How to Smartly Modify Your Small Business Marketing During Coronavirus
by Poulomi Basu
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The world has a #newnormal.
There is probably not a single person whose life has not been already impacted directly or indirectly by the coronavirus situation, and with the future still uncertain, people are grappling to come to terms with their new reality.
Whether it be working from home, self-isolation and social distancing, or ceasing to make any plans about the future, people are facing loss, shock, grief. And this obviously results in changes in consumer behavior.
People are spending more time at home both for work and for leisure.
On one hand they have more free time and not much expenses, so online shopping is on the rise. On the other hand, uncertainties about the future are also making some consumers stick more to the basics needed for survival.
Cut off from the world, people are looking to connect with others, and how a brand behaves in this situation is more important than ever.
Some people are facing even more severe challenges, such as abusive home environments.
Businesses are also facing unprecedented challenges. Supply chains have been disrupted, cash reserves are getting drained and companies are drawing up cost-cutting measures.
All of this means one thing for you:
Strategy & Planning -> Should small businesses still do marketing during this time?
Definitely keep going if you can.
Unless you have a business that immediately needs to be completely shut down because of this unique situation, try to keep going with your marketing efforts, as much as you can, with the resources you have available: financial, human, or time.
Yes sales may be affected currently, but doesn’t mean there is no hope. Based on the consumer behavior mentioned above, either people are buying more of certain goods/ services now, or will in the future.
In fact, only 8% of global consumers said they want to see brands stop advertising at this time.
Also, a Harvard Business Review study of 4000 companies showed that firms that cut costs deeply during recessions, had the lowest profitability when times got better.
So don't slash your marketing all at once.
That doesn't mean you have to carry on with all costs the way you did before. You just have to adjust to the situation accordingly.
The good news is you don't have to start from scratch.
Note that the title of this post is NOT 'How to Create Marketing', but 'How to Modify'.
Work out your finances, see what help, including loans, you can get from the Govt. if needed, and then re-organize your budget.
Re-evaluate the marketing efforts that can really serve you now, and those that can wait 6 months. If you have a new product launch planned, for example, either adjust it to the situation by making it digital, or put it on hold for now.
Big businesses can afford to have big budgets both for marketing and brand campaigns. But as a small business owner, you should consider spending more on marketing that drives sales (not necessarily product-centric advertising), and allocate lesser budgets towards brand campaigns. However, don't cut them out completely. More on this in the Marketing Communication section below.
Explore expanding into new markets with new online solutions. This will serve you in the future as well.
Remember, if you have employees, communicate your plans clearly with them, to help them work effectively, without confusion.
Pivot for sales.
The advantage of being a small business is that it's easier for you to modify your offer much faster than bigger businesses. So here's what you could be considering for sales.
Firstly, digitize as many products/ services as you can.
This is a no-brainer. Whether your business is of essential goods that can still be bought in retail, like toilet paper, or of non-essential goods and services, the first thing to do is figure out how to make them easily accessible to people who are staying at home.
Remember, toilet papers are also in high demand and getting out of stock quickly everywhere.
But it's not just about digitizing your offer. You can work on other changes too:
Rework the options of delivery, or add pickup/ drive through/ delivery options whenever possible.
Make the delivery contactless whenever possible.
To start selling online fast, you can use already set platforms like Shopify, Facebook or Instagram shops, not to mention marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy, & Ebay.
Put together some new, easy offers quickly which are relevant and don't cost you much.
For example, a brewery in East London put together a 'pub in a box', for customers who are stuck at home. And they hired musicians who had their gigs cancelled, to deliver it!
Yes sales may have suddenly been hit hard, but that doesn't mean you base your marketing strategy on quick offers and discounts, in an attempt to get people to buy from or follow you.
Think about the situation calmly, and from your audience's perspective.
How can you help? This should be the underlying, fundamental question to base your marketing on, in times like these, which are challenging for humanity as a whole. Click To Tweet
Adopt flexibility in payments
This is a time for solidarity. So help your audience and consumers out by easing their financial burden any way you can.
