The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire world. Business owners have had to scramble to find ways to stay afloat even as they’ve had to work from home and halt in-person sales and services.
It’s a lot for anybody to deal with at a time that’s already stressful.
The solution for most business owners is to find ways to offer more value to customers to keep them on board and ensure they’ll stick with your company in the long run.
That sounds great, but what’s the best way to do it? As you might suspect, the answer’s both easy and complicated.
The Pandemic by the Numbers
Let’s start with some statistics that help to paint a picture of what your customers might need during this difficult time.
- Record numbers of Americans have filed for unemployment benefits, meaning that many are living with financial uncertainty and stress. Over 6 million people filed in the week ending March 28th.
- Between 1.4 and 2.1 million small businesses are at risk of closing their doors permanently.
- More than 75% of consumers have experimented with new buying behavior during the pandemic, including a shift to online and digital buying and a decrease in brand loyalty.
- The only category of spending to experience growth is things people consider to be essential – in other words, impulse buying is down.
The takeaway here is that the pandemic has made a significant impact on both consumer confidence and consumer spending. If you want your customers to continue buying from you, you must give them a reason to do so.
Focus on What Your Customers Are Feeling
The first thing you’ll need to do is to make sure that your customers know you understand what they’re feeling. Some of the most common emotions right now are:
In the marketing world, you probably know about FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt. In normal times, there’s a tendency for marketers to try to create a sense of uncertainty or fear, such as FOMO, the fear of missing out.
That’s not a good idea during the pandemic because people are already feeling those things. You don’t need to do anything to incite those emotions. Instead, your job is to empathize with them. Consumers are far more likely to buy from a company that understands them than with a company that only seems to be out to make money.
Communicate Your Empathy Effectively
Understanding your customers is one thing, but it won’t matter if you can’t effectively communicate your empathy. That means focusing on clear, compassionate communication that reassures your target audience.
What does that look like? Here are some possibilities:
- Putting a COVID-19 statement on your website and making it apparent what you’re doing to keep your customers safe. Examples may include social distancing markers and procedures, escalated cleaning, and shipping precautions.
- Sending an email series addressing your customers’ concerns and detailing how you can help.
- Engaging more frequently on social media and encouraging your audience to share their thoughts and feelings with you.
The focus should be on letting your customers know that you’re there to help. If they know that, they’ll be more likely to buy from you even if they’re not buying from other businesses.
Offer Increased Value
Since consumers are mostly spending only on essentials, it’s your job to offer as much value as possible to your customers to encourage them to buy from you. Small business owners are getting creative. Here are some of the things I’ve noticed:
- An increase in online ordering options, including expanded ordering, delivery, and payment options.
- Addition of new product and service options, including things like delivery, curbside pickup and by-appointment in-person services.
- Creation of new products and bundles designed to meet the needs of people as they quarantine and work from home.
It’s no accident that many apparel companies, for example, have started to manufacture and sell masks. There’s a huge need for them and a natural desire for people to get masks they like. Selling products and services that meet the immediate needs of your customers is a good way to stay relevant.
Refocus Your Marketing on Digital
Your marketing focus during the pandemic should be fine-tuned to reflect the needs and wants of your customers. For many small businesses, that means doubling down on digital spending and solutions.
Your customers may need:
- Additional online ordering and delivery options
- Additional payment options
- Increased communication on social media
- More emails offering them immediate value and solutions to their problems
You may also want to consider allowing customers to sign up for text updates in addition to email.
Revamp Your Budget
Finally, you should take a close look at your budget – both for marketing and operations – and reallocate your resources accordingly.
For example, if you have applied for and received a PPP loan to cover your payroll, you may be able to put some extra money into marketing. Search engine marketing and social media marketing are both useful right now as people hunker down at home and spend more time online.
If you’ve had to lay off employees or downsize your office, you may have money in the budget that can be repurposed. Or you may need to cut across the board. Either way, it’s a good idea to review your marketing mix and figure out what’s going to work for you in the short term.
It’s also worth noting that the reallocation process should include testing. It may take some trial and error to arrive at the most effective marketing mix. It’s useful to view your budget as a fluid thing and be willing to reallocate funds as needed.
The bottom line? The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of stress for small business owners, but it also represents an opportunity to realign your business with your customers’ needs. Your willingness to meet the challenges head-on can help you to solidify your brand, ensure customer loyalty, and protect your business in the long term.