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Summary

IT businesses lurch forward despite the coronavirus pandemic, but organizations need to ensure that their sales and product marketing messages avoid being perceived as disingenuous or exploitative.

Careful messaging is key to avoiding negative perceptions

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having an indisputable impact on nearly all business operations around the world. Like other segments, information technology organizations are rightly revisiting how they approach a wide variety of business activities.

One area that enterprises must reassess is product marketing, and in particular messaging related to the coronavirus. Too many companies are using the coronavirus in sales and product marketing messaging; most of them should reconsider.

As with any tragedy, there is often a fine line between messaging that seeks to help customers, partners, and others that need it, and messaging that seeks to take advantage of the situation for a company’s own benefit. Organizations must be extremely careful not to cross that line.

Good messages include those that offer free or trial products or services with no strings attached, or those that simply offer brief condolences to clients and others that may be affected.

However, Omdia has already seen too many examples of product marketing messages that seek to exploit the situation, often reading much like the coronavirus-related phishing attempts and related fraudulent activity that reports suggest has increased significantly. In a warning issued earlier this week, the FBI noted a rise in fraud schemes focusing on topics such as charitable contributions and other relief efforts.

Business messaging efforts may mean well, but inadvertently come across as disingenuous. For example, one marketing email Omdia received, with the subject line, “COVID-19 Quarantines Boost Interest in [redacted],” looks like an organization’s attempt to highlight its success during a time of adversity. Unfortunately, this particular technology provider could be seen as taking advantage of the circumstances.

Some specific advice includes the following:

  • Don’t be an “ambulance chaser:” Referencing the term for a lawyer that seeks to benefit financially through the misfortune of others, messaging should not seem as if the goal is to profit from tragedy. Product marketing activity doesn’t have to stop entirely during troubled times, but exploitative messages focused on fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) won’t be well received.

  • Going quiet is better than going loud: Crisis communication experts advise proactive outreach, but nearly every organization is struggling to one degree or another. Simply reiterating what everyone else is saying probably isn’t worth the trouble and, amid the flood of similar messages, is unlikely to resonate.

  • Personal outreach means more: A better approach is a more targeted one. Salespeople and others should reach out directly to key contacts, enquire about their well-being, and sincerely ask if anything, including a free (with no strings attached) product or service, if appropriate, would help ease the situation.

While it seems hard to comprehend now, eventually COVID-19 will be a thing of the past, and almost everyone will be eager to focus on returning to normal life. No company wants to send the wrong message at the worst possible time. Those that do are more likely to resonate negatively with customers and other key contacts long after the crisis is over.

Finally, there is no doubt that many organizations and individuals are struggling. What is happening now is unprecedented in the digital era. Companies are attempting to find the best ways to communicate with customers, partners, and prospects in an evolving, contracting business landscape.

Mistakes will be made, in marketing and otherwise. When they are, those involved should be understanding, compassionate, and assume the best of intentions. But learn from those messaging missteps, and avoid repeating them. As one vendor told Omdia recently, all tech marketing efforts right now should be focused on the same goal: helping each other.

Appendix

Further reading

“Tech companies pitch in to fight COVID-19,” INT002-000279 (March 2020)

“Recent world events highlight the need for a robust approach to business continuity and remote working,” ENS001-000100 (March 2020)

Author

Eric Parizo, Senior Analyst, Cybersecurity Accelerator

[email protected]

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