Face it. The COVID-19 pandemic is more serious than any of us originally thought. It’s costing lives, jobs, and will severely cripple the economy for years to come. And, as far as we can tell it’s not going away anytime soon. For most individuals, this virus has quickly reshaped the way we work, the way we shop, and the way our kids learn. For business owners, it will mean months of lost revenue and some seriously tough decisions.

While many companies view marketing as a luxury line item in their budget, the truth is that even in the worst of times it’s anything but optional. When things get dire it can be natural to hoard every scrap of cash like the last bag of toilet paper in Costco. However, it’s essential to remember that no matter how bleak the market gets, companies need to advertise to be found by customers.

But that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. In this blog we offer insights on how to market intelligently and efficiently over the next several months and most importantly–how to engage with your customers empathetically during such an unprecedented crisis.

Step 1: Whatever you do, don’t go dark.

Keep your customers informed about any changes to your business. Utilize your social media channels and your email lists. We understand that resources are scarce, and you have a lot of problems vying for your attention but consider this–your customers are just as desperate for answers and just as short on time as you are.

If you inadvertently waste their time by failing to keep them informed of your changing business practices it will leave a much stronger negative impression in their mind than the average sub-par customer experience. If you need a better reason than that, consider the fact that this step doesn’t have to cost you a penny–just some attention and time.

  • If you have a physical location, then update your Google listing to reflect any changes in your hours of operation. If you have multiple locations, make sure this is catered to each specific address.
  • Don’t just update your company’s homepage, but every page of your website to ensure you aren’t sending mixed signals. Have you changed your events page to reflect cancellations? Are customers still able to schedule appointments that your staff can’t fulfill? In the 21st century, your website is the lifeblood of your marketing operation. Always, always, always keep it up to date!
  • Post on social media. Whether, it’s one sentence, or one paragraph, on TikTok or LinkedIn–if your customers are there, then you should be too! But it’s not enough to post once and forget about it–your customers might have questions, and studies repeatedly show that building a relationship with your customers on social media is one of the best ways to earn their loyalty. If you have any staff members with especially short to-do lists, now is the time to get them up to speed on social media management.
  • Don’t forget about Email. It’s still the most direct way to communicate with your customers, and it crushes social media in conversion rates. Take all of the most valuable information from your Google Listing, your website, and your social media channels, put it in an email, and send it to your customers so they know what’s going on. 

Step 2: Figure out what your customers need.

Take the time to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. If you were them, what would you want to hear from your company right now? Even if it’s just as simple as affirming that you understand what they’re going through, it can make a huge difference. This will vary wildly depending on what your product or service is, but no matter what you sell, there’s something that your customer needs right now, that you can provide.

  • Read comments on social media or business review sites. Is the customer satisfied? Are they disappointed or angry? Are they neutral? Are they not saying anything?
  • Look at feedback and survey responses and speak with your customer service staff. Focus on the trends. Is there something that keeps coming up? Are your customers angry about shipping delays, product shortages, event cancellations?

Even if you have to step outside your specialty it’s essential that you take the time to figure out what your customers or prospective customers need right now.

If all else fails, it never hurts to ask them. Whether that’s in the form of an email or a personal call–reach out. Social distancing doesn’t mean anti-social.

Step 3: Offer to help.

Once you’ve identified your customers’ most urgent needs, offer to help in whatever way you can. Provide discounts on critical products, extend your customer service hours, issue full refunds or business credits for canceled events. Offer services to those in need pro bono. We know everyone is strapped for cash, but companies who make a good faith effort to help out during this crisis will be rewarded for it in the long run.

There are ways to do this without breaking the bank. You can create webinars for your loyal customers with platforms like Webinars OnAir , or MeetCheap–both cost less than $20 a month. For a more intimate setting, you can also coordinate a lesson completely for free on Google Hangouts, Uber Conference, Skype, or Zoom.

Below are some of our favorite examples of companies that have gone above and beyond in the interest of helping those in need.

Remember that the person you help today could become a lifelong customer tomorrow. Isn’t that worth the cost of a little generosity?

Step 4: Get personal.

With businesses trying their hardest to put on a professional front at all times, it can be easy to forget that behind every single company is a team of people doing their best. Finding ways to connect with your customers by reminding them that you’re struggling too will help you in the long run.

  • If your staff has switched to remote work, cultivate photos of their home offices to share on social media.
  • Use your email list and social channels to share personal anecdotes of the challenges you’re going through, and what you’re doing to tackle them.
    • If you have the resources, film a CEO message video to address the challenges head-on. The CEO of Marriott hotels delivered a truly heartfelt message to his staff and the public about the severity of the challenges they’re facing and vowed to not take a salary the rest of the year to help preserve as many staff positions as possible.

Video messaging is so powerful at capturing emotions because we are hardwired to mirror the emotions we see on the faces of people around us, but we have to see your face for that to work. Fortunately, in this day and age you can film HD footage straight from your cell phone.

We’ve outlined a few quick pointers to get the most out of the camera in your pocket. Or, if you’re local to New England, we’d be happy to film your CEO message video pro bono at our Manchester offices.

  • Film in a quiet room.
  • Shoot next to a window with ample natural light, but don’t film towards the window. Keep the window parallel to the camera, so that the sun lights your subject from the side.
  • Speak from the heart and ditch the corporate speak.
  • When in doubt, keep it short.

Producing personal content and helping your customers is one of the best ways to get “Earned Media”. Hearing good things about your company from someone other than you is worth a lot more credibility than any paid promotion.

Step 5: Follow Up.

If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that the COVID-19 pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better. Like all marketing efforts, it’s not enough to do something once and be done. You need to follow up with your customers. Keep a conversation going, continue to ask what they need, and keep trying to deliver in whatever way you can. Now is the time to support each other.

  • If you don’t have the financial capacity to give away free products, give away your expertise. Produce a series of simple video tutorials, or a podcast with relevant insights, on a weekly basis.
  • Utilize free design services like infogram to produce thoughtful infographics for social media. Use one of the free stock image sites like Unsplash and photo editing services like PicMonkey to create unique imagery relevant to your customers.
  • Write an eBook to distribute to potential leads through email.
  • If you do create some killer content that’s worth promoting you can always apply for discounts and grants for ad credits like the ones we talked about on Facebook or other platforms.

This doesn’t have to be expensive, all it takes is time. Mobilize your homebound team members and empower them to make content that is both personal and unique to their area of expertise. Your staff is one of your most valuable resources and the chances are pretty good that they want to stay busy.

 Conclusion

If you build a relationship now, your customers will remember it. Once you cultivate a relationship there are many ways to maintain it. Whether it’s with one customer or 1,000. Insightful social media content, automated email messages, and even direct mail all have their place in the customer relationship cycle. For a free consultation about your COVID-19 crisis response or to schedule your own CEO company message video, contact Linda Fanaras, President & CEO of Millennium Agency at lfanaras@mill.agency.

Be a Marketing Hero.  If your company is already taking steps to help out during this tough time and you’d like to be featured as one of our Marketing Heroes, then send an email to Robb Atkinson at ratkinson@mill.agency.

About Millennium Agency

Millennium Agency is a national, award-winning, digital, creative, content/PR, and video marketing firm. With offices in Boston and New Hampshire, our team unites creative branding and data analytics to accelerate our clients’ growth, while combining our clients’ vision with our marketing expertise to increase sales opportunities and drive brand success. From video advertising and web design to social media and PR, Millennium can guide your marketing efforts every step of the way. Contact the professionals at Millennium Agency to learn more!