React, Respond and Rise: Direct Marketing Strategy Considerations During the COVID-19 Crisis

Today’s marketing landscape is complicated, at best, as market and culture dynamics change daily. Over the last week we’ve had ongoing dialogue with our direct mail clients, partners and vendors about the COVID-19 crisis and its effect on the direct marketing industry. We’ve also kept a close watch on how COVID-19 has impacted DTC marketing strategy in the recent weeks. To endure through this unprecedent situation, direct marketers are called to react, respond and rise to the challenge to drive commerce and foster a positive brand image.

React to the situation

Augie Ray, senior director analyst at Gartner, recommends that marketing leaders take an aggressively proactive approach to the COVID-19 crisis stating, “The key to managing risk and finding opportunities in such a period of significant uncertainty isn’t to predict a single likely outcome, but to recognize the range of possible scenarios.”

Now is the time to evaluate your marketing priorities and strategies and consider a shift in your messaging and marketing channels. Some marketers are delaying or reviewing product and service launches during this time, while others are maintaining or revving up their spend based on how applicable their services are in today’s market.  Assessing your current marketing initiatives is wise, although we caution against an abrupt “knee-jerk” reaction. Forbes took a closer look at the effects of reduced ad spend during recession periods and found that when a brand goes quiet or cuts advertising budget, they typically lose market share and consumer loyalty once consumers rise from the slump.

As government guidance and economic speculations saturate our newsfeeds, consumers will continue to adapt their personal principles and purchase behaviors as a result of the current situation. Consider how your target audience may change their buying habits by listening to their social conversations, analyzing what you can, and staying up to date on the ever-evolving market trends.

Respond to your audience

“When times are changing, people appreciate companies and brands that stay grounded and focused on providing value to their customers,” said Masha Drokova, founder of venture firm Day One Ventures during an interview for Business Insider.

Leaders throughout the marketing industry agree that the most impactful adjustment you can make to your marketing strategy is amending your creative and tone of voice. By refining your messaging to focus on your customer relationships and convey empathy in your customer sentiment and global circumstance, your brand can shine as a beacon during this unwelcomed crisis. Ask yourself:

  • How can my brand be part of the solution?
  • What brand applicable information and resources can I provide during the pandemic to relieve my audience’s burden?
  • Who can I partner with?
  • How can I exercise social responsibility?
  • And most importantly, how can I stay in touch amid the chaos?

Rise to the challenge

The economy needs marketers and marketing. Marketing helps drive commerce. Marketers have an opportunity to give consumers a reason to spend — deals, products, services — even when we are bunkered up and hunkered down,” Ad Age Director of Data Analytics, Bradley Johnson said.

More than 70% of adults are practicing social distancing, and that number is expected to rise as more and more communities enact shelter-in-place mandates to limit coronavirus exposure. Now more than ever marketers need to reach their customers and prospects where they are spending most of their time – at home.

Last week, Red Points surveyed consumers throughout the United States, reporting that nearly 60% of those surveyed have increased their online shopping spend since the pandemic was announced. A slew of DTC marketers have quickly responded with the launch of new ecommerce sites, digital advertising, and a flood of email marketing tactics. Others are shifting their marketing channels and messaging from acquisition to retention. As online channels become overcrowded, direct mail offers a continued opportunity for brands to rise above the noise and reach consumers directly in their homes.

Investing in a new channel may not be the answer for every marketer. But for DTC brands that are already active in the direct mail channel —  or for those that were seriously considering the channel prior to the COVID-19 crisis — here are a few items to consider as you move forward with your direct response strategy:

  • Creative elements and messaging. Ensure your mail pieces align with consumer sentiment and national guidelines. This could be an opportunity for you to create brand awareness, exercise your social responsibility and corporate values, or even promote national pride.
  • Mailing frequency and timing. Mailings can stay the course, pause or increase based on your brand’s product or service and consumer trends. Most importantly, don’t lose touch with your audience.
  • Campaign objective. Solidifying existing customer relationships should be a focal point now more than ever. Consider shifting your campaign from acquisition to retention, or even general brand awareness with a resourceful approach.
  • Digital retargeting and integrated campaigns. Integrating your direct mail and digital marketing efforts allows you to align your audience across both channels. It’s also proven to boost performance and lower CPAs. If you prefer to pivot to a digital only approach, modeled audiences that were originally intended for the mail channel can be used in digital tactics. This strategy could also provide your brand with a look into current consumer purchase behavior.
  • After COVID-19. Although the fight against COVID-19 has just begun, we will eventually see the other side of this pandemic. Consider how your messaging can evolve both throughout the course of this battle and once this crisis is officially “over.” It’s also important to remember that strategic campaigns can take six weeks to build as your list is developed, creative is designed, and the piece is produced and dropped into the mail. Shifting your focus to “after COVID-19” could help you position for brand for success when the U.S. regains its footing.


During a time like this, it’s important to remember short-term changes have a significant impact on your long-term results, and all advertising decisions must be carefully considered. DTC brands can take this opportunity to consider how alternative channels, a refined message, or a new campaign objective can support them throughout this uncertain time. If you’re interested in talking through your brand’s marketing options, needs and strategy during COVID-19, we are here to help. You can also learn more about our perception of the influence of COVID-19 on the direct marketing industry, and other COVID-19 related industry news, on our blog.


Posted 3.27.2020