If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we’re in this together. While the country is sheltering in place, many of us are craving human connection. For this reason, now is the time for small business owners and operators to reach out and provide assurance — to those in need, to other small business owners, to your customers. Strengthening relationships and supporting each other has never been more important, especially for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
Fortunately, there may be a real financial benefit for SMBs that do. Studies show that eliminating advertising during tough times can lead to a decrease in sales. Business owners may view marketing as a discretionary cost and forgo it because they are bringing in less. But consumer and advertising spend are significant drivers of revenue, even in the midst of a downturn.
Coming out of the Great Recession of the late 2000s, marketers learned a valuable lesson: Going dark can have long-term consequences. Instead, business owners should adjust their marketing approach to reach audiences in thoughtful new ways.
My digital marketing agency serves small businesses, and we have been in the trenches with hundreds of thousands of local businesses over the past few weeks advising them on how to market during these times. Here are the tips we’ve been sharing.
Make communication a priority
In response to the restrictions temporarily in place, companies large and small have made changes to the way they do business. Restaurants are offering curbside pickup. Many retailers have closed their brick-and-mortar stores but are ramping up e-commerce with free delivery and 24-hour customer support. Grocery stores have introduced new cleaning protocols and special senior shopping hours.
No matter your industry, be proactive in sharing this information with customers and keeping them updated. In this digital-first era, all types of businesses are much better equipped to reach customers, both existing and prospective. By using multiple platforms — posting on social media, sending mobile messages, and updating your website and directory listings such as Google My Business — your business has the ability to connect with customers quickly and easily.
We are living through a period of uncertainty in which nearly every American is affected by this pandemic in some way. It’s important to acknowledge that publicly. Practicing sensitivity and transparency in light of our current economic climate is not only appropriate — it’s necessary. Soften the tone in your messaging and infuse empathy in recognition of what’s happening all around us.
Put the customer first
Now is the time to focus on the needs of your customers. With the social distancing guideline extended until the end of April, people are hungry for content to soothe their fears and help them pass the time at home. For example, if you are an accountant, share ways consumers can save money during this time and offer guidance on the stimulus package. Putting out valuable and helpful information will help instill consumer confidence AND help you stand out as a business.
Do your homework
Take a closer look at available analytics to understand your customers’ behaviors, preferences, and priorities — and how they’re redefining value. As consumers spend more on essentials (like durable goods) and less on big-ticket items, ensure your offerings appeal to this. As interest in delayed payments increases, consider extending credit or interest-free financing that eliminate barriers to purchase.
Small businesses that will survive are pivoting and thinking differently — almost daily — about everything from their business model to how they’re engaging with customers. Be nimble and prepared to continually rework and refine your marketing as this new reality unfolds to demonstrate how you are part of the solution. Rather than product launches or features being your primary focus, for example, highlight how your company is helping flatten the curve, serving the medical community on the frontlines or offering new services (like mobile ordering) and promotions (like site-wide discounts) that make it easier for customers to get what they need.
As we navigate uncertain times, many small business owners are wondering what to do next — if anything — when it comes to marketing. The right strategy is to put the customer first and consistently engage them, which helps bolster trust in your business and loyalty along the way. Building and maintaining strong brands remains one of the best ways to reduce business risk.