As we collectively come to grips with the impact of the coronavirus, there’s no shortage of challenges facing small businesses who haven’t already been forced to close or temporarily shut down. The evolving factors and dynamics we’re all attempting to keep up with and address seem to change every day.
We understand that marketing isn’t at the top of the priority list right now, but we also recognize that the question of marketing doesn’t entirely go away, either. Several business leaders we’ve talked to within the past weeks are grappling with how much they should play defense versus keeping the lead pipeline working so they’re ready to seize the opportunity when the economy does bounce back.
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all “marketing during a pandemic” playbook, but there are some considerations and guidance that, generally speaking, are well heeded.
In this article, we’ve curated a roundup of resources and content that we feel do a good job of providing some context to small business marketing during a pandemic and deliver some actionable tips that you can consider for your business as you navigate this difficult, unnerving time.
Have Your Customers’ Backs
It can be tempting to assume that, in times of crises such as a global pandemic, your customers don’t want to hear from you. And while it’s true that we strongly caution against any communications that might come across as crass, inconsiderate or opportunistic, this is also a good time to reach out to your customers and remind them that you’re there for them.
As noted by Forrester’s Dipanjan Chatterjee: “…ally brands that look out for the interests of their customers build the strongest relationships and create extraordinary value for their customers and themselves.”
Finding the balance of proactively communicating with customers while steering clear of missteps should be at the top of any business’s marketing concerns during this time.
For years now, marketing in general has been moving from a disruptive outbound model to a more helpful, inbound approach. In short, your buyers likely already prefer to find your business much more than they want to be advertised to.
During a pandemic, this is truer than ever. A poorly timed or tone deaf advertisement or email right now can turn off potential customers for good.
A better approach, as Lee Odden articulates in the TopRankBlog, is to focus on being found in search:
“Right now one channel for information discovery that is firing hot are search engines. Instead of being tone deaf or completely opportunistic about marketing, companies can double down on their SEO efforts to become the best answer for customers at the very moment they need a solution.”
Not only does it tend to be a more effective approach, but inbound marketing also generally costs much less than most outbound marketing channels – a key benefit as businesses look to shore up cash reserves.
Use Your Online Presence to Keep Customers Updated
For local businesses, your website may not be the first thing that pops up in search for your customers. Whether it’s your Google My Business listing, Yelp page or social media, it’s important for local businesses to update these listing with the most current business information so that customers know how, when and where to find you until business is back to usual.
“‘Businesses need to work on modifying their store hours on their key profiles (like GMB [Google My Business] and Yelp) as well as their messaging regarding what they’re doing about COVID-19 via Posts or descriptions in their GMB profile,’ Dan Leibson, VP of search for Local SEO Guide, told Search Engine Land.”
Consider How to Use (And Add Value to) Virtual Conferences
Needless to say, if your sales team was planning to attend or exhibit at any trade shows or conferences in the coming months, those plans have been postponed if not cancelled.
While not a perfect substitute for the opportunities that are often created in-person, we expect to see a big spike in virtual conferencing this year as businesses look for new ways to connect while physically stuck at home.
One challenge I foresee: virtual conferences may quickly become ubiquitous, and how many of these do you actually want to participate in? Furthermore, when you’ve carved out time and put up the investment to buy tickets, fly somewhere and stay in a hotel (not to mention any sponsorship budget) you’re likely to give the event your full attention. Virtually, I’d anticipate more attention-wandering, but that’s not to say there’s no benefit to the channel — just that there will probably be some unique challenges.
Despite the inherent challenges, HubSpot sees opportunity here while noting the need to add value:
“If you are shifting from a live event, try to add extra value to the viewers who are now tuning in online. Do an extra session. Offer more Q&A time. Give an extra special offer. Find creative ways to add extra delight moments.”
Ultimately, your company’s response to the coronavirus pandemic should be rooted in your values and the needs of your buyers. That said, it doesn’t hurt to keep tabs on competitors and businesses from other industries to have an understanding of how the situation is evolving and how audiences are responding to different messages.
Fortunately, you don’t need to compile all of this information yourself. Publishers such as AdAge are tracking marketers’ response to the crisis and updating them regularly. While these aggregators tend to feature household name brands, it can be instructive to see what’s happening and how it’s being received.
As we all find our way through the uncertainty of this pandemic together, we’re determined to live up to one of our core values: helpfulness. If there’s anything we can do to help, even if it’s just to talk, vent, weigh your options or get an outside opinion, we’d love to hear from you.
Charlie is the Chief Strategy Officer at Simple Machines Marketing. When he's not doing the marketing, he likes playing guitar, hanging with his family in Chicago and lots of other stuff too but this seems like a good amount for a blog bio.