As the coronavirus rapidly makes its way across the globe, the whole world is on high alert, scrambling to deal with the pandemic.

Human lives and public safety, of course, are the top concern when it comes to the coronavirus, and businesses and government agencies have responded by encouraging people to avoid crowds–which, by the way, are everywhere.

A recent article in the New York Times stated that a key concern is; as the virus continues to spread throughout Europe and the US, consumers will stay home.

We already see a behavioral shift, with people avoiding not only work, but restaurants, stores, and other public places where they might spend money. With customers staying indoors–and presumably online–digital marketing may well be a brand’s best defense against coronavirus.

Read on, and I’ll explain.

In-Person Events

As you may have heard, South by Southwest was canceled, prompting a chain of cancellations from sporting events to concerts, community gatherings, and big B2B cons. As a result, event marketing has taken a massive downturn–with public health officials urging people to stay home.

Other notable cancellations include Facebook’s F8 Conference and Rakuten Advertising’s DealMaker London. Google pulled the plug on April’s CloudNext conference in San Francisco, as well as a smaller Vegas event scheduled later this month.

Here, Search Engine Journal offers a list of search marketing-specific event cancelations thus far–and let’s just say, very few are opting to move forward with their plans.

Even major cultural events like Coachella and the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics are called off.

How Should Marketers Respond?

While cancellations at this scale mean companies are eating massive costs, there may be a way to pivot to digital marketing.

With fewer people traveling, billboards and other types of off-screen advertising will be less visible. In response, brands should consider reducing any upcoming pop-ups, events, or off-line ads.

Because more people will be inside and on their phones and computers than ever–with less travel and fewer in-person meetings, brands should reinvest “in-person” marketing dollars into digital strategies and online ads. And think long and hard about digital transformation.

E-commerce brands could benefit from new shopping habits.

Businesses ranging from small direct-to-consumer brands to Amazon face new challenges due to the outbreak. For one, many are forced to make a decision about how to continue with their manufacturing operations–particularly if they have factory operations in China.

Some factories have been closed for long periods, while others are operating at limited capacity, causing delays and bottlenecks, and leaving brands at a loss for how to supply products to customers.

According to Bruce Biegel , senior managing partner at Winterberry Group, the e-commerce sector has never experienced a crisis on this level. direct-to-consumer and so much focus on ordering and shipping.

Again though–more people are staying home. They’re working remotely during the day, and likely to stay in during their off time, as well.

Whether out of boredom, necessity, or both, this means that we’ll likely start to see an uptick of people shopping from phones and laptops. Long-term, new shopping habits could take hold, as people become more comfortable browsing and buying online and frequenting physical stores less often.

After the threat subsides, new habits may breed substantial long-term gains for online retailers, as well as the digital advertisers and affiliate marketers that bring in new traffic.

What’s the takeaway for B2C brands?

In this case, I think the real opportunity is for e-commerce marketers to really focus on developing transparent messaging across the board.

On a product level, this means providing really great descriptions, photos, and videos that help people get an accurate picture of what your product looks like IRL.

From a logistics standpoint, be upfront about product shortages and communicate any delays or updates as you receive them. While stalled orders and uncertainty is frustrating, customers will appreciate the honesty.

You might consider creating a waiting list for in-demand products or use this as an opportunity to reveal a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes–from sourcing to crisis aversion.

Additionally, you might want to consider running digital awareness campaigns aimed at reaching the casual Instagram scroller or the bored You Tube-addict. While this media buyer told Digiday that clients are dropping awareness campaigns, this could be a golden opportunity to make a first impression.

Keeping audiences in the loop will become critical.

Look at any news outlet and it’s immediately clear that coronavirus information changes at lightning speeds. The fast-paced nature of digital marketing offers an advantage when it comes to protecting your brand from the impact of coronavirus.

While generally speaking, marketers aren’t responsible for keeping the public safe, it’s critical that communications keep pace with the virus, evolving as new developments emerge. By monitoring the situation and acting fast, you’ll be better prepared to mitigate losses from cancellations, non-refundable ad spots, and so on.

Let’s say a specific city is subject to new travel restrictions or becomes an epicenter for the disease. If you’re a hotel chain, your marketers must be ready to update or deactivate campaigns to reflect the situation.

You don’t want customers booking a stay, then dealing with the cancellation process when they hear the news. It doesn’t matter if you promptly refund any payments, failing to communicate critical public health information may come off as deceptive.

How Should Brands Update their Communication Strategy?

While damage control may be the more obvious goal for travel brands, event marketers, and other sectors hit hard by COVID-19, it’s also a good time to develop your content strategy.

Those brands that provide accurate information about the coronavirus and its impact on operations stand to deepen existing connections and build long-term trust.

One of the reasons that communication is so critical here is there are a lot of advertisers, websites, and bots using fear-tactics and misinformation to sell products.

As such, keeping your audience informed and focusing on delivering the right message at the right time helps audiences separate bad actors from reputable brands.


If you are a business going online for the first time, here are a few resources and tips.

  1. Get a good video conferencing solution and use it
    1. Recommendations: Zoom or Go To Meeting
  2. Get a chat solution so you can communicate with groups in realtime
    1. Recommendations: Gchat or Slack
  3. Get a project management system
    1. Recommendations: Basecamp, Asana, Wrike, Trellow, Jira or Monday
  4. Get your file storage in the cloud
    1. Recommendations: Drive, Dropbox
  5. Build a strong digital marketing cost per acquisition and marketing model. With more people coming online than ever before, digital is critical.

Wrapping up

Ultimately, we’ll likely continue to see businesses of all kinds take financial hits due to the coronavirus for some period of time. At this point, I think that focusing on positioning your brand as a trusted source of information is one of the best things you can do to solidify lasting connections with your audience.

It’s also important to approach your marketing strategy with some sensitivity. Sure, you could leverage fear at key touchpoints to make a few more sales. However, that kind of behavior leads to reputational damage you’ll be cleaning up years after the coronavirus has run its course.

When planning, consider long term. When this all blows over, and business is back to normal, how will you maximize bookings and come out the gate swinging. Get that plan in place now and start slowing ramping it up so when this subsides you are first to market and capitalize.

Start planning your comeback story now. Put in place a reliable digital marketing cost per acquisition model and get ready to scale marketing and make a massive come back soon.