At the beginning of March 2020, business was normal. Even if we expected something like our current COVID-19 situation to happen at that time, there was still little time to prepare for it.
The overarching zeitgeist of the new normal is uncertainty. We cannot predict what next week or next month will hold for our businesses, and it makes it hard to plan. That doesn’t mean, however, that it is impossible for businesses to survive.
Luckily, the federal government has made several resources available to small businesses. One of our local chambers has done an excellent job of collecting resources available to small businesses here: https://blountchamber.com/coronovirus. Yet, with or without assistance, there are many aspects of business that have been significantly altered, from HR to financial planning and taxes. Marketing is one of the key elements of your business that is still as important as ever, but the terrain of which has been flipped upside down. Questions that we weren’t considering before coronavirus have now become paramount: Do I spend money on ads or save it for payroll? What services or products can be digitized? What does my sales process look like now? Will my old ad campaigns still work? Should I just hibernate until all this passes?
Every business is different and even businesses in the same industry will have different but equally valid responses to this crisis. So, this webinar is less about nuts and bolts tips and tricks and more about overarching principles that hopefully you can take and apply to your situation. It will require a little creativity. Creativity is a super power right now, and if you can find a creative solution to the predicament you are in, then you will learn a new skill that you can utilize next time uncertainty hits…and it will.
The question this article is exploring is not whether you should market or not. The answer to that is an absolute, resounding “YES!” Your business depends on sales. If you are not selling, then your business is dead. Your business must sell to survive. Period. Sales, in turn, depend on marketing in some form or fashion. The question we are setting out to answer is how do you market in uncertainty.
Marketing Before Corona Was Uncertain
Let’s rewind to January when the coronavirus was just footnote in the evening news report, toilet paper was piled over on the shelves at all the grocery stores, and we gleefully shook the hands of strangers while poking around the muffin trays at morning networking events with nary a bottle of sanitizer in sight. Even then, marketing was uncertain. Nothing in marketing has ever been guaranteed except that it is a necessity for any business.
Look at how much has changed in the last 2 years in digital marketing. It’s been in constant flux as algorithms change, new channels appear (Tik Tok) and disappear (Google+,) and the price and capabilities of targeting rise and fall with the tides. The difference between now and then is not that there is uncertainty; it’s that more things have changed than any one person can adequately keep track of. Important things. Your target audience’s behavior. Perhaps even the composition of your target audience itself. Supply and demand. And for most industries, how products and services are delivered has changed. All of these things combined can alter your entire sales process — from how you create brand awareness and who you target to how you make a sale or close a deal. What once was half online and half in store is now 100% online. What once was a meeting over coffee to pitch a product or service is now a Zoom call. Marketing hasn’t changed, but how we market certainly has. We have had the rug pulled out from under us and we are all trying to steady ourselves in this new normal.
Marketing in the New Normal
So let’s walk through a possible route to find some solid ground as quickly as possible.
First, let’s consider the foundation of your business: your product or service. Has this crisis made your products or services completely inaccessible? Dentists and hair stylists are both cut off from supplying their customers’ demand for their services, no matter how great that demand is. They have to find something new to sell. Entertainment venues and event planners are also in a position where they have to pivot drastically during this time. If your business is in this situation you have a harder route than most. If you choose to fight, though, then you are going to need a little bit of creativity and a lot of courage to do something new. Pivoting to sell a new product or offer your services in a new way can be risky, but at this point, what else have you got to lose? Hunker down, put on your thinking cap, and maybe even call up some trusted friends to figure which direction you need to go. Many yoga instructors and personal trainers have pivoted to online classes through Zoom. Some have changed their pricing structure to reflect the drastic change in service. We know local remodeling contractors and shutter manufacturers who have pivoted to make things that can be delivered without contact, like garden boxes, playgrounds, and more.
If there isn’t a viable option for you to sell something (and there are unfortunately going to be those situations), but you aren’t ready to close up shop, then this could be the ideal time to become a thought leader via social media, podcasts, webinars, and more. This can be a great time to focus on your brand awareness marketing and create content that will help people see you as the go-to dentist, interior designer, hair stylist, or personal trainer once all this passes. If you are able to take advantage of some of the available federal/state assistance during this time, then it can be a bit freeing to not worry about sales for the next month and work on getting your name out in front of your target audience in a new way that keeps you relevant and top of mind.
How to Find Your Target Audience Now
If you are still able to sell your product or service but the means of delivery has changed, then you don’t have to pivot as much. However, you will still need to inform your customers that you’re still in business and that the way they need to procure your services has changed. For you, marketing right now is more important than it has ever been. If you are in this position, or if your product or service (and the way it’s delivered) hasn’t changed much at all, then the most important thing for you to consider is your audience. No matter whether the core of your business has been affected or not, the lives of your current and potential customers have been turned upside down. Your marketing and advertising will obviously need to reflect the current situation. To continue to approach your clients as normal would be tone deaf. However, it doesn’t mean you have to be somber and gloomy. If your brand is fun and up beat, then be fun and upbeat with your response. If your brand is known to be a pillar of the community, then embody that add a dash of hope and optimism to your messaging during this time.