Credit card issuers are allowing people to skip payments , Apple is letting Apple Card holders to skip their March payment.
Can you help your customers with some flexibility in payments too?
Some ideas to consider:
Offer services you would normally charge for, for free or at a discounted rate, till a certain date.
Reduce the minimum purchase amount to qualify for discounts. e.g. if earlier customers had to buy 3 products to get one free, you can make it now 2 to get 1 free.
Offer deferred payments to your regular customers.
Introduce small packs of premium products at lower prices
Free delivery though normally customers have to pay
Yes these measures may affect your bottom line a bit for now, but your audience will remember you for introducing these to help them, and it will bring bigger returns in the future.
With the increase in online learning, some businesses are offering their courses for free.
Prepare for the future.
Though some of the corona measures have been forced upon people, some of them may continue to stay even after the crisis is over. For example, remote working, more online shopping.
A US study showed that consumers are adopting some new behavior that they would want to continue , like shopping new websites for basics, changing primary grocery stores, adopting store pickup, e-sports, etc.
So prepare for the future accordingly.
While you rework your products and services or introduce new ones, you don't have to make it suitable only for this time. Keep your options open to continue them in the future as well, as extra sources of income. For example, if you are a restaurant and only had dine-in options before, consider keeping pickup/ delivery for more income even in the future. Of course, if it fits your brand.
Keep a track of changes in consumer and social behavior, to determine which changes should only be for now, and which ones can be a more a part of your long-term strategy.
Sales -> Shouldn't this be the only focus?
NO. It's high-priority, of course. Because you need your cash flow.
But your brand story and messaging , through your marketing, remain as important as ever. As always, your marketing will give your sales an edge not just now, but also in the future.
Try to drive sales, but...DON'T. PUSH.
Everyone is going through a hard time now, no matter what their situation.
So pushing them to spend money to buy your product/ service, even at a discount, is hardly a good idea.
A 12-market study done by Edelman showed that generally people would not trust brands who prioritized profit.
But that doesn't mean you can't come out with helpful offers that enable people to meet their corona-related challenges.
Don’t come across as simply being opportunistic, and trying to make a quick buck.
As many people faced with job uncertainty are considering starting their own businesses or online projects, Siteground , a popular web hosting site, offered a 75% discounted pricing for new sign-ups.
It met both their objective of increasing sales, while making it easy for people with time on their hands now to start their own website.
Don’t be desperate.
At least don’t show it.
Just be there for your audience.
Brand & Marketing Messaging-> How to adjust them to make them relevant and helpful?
Be sensitive, human, empathetic.
This is above anything else, a time for humanity.
Everyone, including your audience, has been affected. Maybe directly not a lot, but maybe their loved ones are going through a very tough time in different ways: health, finances, spirit.
Are they lonely? Facing a difficult home situation? All good but frustrated at being cooped up? Identify what your specific audience could be going through, and fit your messaging to that. Because all messaging will be viewed in the context of the current situation.
Personalize if possible.
If you have a very niche audience, and whether through analytics or through your specific relationship with them, if you are aware of their situation, try to send them personalized messages specific to what they could be going through. While personalization is good for marketing messaging at any time, at this time it could be especially effective in building strong customer relationships.
Share positive messages.
The world is already scared. So stay away from propagating more. Inculcate a tone of optimism and faith in your messaging. Obviously one day this too shall pass, and there will be recovery. Remind your audience of that.
Foster a sense of community.
Everyone is impacted in this situation, so help people remember that it's a collective experience. Help them connect to other people going through the same situation if possible, create forums and groups online for people to share experiences.
Be selective with your images.
Stay away from images of people touching, or even being in close proximity. While normally it can spread a message of warmth and humanity, right now it may be considered insensitive, as people can't indulge in social proximity even if they want.
Choose your words & tone carefully.
