A new kind of shakeup is happening in the world right now. The arrival of COVID-19, better known as the Coronavirus, has impacted all individuals in one way or another and small businesses across the globe are being forced to make immediate shifts to how they run their marketing during a crisis.
The pandemic has drastically impacted how consumers shop and consume media and created unique challenges for small businesses to keep moving. It’s an unprecedented experience for sure, but, in today’s business landscape, not something that needs to completely cripple or halt your marketing efforts.
Crises will always be part of running a business — whether it comes in the form of a novel coronavirus, supply chain disruption, product failure, employee scandal, weather catastrophe, etc. Here are a few ways to continue telling your business story and engaging your customers amidst the uncertainty.
With so many ways to communicate with consumers, it’s so important to think through the various possible intended and unintended consequences of your actions. Crisis developments can often change daily or even hourly, so it’s vital that small businesses pause to gather thoughts. Sometimes you realize that you were thinking about the situation incorrectly or may have overreacted all together. Other times you realize that your thinking was right on track, but that you may need to figure out your next steps. If you didn’t hit the send button on your phone or computer, you still have time to logically think through what you need to do to be effective in the situation.
This might mean halting certain company initiatives that are unhelpful to the situation. You might recognize a need to restructure key communication efforts to more accurately address the need that many are facing or, perhaps, see an opportunity to take part in charity or volunteer efforts. Positive outcomes are possible when it comes to marketing during a crisis. It doesn’t always have to mean drastically cutting spend or going radio silent.
Drastic and harsh reactions can often have a much more negative impact than you might realize. In fact, An IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, UK) study found that when businesses cut their marketing spend by 50 percent in a crisis, it took them three years to catch up to their competitors who had not made any reductions to their marketing spend.
Your business, and your community, deserve time to react in a constructive manner. Giving yourself a day, even an hour, to pause, talk things through with your team, run through scenarios, and craft messaging thoughtfully, will give everyone the chance to provide perspective.
Worried consumers see familiar, trusted brands and products as a comforting choice in trying times. Reassuring messages that reinforce an emotional connection with the brand and demonstrate empathy are vital.
Whether you’re in the business of selling toothbrushes or software services, relationship makes all the difference. They want to know you’re being transparent and open with them about how this might be affecting your business, what is going on inside the company, and how you’re responding. Pushing salesy material might seem like the best option, but marketers have the opportunity to harness content and meet consumers where they are. Provide consumers with meaningful stories that evoke action. For instance, in an economic downturn or recession, retailers can build trust by sharing stories on how their customers are saving money and shopping smart.
When a crisis hits, there can also be the possibility of channels becoming limited. With fewer channels at a brand’s disposal, the stories being generated become that much more important. It’s about striking a balance between staying top-of-mind, without appearing to capitalize off a crisis.
A great way to do this is by asking staff, customers or clients to create videos that can be shared. They can address ways in which they’re responding to the crisis, how they’re creatively addressing community needs or how they’re staying connected as a team. Your own company might even consider offering weekly touchpoints where people can join a call or meeting and share what they’re going through. You may not be a counselor, but you can ask how you can address their needs in a practical way.
Other businesses might share how they’re offering free meals, a place for others to rest their heads, or even just normal activities like fitness classes — things that may have been taken away or temporarily halted during the crisis. It’s not about quality, but rather, connection.
The goal here is to be a positive voice amongst a sea of chaos and confusion. Showing you’re in tune with your customer and providing specific, story-driven messages can instill a sense of trust and value that will be long lasting.
Frequency and repetition are still important, no matter what climate the world may be in. Brand awareness takes time and so does building trust. It’s important to stay present, especially with crisis communications.
Many businesses are fearful of how to respond or that their response will only add noise. Again, while this fear may be natural, avoiding consistent communications is a surefire way to drive people away. They want to know what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and when they can be updated again. A good recommendation here is to speak honestly with your customers. Your response may not be 100% poised, but it can be 100% authentic. If necessary, speak out on a daily basis so customers know they can come to you and that you can be counted on during a trying time.
Presence is truly powerful. It’s well-known that companies who choose to remain at the forefront of communications will reap the benefits when everything returns to normal. Customers appreciate knowing that business is moving forward (not ignoring the crisis, of course), and that you intend to stay in touch. Marketing certainly doesn’t require a massive increase in spend, but it does require consistency.
Businesses need to respect challenges being experienced by employees and consumers, and then turn their attention to the long-term brand planning and perception when their world returns to normal. This means shifting focus to address new opportunities and ways of doing business.
For all companies, the first step is bringing it back to fundamentals and the value you bring to clients. The push is to really address the need above greed. If you offer physical products, it’s perhaps time to rethink the potential uses and ways in which they can still become applicable for consumers who are knee-deep in crisis management. For those who are more service-based, it’s redirecting thinking to how you continue to serve clients and why you can continue to be a trusted source. Less about advertising, more about trying to be helpful, useful, and informative. (Frankly, this way of thinking should be utilized in marketing efforts even if there isn’t a crisis.)
Take Chipotle’s current COVID-19 marketing efforts. In addition to announcing free delivery on orders of $10 or more through Uber Eats, Chipotle now hosts a series of virtual “lunch parties” featuring interviews with celebrity guests and the chance to win free food. Up to 3,000 people can join each hangout at a time. They’re working to provide encouragement and discounts all in the same vein.
After responding to the immediate “here and now” crisis, it’s time for your business to also begin thinking about what the future holds and how your shift in business might mean new and improved avenues for connecting with clients and consumers. If you’re looking down the road to when businesses can begin reopening, consider encouraging the purchase of advance gift cards or coupons for service. If you’re thinking much longer term, were there unique communication methods that worked better than you anticipated during the crisis? Perhaps weaving weekly or monthly client touch bases via video conferencing isn’t such a bad idea. Maybe you found much higher engagement from personal stories being shared, rather than the typical sales doc you were pushing. Whatever the case may be, have your team assess the crisis communications and identify poor habits that need to be thrown out and good habits that need to be continued.
Marketing during a crisis is about keeping the business growing. But it’s also about creatively addressing communications, and staying at the forefront of consumer’s minds. We understand the temptation to reduce and act conservatively; however, we also know the great and long-lasting benefit provided to those who market through a crisis and come out the other end stronger than ever. Let us encourage you to be part of the strong minority by maintaining effective communications and marketing to many in need.