You heard your marketing team loud and clear: Marketing is a fluid discipline, so expect to pivot. Have a plan, but be prepared for the plan to change. Put everything on a marketing calendar, but be ready to alter the calendar on a moment's notice.
If you've heard one marketing tenet, you've probably heard them all. As much as they teem with truth, the truth is that nothing could have prepared your small business for dealing with the coronavirus that is upending small businesses across the globe. The crisis is upending virtually every marketing truism in its path - and perhaps prompting you to rethink the best ways to market your business .
As gallant as it may be to act as though you will soldier on with a “business as usual” mindset, the truth is that in these “business as unusual” times, your marketing efforts and marketing messages should reflect this altered but temporary reality. Why? So that your customers continue to view you as relevant to their lives but also sensitive to the anxieties spurred by current events. Call it mindful marketing - a process you can undertake in five proactive steps.
Resist if you must, but not for long
A part of you may be resisting even the suggestion to undergo a marketing review, no matter how much you may enjoy the nuances and natural energy of marketing. After all, an argument can be made that in unstable times, it may be a comfort to your customers (and vendors) that some things stay the same - that life as they knew it, including your business and outreach efforts, keep a steady, consistent beat.
The risk with this way of thinking is that it underestimates exactly how much the coronavirus has affected marketing and the traditional ways to market your business. Look no further than the fact that Google took the unusual step in March of temporarily suspending new reviews, review responses and even new questions and answers because customers were suddenly posting a rash of one-star reviews. It became obvious to Google that the reviews were unjustified; customers who were evidently frustrated with stay-at-home-orders and other restrictions were unleashing their fury on businesses. Some customers complained that the businesses were closed - as if they had a choice in the matter. Other people shamefully floated the suspicion that the businesses were complicit in spreading the coronavirus in the first place.
It's difficult to imagine how these acts settled on the affected business owners and how they perhaps struggled to find solace in the fact that marketing is a fluid discipline. Many businesses wasted no time in pivoting to alternate review platforms that are designed to respond to crises such as we are experiencing now.
No one can be certain what the “new normal” will look like once the coronavirus subsides. But, there are five mindful marketing steps that businesses can take in the meantime.
1. Conduct a “picture audit”
No matter how familiar you are with your marketing collateral, now is the time to review it with a fresh pair of eyes - eyes that now see the world through the filter of the coronavirus rather than your favorite ways to market your business.
It's not easy to play devil's advocate with your own products. It's also not easy to try to imagine the offense someone might take to a photo or graphic they may have barely glanced at six months ago. For now, you want to do the best you can to eliminate any seemingly inappropriate or insensitive images. In the meantime, consider replacing images that depict:
- People in pain or in need of medical assistance
- People bundled up in clothing or protective gear
- Groups of people congregating together or touching
2. Lend a meaningful hand
The coronavirus should effectively silence every business owner who has ever bemoaned the absence of a signature community project to call his own. Such projects provide a way to strengthen bonds with a community and, as every savvy marketer knows, to foster the natural and genuine goodwill that flows from a PR (public relations) initiative. If you're not sure how to make the best contribution of your time, resources, talents or technology, make some calls to your local health and public service agencies. The pandemic has opened the floodgates to worthy projects - and new ways to market your business at the same time.
3. Put a face on your business
Early reports “from the field” show that people are searching for videos at unprecedented rates. If video production is a new pursuit for your business, consider creating informative, educational videos (and post them to your website or social media channels). Follow them up with “invitation-only” video events with guest speakers. Then consider hosting a contest so your customers can submit their own homegrown videos.
4. Cater to your customers with great content
Assuming that you trust content as one of the best ways to market your business, the coronavirus provides an ideal time for everyone associated with a business to interact. And further assuming that you have a good sense of what your customers want and need to ease their anxiety, content can help. Are they spending less money at restaurants and more time in their kitchens? Consider compiling an online customer cookbook. Are their kids sparring and driving them nuts? Think about asking customers to submit their favorite “kiddie distractions,” including educational and leisure activities. And there's probably not a customer out there who couldn't benefit from a helpful list of simple but necessary home maintenance projects. Put everything on a marketing calendar, but be ready to alter the calendar on a moment's notice.
5. Engage customers now and strengthen relations for tomorrow
Whatever service or product your business has to offer, we all need to feel like there’s a good path forward. Now, more than ever, customers need to feel like they matter. They need to know that you are there for them now and will continue to be there when the pandemic is over. The silver lining to all this is that we can come out better and improved if we choose to engage, learn to listen, and act upon newly discovered ideas. Activate your passion and instill that into your customers. This is a great time to strengthen customer relations by listening to their concerns and learning about what they hope to see for our new tomorrow. Use this time to welcome constructive feedback and stay connected with your customers . Engaging, brainstorming, listening, and learning are all elements of a formula for success, your success!
Take the long view on ways to market your business in the future
And it's true: The coronavirus crisis will eventually pass, unburdening business owners of an immense amount of stress and anxiety. But the "lessons learned" won't be all negative. In fact, some of these mindful marketing initiatives may be so successful that you keep them going long afterward, when the days of “business as usual” return to stay.