It may seem counter-intuitive, but maintaining your marketing activities as a creative practitioner is more important than ever during our current crisis. We’ve been helping our clients navigate their way through this nightmare for the last month or so, and we’ve worked out ten tips about where to spend your precious marketing time and energy (not money), to help maintain a professional presence, and prepare for the rebirth of our flailing industry.
After the GFC in 2008, various studies showed that brands that continued to market themselves appropriately during the crisis recovered nine times more quickly than those that didn’t. Currently, the long-term prognosis for brands will be uncertain if they don’t respond correctly to the COVID-19 pandemic. As creatives perhaps these big business findings don’t seem relevant, but they are. Even small businesses and solo freelancers will be more likely to survive COVID-19 and the economic fallout with some appropriate, sensitive, and consistent marketing strategies.
STEP 1: PRESS PAUSE
Now is the time to hit the pause button, and review all current marketing. Review your entire strategy, even if you don’t think you have one.
- ANALYSE how you currently promote yourself to the world. What’s the state of your website, social media, and other activities?
- ASK the core questions – who are your clients and customers? Who are your competitors? How are you perceived in the market?
- AUDIT your website, and all your social media activity. Anything out there that needs to be recorded for posterity, or removed entirely?
- BACK TRACK where your clients come from – and don’t just think about word of mouth. Be more specific. Who is referring you – and why?
- WORDS AND PICTURES are vital. How are you communicating to the world, in language and visuals? How’s your own photo?
- BRAND – Do you have one? How does it hold up?
ACTION: Conduct an audit of ALL your marketing. What’s working, and what’s not? What should you keep, what needs a refresh, and what should you pause for now – or ditch completely?
STEP 2: UPSKILL
If during the pause process you’ve discovered gaps, now is the best time to train without fear. There has never been a better time to learn something new and fail! There are free online learning academies from both Google (Digital Garage and YouTube Academy) and Facebook (Blueprint) with extensive training on digital marketing and social media, and reasonably priced alternatives such as Udemy and Creative Live for more expansive marketing training.
ACTION – Pick something new to learn about marketing. When you’re done, pick the next thing. REPEAT.
STEP 3: THINK BRAND
Your BRAND is the personality of your business – or more specifically it’s the external representation of your own internal values, culture and ways of being. Branding is built on very deep and important traits that you have, but it’s expressed in surface ways such as your logo, preferred colours, dress, language, and attitude. For most practitioners, personal and professional brand are basically the same thing.
Your values are the bedrock of your brand. They are based on your personal beliefs about what’s important, and your expectations and preferences of the way you live your life and interact with others. From a business perspective, your values represent your philosophy and approach to your profession and your craft and give your clients an insight into what you stand for, and what’s important. As a solo freelancer, your values will help to guide you to the kind of work and clients that support your principles and align with your ideology, and as a larger creative business, your values can help steer your plans and your people in the right direction. To seriously evaluate your brand, start with your core values.
ACTION – Evaluate your core values. Write your values statement. What about your vision and mission statements as well?
STEP 4: ACKNOWLEDGE THE TRUTH
It’s important to acknowledge the crisis and what’s going on. Failure to communicate about what’s happening is a mistake, the hope that saying nothing will somehow dowse the flames. The wider marketing momentum is now driven by businesses across the internet who are prepared to communicate. As a small business or freelancer, you are in the perfect position to tell an authentic story, your own truth, in a way that will connect with your clients and customers.
However, it’s still important to stay upbeat, if you can. People need positivity right now, but they don’t want bullshit. It’s a delicate line to walk. Stay on brand as well – if humour is your brand, making appropriate lightness of the situation is OK. If you’re more academic, sharing thoughtful opinions and curated research might be the right approach for you.
ACTION – How have other people / businesses managed? Go on a scavenger hunt for resources, articles, memes, images – and keep it on brand.