Word your messages so that it actually resonates with your audience because of the situation they are facing right now. While optimism is good to have, be wary of being playful or exuberant. Even if it’s your normal brand tone & voice, rework that a bit to respect what people could be going through. It is after all a time of change.
You may have been using humor in your messaging so far. And some consumers are still okay to see some humor, especially if their lives are still going okay. But since not everyone is in the same situation, reconsider how much of a humorous tone you still want to retain in your messaging.
Don't always have to mention corona.
You can have positive, optimistic messages without always mentioning the pandemic. For example, see the email below from Startup Nation, with their most recent content.
We know that at this time many people are losing their jobs, or people are suffering in their businesses. And many people are trying to find alternate sources of income.
Which makes this content very relevant, yet avoids a direct mention of any virus or pandemic.
Marketing Communication-> What kind of marketing should small businesses do?
First of all, this is a time to relook at the meaning of marketing.
It's not just about telling your brand story anymore. It's about having the right kind of communication with your audience, having a conversation, knowing them better, making them feel you're in this journey together, and authentically strengthening the relationship with them.
Educate and support your audience.
Build deeper connections with existing customers.
Attract new customers.
Some important communication you should be doing at this time:
Keep in touch.
The primary thing is not to lose contact with your audience, especially your customers. Let them know you’re there, you're available and accessible.
Especially as some small businesses may be closing shop now, if you're not, now more than ever, you need to let your customers know about your presence.
See a snippet of a simple email below.
Inform & update.
Everything is different now, and people are constantly trying to understand how things are changing. So make it easy for them. Update your new working hours, ways that your audience can reach you, e-commerce availability of your products/ services, changes in shipping methods, or any other big change that your business has had to do because of the new rules of the world.
Also inform them about what sanitary measures you're taking, especially in your interaction with them, to ensure social distancing and following of lockdown protocols.
For example, a local pizza chain near my house often sends out promotional offers, and has this contact-less image below every email.
When you click on it, you go to a page that has more information about it. See below. Admittedly, some of it is in Dutch, but you get the message.
Support, build trust.
One of the primary goals of communication at this time should be help and support. Go back to your brand purpose & mission . Whom does your business aspire to help? How can you do that now?
Put yourself in your audience's shoes.
How can you help them with ideas, supportive messages, information?
You can also be honest about how the situation has affected you, maybe. Share your story.
For me, for example, yes, business has definitely slowed. And with daycares being closed, I can't put my baby there, so the amount of time I can spend on my business has also reduced.
But my mission is to help make the journey of small businesses easier, so I had to take time out to at least write this one post for now. Hope it does help you a little bit!
Is your small business an influencer in your niche? Does your audience trust you?
Essential digital marketing you should consider:
SEO & Content Marketing. Create whatever content you can as a brand, to support your audience at this time. Not only will this make them connect to you more now, but will also give a push to your website SEO for the future.
Email. This is still a great way to connect with your audience directly.
Social Media. People, feeling isolated, are looking to connect with others as much as they can. So there is a lot of potential to help them do that, and get more brand presence for yourself. Doesn't need to be paid media.
Brand campaigns. Don't spend a lot of resources on this, just find some easy and quick ones that will communicate your brand values to your audience.
For example, Starbucks implemented a simple tactical campaign to support the frontline health workers, and in doing so sent a strong message about their brand values.
If you have the budget, you can consider advertising. PPC could be a good way to get more sales at this time.
SEO & Content Marketing
With more time on their hands, people are consuming more content now.
So not only is this not the time to pause your content marketing, it's time to amp it up. It will most likely be cheaper than doing ads, especially if you create your content yourself, and will definitely have higher ROI for the future.
Adapt your content for the present.
Your content strategy, or even your whole business, may be based on social connections or lifestyles.
The first thing you have to do is see how you can adapt that to people's lives now.
Consider the example of Time Out. Their value proposition is based on what people can do OUTSIDE their homes. They have rebranded themselves to Time In.
And now their content is all based on what people can do INSIDE their homes.
Explore different content formats.
People are searching for ways to connect with others, to have conversations.
