Guest post by Sophy Robson


As a marketer and business owner, I am fascinated and eager to know how marketing is adjusting to life postlockdown and in a Covid-19 and Black Lives Matteraware world. How do we continue to market businesses responsibly and successfully, I wonder. 

There is a lot to contend with as a brand or marketing manager at the moment.  

Ethical marketing

For some time I had been thinking about when we would be moving towards a more ethical approach to marketing (and with life in general, I hope) and I feel that recent world episodes have pushed this forward to more of a reality.  

I went to an ethical marketing conference in October last year in Brighton, where the overall consensus was that we should all take more accountability for the messages we post online. I only saw glimmers of it happening last year with little support, but now things have really started changing.   

In the beginning of lockdown, I noticed that advertising ground to a bit of a halt and the stern public health warnings from Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, telling us not to leave the house during commercial breaks on TV made everything feel incredibly austere and serious. This wasn’t a time to be ordering fast food or fast fashion. We didn’t want to be ordering from companies who were putting us or their staff at risk.   

Savvy marketers at this point were sending out customer emails reassuring and explaining how their services would be affected by the Covid pandemic. I was genuinely interested and relieved to hear from people as random as Asda and my accountant while email marketing activity went quiet. 

The CEO of Asda was sending me an email, which really was unprecedented, while my accountant was updating me on how the Government’s announcements would affect freelancers and small businesses. Good leadership and response at this point was key and very appreciated. It showed they had made communication a priority as well as dealing with the operational traumas that were going on behind the scenes and, in my opinion, instantly gave them value.  

Changes in style to reflect the situation

The next phase was a rush of homemade style selfie videos or Zoom chats with the we’re all in it together message. Hats off to whoever had this idea first, but all too quickly this became an overused technique and the genuine appeal and authenticity of the message started to fall flat. 

It also became apparent with the well-publicised *cough cough* rule breakers or people who had interpreted the rules to their own needs, that we were not all on the same *together* page. 

It was interesting to see this unrefined style of advertising being used so widely because I had heard so many times at talks from marketing experts that video content was the key to successful engagement, and it didn’t need to be polished. All of a sudden it had proved them right.   

Ads filmed at home, such as hair dye commercials and online live tutorials, like the workouts with Joe Wicks, have changed the game. I’m interested to see how this will impact revenue streams in the future. Joe has made a fortune for YouTube and NHS charities. He is definitely going to have to change his business model in the futureand his energy and commitment have really inspired me.   

Another strategy was to align with the biggest brand of the moment – the NHS. Companies could show how caring and proactive they were in the crisis by offering discounts or gifts to staff or care workers. It gave them a positive campaign to focus on, but it remains to be seen how long this newfound respect for the care industry will last.   

Trust, safety and sustainability have become priorities. I had an email this week from Depop with a breakdown of Black people and POC staff percentages they have in different roles and departments in the company, and a pledge to increase the levels. 

Wow, that certainly impressed me and has given them a lot of credibility. This is a new level of transparency that would be wonderful to see from more companies, whatever their size or field. No one had questioned them as a fairly new brand, but they volunteered the information.  

I’ve not experienced that before and it seems very forward thinkingThey have focused on key themes such as sustainability, safety and diversity, and adapted their services during the lockdown to allow people to set up courier services to collect deliveries from home when Royal Mail wasn’t available.  

The Black Lives Matter campaign showed many companies who put up #blackouttuesday boxes or statements being called out and held to account by former employees or associates. Staff at Facebook and Reddit started resigning from their jobs. Someone has started an online record listing all the companies who have made pledges and recording their progress so they really will be accountable. Again, I could not have imagined this a year or so ago.   

You need to be in tune

It’s not just how the operations of businesses that are going to have to change, but to keep up with the everchanging emotional landscape. Brands need to be in tune with their markets at this point. They need to keep the communication up to speed and connected with how people are feeling if they want to keep value and give customers a reason to spend with them. The customer needs to feel safety measures are real and that health has been prioritised over profit. 

Being authentic is the one thing people want to see, as they feel more strongly than ever that they need to believe in what they are seeing, watching or buying. It’s not enough to project an image anymore – we need to see that it’s real. 


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