As companies work hard to take the appropriate action to ensure their employees and customers are safe, communications and marketing professionals need to adjust their usual activities. Some are over-communicating to everyone on their contacts list, whilst others are going quiet – unsure what to say beyond echoing pandemic messaging.
Of course, we are all concerned about the crisis and its global impact, and as never before, people want companies to act in ways that help. It’s not just about saying the right thing but being seen to do the right thing. That said, many businesses of all sizes and sectors are fighting for their survival right now, so how can we navigate our way through these unchartered waters?
As a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, here are my top 10 considerations you may wish to reflect on, as business ‘not as usual’ digs in over the spring and summer months:
- Focus on your customer needs, follow the data and make/measure the sales: Sales are the lifeblood of business and cash should be any company’s priority after people safety right now. Those who don’t maintain sales will struggle to survive. However, ease off the hard sell and adjust your strategy/positioning to show clearly how your business solves a problem or satisfies a need.
- Help your customers buy from you: Consider discounted pricing models, deferred payment plans (for big ticket items), special offer promotions and new distribution channels. Then, keep promoting these offers so your customers and prospects are aware of them. If you’re a product-based business, start the transition to e-commerce but start small and build up. Check out platforms such as Shopify and marketplaces like Etsy, eBay, Facebook Shop and Amazon. If you’re a service-based business, take your knowledge online by offering group/virtual classes.
- Don’t go quiet. According to recent research, many marketers (particularly small businesses) have stopped spending and communicating, as demand for their products and services has plummeted amid the pandemic crisis. Whilst sending out endless sympathy emails or pointless social media posts is not recommended, there is a balance to be had. Companies that go completely quiet will be at a distinct disadvantage as the pandemic progresses, and they may have trouble re-establishing relationships with customers.
- Look at ALL the ‘P’s, not just Promotion: Business owners and marketing professionals need to go back to the fundamentals and consider the broader elements of marketing theory – not just the promotion aspects. In recent years, easily accessible social media channels have captured everyone’s attention, but now is the time for professional marketeers to show their worth by reverting to the other “Ps” of marketing as well – product, price and placement (or distribution). These areas are where businesses need to focus their attention. By prioritising products and services which meet the current needs of people, companies can keep on trading without being seen to capitalise on the situation. Normal distribution channels may need adjustment as many are confined at home and of course, working closely with your supply chain is critical, to ensure you can deliver! Pricing strategies also need to be reviewed, given that many people may be furloughed and surviving on reduced incomes as individuals and B2B customers.
- Review planned marketing and promotional campaigns: It is only natural that businesses with declining revenues cut back expenditure. My advice is to watch your return on marketing spend and make decisions accordingly. If your campaigns are still profitable and you can afford to invest for future returns, then you should continue to run them. Businesses can project stability during challenging times and the cost of advertising often drops. If you can keep investing, building brand awareness and acquiring leads now without losing money, you’ll be in a much stronger position when things pick up again.
- Review and adjust your promotional messaging: Any business attempting to take advantage of the situation, without providing an authentic and empathic response will no doubt receive a hit to their reputation. Adjust your messaging to fit the context we all find ourselves operating in and be relevant to your audience. Be extremely sensitive to toning things down in recognition that people are likely fearful. Sanity check or pull future ads or promotions which may not be sensitive to people’s situations.
- Share helpful, credible resources online. Consider how you can create content marketing to help your customers solve the problems they’re facing. Use video, blog posts, and podcasts etc. and make your content educational or ‘special offer’ based to show empathy.
- Find your purpose: Due to COVID-19, we all now have an elevated social responsibility to make the world a better place. Finding a new purpose for your business in the medium and longer term will help it stay relevant and even gain new customers - whether that is taking a stronger role in the local community or ‘place’, reviewing your supply chain to support local businesses or helping employees play their part as the new normal settles in post-pandemic.
- Take professional advice: As businesses struggle to adapt, it is all too easy to be drawn into taking advice from advisers operating outside their area of expertise. Business owners and marketeers need to protect themselves against potential risks to their assets and reputation so it’s always worth seeking the counsel of those with proven professional expertise. Companies need to reinforce their commitment to all their stakeholders and in a crisis, PR is the most critical need.
- Plan for the next phases of the pandemic: Once the initial shock of the situation has settled, business leaders and marketers need to plan for the next phases of the pandemic i.e. recovery and the new normal. The priorities and behaviours of people and companies are predicted to forever change due to COVID-19, with home working more widely accepted, online shopping even more popular, travelling for business reduced and the virtual delivery of services continuing. All these trends are also in line with the trend for more sustainable living. Ask your customers what they most value and consider a re-positioning of your brand to stay relevant as the world changes