting postponed and travel is cut, business leaders are seeking solutions to keep things humming along.

And every last one of them will be keeping an eye on the horizon, for the moment they can return to regular life. You can play a role in helping them make it happen.

What are their current needs?

Even in unusual times, people have needs that brands can fulfill. And what they need now, more than ever, are solutions to make life better in the new normal. That means ways to keep the kids entertained, or way to put comforting meals on the table. And they'll no doubt be shopping Amazon and other online outlets for everything from necessities to anything that might provide some sense of relief.

Think of the anxiety that comes from a moment like this. People are worried about everything from shortages to cleanliness to how they should invest for the future (hint: don't sell now). At Slingshot, we have clients who produce everything from toilet paper to shelf-stable milk. As store shelves empty out, the need for both those items and many others will continue to grow.

Meanwhile, more time also means time to spend learning about places, products, and brands they might not dig into otherwise. That's another great opportunity.

What can we do to fulfill those needs?

Their lives have changed, so as marketers, we'll need to change what we offer to them. Are there over the phone, delivery, or online services that can replace similar in-person offerings? What about a temporary subscription service that can be waived or transferred once the crisis is over?

Perhaps they were forced to cancel that bucket list Spring Break vacation but aren't yet ready to give up on a trip. Can your destination be the drive-market alternative?

How many young families who rarely cook at home are now looking at their ovens and thinking, what do we do with this thing? Can you provide the recipes, the inspiration, or better yet, the meals?

What else can you do to adapt your offerings to meet their rapidly evolving needs? Different people have different needs, but make no mistake, they all have them. We can sit on the sidelines, or we can be the solution.

What can we do to provide reassurance?

Perhaps more than anything else, what people need now is to know that you get it. You understand what they're going through, and care more about helping them than selling to them. Airlines and hoteliers have addressed this by waving change or cancellation fees. Major internet providers are postponing the cancellation of services to people behind in their payments. And other brands are reaching out proactively, through email, text, or online, to let customers know how they're responding to the situation.

This sort of authentic, empathetic behavior is a must. Not only is it the right thing to do, any brand that appears tone deaf to the unique need state of their customers right now is at risk of losing their business for good. If you do nothing else, make sure you do this.

Let's put our heads together.

At Slingshot, we believe that this is no time to lay back or shut down. Your customers are still your customers, and they have real needs to be addressed. Someone is going to step up and provide the solutions they're looking for. Let's work together to make sure that it's you.