With social distancing, remote work, and quarantine as part of our new reality, marketers are working hard to navigate what this global health crisis means for them. We connected with Dori Fern, Head of Content Marketing Strategy at Neustar, to hear her expert take on crisis comms, events budgets, and the responsibility marketers have during this time — all over Zoom, of course. 

What responsibilities should marketers take on during a crisis and what role should data and storytelling play?

Marketers need to find ways to lead and be of real service to their customers. Of course, the irony is that marketers have been talking about this for years, about being more transparent, more customer-centric and supporting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). But now, our actual livelihoods and in some cases actual lives depend on it. That's a whole other level of reality.

In terms of data, there are a couple of roles that it can play right now. One is to quantify the value of your brand. At Neustar, we're looking at the proof points, qualitative and quantitative, to see where we can lead and provide value right now. 

For brand marketers, there’s no overstating the importance of having a sound data strategy and strong measurement capabilities. If you didn’t have a meaningful data strategy, quality data, and a good way to measure, analyze and optimize before this crisis, how are you going to make the necessary pivots now? Many retailers are seeing profound changes in their customer base, not to mention all the in-store traffic that has moved online. You need to understand who those new audiences are, and deploy the right marketing to those who have the greatest propensity to buy. And you also need the insights that reveal how their existing customer journey might have changed as they appear on different channels. And strategically, retailers need to be thinking about ways to use their data to inform future plans, like loyalty programs and the like. Because beyond the current crisis, retailers should also be thinking about privacy and how to have a more personalized relationship with consumers.

With storytelling, it’s interesting to explore how we can break down walls and talk to our consumers about this shared experience, especially as a B2B brand. We’re using more informal language in places and even testing things like using a more casual sentence caps style versus headline-style case caps in an e-blast. Beyond those style choices, we all need to tell stories that convey how we are leading in a meaningful, non-opportunistic, way. We also have to solidify for ourselves, our customers and our prospects how our leadership can provide tangible value, and do so in an artful way. 

Since this quarantine started, artists have been leading the way at providing interesting storytelling — Erykah Badu even held a concert for a dollar in her living room — and throwing DJ parties on Instagram Live and Twitch TV. Marketers have even been using LinkedIn Live to create serialized content to help us through this moment. This is storytelling. 

What COVID content and communications has Neustar been issuing during this time? What has been the primary goal of this content and communications?

On the corporate level, I’ve personally been quite moved by our internal comms. Our CEO’s wife is a doctor, and he’s conveyed how personal this moment is for him and how much he worries about our safety and good health. Knowing that leadership has your back is crucial at a time like this. 

In terms of our external comms, our approach has been two-pronged. When everything screeched to a halt, we put some of our content on hold that seemed irrelevant or insensitive and there were others where we changed the messaging. For these comms, the topic may still be relevant, since people are still doing business, but we put it in a more timely context. Our primary goal with content since early March has been to communicate that we're still here, but to be compassionate and understated about it. There’s a lot more to come that we’ve been strategizing and planning for, and I’m starting to see more receptivity in the market to hear from businesses with something meaningful to say. And as a company that provides enterprise marketing technology and services to B2C brands, we are confident that there will continue to be a strong market for what Neustar has to offer.

What areas of digital marketing are you seeing event budgets get redistributed to?

It’s fairly obvious that webinars are the biggest and most obvious thing to pivot to. It's still an event, just a virtual one.

At Neustar, we're looking at a variety of ways to do virtual events, some that are smaller and more intimate and interactive, and others that are more educational and can provide value to a larger audience. This area is going to get very full, very quickly. Marketers will have to manage the sheer volume of these webinars, and just like all content, they’ll have to make sure they’re targeted to the right audiences. This will mean also leaning more on paid media, social media and possibly offline marketing as well.

Do you think this crisis will permanently change the way we do marketing in the future? And, if so, how?

Marketing is absolutely going to change. We're currently experiencing something we’ve never experienced before. The lines between personal and professional have completely blurred. But it’s not like the foundation for some of these shifts wasn’t already starting to happen. I believe we’ll look back at this time in history as a direct line from all the events that preceded it, in marketing and in our broader lives. 

Outside of Neustar, what COVID content and communications have you been most impressed with?

One very early communication I received that stood out was an email from the Head of Global Success at Asana with the subject line “We’re here for you.” In it, he talks about keeping teams (including their own) aligned now that remote work is the norm, staying coordinated and the like. It was just the right message delivered by a leader at a company that sells a project management tool who had something meaningful to say.  

But that's what I’m most taken by, real stories by real people. The Knotch weekly roundtable series has been impactful to me and the many folks at Neustar who I shared it with. Kudos for being able to quickly pull together an impressive group of business leaders in a casual setting to have real conversations about shared experiences. Regardless of their title, panelists on the Zoom calls were talking about this new reality in their t-shirts and baseball hats, which really made it feel like we’re all part of something, together in our separate homes.

What is one positive thing you will take away from this experience?

As a creative person and a strategist, I’m constantly exploring, examining and searching to find deeper meaning in the world around me. Now I see others looking inward as well as outward in a much more purposeful way right now. We’re uncovering deep answers about what we are all here to do, in work as in life — it’s heartening. I’ll always applaud the humanization of business.