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Picking Your Pivots – Marketing Opportunities In and After a Crisis

As you might imagine, a lot of people have been asking me lately, “how’s business?” While it’s the business-speak equivalent to “how’s it going?” it’s a legit question (and the answer is…complicated). But it’s the follow-up question “what are companies even doing marketing-wise during this craziness?” that really got us thinking.

And the answer to that question is…varied. Overall, there has been one trend that’s easy to spot – the pivot. Many brands are switching gears with surprising speed and agility to reshape their messaging in the middle of this marketing maelstrom that is the COVID crisis. Here are some of the pivots we’ve seen so far.

PIVOT #1 – Thank You Humans:

Many brands are putting a much more humanized spin on their messaging. If you’ve been watching TV (and let’s face it, you have) you’ve seen companies from Facebook to State Farm and Publix telling stories of sympathy, encouragement, and a call for resolve and togetherness. Many of these spots include shout-outs to the health care providers, grocery workers, delivery teams, teachers, food service folks, parents, and everyone else that’s taking care of the rest of us.

For the most part, these have been genuinely fantastic and heartfelt – and have an uplifting ‘together we rise’ spirit. They celebrate the strength and power of people coming together – just what we need while we all feel so far apart. Good stuff.

PIVOT #2 – We Get You (and we’re still selling stuff):

Other brands have been pivoting their marketing for more traditional purposes – like selling stuff. “We’re keeping our drive thru window open – to help you get through,” say our fast-food friends at Taco Bell. There’s a nice nod of empathy there, and there’s no arguing that tacos (even Taco Bell tacos) make the world a more tolerable place. Domino’s had a similar approach with an innovative twist – shooting entire commercials via Zoom to both let the pizza public know that they’re still delivering and to let people looking for work know they’re hiring. For both of these food purveyors – and for lots of other companies like Carvana – the underlying message is clear: “we’re here for you and we’re counting on you to help us all make it through.”

Some brands are pulling this off with more of a “checking the boxes” approach to let you know A) they are open and B) they are doing what they can to stay safe for you and their staff. I’ve heard countless HVAC, plumbing, and roofing company ads on the radio talking about “enhanced sanitation procedures,” which is a good thing, even if I don’t plan to be in close contact with my roof shingles any time soon.

PIVOT #3 – We Get You (and can we just hang?):

There are a few brands leaning more towards just keeping the conversation going – Chipotle (speaking of tacos) hosted Zoom meetups called “Chipotle Together” for virtual lunch “parties.” No harm here in inserting your brand into the collective conversation, as long as you are bringing something to the table, which in Chipotle’s case means bringing celebrity-ish guests (Colton Underwood of The Bachelor) and free food. Keeping connections going completely makes sense, especially when connecting at all has gotten pretty weird.

Of course, there are others who are choosing not to pivot at all – the “Nothing To See Here” non-pivot.

Plenty of brands are plowing ahead with whatever messaging they already had teed up and ready to run long before this craziness hit. In some cases, this is no big deal. In fact, for certain brands, it would be a little disingenuous to try to pivot message and tone to cash in on this emotional roller coaster. That said, it does seem like of all brands, one named “Corona” may want to steer clear of running ads with people mingling, touching, hugging like nothing’s going on (and no, I can’t imagine how much it sucks to work on that brand right now).


It’s pretty clear pivoting marketing messaging is a good idea in times of crisis. The bad news is it can be easy to screw up. And while there’s no single best way for every brand to pivot, there are some key approach components that brands can grab to make their pivot message their own.

 APPROACH #1 – Celebrate Awesome

It’s easy to get caught up in the negative. If you have a positive, share it and celebrate it. Lots of health care providers are doing a great job of this with the going-home farewells via social media like this one from our Phoebe Health client in Albany, GA. Kudos and shout-outs can happen for little things like sewing masks, delivering meals, cheering togetherness – whatever emphasizes how your people or your company is rolling up sleeves to chip in some positivity. Just be careful not to slap yourself on the back too hard – keep it about the genuine efforts people are making to help others get through.

APPROACH #2 – Be More Than Expected

Another pivot may be in showing clients and customers that you can be more than they expect you to be.  Corrigo – a B2B facilities management SaaS company – is pivoting from operations software to being a hive mind for a community of thousands of Facilities Managers, bringing them together to share knowledge, experience, frustrations, and solutions. Old Fourth Distillery pulled off the ultimate “be more” pivot, turning their small-batch distillery business into a massive hand sanitizer provider. It’s not what customers think of these brands for every day, but it’s building connective tissue that can last long after this crisis clears.

 APPROACH #3 – Build a Bridge to Better

Despite the catchphrase of “this is the new normal,” the reality is this will end. And while we’re all (for the most part) staying responsible and vigilant, people are ready for the “after.” Brands, too, can show they are looking forward with messaging and even deals that dream of better days ahead – and promote new services and products to help tide us all over. One great example is HydraFacial – an aesthetics treatment device brand that’s helping med spas and day spas reach out to clients to invest in gift cards today for experiences they’ll look forward to in the months to come. HydraFacial is also helping aestheticians figure out virtual visits – a way to keep those in-person connections going strong, even if there is a screen as a go-between.

APPROACH #4 – Prepping Is A Pivot, Too.

Not all marketing activity has to be overt or outward. Planning for re-entry or just knocking out the important projects that get back-burnered during the rattle and hum of business as usual can get some much-needed attention and help build a successful ramp to what’s next. A lot of things will change – quickly – in the months to come, so having a well thought out “welcome back to almost normalness” message will be an important tool in any marketer’s arsenal.


No matter what pivot you choose, a few things are absolutes – don’t be a cliché, don’t be a pretender, and don’t stretch it too far. You’re still actively marketing – asking consumers for their support and making connections with your brand – so be genuine and honest. Being a crisis profiteer is a stain that will be tough for any brand to wash off.

How is your company pivoting business and marketing efforts in this uncertain time? Let us know in the comments below. 

Originally written April 22, 2020. Last updated April 29, 2020

About Greg Abel

Greg Abel | Founder of Tailfin Marketing
Greg has been disrupting the ad industry for decades. After graduating from UGA’s Grady College of Journalism, Greg found his path at big ad agencies as a Media Planner and Account Executive. From there, Greg jumped on the digital wave at a consultancy where he helped to develop digital strategy and online user experiences for a range of consumer brands. In 1999, Greg co-founded Tailfin, an ad agency that specializes in branding, traditional and digital advertising, engaging content development, and social media.

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