STEP 5: DESPERATION IS NOT YOUR FRIEND
People are panicking, and desperation is totally appropriate for those of us freaking out, and experiencing poor physical, mental or financial health. However, please don’t share your desperation with your clients and customers! Remember, marketing is a lot like dating. If you go out there into the world with the stink of desperation on you, people will know. It will be a massive turn off for most people – except for those that are attracted to desperation, which you really don’t need in your life right now.
This means not being pushy, overt or hard in your sell. Don’t ask for anything from your clients and customers – this is the time for listening, not insane shouting. Remember, how you market yourself in times of crisis is the long game. Your clients have long memories, and they won’t quickly forget your kindness and generosity – or those times you acted like a dick.
ACTION – Work out in advance what measures you can take to decrease your desperation. Do you need to go for a walk, or write a draft email first? Check in with someone else to see if your actions seem desperate for an outside opinion.
STEP 6: SUPERCHARGE YOUR EMPATHY
Be 100% mindful of how your marketing and messaging is out in the world. Make sure your customer and client base is front and centre because marketing is NOT about you! It’s always about them. In reality, you may not be able to ‘sell’ anything at this time, but you can still generate ‘soft’ benefits like loyalty and trust.
Remove that desperation, and check in on your clients rather than taking a beggar’s approach, particularly if they are long term and you want to keep them. They may appreciate the call – perhaps you could have a Zoom coffee (or wine) and just check in. Cultivate your community and be like Seth Godin – think about your Tribe.
ACTION – Research the best of empathetic companies. Find some examples – and mimic that spirit.
STEP 7: DO GOOD
You may not be in much of a position to increase your revenue at the moment, but if you’re OK financially then now is the time to think about ways to be generous and thoughtful in your practice. Offering up freebies and donations, if you can afford them, can have a positive marketing effect as long as you are genuine in your offer.
ACTION – Be generous – and then describe that experience and outcomes in your marketing (without being a dick).
STEP 8: LINKEDIN IS KING
Lots of creative people don’t like LinkedIn, but remember – marketing is not about you. Even if we hit 20% unemployment (which has never actually happened), that means 80% of people have jobs, and most of them will be on LinkedIn. It’s time to lift your LinkedIn game – update your photo and banner, refresh and personalise your about section and experiences, and start posting and sharing articles. Get out there, make some friends!
ACTION – Update LinkedIn. Start making connections. Try posting, regular sharing, and shout-outs.
STEP 9: DIGITAL IS FOREVER
The momentum of everyone’s digital adaptation will probably slow as time moves on – but it’s unlikely to reverse. Connecting and working with our clients and customers online will be our new future, so take your time and create digital marketing of quality. There has been a panicky rush to adapt to an exclusively online world and the market is saturated, but quality will last and could generate serious income in the future.
Just ask yourself – how are you perceived now? And how will you be perceived post-crisis?
ACTION – Create a strategy. Don’t react – PLAN. SLOW DOWN. THINK ABOUT WHAT’S NEXT.
STEP 10: MORE THAN MARKETING
There’s more to do than just marketing. While you’re reviewing and giving things an audit, why not give your whole creative business or practice an overhaul?
- Review your business model – are you running your business in the best way?
- Could you start developing processes or systems to help you when things get busy again?
- Are you using technology to the best advantage?
- Do you have all your legal situations sorted out?
- How is your financial literacy? Do you need to get your money shit together?
- Are you figuring out ways to diversify your income when things improve?
- Are you making your own work, or developing new creative projects?
- Are you finding fun ways to collaborate with other creatives?
You can use your marketing to share the story of your adaptation to the new world as part of your marketing – and not just the triumphs. Failures can be engaging as long as you demonstrate humility. Don’t be defensive, and show how you learned something (or had some fun in your failure). As long as your stories are genuine and heartfelt, they will help you to connect in a world where everyone is struggling with adaptation.
ACTION – Improve your overall business and make marketing a part of your practice forever.
Finally – remember to be consistent. Again, desperation will fuel panic posting and too-quick marketing with no strategy. Always thinks about the long game, be consistent, and stay up to date.