With the COVID-19 outbreak stretching further across the world daily, the repercussions are widespread anxiety, fear, and disruption. Impossible to downplay, it is the human impact (it’s really a human tragedy), the real-world, immediate health concerns of the outbreak, that present the biggest concern, but for those businesses looking to maintain their activity, in alignment with this shifting focus, you have to be innovative and creative to survive. For small businesses and entrepreneurs, there are new challenges and a growing list of complications to consider in marketing, communications, messaging, inventory, packaging, supply chain, logistics, and new things are added daily.
The Coronavirus continues to disrupt industries – luxury, travel, big-box retail, food, oil & gas, and international chains especially are feeling the strain as the Coronavirus, which has 1,016,330 confirmed cases and has led to 53,238 deaths worldwide (as of April 2nd), has soured global economic activity. But not all companies are reeling from the disastrous outbreak. Some brands are seeing their products sell out or their stock rise amid the turmoil. Here is an article about 12 brands that are emerging healthier from what the World Health Organization (WHO) has already called a pandemic.
This is an unprecedented time in our history, this is new to all of us, we’ve never experienced anything like this in our lives and we need to move on from being people that hoard toilet paper, to rethinking our strategies and adjusting the way we work, it’s imperative for our collective business survival. Here’s the thing – fear paralyzes! Let’s be honest, you’re not alone in that. While any fears you have about COVID-19 are understandable, they don’t have to derail your life. Although there are a variety of possible outcomes, as decision-makers, we have to do everything we can to avoid assuming the worst. Here are some tips from experts for managing your Coronavirus anxiety:
• Have a plan in place for things like work or school closures.
• Talk with friends and family and share concerns, even via text or FaceTime.
• If you see a therapist, bring up your COVID-19 anxieties.
• Limit news sources to reputable ones and limit how often you check.
• Take a moment to be mindful or meditate.
• Practice self-care, eat healthy foods, exercise and get enough sleep.
• Stick with your routines and favorite hobbies.
Here are two other resources that talk about the psychology of fear and how we respond during these times. (article 1, article 2)
Remember fear is normal. I’m not saying that we need to accept it all, but just don’t panic. My friend Scott Clark, Executive Leadership Coach and COO at Awesome Journey reminded me recently about the importance of pausing to reflect on what’s happening around me and to consider my next action vs going into react mode which rarely solves a problem – again, we end up being people that hoard toilet paper.
As you think about your companies and how to lead your businesses through the Coronavirus crisis, you need to remember that digital marketing strategies have always required a mix of art and science, and the difficulties – and pressure – to get that mix right is heightened in times of uncertainty such as during the Coronavirus outbreak. As more and more people become self-quarantined, and companies create new policies for their teams to work from home, the reality is that there will be fewer people doing face-to-face business. Your restaurants, coffee shops, gyms, offices, hotels, and stores, etc. will see fewer people – the natural reaction to a financial crisis is to start thinking short term and cut your spending, some companies cancel marketing and advertising budgets entirely, but research from previous global financial crisis shows that this just compounds the negative effects for your company in the long run. Remember marketing encompasses everything that brings money into your business, everything else can essentially be classified as finance and/or operations. Marketing does not make returns without consistent work on brand-building, so continual investment will always remain key especially in times of a financial crisis. The goal should always be to continue to invest in growth while reducing other business costs where possible. If you had any lingering doubts about the need to embrace digital transformation, Coronavirus might just have changed your mind. As companies struggle with the physical challenges of doing business, digital-first companies will continue to flourish.
On a practical level here are some ideas that will allow you to challenge and create an advantage for your company in the weeks ahead:
Communicate early and with transparency and control
If there’s one point to be clear on, it’s this: every consumer engaging with you is thinking about Coronavirus. This means there’s no benefit in trying to avoid the elephant in the room. It’s critical that you’re proactive in your messaging, getting on the front foot to assuage concerns wherever you can.
Your audience expects to hear from you. Don’t wait to communicate important information. Waiting too long can negatively affect your brand reputation and also confuse or stress your audience. They may assume you don’t care or that you aren’t taking the situation seriously. Take time to think about how the crisis is having a direct impact on your community, customers, and followers. Your customers, prospects, and community want to know what you’re doing to support the health, safety, and well-being of the ‘community’. Pause insensitive marketing campaigns – like contests or humorous content – and unnecessary events – like in-person workshops or conferences.
Last week, Corona and its parent company Constellation Brands faced a backlash over a tweet about its hard-seltzer line. The brand announced that four new flavors would be “coming ashore soon,” which seems in keeping with Corona’s not very aspirational beach-life image but was taken by some to be distasteful amid the Coronavirus pandemic. With emotions high globally, maybe more sensitivity would have helped their cause.
Now is the time to shout loud about the meaningful action you’re taking to protect your customers. Take the approach of proactively showing your customers that you’ve got policies in place in order to earn their trust. A quick Google search of “Can I get Coronavirus from…..” will reveal that people are super nervous of packages coming from China (and packages/ mail in general) and also Chinese food – If you’re in the food services industry especially a Chinese food restaurant or import/ delivery services, this knowledge would suggest that you should include as part of your communication plan or FAQs, information about how your food or service is safe and what you’ve done to ensure your customer’s safety. Trust me, it will make a difference.
