in the Great Pandemic of 2020
(PLUS: The “When the SH#T hits the fan plan”)
Dear Marketing Friend,
You and I have never met.
But we find ourselves in some very interesting times… quite different than our world at the turn of the New Year.
I hope when all is said and done, we can have a beer together.
I’m not an armchair epidemiologist… nor am I a guru advising some pandemic pivot.
For better or worse, I’m a marketer and entrepreneur who’s had himself as a client for the long haul.
During 9/11, I was a hapless direct mail marketer… living three miles north of the World Trade Center.
After the planes hit the towers that Tuesday morning, everyone was in a state of shock. I sat dazed in my apartment for days.
Once the feeling of paralysis subsided a week or so after the attacks, I couldn’t take sitting on my hands any longer and decided to test a direct mail drop.
When I got to the main post office on 8th Avenue with my small test drop, I was greeted by two armed postal police officers at the base of the sweeping steps.
Before I could get a word out, one of…
The armed postal policemen bellowed at me.
“The post office is closed!”
“What’s going on?” I asked, since it was a weekday morning.
“Don’t you read the papers, pal?” he shot back.
As if things weren’t dark enough, the anthrax attacks added a new layer of terror that suddenly landed hundreds of millions of mail pieces in limbo.
I trudged down 8th Avenue back home.
My apartment was a sixth floor walk-up with a view of the Empire State Building and I could walk everywhere I needed to get. Every day, a dozen take-out menus were wedged under my apartment door from an endless parade of delivery boys in the building.
If a mailing bombed and I was strapped, there was always the Cuban-Chinese, Sam Chinita diner down the block that served roast pork Cuban style with yellow rice and black beans for the princely sum of $7.95. One takeout plate was good for three meals.
The surreal atmosphere in Lower Manhattan lasted many months: from the acrid petrol smell that wafted up to 14th Street… to the dump trucks loaded with debris that rumbled down my street at 5:30 in the morning… to the Downtown restaurants and clubs that instantly went from packed to empty.
There was a feeling of shock… but also conviction that… everything would return to normal.
I wish I could say the same thing now.
Because many are starting to think:
The Great Pandemic of 2020 could make
the Great Recession of 2008 look like a cakewalk.
I’m no pessimist.
If we keep our wits about us and keep moving forward — no matter the turmoil around us — we’ll live to tell the tale.
But there are LIMITS to what marketing and advertising can achieve.
Take this selection of subject lines that hit my inbox last week:
“COVID-19 Panic to Prosperity Support Sessions”
“Pivot or perish”
Some marketers just can’t help themselves.
They’re compelled to posture like cavalry riding over the hill to the rescue.
This pivot… that rescue… this prosperity plan.
But if you ask me…
All that “pandemic pivot” stuff is a bunch of BULL!
It’s mostly “one-size fits all” advice for a worldwide crisis none of us has experienced in our lifetimes.
Most of the Western world’s is on lockdown.
Much of its workforce is in shock and struggling to grasp the magnitude of the economy’s shutdown.
Entire industries like travel and entertainment are in hibernation. The pandemic has paralyzed numerous others.
The pandemic will force us to think in new ways.
Few of us ever thought in terms of…
PANDEMIC PROOF products & services
Here are some examples from Lawrence’s little microcosm in the Sonoran Desert.
These vendors have social distancing BUILT IN and perform essential services that are PAINFUL to disconnect from. These businesses are unaffected by COVID-19.
Pandemic Proof #1: Water home delivery service. You can survive a long time without food but NOT water, especially during the hot, dry season. Desert dwellers consume two to three times more water than others. I store one hundred gallons (378 liters) in case the sh#t hits the fan. It’s heavy to port around and you can’t buy that quantity at the local market… even in normal times. In crisis times? Fuhgeddaboudit!
Pandemic Proof #2: Pool cleaning service. A neglected pool turns ugly real fast in the hot Southwest and a pool with a chemical imbalance can quickly resemble a swamp. I rarely run into the technician and the pool always has that sparkle after he leaves.
Pandemic Proof #3: Landscaping/Gardening. Lots of people have the wrong idea about what life’s like in the Sonoran desert. It’s not mounds of sand and blowing tumbleweeds. There’s actually an incredible variety of plants and wildlife. And outside of the winter months, the plant life EXPLODES. I seldom see José, yet I couldn’t manage without his service.
Contrast these with businesses that were BOOMING back in February and are now dormant… again from my little desert outpost… metro population around one million.
Sadly, these are:
PANDEMIC PARALYZED businesses
Pandemic Paralyzed: #1: My kid’s orthodontist, Dr. L. He had one of the busiest practices in town with the waiting room always PACKED. This email message arrived March 30th. “I hope you are all safe and healthy. We are closed until April 30th and possibly longer. We are following the instructions of the AZ government on when it is safe to see patients.” Twenty or more employees are cooling their heels for the rest of the month. Ditto for every vendor that does business with Dr. L. When will patients feel okay sitting in a dentist’s chair… even after it’s been deemed safe? That’s anyone’s guess.
Pandemic Paralyzed: #2: Angie, the house cleaner. There are some 900,000 house cleaners and maids in the States and parting bonuses only last them so long. Angie and her team may be the fastest maids in the West and blast through the place in an hour. No longer. Commercial cleaners still have business but not residential. Our parting texts were: “Be safe and see you when it’s over.”
