April 16, 2020

The Hidden Upside of the COVID-19 Crisis for Brands and Marketers: 10 opportunities


The headlines are bleak. Sure.

So let’s dig a little deeper. Resourceful companies and people are finding hidden opportunities even in these difficult times.

To help you make some lemonade out of all these lemons, we bring you examples of opportunities you may have overlooked or never considered from the rapid economic change sweeping the globe due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Read on for ideas to pursue new opportunities in your career, for your company, and in your personal life as well.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

10 COVID opportunities

(As seen in the MarketingSherpa newsletter. Click to get a free email subscription to the latest from MarketingSherpa.)

Allow me to start with a joke. You’ve probably heard it before, but it is apropos of the times. Maybe you feel this is not the moment to joke around. I would argue, we need levity now more than ever. Anyway, here goes …

These two older brothers are so sick of their younger brother. He’s also so darn positive. So they hatch a plot to do something to finally upset the little kid — they fill his room with manure.

Kid comes home. Two older brothers smile their devious smile, can’t wait to see the look on their little brother’s face. He opens the door to his room. Huge smile. Jumps right in and starts digging through the manure.

The older brothers are shocked. They ask him what the heck he is doing.

The kid responds, “Wow! With all this manure, there has got to be a pony in here somewhere! I’m trying to find it.”

In jest there is truth, and that joke aptly sets the tone for this article.

For some reading right now, the world is on pause. For others, they are busier than ever. Either way, this crisis presents an opportunity to change the arc of your career and life.

Opportunities don’t begin with external events. Not really. No matter if it is (metaphorically) sunny or rainy outside, it’s ultimately up to each one of us to decide how to approach things.

None of the rest of the opportunities, examples and tips in this article can impact you if you aren’t able to approach them with the right attitude.

In his recent lecture The Hidden Opportunity Within the COVID-19 Crisis: Three ways to transform your work and your life, Flint McGlaughlin, CEO and Managing Director, MECLABS Institute, shared the following quote (MECLABS is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa):

“… we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.” — Viktor E. Frankl from the book Man’s Search for Meaning (p. 111)

The rest of his lecture focused on that third point — the attitude. We’ve embedded the full lecture below if you would like to watch it:

I encourage all of us to consider the attitude we choose to have in our approach to this current time and these opportunities created by the COVID-19 crisis.

Opportunity #1: Getting out of a creative rut

If you’ve worked in an industry or for a specific brand for any length of time, admit it, you can get in a bit of a creative rut. And this is true for both B2B and B2C. I’ve worked in both the software and high-end real estate industries and my creative ideas could start to get formulaic. “Wait a minute, what if we … oh, we did that idea six months ago. Oh, we do it every six months.”

An upside of COVID-19 is it forces us out of our current way of doing things. It’s not easy though. We are all creatures of habit. For example, I am looking to buy a car now. The dealerships heavily advertise that they’ll bring the test drive to you. However, once you contact them, the sales reps still push hard to try to get you on the lot because they probably have a far higher conversion rate if they get you on the lot. “Looks like a stormy afternoon today. How does your schedule look to come by in the morning?” “We are prepared to stay this evening. What time will you be in this evening?”

Let’s take a look at an example from the travel industry, arguably the industry hardest hit by the novel coronavirus.

Imagine running social media accounts in the travel industry. Normally, you have a ton of stuff to post about all the time. But all of a sudden … no one can travel.

“We started posting less on social media but still wanted to provide our visitors and followers some inspiration, whether for future travel dreaming or just to feel better and pass the time as they wait out the order at home and self-isolate,” said Kristen Montag, Senior PR & Communication Manager, Meet Minneapolis.

After Minnesota issued a stay-at-home order, “Our social channels went into a bit of a lockdown, too, as it seemed inappropriate to do what we usually do, and most of our local businesses were in stages of closing or adjusting to the situation. Visitors left or were no longer coming,” Montag said.

The association’s main audience is the people who live in and around Minneapolis — a drive-market radius of 500 miles for their highest number of visitors. “The people in the region surrounding the city, our ‘day-trippers,’ are also a big draw for events and restaurants, etc. We, of course, welcome national and international visitors, as well, but we see a high number in surveys that are coming from the drive radius,” she said.

The team came up with some simple, yet effective ways to still communicate through their social channel.

