In this video, Dorene Wharton from Travel Life Media sits down with Miranda Miller to talk marketing during and after COVID-19.

Dorene has been working with tourism, hospitality, and consumer products businesses (among others) as a strategist, marketer, and coach for over 25 years. The co-owner of tourism marketing and video agency Travel Life Media, she also runs the Tourism Marketing That Works group on Facebook and is co-leader of the Travel Massive chapter in Medellin, Colombia. Previously, Dorene served as Head of Marketing for Beam Global Spirits and Wine, and Labatt Breweries in Ontario, Canada. Today she lives a location independent, digital nomad life with her husband and business partner, Troy.

Grab a beverage and get comfortable. Dorene has helpful tips and advice for businesses of all sizes looking to better manage their marketing strategy right now, and as we look to post-COVID recovery. Watch the video right after these top takeaways (full transcript follows).

Dorene Wharton’s top 10 tips for marketing during COVID-19

  1. If you’re not selling right now, it doesn’t make sense to be paying for ads. But that doesn’t mean the conversation stops. This is the time to use email, social media, and other low-cost channels to communicate and focus on your customer relationships.
  2. Focus on your content marketing. Start or build your blog. Learn how to better optimize your content for search.
  3. Renew your market analysis. What was working for you before, and how has it changed? Use Google Analytics and Google Search Console to see how your referrers or on-site traffic trends are shifting. Understand your sales results today and how they translate to new opportunities or challenges going forward.
  4. Innovate. Think of lower-cost ways you could deliver an experience remotely—virtual tours are one example. Or, find non-competitive partners whose offerings complement your own and package your products together and co-market it.
  5. Plan your post-COVID marketing strategy around building local and domestic business. Consumers will be staying closer to home for some time to come.
  6. Think about what consumers have missed out on during the lockdown. They may have missed important life events—birthdays, anniversaries, new births. How can you incorporate these themes into your marketing and help them make up for lost time?
  7. Conduct your own market research. Call friends and contacts who could potentially represent your customer base and ask them what their concerns and needs are now? How has that changed?
  8. If you haven’t documented your buyer personas before, this is a great time to do it. Explore your understanding of who it is you’re trying to reach and research the different ways you can reach them now.
  9. Let your purpose drive your business. How do you want to show up as a person right now? How do you want your business to show up for its customers?
  10. Give your About webpage an overhaul. This is a high-traffic resource where customers come to learn more about who you are as a business, and the people behind it. We are going to see a pronounced shift to consumers wanting to know more about who they are choosing to interact and do business with.

Should we be marketing during COVID-19?

Miranda: Dorene, can you tell me about who you work with at Travel Life Media?

Dorene: I’ve been a marketer pretty much my entire career, so that’s almost 25 years. I’ve worked in the corporate environment in the United States and Canada. From small and medium-sized businesses, to being an entrepreneur on my own. Me and my husband—he is a videographer, and I do the marketing side of the business. We tend to work with hotels and tour companies, but we also work with a lot of lifestyle brands, as well. My background has a lot of hospitality and package goods so we have a tendency to work with those businesses. Generally, what we’re doing is we’re trying to solve marketing problems for clients. 

Miranda: Speaking of which, what are you seeing right now? COVID-19 is top of mind for everyone and pretty much every business worldwide is impacted in some way—especially those in the travel industry. What trends are you seeing amongst your clients?

Dorene: I guess, the good part is the shock is over. We’re in it now and this is the reality, our new normal. The reality is that we have no idea when this is going to change, but the reality is that we are going to change. Our target consumers are absolutely going to change after all this.

When people are asking, “Should I be marketing in the crisis?” The answer I always say is, “It depends on what you really mean by marketing.”

For example, often marketing is seen as paid advertising. But advertising is one component of it. There are so many other things in marketing that it encompasses. If you’re not selling anything right now, it doesn’t make sense to do paid ads. But you can continue to engage with an audience; you can continue to talk to people on your email list or in social media without spending a lot of money.

I’ll give you an example of a company that does this really well. There’s a company called We Hate Tourism Tours, and I went on one of their tourism tours in Portugal before all this happened. They made a point to send emails to people that did their tours before. They said, hey right now, because we’ve got trucks and we’re able to deliver food, we’re able to deliver a lot of things to people right now. So that’s what our focus is while we’re closed. And, what kind of company would send out something like that? The impression that I got from what they are doing was super positive and I know that I’m going to be the next person that’s going to recommend them to people who want to go to Portugal when tourism is open. So that’s an example of something to do right now.

And, of course, there’s content marketing. There are clients right now that are focusing on starting a blog. Learning how to write SEO so they could better attract guests through means with them with Google. There’s also market analysis, and really learning to understand Google Analytics and Google Search Console; understanding your sales results, because they are going to be different when we come out of this.

But if you actually understand what the trends were, understand what your referral traffic was, and what was working before? What got you the clients that you did—those are all the things that you can work out now.

I don’t want to discount that there are a lot of people right now that have a lot of challenges at home, too. Homeschooling and what you do to make your family feel comfortable—these are things that you can think of right now while business is closed, while you’re figuring out what your next move is. 

How can companies innovate during an economic crisis?

Miranda: What are the ways that companies can innovate right now, if they need to pivot really quickly or find out a whole new revenue stream? 

