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Marketing in the Time of COVID-19

Marketers everywhere are figuring out how to adjust to the rapid changes caused by COVID-19. Higher ed marketers are no exception. Here are some things to think about as you develop marketing communications during this time.

April 21, 2020
 
 

Be the advocate for your audiences.

As a marketer, I’ve always viewed my primary role as representing the perspective of the customer in internal strategy discussions. With the current uncertainty, that’s more important than ever. Higher ed marketers have a responsibility to view everything through the lens of the student and their parents. What will they want to know? What questions will they have? What will they not understand? Considering these perspectives when making decisions will lead to better decisions and clearer communications.

Don’t worry about perfection.

Now is not the time to strive for the best creative you’ve ever produced. Teams are working remotely. Designers may not have complete photo access, or download times may be long. A good enough photo is fine. Good enough design is fine. OK production values are fine. Launch the webpage. Print the brochure. In this time where things are changing rapidly, it’s more important to get information out quickly than to create award-winning creative.

Overdo the empathy.

These are uncertain times. People are scared. They feel off-balance. In your communications, it’s OK to acknowledge the things that everyone is feeling. “We know everything feels uncertain right now. We are here for you.”

Use simple language and repeat it.

When people are stressed, they have a limited ability to absorb information. So don’t use big words when small words will do. Use active voice. Speak like a human. Use bullet points rather than long paragraphs. And recognize that you may have to say the same thing multiple times for it to sink in.

Don’t forget about print.

Budgets are tight and getting tighter. And printing and postage is often one of the first things to get cut from the marketing budget. So there will likely be less print being produced. And that means the print that is produced will stand out.

Accept that print will be out of date.

Things will change between the time you send it to the printer and the time it’s in homes. We sent our spring magazine to print listing upcoming events that may not happen. People will understand. Include the best information you have at the time of printing and update people via email as things change.

Think in several time frames.

We’re all focused on what’s happening today, tomorrow and next week, while also trying to anticipate what will happen in fall. But regardless of the audience you’re communicating to -- prospective student, current student, parent or alum -- everyone wants to think about the day when life will be back to (a new) normal. Students will return to campus. Homecoming will happen. So post photos of campus on social media. Ask people to post their own photos of their favorite homecoming memory. Find opportunities to remind people what life will be like beyond this with messages that help people connect to campus and community.

Deborah Maue is the vice president for marketing and communications at Aurora University in Aurora, Ill.

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