The viral pandemic sweeping the world in 2020 has led many governments to introduce restrictions on free movement for citizens and to oblige certain types of business to shut their doors.
The most severely affected business sectors include hospitality, live entertainment, leisure and non-food retail.
But for those that are allowed and able to continue trading during the pandemic, marketing remains a vitally important concern.
How do you reach your customers when their lives have been upended?
In this article, we’ll look at what forms of marketing activity remain relevant and effective, and the needs of your customers when they are required by government guidance and regulations to stay at home.
Tip 1: Keep in touch with your customers
Communication is key at such an uncertain time. Customers will want to be reassured, so ensure that you keep in touch with them regularly and keep them updated with how your business is dealing with the situation. This will help to manage expectations and retain existing customers.
Tip 2: Let people know you’re still open for business now
With the plethora of restrictive regulations, many businesses have suspended operations altogether. If you are one of the ones fortunate enough to be in a sector that is allowed to continue trading and you are brave enough to do so, then the first thing you should probably do is to let all your existing customers, and potential new ones, know that you’re still open for business.
Tell them how they should best contact you without turning up at your office or premises in person, and make them feel but safe and welcome.
Tip 3: Pivot your business
If you sell products or services that can be delivered to people in their homes during the lockdown, then take the opportunity to spell this out to your target customers.
Perhaps you are a restaurant or café that normally serves food, but with a bit of adaptation, you can deliver it instead. If you are one of the businesses in this category that has adapted its processes to include a delivery service instead of shutting up shop completely, then you should certainly think about how to get the message that you still trading, only in a new way, across to people so they don’t just assume you’re closed until further notice.
Lots of restaurants that have had to shut and can’t offer a delivery service are now also selling vouchers that can be purchased online and redeemed when they reopen.
If you usually trade online in any case, then now’s the perfect time to shout about it. Tell people how easy it is for them to place an order, whether by telephone or through your website, and point out that the postal service or your courier of choice is still operating as normal, but reassure them that social distancing rules will be observed by the delivery agents and that your customers won’t be expected to sign for goods they’ve received.
If you are a gymnasium or personal trainer, think about how you can organise fitness classes over the Internet or offer continuing personal fitness coaching either electronically or over the telephone.
With video conferencing software, such as Zoom, making it easier than ever to stay connected, really think about the ways you can connect with your customers remotely. Whether you are a consultant, personal trainer or other professional, if you can make it work, work via video and let your customers and clients know.
Tip 4: Ensure your customers can find you online
Think carefully about how visible your business is online and whether there is room for improvement in this respect (there nearly always is!).
How easy is it for people to find your business by searching for your company name, your personal name, or the types of products you sell?
Existing customers will probably be familiar with your company name but especially if yours is a small local business and customers have got to meet you personally, some of them will find your personal name easier to remember, so if they haven’t bought from you online before or can’t remember how to get to your website, it’s important that they can find you easily with a search for either your trading name or your personal name.
If you have a small or medium-sized local business, then local citations of your business that show your trading address, both in directories and in your Google My Business profile, are important to ensure that your website is perceived as a credible business of its kind in your area.
To attract new customers you haven’t met before, you should also check on your visibility on Google for the generic keywords that people are likely to search for if they want the products or services you sell. Unless you’re a very well-established business or in a very small niche area, then it’s unlikely you’ll be on the first page nationally for those things, but you should at least aim to get there locally for as many of the most relevant keywords as possible. Formulate an SEO strategy that includes targeting the most important keywords you want to be ranked for by making them appear prominently in your page headings and title tags.
Tip 5: Utilise Social Media
Now more than ever people are looking to their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds for inspiration and escapism. Are you a business that can offer more for your customers on social media at the current time?
Think about developing and sharing relevant content that is relatable and honest, activities to keep them busy, and video content. Now really is the time to explore how you can use social media to connect with your customer base. When exploring this, be sensitive to how your customers may be feeling and aware that their buying habits may have changed in the last month.
The marketing you do now should be supportive and build your business as a brand that consumers remember favourably at this time. Can you offer any discounts, run offers, or give away freebies, for example?
Look at the huge following Joe Wicks, The Body Coach, has gained in such a short space of time: 1.2 million new YouTube subscribers in a week, through offering daily PE classes for the nation’s children via his YouTube channel. Think about what your business can offer now that can deepen the connection with your current customers and build brand awareness to attract new ones.
Tip 6: Collaborate and Support Local
Are you a local small business in your area? Are many other small businesses in your area experiencing the same issues as you? Think about ways in which you can collaborate and support each other.
This could be anything from organising an informative webinar with other business founders offering free advice, to including your local café that now offers food delivery in a newsletter to your customers. It could be as simple as a shout-out on social media. This activity will encourage other businesses to do the same, and reinforce your values to customers, as a brand that offers value, cares and is real.
Tip 7: Test and experiment
As difficult a time as it may be for your business, it is worth looking for areas of opportunity while you have less work on that you can use to your advantage. Use the extra time to test and experiment across all of your marketing channels. Trial different types of content in various formats, use offers and discounts if you haven’t previously, or post on social media at different times from those you usually would. Now is a great time to find out what your customers want to engage with and when is the best time to reach them. Treat this as a learning exercise.
Tip 8: Finish incomplete digital jobs
In the case of the point above, it is likely that you may have more time on your hands in the coming month. If you can, use this time well. Look at any incomplete digital jobs that may benefit from some focus now. Can you improve your website to ensure that you are in the best possible position to deal with a potential influx in customers on the other side of this? Can you review your brand and tone of voice? Can this be refined and redistributed with employees to ensure that there is complete brand clarity when life returns to normal?
These important marketing tools can sometimes get left by the wayside when you are spending more time on the operational, day-to-day side of the business. Take this time to refresh and re-evaluate. Although there may be some cost incurred, it will ensure that your business comes back stronger on the other side.
Tip 9: Manage Your Cashflow Carefully
Whatever your marketing strategy during the coronavirus crisis, you should be mindful of the need to manage your cashflow carefully, and especially so if your sales are down as a result of the regulatory obstacles and difficult trading conditions.
Many UK-based firms in sectors directly affected by the social distancing requirements have found it necessary to place the majority of their permanent staff on the government’s furlough scheme, which accords them a kind of temporary redundancy while allowing them to retain 80% of their wages up to a certain level, thanks to the government’s economic support programme for businesses affected. However, even those that have signed up to this scheme may find that they don’t start to receive payments from it straight away, or even for a month or two, and in the meantime they still need to pay their staff 80% of their wages without them being required to work for them. There is a real danger in these circumstances of these firms running out of cash, and emergency business loans may be needed to tide them over.
The government is also offering unsecured loans to small businesses to help, but again there is likely to be a considerable delay before funds are received under these. So some kind of an emergency plan may need to be called upon to bridge the gap.
Tip 10: Invest for the Future – as far as you can
However bleak the current situation may appear, if you have enough money in the coffers or on loan to tide you over through the crisis, there is a strong case for keeping an eye on your goals for when normal business is able to resume.
Think about how best to prepare your business for when the lockdown ends. Because when it does, you’ll want to make the most of it and swing back into full trading action with vigour.
Even if you have had to suspend trading completely during the lockdown, you may find you have time to design your marketing strategy for the period beyond it. If you have an online presence, use the downtime to think about ways to revamp and enhance it. For example, can you improve your website in ways that would increase customer confidence or allow direct sales online? Be sure to contact your digital agency for support and advice in this.