Industry level marketing may help solve some Covid-19 marketing and communications challenges.
Category marketing programs (think Got Milk? and similar programs for beef, pork, etc.) exist for diverse business sectors from food and beverage, to financial services, to health care, energy, and many others.
While they are mostly created to achieve marketing goals (“let’s all address shared challenges that inhibit our growth”), or policy challenges (“let’s work together to marshal public opinion toward policy outcomes that support our ability to meet the needs of our customers”), they are also sometimes useful in times of crisis, like the one we are experiencing right now.
In the same way that trade associations are often the preferred public voice for industries in certain challenging moments, so too can collaborative marketing and communications programs be the optimal channel to talk to consumers and customers right now. A few examples come to mind:
Supply Chain Problems: In a crisis, these affect virtually all industry members, often up and down the value chain. It can be more efficient, and potentially less onerous to individual companies and brands, to communicate to customers with one voice, and one set of shared communications costs to tell them the nature of the challenge and responses. This unified effort can breakthrough more efficiently compared to literally hundreds of brand level activities all saying slightly different versions of the same thing. That collaborative work then allows brands to focus on their own unique elements of the problem/solution.
Some categories are actually advantaged in a crisis: But there is a clear need to be very careful not to be perceived as taking advantage. Here a category marketing program can be highly effective in promoting benefits and solutions without selling actual products. The campaign’s engagement with the public and media is less self-serving and less profit driven, and the campaign itself, because it does not sell individual company products can in fact focus on the role and utility of the product segment to help people meet the challenge of the day.
Holding customer loyalty when you can’t actually serve their needs: Every company should be using their best CRM tools to maintain contact and nurture relationships. For instance, right now the food service business is deeply impacted, and it does not appear that it will be short lived. I recently saw “Yelp” taking on a category management role in promoting the large number of food service operators shifting to take-out and delivery. A strong category marketing program can provide similar promotional support for categories that don’t have a fast, efficient, single voice channel to customers.
Some of the most famous category programs are longstanding with established funding, governance and management systems, often through their trade association. But, with the help of a specialized consulting resource, any group of industry leaders can join together to solve problems together. This seems like a very appropriate moment for that kind of thinking.