They created the #WeGotThisMpls Spotify playlist, with 37 historic and currently active local bands, telling their followers, “We're happy to see you practicing social distancing and taking care of the community. We put together a list of local songs to keep you going while you are at home!” (Turns out Soul Asylum is from Minneapolis. I did not know that. Would have guessed Seattle. And now I just put on “Runaway Train” while I write this. You’re probably doing that now too, aren’t you? Hey, great song. Great message, too.)

After three weeks, the playlist got 21,000 impressions across the convention and visitors’ association’s social channels, along with 430 engagements.

The team created a #WeGotThisMpls video to help communicate the scope of the impact locally and encourage people to support local Minneapolis businesses.

After a month, the video garnered 44,000 impressions, 15,000 views and 2,000 engagements across the association’s social channels.

Creative Sample #1: Still from conventions and visitors’ bureau video


The association created an online Minneapolis puzzle using Jigsaw Explorer and shared it through social media by saying, “Between social distancing and cooler temperatures, we thought we'd challenge ourselves inside, with a new DIGITAL PUZZLE! Enjoy.” After a week, the social posts about the puzzle garnered 10,500 impressions and 650 engagements.

Creative Sample #2: Online jigsaw puzzle from convention and visitors’ association

10 COVID opportunities 2

The team created a social distancing graphic using familiar Minneapolis staples to help reinforce the six-foot social distancing guidelines encouraged by many governments and health organizations. In addition to businesses and people sharing the graphic on their own social media accounts, posts on the association’s own accounts garnered 24,000 impressions, 1,100 engagements and 75 shares in two days.

Creative Sample #3: Social distancing guideline social media graphic from convention and visitors’ association

10 COVID opportunities 3

“At a time like this, creativity rules. There were no plans in place for this situation, and it’s hit our industry particularly hard. Our team of creative marketing minds kept an eye on what others were doing but spent time brainstorming and came up with these ideas and executed in-house quickly. Being nimble and trying things on social media is worth the effort,” Montag advised.

Opportunity #2: Adopt a new way of working

In addition to the obvious health and economic suffering, times like these are difficult because they force us to change our normal routine.

Many people aren’t used to working from home, having to stay home all day every day, staying six feet away from each other, obsessively washing hands, and wearing face masks out in public.

However, crises also have a unique ability to crack open the status quo in positive ways, creating a new way of doing things that we never thought was possible.

“Crisis is often what drives successful changes in companies,” said Dr. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of the book Shorter: Work Better, Smarter, and Less — Here's How.

Dr. Pang has studied more than a hundred companies that have shortened their working hours.

For example, Radioactive PR, a small public relations and marketing firm in Gloucester, England, decided to try a four-day week in June 2018, in an effort to improve recruitment and retention, give people more time, and give everyone a creative boost.

To get more efficient with their time, they automated routine tasks. For example, they use an online clippings service that quickly collects press from their campaign, “pulls full-screen grabs, domain authority, likely circulation, whether there’s ink [i.e., a print version],” said Rich Leigh, founder, Radioactive PR. "What used to take eight hours now takes three minutes.”

“The four-day week help[ed] jump-start a change,” Leigh said. It helped the firm maintain better boundaries between work time and non-work time. “The challenge of working a 32-hour week taught them to think of time as a more precious, finite resource, and to measure their own performance and success not by how much time they spent on a task, but how efficiently they were able to do it. It helped Rich [Leigh] reorient his attitudes toward time: For him, the challenge was no longer to extract the maximum hours from his employees, but to help them figure out how to get their work done faster,” Dr. Pang said

The global shift to working from home could help accelerate this change. “People who are able to get a project done in a couple hours at home aren’t likely to want to spend eight hours on it at the office,” he said.

For Radioactive PR, this shift was a key recruitment tool. “There’s a phenomenal roster of talent out there at the more senior level,” according to Leigh, who want to stay active in the profession, would love a shorter commute, don’t want to go back to sixty-hour weeks, and find Radioactive PR’s schedule and approach very appealing,

Companies may come out on the other side of this pandemic having learned the same lesson. “This crisis reminds us that life is shorter than we’d like, the unexpected is a lot closer than we believe, and that the quest for a balanced, full life is neither easy nor something we should put off,” Dr. Pang said.

Opportunity #3: (Virtuous) hackers can have even greater impacts

There’s a negative connotation to hacking, for sure — trying to hack through a system for nefarious means.

But the same hacker approach can have positive outcomes as well — hacking together a new way of doing things, perhaps with currently existing tools, to help people.

Zelos is an app for volunteer management based in Estonia. It was originally built for events and festivals but recently won the #HackTheCrisis hackathon (organized by Garage48) by creating a hub for coronavirus-related volunteering dubbed “COVID-help.”