So if you haven't tried them before, explore creating your content (or adapting from blogs) to interactive formats like:
Where you can provide real value to your audience, and also talk to them directly.
Chipotle took their marketing to a new level of event-content. It created virtual lunchtime hangouts on Zoom with celebrities. So celebs and fans could all hang out together online.
Yes, getting celebs together may not be possible for every small business, but creating interesting events online for your audience to come together over a shared interest? That's not so heavy on the pocket, is it?
And yet fantastic for brand recall!
Be flexible with your content calendar.
New news about corona are pouring in every day, people are staying glued to updates, and the Govt. is laying out new laws and measures.
So while you can chalk out some good content ideas now , keep room for changes last minute based on real-time developments in the world.
Don't get too worked up about SEO.
I tried to do a lot of research about what keywords to choose for this post. But the truth is, it's too early for real, lasting SEO metrics of the post-corona world.
So look out for the new trends, especially in consumer behavior, and just create content that you think may be helpful to your audience. Now, and for the future.
Google will take note.
Not only are people consuming more content, they are also opening more emails.
Email open rates as of 14th April 2020 went up 40% from levels before 1st March.
Plus email is the best and most direct connection you can have to your customers and followers. Not to mention, it's cheap.
So leverage this mode of communication at this time, without of course, as usual, spamming anyone.
These are some types of messages you can send by email:
Updates about your business and way of working, if it matters to your audience. If you are giving your employees a few days paid leave, does that really matter to your email list?
New offers and discounts that can help your audience, a lot. You have a 5% discount to offer on your product? Don't bother. That's just selling. Not real concern, empathy, or authenticity.
Content that you're publishing at this time, about something that can help your audience. A free, detailed tutorial on how to learn a new skill, with no offers attached to buy your product? Go ahead.
Any health advice you might have, if you are a healthcare or related brand. (If you are not, and have no expertise in healthcare, please refrain from giving your audience medical information).
If instead of a newsletter format, you can make it a simple text email one, like you would send to a friend, that's so much more human. Or maybe shoot a quick video with a relevant message and send it.
One important thing to consider while sending emails is that people are flooded with emails from other brands as well, with a lot of information as well.
So make sure your emails are full of value-add information, which actually makes a difference.
See an email below which was cold, dry, and made no difference to me.
And in contrast, here's an example of an honest, authentic email I really liked, and which made it stand out for me.
It's a bit long, but I actually read it!
See what I mean?
This is a very delicate time for a brand. While on one hand you shouldn't stop marketing and communication, how you communicate will also have a huge impact on how your audience perceives you.
Be careful about brand perception, only focus on solutions.
People don’t mind you selling to them, especially if what you have to offer them is relevant and helpful to them.
However, consumers don’t want you to take advantage of their suffering and use the corona concept to push-sell additional products.
Don't be like the brand The Creme Shop, for example, who offered to give away N95 masks if customers bought other products online. Making a product necessary for safety as a freebie only if people spent money, is just a no-go during this time.
Respond to the situation well, to drive sales.
The same Edelman study above revealed that consumers are not just taking their purchase decisions based on how brands are responding to the situation now, but will likely continue doing that in the future.
So be compassionate, solution-driven, and focused on helping people. Sales will follow.
Use branding for the long-term.
People need to trust your brand to buy from you. So the more you can get your audience to trust you, the more it can result in revenue, without you doing very intensive sales efforts.
And a fantastic way to build trust? Reviews, ratings, testimonials.
If you can't do anything else at this time in terms of brand or marketing effort, at least try to gather these.
With quarantine and self-isolation intensifying in countries, many restaurants started offering a delivery service.
In Netherlands, where I live, they added their offer on the popular delivery app, Thuisbezorgd.
See the ones listed as NEW below?
Within a week or two of these offers being included in the app, they raked in reviews from their loyal customers.
So all the people searching for food delivery now are more likely to trust these brands even if they never tried them out before.
