As South Africa prepares to enter phase 3 of lockdown, it is more important than ever to ensure that your ecommerce marketing campaigns hit their mark. Tone-deaf campaigns are not limited to pandemics. Every single brand runs the risk of misreading their audience and putting out a campaign that invariably ends up doing far more harm than good. While going viral is something every online store wants, going viral for all the wrong reasons is never ideal.

Over the course of lockdown in South Africa, there have been many changes to regulations – especially where online shopping is concerned. After a few months of confusing and frustrating limitations, shoppers will soon be able to find everything they need online from 1 June 2020. With that said, from the start of lockdown, many brands have been jumping at the chance to align their products with the global pandemic. Many are trying very hard to position their messages in line with the crisis. Others have used the crisis to their advantage to make more sales. Smart brands are doing their best to approach ecommerce marketing with caution, however, to ensure that customers are educated rather than angered or offended.

How do you go about ensuring that your campaigns are not hit than miss? And why is it so important to avoid tone-deaf ecommerce marketing campaigns and adhere to basic digital marketing ethics during the COVID-19 crisis?

Avoiding Tone Deaf Ecommerce Marketing Campaigns During COVID-19

Tone-deaf ecommerce marketing campaigns are those that do not factor in the way that campaigns can be interpreted. These could include social media campaigns that try and inject humour in a way that comes across as cold or insensitive. They could also include email campaigns that serve no purpose other than to tout the usual line that your business cares. Although you may think that you have your customers’ best interests at heart, the problem with tone-deaf messaging is that it usually makes your brand appear to be clueless at best and downright thoughtless at worst.

To help you plan and execute ecommerce marketing campaigns that do not have the risk of coming across as out of context or inappropriate, here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Keep your audience top of mind at all times

This should be something you are already doing, crisis or not. But now, more than ever, you need to be extremely in tune to your audience. Know your audience’s demographics, behaviour and every other aspect that influences how they shop, where they can be found online and what they are looking for in the way of products. If your core audience is moms between 30 and 40, you will need to plan campaigns with them in mind. That means no ‘joking’ campaigns about women spending more time in the kitchen or anything else that stereotypes stay at home moms or working moms currently working at home. Make sure that your campaigns speak directly to your audience and think carefully about how you can reach them in a way that is engaging and authentic. This will help guide all of your campaigns in the right way.

2. Provide genuine value to your audience

You will also need to provide genuine value to your customers. Are you using lockdown to plug your products mindlessly or are you providing useful information that helps customers? This could include how-to articles and guides, newsletters showing the measures that your store is taking to be safe, products that can be purchased during the lockdown, your lockdown shipping process and times, products that are not available or out of stock, relevant information applying to your store’s broader niche, podcasts or webinars that educate in a fun way, and anything else that makes customers want to support your store.

3. Think carefully about your intentions

What are your primary motivations right now? Are you aiming to send out the same old messages that every single business and online store is sending out telling customers to wash their hands, wear masks and stay home? Are you aiming to bring out products such as masks to cash in on lockdown while helping customers? Does your store normally sell such products or are you creating a category that does not fit your store’s main product focus? Are you aiming to target new customers with exclusive lockdown and post-lockdown deals? Are you aiming to go viral by making controversial videos that may be spreading false news or misinformation? Think very carefully about your intentions and ask yourself whether you truly have your customer’s needs in place or whether you are using lockdown and the crisis to make more sales.

4. Put people before profit

On a similar note, now is the time to put people before profit. While you need to make sales and stay afloat, of course, it should never come at the price of being blind to your messaging. If your store does not sell products relating to healthcare or related items, do not assume that you can bring out a pricey range of masks purely to cash in on the demand for masks. You can keep customers up to date on your opening or operational times and your shipping process and even your product availability. You can update customers on discounts, newly launched products and sales. But always keep people in mind ahead of profit. The crisis is having a major impact on the global economy and many are suffering. Now is the time to tone down your hard-sell campaigns and take a gentler approach.

5. Have a rigid approval process in place

Finally, the most important tip of all is to have a solid approval process in place for every single ecommerce marketing campaign you plan and run. Tone-deaf messaging happens when a single person or department come up with an idea that they assume is funny, interesting, powerful or controversial enough to make the brand stand out. The problem with this is that even if the campaign seems great to that team or person, it may not be as great to other people. Mistakes can be prevented with a review process that considers many factors, from impact to spelling and grammar and especially tone.

As a general rule of thumb, if there is even one person on your review team who either does not get the joke, does not find it amusing, finds it inappropriate or thinks it can send a mixed message, scrap the campaign and go back to the drawing board. Taking a risk and running with a campaign that can be misinterpreted can cause plenty of damage to your reputation, and ultimately your sales. Your review process should include careful reading (literally and between the lines) and your review team should ideally include men and women of various races where possible. If you do not have a team and you are a small store, try sending your campaign idea to friends or family to run it past them and get feedback.

Improving Your Ecommerce Marketing Campaign Messaging

Luckily, with a bit of thought and planning, it is not hard to avoid tone-deaf messaging. To ensure that your messaging is always on point, make sure that you include time within your campaign creation and review process to do your audience research, think about your intentions and review your campaigns before they go live. This is the most effective way to ensure that your ecommerce marketing campaigns always have the right tone and impact.

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