It’s not unusual during “unprecedented times” to want to take a look over your shoulder to see what your neighbor next door is doing before you decide your next move. And the phrase “unprecedented times” has never been used more than in the past week, as individuals, organizations and brand teams scramble to consider their next steps in all facets of marketing under the shifting realities of COVID-19.

One benefit of working for a marketing communications agency is having visibility into the considerations and decisions of a range of clients spanning multiple industries and disciplines. While each of their situations is unique and requires individualized counsel, one commonality is that they are all curious what the brand next door is doing.

With such hunger for this information, I pulled together some of the common themes we are seeing and some key questions you can ask yourself as you consider your next move.

Should I pause my current marketing?

The first instinct most marketers have in times of crisis is to pause all efforts. You can’t make a mistake if you don’t do anything, right? Of course, we all know that’s not true, but it doesn’t stop the temptation.  

A better first instinct is to ask some thoughtful questions, “Is the content I’m currently sharing appropriate given the current situation? How would I feel if I were in my audience’s shoes and saw this ad/article/message? Would it appear insensitive? Out of touch? Or like we are taking advantage of the situation?” If the answer to any of these questions is in doubt, pausing could make sense. We all knew, for example, it was the right move when cruise ships pulled their advertising, but even brands with ads featuring behavior that goes against what public health officials have paused their campaigns – such as Geico’s Perfect High Five spot or KFC’s U.K. campaign showing people licking their fingers. Right now, alignment with social distancing is the rule.

Even if you decide your current marketing is “safe,” and it is not necessary to pause, you will want to carefully evaluate the places you are visible. Most clients have pulled advertising from travel and tourism sites, for example. Context is important.

Should I alter the content of my marketing?

It’s always a best practice to adapt marketing content to the current landscape, and there may have never been an elephant in the room this large. Ever. So, yes. In most cases, it’s better to update your message.

This is easier to do in the area of communications, of course. Marketers should think carefully about the information their audiences need – updates on product and service availability, measures being taken to promote safety and social distancing, and interim virtual offerings to replace in-person ones. These are legitimate areas where education is needed, and there should be no hesitation in sharing these communications. In fact, one of the largest mistakes we are seeing brands make is waiting too long to initiate these efforts. It leaves your audience wondering whether you are behind. More frequent, honest updates – even when all information is not yet known – is the preferable path versus staying dark.  

Some brands have even gone a step further and altered their larger advertising or branding efforts to acknowledge the COVID-19 epidemic. One of Brazil’s largest online marketplaces, Mercado Livre actually temporarily updated its logo from shaking hands to bumping elbows – quite a striking message in a country where contact is so integral to the culture!

What about when this is all over?

Keeping an eye on the future is essential to maintain forward momentum and ensure strategy continues to adapt as the landscape changes. Many of our clients are smartly remembering that even as they are dedicating countless hours to adapting messaging to everything COVID-19, they also need to keep focused on the future, and prepare for when the time is right to turn marketing efforts back “on.”  

While there is no way to predict the future, this is a smart move. We are cautioning clients, however, to remember than the “normal” we return to will be different than pre-COVID-19, and strategies should be adjusted rather than simply resume. Communications may require a new tone, and marketing channels (in-person versus virtual) may be forever evolved. The key is to stay tuned in to the needs and sentiments of your audience.  

To do this, we employ extensive social listening and conduct Google search analysis to understand what the top questions are that we can be poised to answer to stay relevant. This tactic will be even more important moving forward, and should be an “always-on” strategy to help brands adapt to changing sentiment both as the COVID-19 crisis continues and as we emerge.

So, now that you’ve filled your curiosity about what others are doing, the next time you are tempted to look over your shoulder at the brand next door before making your next marketing move, consider instead asking yourself this key question: if I were in my audience’s shoes, what would I want to know? If you deliver against this question, you’re ahead of the game, no matter what your neighbors are doing.