Written by Kelly Ellis and Stefani Van der Voort
Marketing during the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the toughest tasks that brands and retailers have ever faced. Quick judgment calls have been made, with many having lasting impacts on customers, vendors, and employees. We have seen some brands rise to the occasion by pivoting their strategies to focus on the changing needs of their customers while making sure to keep the health and financial wellbeing of their employees as a top priority. We have seen others take serious missteps by not communicating clearly with their customers about changes to their business operations and/or coming across as prioritizing the bottom line over their own employees. What these companies are doing right now will have a lasting impact on how consumers perceive them for years to come – which is why fine-tuning your marketing communications strategy right now is one of the most important things you can do.
For many, the constant uncertainty around when restrictions will lift in their states and how consumers will react makes developing a new strategy feel overwhelming. But even as consumer attitudes and habits change, it’s important to recognize that people are still willing to spend – just a bit differently than before. According to Comscore, overall consumer spending in online retail across desktop and mobile was up 13% in March with the CPC/Grocery category seeing the biggest increases. Consumer Electronics and Home Furnishings also saw notable 13% increases as more shoppers invest in home improvements.
What does this mean for brands and retailers looking to pivot their strategies as we head into the coming months? For some, it means opportunity to shift to a more digitally-centric approach and reach more customers looking for their products. For others, it means a significant shift in what their products or services can offer customers and how they can bring those products and services to them.
Take for example Frontier, a restaurant in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago, that had to shut down normal operations back in March under the state’s orders. In addition to offering more online ordering options, they created new meal kits that customers can purchase online and prepare at home (some even under the online guidance of Chef Brian Jupiter). By creating at-home experiences for their customers during the pandemic, they are staying top of mind and creating a deeper emotional connection by helping local families find something new to do together.
One of the key learnings from our friends at Frontier is that developing a flexible and targeted marketing communications strategy should always be a top priority. If you are ready to do the work necessary to help grow your business, here are 3 things you should be doing right now to build your marketing communications:
1. Develop a Strategic & Fluid Communication Plan
Are you keeping your customers up to date on what’s going on with your company regarding hours and services? If you are open for business, what safety measures are you taking for your customers and your employees? How will you keep everyone updated as things change in your state?
Now more than ever, you need to be communicating with everyone touched by your business operations in a clear and transparent manner. This includes keeping the home page of your website updated with information on how people can shop or interact with your business and cross-posting this information across your social channels. Then, you must have a plan in place to consistently update this information as it changes. If you don’t, you may become one of the companies whose legacy will be what they didn’t do right for its customers during this time.
HELPFUL COMMUNICATIONS TIP: Do not pander or come across as opportunistic. Ensure your communications are authentic to your company’s mission and are empathetic, transparent, and concise. Also, do not simply copy what everyone else is doing. Your audiences already know that we are living through an “unprecedented time”, which means you don’t have to keep saying it – just act on it!
2. Review Your Marketing Budget Against ROI
The reality is many companies are facing less revenue and having to make difficult cuts to their budgets. This is not the time to turn off marketing completely- staying connected with your customers is how your company will remain relevant and positioned for growth. So, now is the time to really look at your marketing budget and spend smarter.
Here are some ways to get started:
Dig into the analytics on your marketing spend. Where are most of your dollars allocated? What is driving and not driving ROI?
Shift your non-lead generating budget such as trade show/conference and/or print ads towards digital initiatives.
Review where most of your leads are coming from and keep those initiatives in your budget.
Consider a reduction of spend on uninterested/cold leads. E.g., why keep retargeting a customer on Facebook who hasn’t taken action on your ad in the past 6 months?
Some low cost or free ideas (if you have the right resources in-house) to help create ongoing connections with your audiences are:
Blog posts: If you don’t already have a blog, you should start one. Blogs are a great way for your brand to create meaningful connections with customers by providing informative, helpful content. They also provide a great platform to strengthen your SEO by honing in on “low hanging fruit” keywords with meaningful search volume and lower competition.
Employee Marketing: Keep your employees engaged with an exciting internal contest for Those who share a post about your company or product on their social media. Word of caution: Ensure your company has a social media code of conduct policy in place and that employees are reminded of this when contest rules are shared.
Word-of-Mouth Referrals: Provide a discount code for referrals or hold a contest/giveaway on social media in which your customers refer new ones to you by liking, tagging, or commenting. Note, you must adhere to the rules of the social platforms on which you are running any type of contest.
3. Conduct a Digital Media Audit
Is your company set up to conduct business 100% online? Can your customers easily find the information they need about your products or services on your website? Do you have an active social media presence? If you answered “No” or “I Don’t Know” to either of these questions, our first piece of advice is to take a deep breath because this can seem overwhelming. It is not as daunting as it seems to set up once you take the proper steps to move forward. (We are here to help and are happy to offer a chance to win a FREE consultation to help you get started quickly; simply click the link bottom of this post.)
If you answered “Yes” to the above questions, you should take this time to review your digital presence for a “health” check by reviewing the following:
Website: How does your website appear on desktop and mobile? Is there outdated information that needs to be updated? Can your customers easily complete a purchase or are their roadblocks that are causing drop offs and/or cart abandons?
SEO: How is your website ranking in local searches compared to your top competitors? Do you have a keyword strategy in place? Are you leveraging every free tool available to you, such as Google My Business?
Social Media Profiles: Are you executing against a social media strategy? Or are you just posting to post? Have you segmented your content strategy by platform? When was the last time you updated your hashtags on what is performing best?
Digital Media: Are you currently investing in digital media? If so, are you seeing ROI or would you like to see better results?
Not sure how to get started? Lola Charles Communications can help! Right now, we are offering a limited amount of FREE digital audits for small to medium-size businesses. CLICK HERE to fill out the form.