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Crisis and marketing: relevant and classy communication from the “Don’t Panic” English Language school

During the coronavirus pandemic an economical environment has formed, which made a lot of companies change their operations, products and marketing. In this series of interviews, we are going to introduce a few of those, who have managed to successfully handle the emerging challenges of the crisis, due to the pandemic situation, thus, being an inspiration to other fellow enterprises with their examples.

About the “Don’t Panic” English language school franchise?

The “Don’t Panic” English Language school franchise (website, Facebook), with their 100% communication-based educational outlook, is representing the modern and truly effective language teaching in Hungary. We are fulfilling our students’ real needs by teaching them the ability to speak confident and fluent English, instead of cramming up all the grammar and testing their vocabulary on a piece of paper. Brigitta Varga, the company’s Marketing Manager, is sharing her own experiences.

In what situation did the Coronavirus epidemic find the company?

In the sector of language education, the start of a new year is always the peak season, it was no different in the first quarter of 2020 either. January was a huge hit, and the month of February has also brought the expected results. We have planned to open a few more language schools in 2020, which would have extended our franchise system to 13-14 schools in total. In the end, out of the 3-4 schools only one has opened. From the second week of March, it was clearly seen that the need and the interest towards language learning has significantly decreased, the revenues and the conversions have followed the introduced measures in an exemplary manner. 

What were the greatest challenges after the introduction of safety measures?

The greatest challenge for us was the uncertainty. Since a situation has occurred which never before, we did not have any precedents or instant solutions to follow, and we were not quite sure either, in what way we are doing the best for our clients and colleagues. In Marathon sessions and meetings that stretched into weekends, we have finally made the decision to close all of our language schools, which soon, the government has made an obligation as  well.

We can say we are lucky, because there is the possibility in the sector of changing-over to online education, which was done in a remarkably short amount of 3 days time. Of course, this came hand in hand with a lot of tension and stress, which was due to the generally dominant presence of panic morale in the country.

After a lot of reconciliation and measuring different kinds of needs, we needed to make the tough decision, in which we tried to save what could have been saved. Despite all the effort, we couldn’t find a solution, which would have brought the usual expected numbers and conversions in this economical situation. 

What transformations were needed in the operations, products and services?

As the “Don’t Panic” English Language School is a franchise system, apart from our clients, we felt the need from ourselves to provide moral support to the franchise partners, and make concessions, thus, helping their survival. The general operations were carried to an online space, which for example, have reshaped the sales, and to this new measure, our colleagues needed to adapt the most. 

Out of all the products, the utmost and instant changes were required by our language courses. These were held by our teachers, with the help of the Skype or Zoom programme, and also required a learning process from every tutor. However, this had such a great impact on the long-run, that until now, many of our schools continuously offer the possibility of learning the online way, which wasn’t a trend before the epidemic. 

How did you change in marketing?

Our partners have seen a possible way out by cutting the marketing budget, which obviously, wasn’t recommended to any of our schools. We got smaller results to a lesser extent, therefore needing to focus on the organic solutions. During the first few weeks of the curfew, our daily appearing teeny-tiny Facebook Live Series “Don’t Panic TV” was a huge hit, and we have also given a boost to our other kinds of social media contents, which have generated an excellent number of viewers. Although, around the 7th and 8th week came a feeling of general disgust of social media from our followers, which resulted in the drop of content viewers from those great reaches. This tendency holds up until this very day.

How did the customers and the clients react to the modifications?

Our clients could have been divided into three categories during this period. There were the people, who enthusiastically dived into online learning, there were the people who have absolutely closed all doors on any kind of advances made, and the largest group was the “wait and see” kind of people. A part of this group could have been convinced to continue their courses online, but many students have still not returned ever since the reopening of the language schools. When the change-over was ready, many of our customers were wary and hesitant of the new online method, but in a few weeks of time, our lessons continued in a smooth and flexible way, which form of teaching won a lot of customers in the end. In a possible second wave of the pandemic, it will surely be a lot easier to make the transition again, for the clients and teachers; since there won’t be an initial state of shock this time; which at the beginning,  undoubtedly, has made things a lot harder.

What were the results of the changes?

All in all, I think we can consider ourselves as one of the lucky ones, with the possibility of changing in the sector to a fully functioning online system. Many other sectors had no choice or opportunity. Our revenue didn’t rise to a record amount, but since in our field the summer is “no man’s land”, we need to consider it a huge success that none of our schools have shut doors permanently, and we have been able to help all of our franchise partners in the survival of the crisis. In terms of branding, we have reached a major milestone. Namely, as being one of Hungary’s oldest online language schools, we have immediately been able to present an almost perfect and quality online educational material, which is totally unique in our sector. We have also gathered quite a good amount of new followers with our daily appearing teeny-tiny online lessons, which we have presented in the form of a Facebook Live, I do also note this as a relevant outcome. What didn’t help the field was the ability of taking one’s University degree without a language exam (a so-called “language exam amnesty”), this has definitely reduced the number of our potential customers. Since we never positioned ourselves on the people taking their language exam, perhaps this measure hit us a bit less harder than it did the others.

How are you preparing for the fall season, a possible second wave?

In case of a second wave, we are preparing with the already developed online education, and we have also worked out a new campaign, which would deal with this possible scenario. In our fall “early bird” campaign a discount has been integrated as well, which we try never to lay our hands on, but now has come the time to add this extra step, adding that little extra motivation to the  potential customers. Furthermore, since we often get the “I am on Holiday” excuse, our clients have the chance to start their pre-purchased August course all the way until the 31st of October. In addition, we’re communicating the Covid-guarantee of our courses in many places, which would provide the possibility for an instant online change-over, as well as our clients also having the freedom to solely and exclusively attend the online classes, well before the second wave.

What do you suggest to other companies handling similar situations?

  1. The most important thing is to stay calm and think with serenity. Needless to say, there has to be a reaction to the public’s panic mood, you just simply can not leave out such a striking piece of news of your communication, which truly is the subject of talk in the whole country. It is very hard to find the right, relevant, and classy form of social media communication. Being a marketing specialist already, your instincts would immediately guide you to jump on the bandwagon, the topic generates such a big engagement. We preferably applied the less is more rule, in the first few weeks we neither posted any funny memes nor made silly posts and comments, the emphasis was rather on the supportive, helpful and informative content. This strategy seemed to work sufficiently, in the light of the events, I wouldn’t change a thing.
  2. The public will not necessarily be open to something new. When masses have lost their work, their source of living, it is clear that premium category products and services are placed in the background. An aggressively persuasive campaign during these times can completely cause disgrace to the entire brand. Therefore, generosity is inevitable, full support, and answering the customers real and accurate needs whilst also reacting to them. 
  3. This is an exceptional moment to care about customer relations. Showing genuine interest about our clients well-being, whether we could sincerely help in something, we did not need an excuse to call the long not seen customers. This was rated as a very humane and truly honest, likeably communication, which bore its fruit.

The “Don’t Panic” English Language School’s example is showing precisely, how important it is to handle the new challenges with flexibility marketing-wise. Obviously, it’s a necessity to be aware and informed of the possibilities. If the desired goal is having all of the above, you can get help from our lectures and presentations.

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