These are tricky times. We’re learning how best to market our businesses while respecting the lives and vulnerabilities of consumers.
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
But what should you be saying during a global pandemic, and how should you say it? Learning how to strike the right marketing tone throughout the coronavirus crisis is a challenge for even the most established of brands.
Smaller businesses in particular are struggling right now, with many scrambling to expand their online presence, overcome logistical issues and grow their audience base. What steps can small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs take to ensure their messaging strikes the right tone? How do you balance driving sales to meet the needs of your business while not appearing to want to profit from the pandemic? We’ve put together a five-step plan to guide small businesses through this dilemma.
1. Be supportive
First and foremost, read the room. You need to adjust your tone and adopt a more empathetic approach to your communication style. Everyone is finding it difficult at the moment and your audience isn’t looking to be sold to. Promotional messages should become supportive, and now is the time to engage with your customer base on a human level.
Avoid using ‘coronavirus’ too much in your communications, or as a springboard for discounts or a means of selling your products. It’s imperative your business doesn’t come across as opportunistic, as businesses who have used the pandemic to peddle their products will feel the reputational repercussions further down the line.
Although it is expected for brands to address COVID-19, tread with caution as what you do now will determine how your brand will be perceived in the future. Instead of announcing crisis-related discounts or updates, send messages and provide information that is sensitive to the ongoing situation, your customers’ needs and the community.
Let them know that you too are affected, but make them aware of how you can help; are you operating deliveries as normal, are you offering free delivery or extended return times, are you able to provide resources and information related to your area?
2. Be transparent
As with adopting a supportive tone, it’s critical you communicate with your customers honestly. Their trust in your brand is integral to how you will survive this crisis, and transparency is the means of ensuring this trust remains intact.
Maintaining confidence in your brand will be much easier if customers are made aware of issues with their orders and if you manage their expectations. Not only will this reinforce trust in your brand, but will increase customer loyalty as research indicates that 62% of consumers are loyal to brands they can trust.
You must ensure that your website is constantly updated and your messaging consistent. If you are experiencing low stock, delivery delays and other logistical challenges, then tell your customers. Are you in a position to recommend alternative products if what your customers are searching for is unavailable, or to offer concessions on delivery costs due to longer waiting times?
3. Be relevant
For maybe the first time ever, everyone really is in this together. From a marketers perspective, you know exactly where your customers are, what they are doing and, crucially, what they need. Most of us are stuck at home, looking after children and family, often still while working full time… and we’re all looking for a bit of escapism.
That is not to say brands should take advantage of these circumstances, but rather that you should acknowledge them. It will be easier to engage with your audience, and encourage purchases, if they can resonate with your brand and see how your products are relevant. Your business is less likely to come across as intrusive or insensitive if there’s a perceived benefit to buying your goods in relation to what we’re all going through.
Try to fit your products into the narrative of isolation and build your marketing strategy around this; can your products help alleviate boredom, offer escapism, become a distraction, or bring people together? Whether you sell garden equipment, cosmetics or household appliances, tell your customers how your products can be used for afternoons in the garden, date nights or cook offs. With so many businesses competing for the attention of potential customers, you must be innovative in how you approach them.
4. Be creative
It’s understandable how smaller businesses often don’t have the time or resources required to invest in growing a sizeable social media presence.
Seven out of 10 Americans are active on at least one social media platform, with a large proportion currently spending much more time online during the lockdown. Now is the time to act wisely and cultivate your social channels or you risk missing an opportunity to invite new sources of traffic to your website.
Taking into account the aforementioned steps to striking the right marketing tone, try and test to communicate with, and grow your audience via social media platforms. This will be a chance to introduce you and your team to your customers, humanize your brand and build rapport.
Think about who your customers are and what times are they are likely to be online. The more content you distribute online to your desired demographic, the more touchpoints existing and new customers will have to engage with your brand, and the more people that will be directed to your website.
5. Be a community
Not every small business or startup will be in a position to partake in social initiatives, donations or competitions. Some companies are struggling and that is to be expected. If you’re not in a position to contribute financially or physically, then why not create your own community and give back by creating a sense of connection between your customers.
Your marketing efforts have had to refocus on helping your audience, and another step you can take to do this is by encouraging your customers to subscribe to your newsletters, post photos, comment on blogs, and write reviews. By strengthening your customer base, you learn about your target audience and how you can tailor your marketing strategy and communications to suit their needs.
How much you invest in your audience now will have a huge impact on your business in the coming months and years, and will go a long way to ensuring your brand is regarded favorably once this crisis has ended.
What to do next?
Once you have tweaked and tailored your marketing communications to strike the right tone amidst the pandemic, you should look at ways to grow your business online even further. ShareASale is specifically designed with small businesses in mind. Learn more about running a successful affiliate program with ShareASale’s trusted tools, technology and vast array of partnership opportunities here.