Related: 7 Essential Elements of Strong Brand Equity
A global study by GlobalWebIndex on 13,000 respondents showed that almost 45% of them are spending more time on social media.
So this is one marketing method you should definitely not pause now. Increase it, if possible.
Some tips for managing your social media marketing for now are:
Revaluate your scheduled posts.
You may have your content and social media calendar mapped out already, pause all of that for now. Whatever content and posts you wrote before this pandemic began, you can't continue with it like nothing happened.
See if any of them can be adapted based on the current scenario. If not, think of new topics and ideas for your social media posting.
Choose your topics wisely.
Conversations lately seem to hover around a few select topics.
So to connect with your audience on social media, you have to figure out how your brand can be a part of and add value to conversations like below.
Choose relevant formats. Explore Social TV.
People stuck at home are not just exploring entertainment through Netflix, but are also looking to engage with others in real time, creating a rapid increase in live streaming and online attendance of social events.
You can also use easy programs like Facebook Live or Instagram Live , and explore Facebook Watch Party, to host events that can help people in their escapism mindset.
Encourage social distancing.
Avoid delicate topics of going out and meeting people, and don't have to always talk about Covid-19.
It's good to break it up with other posts, as long as they're not overtly promotional or insensitive.
Use the right hashtags.
To ensure that your posts get maximum visibility, it would be a good idea to use the trending ones. For example:
Manage your comments well.
This is a time for conversations. A time to encourage your followers, and build a community spirit. So urge your audience to comment, connect, share experiences, and build a deeper connection with them.
On the other hand you might have haters or trolls on social media, people who are frustrated and lashing out, through their comments at you or other commenters.
Try to build a tone of empathy plus firmness, when you respond to them. Don't let negativity spread, yet retain compassion.
Bonus: Use messaging apps.
People are using messaging and calling to connect.
Facebook announced that in the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, messaging has increased more than 50% , and voice and video calling have more than doubled.
So if you can, try to reach your audience through this platform as well, to make the communication more personalized. Besides reaching out to your current customers (if you have their data) through messaging apps, if you have the budget, consider messaging advertising as well.
Related: The Easiest Way to Create Social Media Videos with Free Subtitles (Without Typing a Word)
The pandemic has resulted in a lot of brands reducing their ad budget, which has resulted in ad prices also dropping compared to 2019.
And the ROI of paid ads are also quite high.
However, whether you should spend on advertising now and how, depends on a variety of factors.
Don't step back if your brand can help.
If you have a product/ service solution that can actually help people navigate this situation, by all means, spread the message with all kinds of marketing, including advertising. Be it social media, search, or other channels.
However, is your business about luxury goods or services? Unless you can be of real service, reconsider how much you want to do messaging, at least paid advertising for your goods/ services.
Be mindful about spend, prioritize content.
Even though ad and CPC rates have fallen now, unless you have a very sharp messaging that will help you in immediate sales/ brand recall/ building a connection with customers, you can focus your marketing more on creating meaningful, helpful content.
It will help you in improved SEO and building brand trust for the future.
Analytics-> Is it still important?
But do it right.
Track the right metrics.
It is not just enough to count likes and impressions of your messaging. You have to continuously understand the pulse of your audience. What they are experiencing, and what matters to them.
Consumer sentiment. An easy way of doing that is through community sites and social media platforms.
New trends on consumer spending.
Social media shares of content to check relevancy. One way of finding that is through Buzzsumo.
New keywords and searches arising because of the new circumstances. Some examples would be health & fitness, indoor activities and entertainment with family, including children, indoor hobbies like cooking and crafting, online connections.
A last word...
With all these guidelines about marketing during coronavirus, it's easy to get overwhelmed about what exactly to do. But here's a word of caution:
Don’t overdo it.
Don't make ALL your messaging and content about life in this crisis.
Distract your audience a bit as well, with easier, lighter content (without being insensitive, of course).
People are trying to hold on to whatever normalcy is left in their lives.
Just let them know you're there to help them through it.
Want to attract more customers and grow your business with powerful marketing/ branding?