Resist thinking only in the short-term
During a financial crisis, it is always better to maintain your ‘share of voice’ (a measure of the market your brand ‘owns’ compared to your competitors) at or above the ‘share of market’ (the size of your customer base in the market) – the longer-term improvement in profitability is likely to greatly outweigh the short-term reduction. If other companies are cutting budgets, the longer-term benefit of maintaining SOV at or above SOM will be even greater.
Here’s what we mean, it doesn’t matter if your products/ services are designed for in-store experiences, now is the time to re-think how your business can evolve to ensure it survives this changing dynamic. Whether it’s creating new product lines, better leveraging content marketing and social media strategies to keep customers connected to your brand, or even thinking bigger about new business ideas that capitalize exclusively in a digital world, you’ve got to think differently. Subscription-based delivery services and remote focused technology offerings are going to explode in growth as more and more people choose to shop and make their buying decisions from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
Do not cut advertising spend, re-evaluate your channels
In a time of uncertainty, it’s a common mistake for marketers to cut their marketing spending. Marketers should focus their budget on raising the brand’s profile and awareness, while increasing marketing spending might be swimming against the tide, it can allow you to reap the rewards of capturing consumers’ attention by keeping them engaged long-term.
At this point, your channels may not be doing their normal job. In this time where ‘business as usual’ has gone out of the window, you need to rethink what those channels can be doing instead. Now is the time to invest additional energy into your brand positioning and messaging. Aim to solidify relationships, rather than attempt to generate bookings that simply won’t be happening for a little while. For example, if you’ve been using social media as your vehicle for lead generation and now that has suddenly disappeared, the question you should be asking is “How can I use social media to deliver value-add content instead?” Now’s the time to focus on your brand and building recognition. This means that when traffic starts coming back, you’ll be considered an even bigger expert in your field as you’ve spent the last few months building trust, authority and like-ability.
Focus on your local market
Ensure maximum local market exposure by concentrating more budget and targeting on advertising in your city/ province to focus on those already here, countering the impact of international travel restrictions, supply chain problems, and foreign imports. For example, in the hospitality industry, there should be an increase in people searching for ‘staycations.’ This is an important moment to step back and refocus on the key things that will drive brand loyalty and therefore, sales and business growth. Getting the right mix between long-term strategic thinking and targeted short term tactics is critical for ongoing brand health. Concentrate on your core brands and products/ services. Now is not the time to spread scarce resources across multiple brands or product variants. Times like these may call for a triage strategy – concentrate your marketing efforts behind the products/ services that are most likely to survive, and leave the others as secondary products/ services.
To extend this idea, as the produce market becomes restricted by customs and international logistics and supply issues, people will want to buy local from the farmers market for example as they know they can trust where their dairy, meat, fruits, and vegetables come from. They are fearful of buying produce imported from Europe or Asia, especially those that have come off factory lines, that have multiple human touchpoints and will happily spend more for local, organic, grain-fed, non-gmo products they can find at a local farmer’s market. According to neilsen.com – driven by necessity or the need for greater transparency, local brands and retailers are optimally placed to alleviate and deliver against consumers’ product sourcing concerns. Local businesses will benefit from sharper messaging reinforcing supply chain visibility and focused distribution to reach consumers.
You have to be where your market is
Focus on marketing campaigns where there’s still an established audience with a strong intent to buy. If applicable to your company, ensure you have Pay Per Click campaigns covered to capture those still looking to purchase your product/ service and have a remarketing campaign in place to convert those still undecided, but who have already shown they might be in the market. We’re all new to this crisis environment in an era of increasing e-commerce markets, with so much direct-to-consumer and so much focus on ordering and shipping. What happens if, all of a sudden, your commercial audience is going to be at home more? It doesn’t mean they don’t want to buy those things anymore… it means they’re going to turn online for their solutions.
Challenge everything! Innovation is key
In times like this, a fresh perspective is so important, you have to challenge your most critical decisions always asking “Why am I doing this? What’s the desired outcome of this decision?”. Think about your customer experience and what you should reconsider, and potentially alter, to make sure your service is second to none. Now could be a great time to develop new approaches, products and services or experiences that will bring in new customers and grow loyalty with your existing audiences. In most industries, new audiences will be much harder to attract compared to focusing on more opportunities with people already using your products/ services.
Whether you’ve already been hard-hit or simply preparing for a worst-case scenario, one of the most important things you can do now is to pivot your focus from acquisition strategies to conversion strategies. Working on your conversion rate isn’t just a short-term concern – it’s critical to ensure that you have the quickest-possible recovery once the crisis passes. If you focus on your conversion rate now, you’ll be on a much stronger base when traffic starts coming back, enabling your overall revenue to be higher. Think about the hospitality industry here in particular, it doesn’t matter what strategies they put in place, it is unlikely to generate any new interest of significance as there are restrictions in place and honestly no one wants to travel even if they could. It would not matter how much money a hotel in Europe throws on ads, it simply will not convert – what this means is that the traffic you manage to acquire now, in spite of everything, is really important, so if we were working together on this, we would be developing strategies for you to make sure that the interest you do have, converts to an opportunity.