Dorene: I’ll take an example from the hospitality and tourism industry. There’s a lot of innovation going on with Virtual Tours; these are basically a less expensive tour you could take online. Say, for example, you’ve always wanted to go to Rome and you’re dying to go there. You know you can’t go there right now. But you can take a lower-priced tour—a tour that is less expensive than actually doing the real thing. You can dream and enjoy it in the comfort of your own home. A lot of these are just starting to pop up, which is absolutely fantastic.

There are also collaborations. I know one company—I believe it was the Taste of Milwaukee Food Tours—and they’ve collaborated with restaurants and coffee shops in their area and they have created what is called a Quarantine Care Kit. So they worked together and they put your favorite cupcakes and coffees that you always wanted together, and it’s helping pay for staff who normally would have lost their jobs. It’s keeping the lights on and helping pay the bills that these companies have. It’s helping the local economy. There are a lot of interesting things like that’s popping up. It doesn’t mean that you have to be a tour company; you can collaborate with local businesses in your neighborhood. There are a lot of things that you can do online, as well. It improves your skill when you learn how to do that. 

Miranda: Right, I think if you’re operating on a limited basis, it’s so important to keep your name out there right now. So you mentioned social media, email marketing, what are the other good channels if people aren’t doing paid ads right now? 

Dorene: Instagram absolutely is a great media, if we’re going to talk specifically about social media and Instagram stories. I have seen some fantastic stories of what companies are doing when they’re closed. They’re creating Ebooks… some are doing live webinars, some are doing cooking classes at home, or food tours for example. Those things that you can keep you top of mind and engaged with the people you continue to talk to, while being closed. 

Miranda: Right, and you don’t have to be selling all the time. 

Dorene: No, no absolutely, and you’re right. Sometimes it’s giving you an opportunity to not feel like you have to sell, but you’re being human. You’re being authentic, you’re being who you are, talking about what’s going on, what you feel, what you’re thinking of, what’s going on in your neighborhood, what did you notice… all those things are very relevant now, and it builds your authenticity—who you are as a brand. 

Miranda: Right, this is the good time to build those relationships. People are not only creating content because they’re bored but creating connections, too. 

Dorene: Absolutely.

Prepare your marketing strategy for reopening.

Miranda: What are some tips you have with people who might be re-opening soon? What do you do to get prepared?

Dorene: The big one right now is really looking at your target consumer, because we’re changing. There’s no doubt about it, we are as are people right here on this video call. But also, the consumer that you’re tracking right now.

Number one is people are afraid; there’s no doubt about it. People are afraid of getting sick, they’re afraid of their families getting sick. Or, they’re afraid of infecting other people. That is going to play a much higher role. For example, hygiene and cleanliness is going to be the latest trend in fashion, for example. It is highly top of mind and in people’s view.

There are changing trends like we’re already seeing in research. Travelers are talking about, “Hey, my next trip is a small-haul trip and I want to do it in my own car.” So, here’s the tip here: domestic business has become very important, as opposed to international business. For the obvious reasons, as regulations continue, it’s not going to give the opportunity to have the same people that were necessarily buying from you.

Now, of course, if you are selling something and you can ship it, that’s a different story. But for a hospitality business, a tour business, or a retail business, you will likely not have the same consumers that are coming in there.

There are also other types of consumers that you really need to consider. So, not just the ones that are local. But what about families, what about people that missed their birthdays? And they want to celebrate or enjoy it when we come out of this.

Those are all things that are worthy to think about right now because we absolutely are going to change. I can pretty much guarantee, and it’s validated in research, that consumers are really craving to be outside. They’re craving outdoors and natural, as opposed to urban and artificial. So that’s another example of really thinking about who you’re going to target when this is all over and how you’re going to meet their needs. To start with that, you start interviewing people, call up the friends that you know that could potentially buy your product and interview them. Think about, what are they looking for now? What’s changed? Where do I need to focus on? 

Miranda: That’s a great tip. Small businesses may not have personas written down and documented on paper, but this would be a good time to do that because your customer may not be who they were six months ago. If you’re trying to reach a whole new audience, you want to know where they’re spending their time online and how you would be able to connect with them most effectively. 

Dorene: I’m a real believer that purpose should be a major driver of who you are as a person, but also your business. There’s no better time to actually think about your business in terms of, how I want to show up as a person in my business? And, how do I want my business to show up on my consumers? Because now more than ever, we’re creating a connection. And we’re craving connection with people that are authentic, and people who believe in what we believe.

Think about your About page on your website. For most businesses, it is a very high traffic piece on your website.  People want to know the people behind the business, and here’s your opportunity to think about, how do I want to run my business? What are the things that are really important to me, that I want to let others know?

And you’ll be very surprised at the shift that is going to come. It’s already there, but I think it is just going to be much more pronounced—people are going to be much more focused on the people behind the business. They want to support local; they want to support people that are actually responsive to change, as well. The last thing that anybody wants is a company that stays in business in the middle of a crisis, putting their customers in harm’s way. Now more than ever, focusing on the authenticity and who you are and your purpose is also something to look at. 

Miranda: That’s great advice. And some of these exercises are things people could walk through on their own. But if they’re stuck or they’re not particularly inspired, or maybe they don’t know where to find the data that’s going to help them figure out how they can change—is that something you help people with?

Dorene: Yes, absolutely. And we’ve also got a ton of free resources on our website, where our blog is. We’ve changed the name to ‘Resources‘ so we can better equip people in different categories to better help them with their needs. So if you want help with how to create a guest persona, for example, and how to figure out who your next target audience is, we’ve got some tools on our resources page to do that.