COVID-19: Three essential marketing tips for dealing with the crisis

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Date: 2 April 2020

A take-away outlet offers a delivery service during COVID-19 crisis

If you're sat wondering how things changed so quickly, there is no real answer. Nobody expected a global pandemic to take over, bring businesses to a halt, and affect millions of people around the world. But it has and it's important to recognise how to deal with it.

Although we can't do anything to change the virus itself. In terms of marketing, there are a few things we can do to manage our customers' stress and anxiety as we navigate the COVID-19 crisis.

Here are three of them:

1. Treat your customers like your friends or family

Everyone knows about coronavirus. It's all over the news, the papers and social media. You've probably received a ton of emails too, but we'll get to that later.

To put this in a different context, imagine your brother is about to take part in an huge, international race. He's undefeated, the youngest in his category and the hot favourite. Sadly, he breaks his leg in a freak accident the day before the race.

Of course, everybody in your family knows about the accident. It's a big blow and they're bound to be concerned. To update them all, you decide to send a message to the family group chat. Here are two possible versions:

  1. "Things you should know about my brother are listed below, as well as some tips to help you deal with stress and relationships."
  2. "I know you're all worried, but my brother is recovering well. We have a meeting planned with his coach for when this blows over. Speak soon!"

You'll have noticed these are completely different. If you wouldn't send number 1 to your friends or family – you shouldn't send it to your customers either.

Here's why:

  • Your customers are real people, just like you. If you or someone you know feels worried, the people buying from you probably do too. They have empathy and want to feel comforted by your brand, even if this is something you have never done before.
  • Your customers want to feel understood. If it sounds like you're reading from a script, it will look like you don't really care. People want to feel like you're addressing them as an individual – it helps boost customer loyalty.
  • Your customers will remember what you did or didn't do. Nobody is going to forget about COVID-19 in a hurry. It will be talked about for years to come and people will have stories to tell – about brands, experiences, and potentially your customer service.

The final point is pivotal. It's easy to think about the short term amid a global crisis. But, you must remember that your customers will still exist afterwards: how you treat them in the meantime will really make a difference.

This ties into the peak-end rule theory – the idea that we only remember the most extreme feelings we experienced in a situation rather than all the positive and negative emotions in between.

For example, your customers are already likely to be feeling a little on-edge as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. If a customer doesn't receive an expensive gift ordered from your website, it's likely to make them more anxious than usual. If they then get passed between different members of staff with no one seeming to understand the problem, they might feel angry and at their wits' end.

They will remember this emotion long after the crisis has passed. Call it 'the straw that broke the camel's back'.

2. Recognise when people need your product or service

People always see the good in their own ideas. If you own a business, you'll know this is especially true – how could the product you created or the service you provide have any flaws? Let me tell you, it does.

Brands often get their marketing wrong. They fail to see when their product is a necessity and when it's purely a luxury. It is more important than ever to understand the difference and to make sure your marketing messages are appropriate.

To make sure you're getting the right balance, you can:

  • Monitor what your competitors are doing. You don't want to be the only business of your sector trying to sell when everyone else is offering support. See what other businesses are doing well and test a similar approach. A good example is when major supermarkets followed Sainsburys in limiting items, prioritising delivery slots and setting aside specific opening hours for the elderly and keyworkers.
  • Know the art of soft selling. This is a less persuasive, more subtle way of selling your product or service. In this case, recognise that there is a crisis that doesn't make your company a priority but also not completely worthless. If you had an average of 3,000 customers per month before, it's likely at least a few of them will still be interested.
  • Blend marketing with social media. Selling doesn't always mean pushy emails. Being active on your social media platforms will subconsciously remind people of your brand and let them know you're there if they need you. It's also easier to promote your business naturally as you aren't directly asking people to buy from you. If they see your product or service on Twitter, it's their choice whether to get in touch.

3. Be consistent and communicate well

This might sound self-explanatory but trust me, it's not. Many marketing blogs and interviews will have you believe that you must be consistent in everything you do, without preparing for the worst. Then when something like this happens, you have no idea how to deal with it.

Being consistent is important, but the elements surrounding this can be altered from time to time. There are ways of being consistent and creative. We'll call this keeping up to date or 'on the ball'.

This is a great way of persuading your customers to form new habits, as I explain here:

  1. Transitioning to online: Operating online isn't necessarily a bad thing. As well as demonstrating the strength of your employees and infrastructure, it can lead existing customers to regularly seek you out online rather than always making purchases in-store.
  2. Surpassing expectations: If your customers are used to receiving a workout video from you every week, make this every Monday morning at 9am. It will help keep customers engaged and will form a habit that will be embedded many months down the line.
  3. Thinking ahead: Giving your customers confidence is an easy way of being consistent. This doesn't mean sending them the same old inspirational quotes but creating competitions and working on new developments for when the crisis passes will increase the likeliness of them taking part in the future.

These three tips are only possible if you take care of the people who make up your business. Whether that's just you, a small team, or an entire office of employees, it's important to be consistent with them too. They're human too, and we're all feeling the struggles of the crisis.

The way you go about this is up to you: maybe you have morning meetings three days a week, in which case you can continue this routine remotely. Paired with your customers spending more time online, this will give you the confidence that should anything like this happen again, you'll have all hands on deck.

You can also put tools in place to make dealing with COVID-19 that little bit easier. For example, if you know customers are going to be more impatient and potentially snap at your employees, offering regular breaks, improving break-out areas, and introducing new approaches could help employees cope.

There's a reason consistency and communication are in the same section here: they come hand in hand, particularly at a time of crisis.

You must tell your customers the good, the bad, and the ugly. Keep your employees in the loop too – they need to know what's going on. Obviously, the situation is evolving all the time but avoid announcing something and then changing your mind. Make sure everyone is aware of major changes.

Again, imagine you're speaking to your friends or family. You will do this naturally if you remember the lifetime value of your customers (the amount of money a customer is expected to spend with your business in total).

Succeed now and in the future

Now more than ever, it doesn't matter whether you're a tiny start up or an established business. Ironically, the things we thought mattered the most have actually been put on the backburner: this entire article has been telling you how to speak to your customers. Funny, eh?

More importantly, the crisis has helped us focus on the fact that we are a team: a community of people who will come together to offer support during this difficult time. It's the reason we decided to make the Adzooma platform free until the beginning of June. We know everyone will be struggling in some way, so if we can help to manage their online advertising and free up more time for them to spend on strategy and communication, we will.

By being aware of the emotional impact of COVID-19, not only can you build a brighter, prosperous future for yourself, but also for others who might need an extra helping hand. Put in the work now, and you'll reap the rewards when normality returns.

Copyright 2020. Post by Jess Kirkbride, Copywriter at Adzooma – the simple, quick & easy way to manage your online advertising.

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