Article published in the Vancouver Business Journal

April 17, 2020

Marketing agencies say use time wisely, strategies developed now will last when pandemic has passed

In ordinary times, effective strategic marketing can be a complicated algorithm of data collection, analysis and insights. Today, most businesses are trying to figure out how to market products and services that don’t even resemble what they offered just a month ago. Local marketing and communications strategist Matt Cole, owner of Revere, a creative agency in Vancouver, said businesses can stay whole and even thrive.

“Those that are investing in communication strategies and shifting their product offerings now will emerge as leaders in their categories on the other side of this pandemic,” said Cole. “I really believe that.”

Karen Laksamana, co-owner of Formations Design Group in Vancouver, serves a number of well-known public clients. The company built and manages several sites for Clark County – Clark Green Neighbors, Clark Green Schools, Clark Green Biz, Recycled Arts Festival and Clark County Composts. She said the county’s focus has been on Public Health, but she saw opportunities to make small changes on the environmental outreach sites that could have big impacts on consumer behavior.

“Early on in March, I suggested adding some crossover information and ended up adding promo banners to the Green Neighbors site that stress handwashing and have links to the Public Health coronavirus info page,” Laksamana said. “There was a large uptick in site visits in March, so it may be due to people searching for that info and finding it on the site.”

Some companies are wrestling with whether to spend this down time building their brands and staying connected or quickly shifting to e-commerce and short-term sales.

“Times like these have a silver lining in that they prompt us to make shifts in our business that we probably should have done earlier,” Cole said. “Change tends to bring about innovation, and businesses who are thinking proactively about how to reach customers are not just being short-sighted. Moving to an online sales strategy, or thinking through new ways to connect with your customers via social media is brand building.”

Laksamana said she has clients taking advantage of features built into their websites that they had not fully utilized before.

“I’ve noticed that a lot of clients have been able to use the tools we already have set up for them on their websites and adapt them to stay connected with their audience. For example, we have one client who rarely used their blog, but now they have sent out a bunch of posts promoting new webinars they are offering,” said Laksamana. “Friends of Fort Vancouver is working on adding a lot more products to the online store on their site since the visitor’s center and bookstore is closed. We’re helping them explore ways to sync up their inventory between their online offerings and what is in the shop.”

Millions of Millennial and Generation Z consumers have spent the last decade aligning with brands that clearly communicate purpose and authenticity and that have the trust of their peers. Cole also said low cost, low investment moves can have a huge impact if they create an authentic connection.

“We should be thinking about the good we can provide and sharing that with the world at large,” Cole said. “For instance, we’ve seen many local bars take a huge hit. More than cocktails, bars provide an atmosphere for community and connection. There have been several bars who have wisely chosen to focus on that community aspect by hosting virtual happy hours, offering mixology tutorials and sharing what their followers are doing. That’s authenticity. And those are the types of activities that deepen the relationship you can have with your customers and build brand loyalty. By the way, those are activities that are little to no cost. You don’t need a big ad budget to be authentic. You can do so by simply listening and responding.”

Digital marketing agencies are in the high stakes position of supporting their clients through this make-or-break time. Resources have never been so precious, and every decision could affect the very life of the business. Both Laksamana and Cole offer sound approaches for staying connected and in front of clients.

“Our advice? If they have a blog, definitely use it to continue to keep clients up on what’s going on in their industry and to let them know they’re still in action. Let people know on their website if they have modified hours, offerings or if they are closed completely,” said Laksamana. “Take a look at their usual workflow. If it usually depends on a lot of face time with clients, think about how that could be adapted to online. Reach out to their web developer if they have technical impediments or ideas they want to implement to get some advice on how to accomplish it. If they are slow on work, it’s a good time to work on those web or marketing projects they’ve been meaning to get to.”

Laksamana was nudged by her clients to take her own advice: “We’ve had clients reach out, not even sure if we are open and working, which prompted me to put a note on our site.”

Cole has one overarching message for his clients.

“Right now we’re saying ‘don’t stop,’” Cole said. “In a downside economy many businesses cut their marketing programs first. In reality, that should be the last thing you cut. Stay active. Stay positive. Right now social media is proving to be a more powerful tool than ever because everyone is at home and nearly everyone is killing time by flipping through their social channels. You have a captive audience.”

The way companies do business has abruptly changed because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Cole predicts those changes will stand the test of time.

“We’ve been helping businesses set up webinars, or turn their conferences or events from in-person to virtual,” he said. “And guess what? Those aren’t temporal programs. I think what we’ll see out of this is a lot of virtual outreach efforts stick around because we’re collectively proving that they can be an effective way to connect with people meaningfully. How we do business is changing for everyone, but the response from a marketing standpoint is pretty similar: hone in on connecting with your customers in meaningful ways.”

Rise Up! An event for companies who refuse to sit down

Matt Cole of digital marketing agency Revere, will be teaming up with other local agencies to offer a comprehensive online conference for businesses. “We’ll be hosting three different panel discussions to help business owners develop strategies to shape how they connect in this new normal,” said Cole. The event is on April 30th. More information and registration can be found at