Pandemic Paralyzed: #3: Louise, the caterer. Here’s someone doing everything right and still getting hammered by circumstances beyond her control. Louise runs one of the most in demand catering companies in town. It’s taken her years to build up her clientele. The web of waiters, chefs, suppliers, hotels and event halls connected to her company is vast. Every single one is now without revenue. How soon will bookings happen after things return to normal? Again… a big fat guess.
Most of these industries do not use direct response. What about us and…
What about “safe zones” of direct response?
Being the recluse I am… I didn’t get out much before the pandemic… but this home quarantine is getting ridiculous, even for me.
One thing I’m doing a lot more of now is talking to marketers, copywriters and entrepreneurs around the world.
Besides North America, the U.K. and Australia, I’ve recently been in touch with subscribers in:
- South Africa
And one thing is clear.
There are no “safe zones” right now.
Take the “recession proof” anti-aging and cosmetics markets.
The Great Depression saw the birth of the modern cosmetics industry while most other industries TANKED.
Likewise, the Great Recession of 2008 witnessed most beauty and anti-aging marketers RACKING UP sales when other markets flatlined.
Right now, there’s still INSATIABLE demand for the hot brands selling pricey high performance serums.
But the problem is…
Supply chain CHAOS has paralyzed production
The anti-aging marketers who never hit a sales speed bump in 2008 have run out of gas.
Here’s what the ever able and intrepid Polish entrepreneur, Łukasz K., wrote me last week:
“Yes, I had to freeze my cosmetics biz FOR NOW.
Lucky for me, my other business exploded. I had such a big spike in Vitamin C sales that I had to buy 20 tons of ascorbic acid to secure my stocks for now and the next three months.”
That’s an important piece of feedback.
No matter what turmoil is going on in the world around us… there is opportunity.
It’s helpful to recall this quote from General Douglas MacArthur.
“There is no security on this earth. Only opportunity.”
That’s a fitting maxim while waging war on a lethal virus.
Because it doesn’t matter where you live… what business you’re in… or how high up the “food chain” you are.
The pandemic’s clearly demonstrated we’re all vulnerable.
I’ve got plenty of subscribers who’ve only known bull markets and lush living. That’s all changed in mere weeks.
The bottom line is this: the only security in business you’ve got is your ability to produce.
Once you realize that… you can start to see the silver lining in this seemingly endless quarantine.
When 17th Century mathematician, Blaise Pascal said:
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability
to sit quietly in a room alone.”
He could have been speaking about today.
As accomplished as he was, he frittered away huge chunks of time on his diversion of choice: gambling.
How many of us are doing likewise with social media, YouTube videos and the latest news?
Listen friend… it doesn’t matter where you live… what your market is… or how long you’ve been in business. If you’re in the business of…
PUTTING OFFERS in front of prospects…
You’ve got three BIG advantages now.
1) Captive audiences. You may never see such high email and direct mail open rates as today.
2) Time. The problem Pascal described is beatable right now, with a firm lid on diversion and investing time to THINK.
3) Opportunity. Since there’s no security… find opportunity. It’s possible to get ahead while everyone else is in “time out.”
But if you rely on copy to sell there’s one BIG difference.
It’s not business as usual any longer.
You a need different approach in a post-COVID-19 world.
And that’s what…
…is all about.
Think about what’s going through your average prospect’s mind right now, beyond the obvious:
“When will the pandemic peak… when will home quarantine end… and when will things return to normal?”
You’ve got to dig DEEPER… and get a profile of your prospect’s mind.
Profiles of Prospects in Crisis Times #1: Your prospect’s at her wits’ end cooped up for a month with a houseful of rowdy kids who refuse to take out the trash. She’s worried about her revenue coming to a screeching halt and fears about her financial future. She’s doesn’t remember her last spin class and she’s putting on the pounds from the evening chardonnay and too much screen time. FaceTime and Facebook aren’t cutting it for her social life any longer.
Profiles of Prospects in Crisis Times #2: Your prospect is confused and he’s looking for answers. He’s concerned about the health and welfare of his family, his nest egg, and his future. He’s let himself go physically and he’s pre-diabetic. He’s afraid it’ll be lights out if he contracts the virus. He’s owed money from clients who may or may not pay him. He’s lost faith in the government and health officials who’ve got a different story and projection depending on the day of the week.
The key distinction for you and me right now, friend, is…
PROSPECT driven copy versus product driven copy
Marketers with products and services to sell who ONLY focus on those… write PRODUCT driven copy.
It may have gotten sales before but today…
99% of prospects aren’t getting past most headlines
during the global pandemic
You don’t have to look further than your own crowded inbox.
Most email subject lines read like business as usual. They’re the copy equivalent of shooting blanks in an empty well.
Your strongest play now is PROSPECT driven copy… and not just for the COVID-19 crisis but the aftershocks sure to be with us for a while.
Take weight loss. Soft appeals to vanity like:
“Lose 5 pounds this weekend…”
fall on deaf ears.
But a weight loss advertiser that leads with something relevant like:
“How lowering your BMI below 30 can possibly safe you life.”
can command attention all day long.