Private businesses come in all shapes and sizes. Still, none are either too big or too small to avoid the economic impacts of the ongoing public health emergency caused by the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Among the many extraordinary circumstances that businesses are now facing, the qualifications for a successful and appropriate marketing strategy have shifted dramatically.
What makes this pandemic unique for marketers is its timeline. Unlike other slower-moving crises, this pandemic requires nimble adjustments in response to fast-changing consumer behavior and government-imposed restrictions.
With an inundation of information being published every day, it can feel impossible to sift through it all and make rapid, strategic and informed marketing decisions. This article will synthesize relevant facts, strategies and tactics to help save time and confidently make decisions for the benefit of your business.
1. Define Your Business
Every business will require a highly personalized strategy to respond effectively to the current environment. This strategy will require a crystal-clear understanding of the business and its history.
Start with answering the fundamental questions: Is your company business-to-business or business-to-consumer? How much does your business rely on in-person transactions? What is the capacity for transitioning online? Is your business retention-based, or transactional? What is the consumer’s purchase journey?
During this time, consumer trends also show a clear delineation between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ — determine which one you are, or whether you have elements of both.
Write down the answers to each of these questions. In the coming months, this document will serve as a guiding light and help ensure that the ultimate action plan is closely tuned to these specific needs.
2. Anticipate Scenarios, Market Accordingly
Broadly, there are four different COVID-related scenarios that a business may be experiencing. Regardless of where you currently fall, it will be important to build a marketing plan for each one, to avoid being caught flat-footed by the ever-evolving nature of this pandemic.
Scenario 1: Business is down, but you’re still open. If your business deals more in wants than it does in needs, then you will probably still see purchases — maybe just not today or this week. An understanding of your customer’s buying journey should inform your thinking about strategic next steps.
Scenario 2: Business is temporarily closed, but competitors are still open. In this situation, consider re-allocating some marketing budget to an email to your customer list with a message that you are temporarily closed, along with the steps being taken before reopening. A strategy around how and when to reopen is equally important.
Scenario 3: Business is closed and so are competitors. Here, it very well may be appropriate to continue advertising with generally the same strategy as before — still prospecting and still going after purchase intenders. The demand is still there, and with everyone closed, there’s nowhere to fulfill that demand — this will likely lead to a sizeable bounce immediately upon reopening for those that stay in front of their customers. Adjusting the messaging of your advertising and right-sizing the budget as necessary may be all that is required here to make sure that you are well-placed to capitalize on pent-up demand upon reopening.
Scenario 4: Business is up. Certain verticals or offerings may actually lead to growth. If that’s the case, then focus budgets on feeding the hot hand and working to capture as much of that increase as possible.
3. Take Stock And Adjust Tactics
Before overhauling a marketing strategy, take stock of current efforts. Map out all of the marketing you utilize and where it falls in the sales funnel. Prioritize your focus: awareness, nurture or decision-making, based on how your business is operating in the current economic environment. This creates a snapshot of the actual function of your marketing in relation to the buying journey.
Continue to assess the performance of your marketing mix regularly and allow the flexibility to make adjustments as needed.
4. Refine Communication
How you communicate with your employees, vendor partners and customers will determine the strength of your relationships with them going forward.
Vendor partners should be one of your first calls. They are there to help your business — and they may have resources or ideas that could be key to weathering this storm. In addition, it is wise to stay up to date on their plans through the crisis — you rely on them for something, so knowing what their contingencies are will make sure that you aren’t blindsided. On the flip side, be sure to let them know what your contingencies are so that they can plan effectively as well.
Customers are the backbone of your business and you should communicate to them accordingly. What you’re saying may be more important than what you’re selling. Perception of your business’ response can result in more customers now and in the future. Highlight products and services that are still available but may need to be completed in other ways.
Remember that in the best of times, it costs five times more to attract a new customer than it does to retain an existing one. Prioritize contacting and serving your existing customer base, in order to retain them, before chasing new business.
No matter who you are communicating with, focus on empathy and what is in the best interest of everyone involved. Keep in mind that we are all experiencing a world that has been upended, at least temporarily. People have had their daily routines changed drastically, and some are truly frightened either for their health, their income, or both. Be a real person, be authentic, and focus on how you can provide the best service and what’s in the best interest of everyone involved.
5. Establish Priorities
Getting back to basics is still one of the strongest strategies for success. Whether you are facing a reduction in your marketing spend or just want to use this time to update your resources, there are key areas where you should focus your efforts to keep your content and your marketing approach current.
Here are a few places you can start that don’t require any extra spend and can impact long term results.
Search Engine Optimization: SEO is not something that can truly be turned on or off — rather, by its very nature it is either moving forward or backward. It takes time to increase organic rankings on the various search engines, and that time is measured in months and years. This is a compelling reason to keep pressing ahead with SEO strategy, or finally get one off the ground.
Web site Customer Experience: Now is an excellent time to focus on web site performance. Do a deep dive on your site and try to see it through the eyes of a potential customer. Focus on providing as seamless an experience as possible. When’s the last time that you updated your About Us page? Do you even have one? What about some content around your involvement in the local community? You could even add a selfie video of the owner telling customers just how much they’re appreciated, especially now. Be creative here — the opportunities are only limited by your imagination.
Data Hygiene: For any business that maintains some sort of customer list, use this opportunity to make sure it is in the best possible shape. Is your customer list accurate and is it complete, meaning name, address and phone number? Your customer list is your own first-party data, and can be the key to strong targeted marketing. Making sure that it is as clean and complete as possible will put you in a great spot to come back strong when we’re on the other side of this.
Reputation Management: Finally, ensure that your online reputation is in a good place. Respond to those questions and comments, and reach out to past customers to make sure that they feel good about your company. Any improvement in reviews will only pay dividends in the long run.
The major takeaways from these guidelines are threefold. First, do not panic and make purely reactive decisions. Pause to take stock of your unique situation, take inventory of current marketing and be proactive. Second, communicate even more than usual — with coworkers and employees, with vendor partners and definitely with customers.
And finally, keep an eye out for opportunities to enhance your position. You may need to be creative, but opportunities are there to either capitalize on the current environment or prepare to capture more than your fair share when pent-up demand is unleashed.
Maria Coleman is a proud Ohio State grad where she pursued a degree in English Language and Literature. Early in her career she put her degree to work in PR and Marketing Communications roles with such esteemed non-profit organizations as the Muscular Dystrophy Association and American Lung Association. Filled with a desire to learn the agency side of marketing, she joined Adtaxi nearly eight years ago and has progressed her career from helping business on the back end as a campaign manager to getting back to her roots as Adtaxi’s Content Manager.