COVID-19 is rapidly disrupting established behaviors among consumers and business-to-business customers, but there are few simple answers in this new trading environment, WARC’s Stephen Whiteside reports.

Rosetta Stone boasts a software suite that helps consumers, students and corporate executives boost their knowledge of more than 20 languages, from Italian and Russian to Hindi and Arabic.

Marketing in the COVID-19 crisis

This article is part of a special WARC Snapshot focused on enabling brand marketers to re-strategise amid the unprecedented disruption caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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John Hass, the education specialist’s chief executive – and who has been leading its transformation into a cloud-based solutions provider – also offered a few valuable insights about the complex business outcomes that could result from the spread of COVID-19 during a recent call with investors.

Hass did not underplay the negatives of the “terrible humanitarian crisis” that is taking shape as Coronavirus grows increasingly widespread. At the same time, he anticipates there will be an uptick in demand for remote learning as schools and colleges are closed and businesses ask staff to work from home – developments offering prospective upsides for the Arlington Country, Virginia-based company.

As many consumers are predicted to spend more time indoors, there is a further viable opening for the brand as people explore pastimes that do not require venturing too far outdoors.

“In the intermediate term, I firmly believe the disruption caused by the virus will raise awareness of the benefits of blended learning solutions like ours,” Hass said. “The opportunity for us will be as great, or greater, than it has ever been. And we want to make sure that we are there with the right products and the right customers and the right customer relationships to continue to drive that.”

In support of this argument, he pointed to “real, tangible advantages” to Rosetta Stone’s products, such as the:

  • “fact all of our solutions can be used by learners, including those in K-12 and enterprise, remotely”;
  • “advantages of an online coach for a corporate customer, versus sending an executive to a language center or bringing a tutor into your office”;
  • “ability of a young student to continue to learn to read at home using our software purchased by their district in the event of a school closure”.

The “meaningful evidence” for these propositions translating into hard revenue could take shape in the coming weeks and months as the rising anxiety about Coronavirus feed into tangible outcomes. But Rosetta Stone is already “seeing a very strong environment” in terms of its consumer business, Hass stated.

“The consumer business we’re able to track very closely and we’re feeling very good about the performance of that business even now,” he said.

And Rosetta Stone intends to “lean into” this favorable situation, as it “provides us a great backdrop as we begin to acquaint people with the new Rosetta Stone through incremental brand advertising,” its CEO said. “The plan is to continue to lean into that and we can watch that really on a daily basis as opposed to some of our other businesses, which have a longer pipeline where we really have to be thinking about quarters.”

The organization, however, will also be “thoughtful” about its strategy, as it knows the trends which are fueling one part of its business may pose challenges to other revenue streams – from a reticence among companies to invest in new tools and software to resource pressures that might hit educational institutions.

“In the near term, uncertainty, slowing economic growth or customer distraction could impact parts of our business by prolonging customer’s decision-making or even reducing learning budgets,” explained Hass.

Equally, he suggested, for the brand’s K-12 education business, “we are confident of our ability to retain, and even expand, our relationships with existing customers given the remote learning ability we provide. But it’s possible we could find it somewhat more difficult to drive new growth for a period if potential customers are focused on managing the immediate implications of the virus.”

The main lesson for marketers: it is possible for brands to turn a crisis into an opportunity, but the outcomes of a disruption at the scale of COVID-19 will never be straightforward.