During the hackathon, the team connected its app to Trello and created a helpline in 48 hours. Senior citizens call the helpline, an operator validates and triages the ticket on Trello, and Zelos pushes it to volunteers’ smartphones.

In 24 hours, they signed up more than 1,000 volunteers and, in two days, helped seniors get groceries (avoiding the current three-day wait times), walk their pets, etc.

Creative Sample #4: Hub for coronavirus-related volunteering

10 COVID opportunities 4

This solution was also implemented in Latvia during the #HackForce hackathon organized by TechChill, in which it placed 5th.

“We don't have the resources to scale this beyond Estonia, so we are looking for people interested in implementing this in their community. The API is free, so people only have to cover the [telephone] line and minor software costs,” said Ana Falcon, Lead Marketing Strategist, Zelos.

“COVID-help has proven that people really want to aid others. With such a vast number of volunteers signing up in the Estonian community within the first two weeks, there is no doubt on how relevant and useful this solution is right now. COVID-help clearly shows that communities can recruit and mobilize volunteers during a crisis and reduce its impact,” said Johanna-Mai Riismaa, Team Leader of COVID-help and CEO of Zelos.

Opportunity #4: Deeper connection with customers

One of my favorite MarketingSherpa case studies of all time is Making Your Customer the Hero: How a construction software company increased revenue 53% by doing the opposite of what feels right.

The key to success was that Dan Briscoe and his team didn’t start with their company and their product, they started with the customer. They discovered customers had a challenge getting workers, so they created the “I Build America” movement to help. They weren’t an HR recruiting company, they build construction software, so there wasn’t a direct connection to their product. However, the goodwill they built with customers paid them back again and again in attention, interest, and ultimately, revenue.

How can you serve customers in these challenging times?

“Most enterprise Saas firms are experiencing a slowdown in their sales pipeline as companies deal with uncertainty about their spending ability,” said Dr. Kim Saxton, professor of marketing at Indiana University and author of the book The Titanic Effect: Successfully Navigating the Uncertainties that Sink Most Startups.

She gave an example of a startup in the Midwest trying to restart its sales pipeline by serving its customers first.

“Corporate training software company, Lessonly, developed three care packages which they sent to prospects’ homes. This had two benefits: show support for customers in time of need, and obtaining home addresses, via opt-in, which gives permission for other relationship-expanding initiatives,” Dr. Saxton said.

Creative Sample #5: Care packages from corporate training software company

10 COVID opportunities 5

She described the approach as — showing customers that you understand their concerns and are trying to help them where they are today.

Opportunity #5: The chance to build your network on social media

If you are among the many who are currently unemployed, now is an opportunity to start building a path to your next job. While in-person interviewing and socializing are not possible for many practicing social distancing, social media is still an opportunity. And now might be a better time than ever to engage in social media.

“The pandemic is the great equalizer when it comes to jobs, forcing everyone from executives to entry-level, to stay at home. That means that busy leaders in a company that normally might only sporadically indulge in social media, now have the time,” said Joe Mullings, Chief Visionary Officer, MRI and CEO, The Mullings Group.

The recruitment and talent acquisition executive says people should research the top 20 or 30 companies they would like to work for, find who the director and VP-level managers are, and establish a rapport on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

“Your strategy is to become a member of the inner circle of their social media tribe. You start by liking something they say or that they like. Next, you’re adding an occasional clever comment and eventually — because by this time you’ve already researched who they are and the company they work for — you're on a first-name basis discussing the ins and outs of their industry. This is a tried-and-true technique in career development. The only difference is that these extraordinary times allow for the process to be greatly accelerated,” Mullings says.

“You’ll never — ever —again get this kind of opportunity to pause. This is the time to access the courage to pivot toward what you really want to do. Open your mind to using this time to build your better future,” he advises.

Opportunity #6: Look at your team in a whole new way

With everyone forced to work from home, it can be harder for marketing leaders to manage their teams. But it also gives them an opportunity to look at each person on their team in a whole new light.

“You might find new all-stars on your team. Now, more than ever, it’s output that matters, not superficial things like who knows who at the office. You might not have noticed how great someone was in your old office environment. This is especially true of quieter team members who maybe aren't as vocal in meetings or who tend to keep to themselves,” advised Yaniv Masjedi, CMO, Nextiva.

