Replacing Traditional Marketing with Thought Leadership during COVID-19

Apr 17, 2020

To many of us, it feels like the world is on pause. And feelings of anxiety and stress rooted in uncertainty prevail. Collectively, we wonder: when will the world get back to normal? And, when it does, what will that look like? From a business perspective, the words “adapt” or “innovate” is an understatement for many companies, as they seek to transform the way they work to survive the current pandemic.

And while companies are shifting working structures, one thing has become clear. There is an increasing need to replace traditional marketing tactics with thought leadership. People are looking for guidance. They are looking for clear communication, empathetic actions, and thought leaders who are willing to lean into the crisis to make a difference.

Right now, people are less interested in being sold new products, as they are in seeing how companies are coming together and innovating to take care of their people, customers, and society. They are looking for leaders to normalize a situation that seems impossible to normalize through creative, often tech-based solutions, and messages of kindness, gratitude, support, and empathy.

So, what does thought leadership look like right now?

Being virtually available: It is important to create connection points in what feels like an isolated world. Thought leaders and companies have the opportunity to connect to share knowledge and expertise in ways that help or entertain people. This can be done through a blog or virtual setting. For example, Leah Alexander, a jewelry designer, is booking complimentary virtual meetings with its stylists. Paul Nixey of Nixey Communications wrote a hilarious blog on the realities of working from home. The restaurant Tocador is selling DIY cocktail kits with their recipes by donation to raise money for its employees.

Using technology for business continuity. It is important for companies to explore new ways they can still be of service to their customers. For example, can companies offer services in a new, creative way? Companies like Tight Club, a Vancouver gym, are offering Zoom-based fitness classes for $6 with most of the proceeds supporting team members. They had 250 participants on their first day. London Drugs is supporting Girl Guides by offering to distribute their cookies in stores and online since they can’t sell them door-to-door.

Seeking to help instead of sell. Stories of people working together in solidarity are resonating. People like to hear of others helping others. It breaks through the heavy – and often negative news cycle. Nature’s Path Organic Foods is showing true corporate leadership by giving thousands of cases of its food to organizations and charities supporting those in need. They are also giving food to their team members to give to family members, neighbours, and local charities. Petcurean donated 270,000 meals of dog and cat food to support the important work of animal shelters, rescue groups, and homeless shelters that accommodate pets in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. Canada Goose has committed to manufacturing medical gear like scrubs and patient gowns, and countless distilleries are offering to make hand sanitizer.

Now is the time for good corporate citizenship. We are all in this together has become the common theme in our current world –across all industries. And it evokes a delicate balance of pushing forward, exercising humanity, acting with compassion, everyone doing their part, and – for businesses practicing thought leadership by stepping up to contribute – even if it just was words of support and empathy – to make the world a little brighter each day.

Kylie McMullan is the principal of Finch Media and is a communications strategy expert who has worked on a number of issues and recalls across a number of industries including healthcare and consumer packaged goods.
Julia Smith is the Managing Director at Finch Media, an internal communications expert with extensive crisis work, including work around the Ebola crisis in 2014.

By Kylie McMullan and Julia Smith, Finch Media