Focus on your brand – don’t forget it!
Never has the story your brand tells, been more important. Remember, people don’t necessarily buy products and services, they buy the transformation they experience when they engage with your product/ service. Is your brand positioned correctly in your local market? Is your brand well defined? Are you telling a compelling story? Experience (and all the best case studies around the world) tells us that you’ll be rewarded for producing relevant, engaging ideas (and content) that drive brand loyalty. In times of fear, you have to remember that people buy from people they trust and they trust people they are in relationships with – are you, your company, and brand focused on building relationships? There’s never been a better time to do it.
Ensure you’re delivering an experience
I read recently that while 80% of companies believe they deliver “the best experience,” only 8% of customers agree. For your company what that means is that you still have a long way to go – there is tremendous opportunity to disrupt a competitor or gain market share in your industry. Everything your brand does – the way you do marketing, research, advertising and more – all play a role in shaping your customer’s experience.
Let’s be real customer expectations are rising, and faster than the speed that companies can improve their customer experience. Customers expect every interaction, end-to-end, to be the best experience they have with any company – not just yours! So, the question remains, how can your organization create a great customer experience strategy? If you’re looking for ways to improve the customer experience, read this article for 7 easy steps.
Be prepared for the rebound
The small business industry is resilient and we would anticipate that once our immediate crisis improves, demand should return. It may be a matter of hunkering down and making survival decisions, but dig in deep and hold on, China is already starting to send workers back out and factories are slowly starting to resume operations already – with lots of new precautions in place but the point is that they are still moving towards getting things back up and running again.
Use the time you have now to ensure that your ‘all clear’ message and strategy is ready far in advance of when you’ll need it – if you’re looking for help with this, just let us know. It might be tomorrow, it might be in two months’ time – it might be longer. Know that that recovery will be hard enough in itself – don’t make it any more difficult by having to scramble to show that you’re back in business.
Considering the time it takes to create, share, and apply new policies in large ( and small) companies, recovery planning needs to start while you’re still reacting to the crisis. For example, we know of so many companies facing a collapse in its short-term business, maybe now is the time to refocus around longer-term preparations. What if you started working in anticipation of the rebound, and upgraded internal systems, planned new marketing campaigns, designed new products or services, or improved some of the skills on your team, you’d be well on your way to being prepared for the eventual recovery. PS a few days ago LinkedIn launched 16 new learning courses to help users navigate work and the Coronavirus.
Be prepared for a changed world
According to an article in the Harvard Business Review by Martin Reeves, and Nikolaus Lang, we should expect that the COVID-19 crisis will change our businesses and society in important ways. It is likely to fuel areas like online shopping, online education, and public health investments, for example. It is also likely to change how companies configure their supply chains and reinforce the trend away from dependence on a few mega-factories. When the urgent part of the crisis has been navigated, companies should consider what this crisis changes and what they’ve learned so they can reflect them in their plans.
Implement Flexible Working Arrangement Plans
Allowing employees to work from home is the best way to prevent contamination given that human-to-human transmission is possible. By implementing flexible working arrangements, you are not just eliminating the possibility of transmission at the office but also during commute. Given the infrastructure that we have today, it is much easier to be “business-as-usual” with chat platforms, project management dashboards and other platforms that are online or on the cloud.
Don’t let fear rule your daily living. As the Coronavirus news becomes more urgent, be guided by reason, responsibility, and keep your fears in check. We’re all in this together. When we don’t seek support from each other and isolate ourselves, we’ll struggle moving forward.
The biggest pandemic we face together may not actually be the virus itself, but rather the fear spreading at an even faster rate. We can choose how we respond to this, let’s do this together by being vigilant, resilient, objective, supportive of our community, kind to those in need, stocking up on what we need and not hoarding so others can’t get what they need and supporting local businesses. At Office Guardians, we don’t pretend to have all the answers but we want you to know that we’re in your corner and as entrepreneurs, leaders, coworkers, parents, family, friends and neighbors, we understand how you feel – if you feel stuck in your business, wondering how you respond to the daily changes in the industry, what to do when projects dry up or you have to close your doors to keep people safe or have your teams work remotely – let’s talk. Here’s a link to book a free half-hour where we can chat together and brainstorm creative solutions that will allow you to thrive in this environment – we’re all in this together and we’ll give you our best. Remember that even though you may have run out of inventory, have to temporarily close and allow your teams to work from home or get involved in contactless pickup and delivery services, business still continues. Digital marketing, digital advertising, and direct marketing come to the fore now more than it has before.
So again “F-E-A-R has two meanings: ‘Forget Everything And Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Rise. ‘ The choice is yours.” Set up a video call if you need new ideas and support. We’ll get through this together.