Opportunity #7: Taking on that project you always wanted to do

It seems like the coronavirus has split marketers into two camps.Those lucky enough to still have a job may find themselves busier than ever, and with a houseful of family care for on top of it. (At least there is no time wasted commuting and stuck in traffic.)

But for those who were unfortunate enough to have been laid off or furloughed, they have more free time than ever. While that can be difficult in many ways, not the least financially, it does present a hidden opportunity.

Many marketers are highly creative. And we’ve all got some project (or two or three) that we’ve always wanted to tackle when we had the time. If you’re a marketing rep, it may be getting the old band back together (for social-distanced jam sessions on Zoom). If you’re a copywriter, it’s tackling that novel you’ve always wanted to pen. I think this clip from “The Family Guy” sums it up perfectly …

Creative Sample #6: “How you coming on that novel you working on there? ... Got a compelling protagonist? Got an obstacle for him to overcome?”

“We are really seeing a renaissance in what Aristotle called ‘noble leisure,’ spending our time on pursuits that fill our life with meaning,” said Max Frenzel, AI Researcher and co-author of Time Off.

“So many people are doing and sharing amazing creative work at the moment. They finally start writing that book, making that business plan, producing that album, or getting creative in the kitchen,” Frenzel said.

This could be a momentary opportunity. Or it could be a “new normal.” For example, the Great Depression and even the Great Recession instilled a frugality and efficiency ethic in people long after those moments in time were over.

Frenzel’s co-author, entrepreneur/business coach John Fitch said, “People are taking the time to enjoy their leisure, and because of this, they are more creative and proactive instead of always being busy and reactive. The question is are people going to preserve this slower pace once we start to gradually reopen workplaces and society?”

Opportunity #8: Getting a new perspective

This next example is not about digital marketing per se. But we’re all also people. Yes that’s right, marketers are people, too. And seeing the way this individual put her art out into the world might give you an idea as well.

“People can use the COVID-19 crisis to transform their work and their life with the realization that they don't want to be the same person, doing things the same old way, when it's over,” said Yocheved Golani, life coach and writer/editor, eCounseling.com.

She gives an example of a widow who was mourning her dead husband for years. Golani suggested that the widow could use the time she had on her hands due to the public quarantine, plus piles of fabric and craft supplies she had lying around, to make homemade masks.

After the woman made a pile of masks, Golani suggested she put a sign on her apartment door that read, “Need a face mask? I have some cute ones for you!”

When Golani checked in with the widow to see how she was doing, the widow said, “I've been looking out the window and watching my masks move around when people go by the apartment building. Look at that!  I caught myself singing as I work on them. I love my new hobby. You know what, I'm going to keep using those crafting supplies that I've been hoarding even after this crisis is over. It's fun to make something useful.”

Well, that is our job as business people and marketers as well, right? To make something useful.

“I advise everyone facing the fear, boredom and uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis to reach deep down into themselves and to simply pretend that they are functioning in admirable ways. Pretending for a positive purpose can lead to discoveries of your creative side, your growing sense of humor and a lot of other positive things,” Golani advised.

Opportunity #9: The upside of client loss

While losing clients in this economic downturn can be painful — for both your company and the client — there can be an upside: focus.

“As every agency owner probably knows, trying to provide exceptional and consistent results to different types of companies is a very challenging undertaking. In order to be productive, you have to learn each industry and their unique intricacies inside out. This is very time-consuming and not cost-effective. Over the years, we always wanted to niche down and service only specific types of industries,” said Oleg Donets, Founder and CEO, ODMsoft.

The digital agency was finally able to make that change in 2016 but still had numerous legacy clients disturbing its focus.

“Well, thanks to COVID-19, many of these clients started to drop out, which could sound like a bad thing,” he said. “But for us, this is actually a huge opportunity to finally concentrate solely on our target customers!”

Opportunity #10: Gratitude

I’ll leave the final word to Bracha Goetz, an author of children’s books such as “I Lost Someone Special” and “The Courage Club.”

A children’s book author can put the current time into words far better than I can …

“As ancient Jewish wisdom in the Talmud teaches us, ‘Who is rich? Those who are happy with what they have.’  Hopefully this experience is transforming us into people who aren't taking as much for granted.  And at this slower pace, we are learning to have more gratitude for what we do have.”

Related Resources

The Hidden Opportunity Within the COVID-19 Crisis: Three ways to transform your work and your life

Pivot your Value Proposition: 6 ways brands, entrepreneurs and marketers are responding to COVID-19’s economic fallout

8 Examples of How Business Owners and Marketing Leaders Can Respond to the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic


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