Although we are all facing Covid-19 together, every company is facing a unique challenge in terms of what the crisis means for them individually. While some businesses such as cafes have had to close completely, others like local food shops have been forced to innovate fast by introducing social distancing measures and delivery and click and collect services.
Whatever your circumstances, in times like this, when it comes to reaching out to customers, it can be tempting to sit tight – after all, we have no influence over the crisis, and we are living through stressful times. However, the truth is, it’s now more important than ever to communicate with customers.
Managing your customers’ expectations
By now, ideally, you will have let your clients know whether your business is temporarily closed or operating differently and/or at a reduced capacity. Whatever your situation, it’s worth checking that this information has been communicated consistently across all your channels including:
- Email signatures and auto-reply
- Phone answering services
- Social media accounts
- Blogs and videos
Also, don’t forget to update this message as and when your situation changes. Regardless of whether or not the service you can provide can be delivered digitally, circumstances dictate that your presence is now predominantly an online one. Due to that, it’s crucial to create clear messaging that will keep you in potential clients’ minds both now and after the crisis has passed.
In normal times, often the day-to-day demands of running a business mean that creating a strong online presence can be something that gets neglected. If this sounds familiar, now is a good time to concentrate on getting this right. Now more than ever, there are plenty of free online resources to help get you started and if you need extra help creating the right tone of voice for your business, you could consider enlisting the help of a copywriter.
Building a strong brand for the future
Every business wants to give its customers what they need. While it may be frustrating that this may not be possible at the moment, it’s important to remember that you can still reach your customers and what you say as a business during this time will be remembered.
At a time when you are unable to provide a normal service, it’s crucial to switch your focus from promoting your company to appropriate brand building. Many people complained about the range of marketing emails, some of them inappropriate – that appeared from many brands at the beginning of lockdown. People felt patronised and irritated by yet another message from a faceless corporate CEO telling us they are ‘Here for us at this difficult time’. That message jars when people are facing losing their livelihoods – or even their homes.
Instead, it’s important to really think about how you can demonstrate trust and value by defining your vision and values. This can be done by creating customer personas, which allow you to identify and understand the clients you generally serve and those you would like to attract.
Building trust now will create brand loyalty in the long run. Ways of doing this include:
- Community engagement– can you afford to give anything away at a reduced rate or for less to keyworkers or the vulnerable?
- Free advice – can you provide blog, vlog or webinar content on your area of expertise that will genuinely help people through this difficult time? For example, a beauty salon can offer DIY tips for nail and brow care.
- Long-term change of strategy – is there an opportunity to use the internet to create a new revenue stream, for example by creating an online course?
Demonstrating this value for customers will make them appreciate you and bear you in mind as life begins to return to normal. As the writer Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Staying positive in the face of adversity
It’s a well-known fact that anxiety is the enemy of creativity and there is no escaping the fact that these are anxious times. However, when focusing on brand building, it’s important to try to find positives in your situation. Admittedly, this is not always easy to do, so if you are struggling, try the following:
- Have ‘C-word’ free periods where you stay away from the news.
- Replace ‘No, because’ with ‘Yes, if…’ For example, reframe ‘No I can’t quote for that job’, to ‘Yes, I can if we get news of the lockdown lifting’.
- Earmark some time when you would normally be out at work as a brand-building opportunity; getting people to know, like and trust your brand takes time – which you now have.
Dealing with criticism
As we all know, having a presence on social media means inviting feedback, both good and bad. Recently we have spoken to clients who have had instances of customers or competitors using their social media platforms to complain about their service or even to criticise their decision to remain open in some capacity during the lockdown period.
The first thing to remember is that having clearly communicated with clients regarding your company’s activities will help avoid confusion and therefore limit any negative comments you may receive. Indeed, you may well be able to point your complainer in the direction of your COVID-19 statement in reply.
Operating in these challenging times means mistakes can happen and delays can occur; for example, takeaways that are still open are not always able to stick to estimates for delivery times during busy periods. The vast majority of people are willing to tolerate this kind of minor inconvenience but for those who aren’t, a polite explanation is all that is required.
If you have received complaints from members of the public or competitors about the fact that your business remains open, as long as you are operating within government guidelines, again, you can politely point customers in the direction of your COVID-19 policy. If you are operating within the law, there is nothing to apologise for. Always remember, there is nothing to be gained from engaging with someone who is clearly looking for an argument and a professional presence on social media is as important as it is elsewhere.
The importance of advertising
Uncertainty can breed fear, but history shows brands thrive when they see advertising as an investment rather than an expense during recessions; in 2008/09 Heinz, T-Mobile and Hovis all focused on advertising and went on to enjoy the benefits.
So, even if money is tight and the usual publications you advertise in have paused, it is worth continuing with your advertising spend if at all possible so that you can be at the forefront of people’s minds when they are able to buy the products and services they require whether that is now or at a later date.
In the aftermath of COVID-19 competition will be tight and attitudes will be different. Whatever the new normal looks like, recovery will not be instant. However, the actions you take now will ensure it is easier and quicker.
Expert advice on marketing in a crisis
For more information on communication with your customers during the COVID-19 crisis, please see our webinar. Alternatively, please give us a call on 01858 44 55 43 or get in touch for a free, no-obligation marketing consultation.