Right now, we’re living in a world of confusion, fear and uncertainty from a health standpoint and an economic one. For many industries, the implications of COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, have been devastating. Other industries have fared better, but no doubt every industry is having to adapt in some way. One business backlash hitting universally is canceled conferences and other events.

Many companies are finding themselves scrambling to decide whether to postpone or cancel events from big conferences to niche industry trade shows and everything in between. No doubt there may be situations where hours of time and resources have been spent and seemingly flushed away, but there is also opportunity. We need to lead from the front and follow ideas that offer the opportunity to still utilize some of that work.

Marketing Responsibility During a Pandemic

Marketers always have a responsibility to respond with care and thoughtfulness, but the responsibility is intensified in a situation like this. We have a responsibility to look through not just a lens of opportunity, but also understanding. To pre-empt this advice, it’s important to note that each situation must be handled with empathy and understanding that many of your customers or prospects may be struggling right now. It’s not a time to be overbearing.

Host a Virtual Event

Do you have slide decks, presentations, demos and guest speakers lined up? Don’t let them go to waste. Host a virtual event and utilize all the content that was already developed. A virtual conference offers the flexibility to be as large or small as is needed. It could consist of a few webinars based on materials already prepared or it could be a full-fledged, multi-day event. Consider utilizing meeting software you may already be using, like Zoom or GoToMeeting.

Send Out a Conference in a Box

Events typically come with a lot of swag. If you’ve already produced items for an event you had previously planned, then canceled, use it. Boxing up items and sending it to people who would have attended your event is a great way to engage the exact audience you intended to reach to begin with. You can also send the boxes to people who weren’t planning to attend, but who you’d love to host next year.

Now, this shouldn’t just be a bunch of stuff in a box. Messaging and branding are key here to tie everything together and make it feel like an experience, something someone would be excited to receive. Include brochures, white papers or digital materials that include presentations or other videos that feel more interactive. The key is to think customer experience first, and truly try to bring some delight to people who’re likely bummed an event has been canceled, and who may be looking for a fun distraction from the current stay at home new normal.

Create a Virtual Sales Floor

Both B2B and B2C businesses that rely on foot traffic to a storefront are struggling in this time. A virtual sales floor is one way to do that. Particularly with high-price items like boats, jewelry, cars or RVs, people need to be able to talk to someone about the product, approach the product and consider it a bit before buying. This also works for dealer meetings, trade shows, and other situations where a virtual walkthrough or demo is useful to demonstrate product value. Take a note from software companies, and do your best to recreate your sales floor for online meetings.

Setting up a virtual sales floor is a way to showcase products and let product experts shine. Schedule virtual tours and walkthroughs one-on-one with an expert. The process doesn’t have to be fancy or picture perfect – a hand-held camera walkthrough can be compelling, as can a laptop perched in front of a booth. It’s ok to be human – after all, the rest of us are adjusting to Zoom meetings and all their charms. Creating a virtual experience may sound daunting, but it could pay off in dividends, and show of your company’s humanity and sense of humor to boot. 

Being innovative in a time of change can lead to new opportunities – some of which you may not have ever considered. But, for it to be effective, start small, test ideas and see what works. Grow with what works.

Dustin Clark is the Digital Marketing Director at Element Three, an award-winning marketing consultancy in Indianapolis that works with brands in technology, outdoor lifestyle, specialty healthcare and more.

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