If there is no wind, row: how tech companies up their game amid the COVID-19 crisis
Author: Merav Meluban, VP Marketing at Viola
Over the past couple of months, the world has seen economies coming to a sharp standstill. For Israeli tech companies, whose growth heavily relies on global markets, this is a matter of life and death.
With business activity going from 100 to almost 0 in days, causing sales pipeline and revenues to sharply decline, startups immediately adopted a “wait-and see” approach to figure out how they could preserve cash. This led to severe budget cuts, and the first to go was marketing. According to a Viola survey of marketing leads across the Israeli tech ecosystem, over 70% experienced a decrease of up to 50% in their budgets.
But just as Israel’s tech ecosystem is well known for its agility, so is its marketing leadership. This was definitely a time for the marketing, sales and product departments to put their minds together and generate innovative solutions to adjust to this “new normal.” This article focuses on some of the most intriguing initiatives we’ve seen in recent weeks.
Empathy is the new currency
In the past, companies that thrived after recessions were those that kept constant communications with consumers through the downturn. Empathy and kindness go beyond any product or service, and this has never been truer; brands that focus on the needs of their communities are actually successful at strengthening the relationships with their customers and the way they think about the brand. So, as COVID-19 threw the world into confusion, Israeli companies were looking for ways to deliver a simple message to their customers: “We’re in this together and we want to help.” This has led to some creative marketing initiatives.
With millions of people around the globe in quarantine, music education startup JoyTunes saw increased usage and amazing stories shared by learners around the world, who turned to music for relief and joy. In an effort to give back to their community, and to ensure that everyone could afford to play during these times, they launched a special initiative offering a “pay-what-you-can” piano education program, with all proceeds donated to healthcare organizations.
Content discovery company Outbrain used its platform to promote awareness of social distancing by placing a physical distance between ads in accordance with the specific distancing requirements per country; the company also initiated a “One Biz Per Day” project in which they promoted a different small business every day, free of charge, to help SMBs gain traction.
Guesty, which helps property management companies (including Airbnb properties) automate their daily operations, was hit hard due to travel restrictions. But then, the company launched a directory connecting property management companies with guests who needed properties they can use for quarantine or simply stay in as stranded travelers.
Delivery orchestration platform Bringg witnessed the need for an SMB e-comm delivery solution
and decided to pre-release their last-mile delivery solution, BringgNOW, and to offer it for free to small- and mid-market businesses faced with increasing delivery demand due to lockdowns. Also helping SMBs to stay afloat, Become.co has developed Become Online, a one-stop-shop for SMBs to get all the tools they need to make the leap to the online world.
Expedited digital transformation
Transitioning to a fully digital strategy, which was supposed to have taken years, happened in a couple of weeks. Restrictions on physical gatherings led companies to quickly develop alternatives. According to Viola’s survey, 24% shifted their budget to virtual events and webinars, 32% to creating more content, and 29% to social media and other paid campaigns.
How soon will we go back to physical events? It’s too early to tell, but Israeli companies were quick to adopt the new digital concept. Walkme, for example, was forced to convert its annual global customer event into a digital one. The company rented a studio and broadcasted the whole event via online channels; Redis Labs turned their annual RedisConf, planned for May, into a virtual event; and payment giant Payoneer conducted dozens of online events for merchants and SMBs all over the globe, even those under severe quarantine restrictions in China.
Content is the new king
With people staying home, content consumption has skyrocketed, and tech brands have found creative ways to create engaging content to maintain brand awareness by providing productive tools, insights, or even by gamification.
Deep Instinct launched an online quiz to challenge cybersecurity professionals’ knowledge and skills; Optimove's content team transitioned into a marketing newsroom, publishing live broadcasts and trend research daily; Tripactions built a regional “blacklist” to ensure safety by preventing travelers from booking trips to at-risk countries; Mindspace transformed from a physical space to a virtual one, bringing daily content and community events to its members; and SimilarWeb used its data collection capabilities to generate a dashboard with insights about COVID-19’s impact on different industries.
Freelance marketplace Fiverr, whose team was literally on the way to shoot a campaign in Los Angeles, had to change plans; instead, the company created a new campaign called “#madeonfiverr,” to deliver the message that any business can tap into the platform to collaborate with the dozens of talented sellers around the world who are stuck in the same situation. Eventually, the whole commercial was produced by Fiverr sellers online.
Engaging partners and employees
There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic will be remembered as a time of collaboration among companies. Some of these collaborations involved building new products. For example, with events being cancelled, Bizzabo joined forces with video platform Kaltura to provide brands with video features they can use when shifting to digital events. Optibus offered its bus platform for free, so transportation companies can rapidly create plans for reduced bus service and also prevent crowding on buses.
COVID-19 brought major uncertainty to employees: layoffs and furloughs were a must, but the crisis also had a major impact on branding, internally and externally. Some companies used this to their benefit. Creative content startup Lightricks built a whole campaign around its employees working from home, turning them into stars (the company also assigned its maintenance staff tasks they can perform from home); while Tripactions initiated the #passtheplane social challenge, so their employees (and customers) around the world would still feel part of a community, by inviting them to build and fly paper airplanes, capture it on video and share on social media.
Will marketing change for good?
COVID-19 could mark an inflection point for marketing, encouraging companies to become more creative, to do more with less, to transition to digital, and to adjust to a new way of practice. As shown above, Israeli companies are already implementing these practices and leading the way with unique initiatives. Or, as the old saying goes: “If there is no wind, row!”
Merav Meluban is the head of marketing at Viola, one of Israel’s largest tech-investment groups, with $3.5 billion under management. The group has invested in 200 companies, including Payoneer, Lightricks, and Outbrain. Merav has 17 years of experience in the fields of communications and marketing.
Members of G-CMO, Israel's community of CMOs, contributed to this article.