Marketing in a Time of Social Distancing: Actually, Not Much Has Changed

By Bill Smith

DELIVERING THE RIGHT MESSAGE at the right time is the definition of effective communication. At its essence, marketing is simply that: communication done with the intention to inform and persuade.

But when it comes to making the creative and busi­ness choices needed for executing and sustaining an effective marketing program, it can be daunting in the best of times. Combine that with a global health crisis and the changes it has brought to our industry, and the challenge becomes that much more formidable. But don’t be intimidated by the current state of the industry (and the world)—the basic elements of suc­cessful marketing haven’t changed.

What are those elements?


Relevance begins with knowing your customer. Cus­tomers, new and returning, change. Their needs and wants, just like yours, are constantly evolving. So how do you hit multiple moving targets? With multiple projectiles. Those projectiles need to be on target and that means understating where your customers are headed, so that you and your message intersect with them at the right time and place

Making a commitment to remaining relevant means making a commitment to knowing your customers, their behaviors and tendencies, and what they genu­inely want. Then, you need to provide products or ser­vices that are valuable and designed to remain so.

To achieve this, it is helpful to develop internal systems that keep you engaged with your customers and incorporate that into your products or services. Many online tools can help with this. For example, data measures from social media sites and from vis­itors to your own web domain can provide insights into what your customers are looking for and how to message to them. Industry publications, blogs, and online forums are also good resources for evaluating trends and tendencies that impact your customers and potential customers.


Knowing what to say and how to say it are corner­stones of marketing. The digital age provides an op­portunity to try, test, and tailor marketing messages in a novel and invaluable way. But there also needs to be a common thread of consistency that identifies you in the marketplace and helps build your brand over time.

Think of your marketing messaging as being like a piano. On a piano, there are 88 keys; no more, no less. Those keys can be played alone, in sequence, or in combination to create a seemingly endless variety of music. When done well, the music that’s created can stir powerful emotions. And all of that comes from the piano’s 88 keys—its defining parameter.

Your messaging should also have parameters—notes, if you will—that may be struck in order to con­vey your brand, your market position, your proposal, your opportunity, your ability, your offering; all the var­ied and valuable things that you bring to the market­place. But the way you play those notes may be varied. And in a world where the consumer is more in com­mand than ever before, they should be made available in a variety of ways that even if seen separately, convey the heart of your message so your customers always know who you are and what you are about.


Knowing where your customers are and why they are there is essential to successful marketing. Trade publi­cations; business and general media; social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram; and blogs and industry chat rooms can all be valuable platforms for broadcasting your marketing message. But it is important to carefully consider which places your cus­tomers are most likely to be, and then tailor messages to fit those particular platforms.

Not all outlets are useful for all brands or offerings, even though the same people may be on all of them at one time or another. Aligning your brand and your messages to each platform is key to success and a key to being relevant as well.


Timeliness and relevance are a matched set. It’s essen­tial to stay on top of what is happening in your portion of the industry and how you can add value, and to adjust your communication strategies accordingly.

This is always true, but particularly so during events like the COVID-19 pandemic. Acknowledging the state of affairs, at even the slightest level, is essential to ensure that your messaging is seen as timely. It has been easy to recognize how the biggest brands in the world—Amazon, FedEx, Walmart, Apple—have generated new marketing efforts incorporating things germane to the pandemic. Their advertisements and earned media campaigns are addressing social dis­tancing and face masks and the ways that they have altered their business practices, but their main brand­ing and the core of their messages are still the same. This communicates that they are up-to-date and in synch with the current challenges everyone is facing, but also that they can still be counted on to deliver on what they have built their brands around. .

BILL SMITH, APR, is principal of Smith-Phillips Strategic Communications and contributing editor of Parking & Mobility. He can be reached at or 603.491.4280.

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