Here are some things that you should consider when thinking about your target audience:
- Can they still afford your product or service at pre-corona prices? The economy has no doubt taken a downward turn. Your pricing might need to change (even temporarily) in response to that.
- How have their needs changed? They are focused on stocking up on groceries, getting their children acclimated to homeschooling, or the health and safety of their family. How can your business address some of these needs and the underlying concerns?
- What are they doing now? Is your product or service still relevant to their lives? If it is, great! If its relevance has changed, then consider changing what you offer or pivoting and offering something new.
- Where are they spending their time? Are there viable ways to reach them offline? What social media platforms are they using the most? Figuring out where you can get in front of your target audience is vital to any campaign’s success. Typically we like to spend more time on LinkedIn than on Facebook, but now are target audience is spending a lot more time on Facebook.
- When are they spending their time on social media? People’s day to day lives and sleep habits have changed.
- Does this crisis open up your target audience to a wider group of people? Consider Zoom. Before corona it was used primarily for long-distance business communication, but now it is a household name and community groups are using it to stay in touch.
- How does your delivery need to change? Do you need to offer online sales? What creative ways can you think of to accommodate social distancing while conducting your business?
Reassess Your S.W.O.T. and Realign Your Goals
Once you’ve wrapped your head around your own business’s offerings and the needs and situation of your target audience, you can start to plan. It’s not a bad idea to conduct another SWOT analysis. Are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats the same or have they changed? It’s also a good idea to understand that an annual planning cycle is no longer relevant. You have to accelerate your marketing planning and evaluation. A month timeline is not a bad idea. However, planning and reviewing doesn’t get you very far if you aren’t measuring. Another core marketing concept that you need to have in place if you don’t already are SMART goals. These are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. What are your goals for this month? Have a way to measure them against your marketing efforts.
That being said, now is not the time to focus on vanity metrics (views, likes, reactions, comments, shares, impressions, etc.). They’re very alluring but you need sales! Sales are the lifeblood of your business. The brands that don’t maintain sales in these tough times will likely struggle to survive.
Chances are, after you conduct a new SWOT analysis and realign your SMART goals to the new normal, there will be some opportunities for you to try new things with your marketing. There may even be some big hairy ideas that you are tempted to bet the farm on.
Make small bets. See what works and what doesn’t with your marketing. Make small investments. Plan and test them in shorter intervals. By conducting small experiments, you gain knowledge faster while preventing a large, irreversible disaster. However, the challenge of doing this is that paying attention to your metrics and understanding them is an absolute must. If nothing else, you’ll come through this crisis with a better understanding of marketing tactics and how to evaluate them.
Whatever your goals and plan are, it is important to realize that while the economy slows down it is likely that you will get less return on your ad spend than you normally would. However, there is also a chance that other businesses, both big and small, will be spending less on ads, consequently freeing up more ad inventory causing prices to drop. Whatever your budget is, you will want to keep an on eye on the ROI of your ads. As long as the numbers justify it, keep spending. If the return doesn’t justify the cost, though, then it’s probably time to start pulling back or shifting tactics.
Viable Marketing Tactics and Strategies During Quarantine
The great news is that one tactic that can be relatively cheap right now is content. Almost anyone can pick up a phone camera and make a low-budget informational and/or entertaining video. People are scrolling through Facebook and Instagram more than ever right now and so it’s a good time to be asking:
- Is there something we can contribute to this conversation?
- Is there some way we can use our channels and our content to help?
- Can we amplify a voice that’s making a difference?
Video is a great way to connect with people right now. Everyone is hungry for human interaction. If you can provide an authentic perspective on your business during this crisis through video then there is a good chance you can win over the hearts and loyalty of people in your community.
Other things you will want to consider when thinking about content are:
- Is there content or ads that you need to pause immediately?
- Don’t be alarmist
- How can you help keep people informed
- Be personable
- Create employee generated content (what is everyone binging on Netflix, pet photos, etc)
Some other tactics that you might be able to take advantage of are:
- Gift cards
- Online classes/webinars
- Email Marketing (build your email list)
If you are in the position of having extra time on your hands and a little bit of a budget to work with then it might also be a good idea to work on some things that usually get put on the back burner. I have heard numerous stories of people deep cleaning their houses because of quarantine. Your marketing might also need a deep clean. What are some of the tasks you’ve been putting off because they didn’t seem that important. Here is a list of possible things to do:
- Contact customers to leave reviews
- Followup with recent/current customers and checkin with them
- Audit your marketing collateral (website, business cards, ads, social media accounts, etc). Note which ones need to be changed.
- Consider a rebranding.
- Evaluate your business plan and past marketing.
- Learn a new marketing skill. Facebook Ads or Google Ads for instance.
- Create a prospect list
- Stalk your competition. What have they been up to? Are there any ideas you can take and improve on?
- Consider creative ways to build customer loyalty during the quarantine.
- Consider new tactics like chat bots, online billing, or paid ads.
And lastly, you definitely don’t want to forget to plan your comeback. This will all be over at some point and you want to be ready for that day. Until then, keep your hands washed and don’t forget to brush your teeth!