As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the United States, many local government officials have recommended or mandated that nonessential businesses close their stores to foot traffic. Although this was unwelcome news for many small-business owners, the goal is to slow the spread of the virus and ensure adequate availability of medical equipment to treat patients who become severely ill with COVID-19. That's only possible if large numbers of people don't get infected at the same time, hence the need to isolate.
If you feel conflicted about this as a small-business owner, it's understandable. On one hand, you don't want to be responsible for spreading a potentially fatal illness, but on the other hand, your revenue depends on people coming into your store. The good news is that everyone is in the same boat. Even better news is that you can still accomplish business goals during the coronavirus pandemic with some creative marketing strategies.
Take a few deep breaths: You're going to get through this. It's time to adapt and overcome!
Developing a Coronavirus Marketing Strategy
First, you need to honestly assess the situation. How much capital do you have to sustain your business without any revenue at all? Pay attention to local and federal actions regarding stimulus packages, freezing rent payments and providing unemployment benefits to small-business owners. All of these actions can affect your budget moving forward.
Ask yourself and your team some critical questions to help you regroup and move forward:
- Is your business still relevant?
- Can you adapt your services?
- What do you want your customers to do?
If you can continue to pay your employees, think about how to put them to the best use. Your entire team could morph into one giant marketing department with a little training. Many educational organizations have responded to the coronavirus shutdowns by releasing their courses for free. Consider paying your employees to complete appropriate educational courses.
Is Your Company Still Relevant?
Next, think about how or why your company is still relevant amid the coronavirus pandemic. With the need to stay at home as much as possible, many of your customers feel bored ... really bored. For example, if you provide any sort of entertainment or hobby services, the people who can afford them will inevitably want them. Trust that your customers miss the opportunity to interact with you.
Get your team together on a conference call to decide whether you can adapt your services in order to abide by recommended or mandated social distancing. For example, although many jurisdictions have halted in-person traffic for nonessential businesses, you may still be allowed to complete deliveries and curbside pick-ups. If you can provide services digitally, start working out the logistics of doing so. Even if you have to halt all services at this time, you can still effectively market your business during the coronavirus pandemic.
Example Calls to Action
As you determine how to continue your business despite restrictions, always ask yourself and your team, "What do we want our customers to do?" Every marketing strategy needs a clear call to action. Some examples include:
- Go online to purchase products for curbside pick-up or home delivery
- Purchase gift cards to spend in the store in the future
- Tune in at a regularly scheduled time for free Facebook Live sessions
- Email your business to schedule a custom video or phone conference
- Schedule an in-person session that will be adapted to follow social-distancing recommendations
You'll also need to clearly communicate any additional steps you're taking to reduce the spread of coronavirus. For example, many businesses have transitioned away from paper money and toward card-based or online transactions. Mention the steps you're taking to sanitize products or to maintain social distancing. Unless your customers feel like you have an appropriately serious response toward the coronavirus, they won't be willing to interact with you.
Digital Marketing During Coronavirus
The stay-at-home recommendations or mandates offer you a clear marketing advantage: You know exactly where your audience is located. They're all at home and spending extra time boredom-scrolling on their phones, which means you should focus on marketing via social media, email and your website in order to best reach them.
Improve your website copy and design during this time or start transitioning to e-commerce. You can start by simply opening an account on eBay, but it may be more cost effective in the long run to host a store on your website using a plugin like WooCommerce or a platform like Shopify. Once you have products online, start letting your customers know via email marketing and social media. If you don't have much of an email list, now's the time to learn how to collect email sign-ups and create effective campaigns and automations.
Develop a Social Media Schedule
One thing missing during this odd time is the familiarity of a routine. Your company can actually stand out from the crowd and build customer loyalty by hosting live videos on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube at a regularly scheduled time. If you're not sure what to talk about, encourage viewers of all ages to tune in by adding a positive and educational twist. For example, roofers who are still repairing roofs can explain what they're doing and why, whereas music stores can demonstrate different types of instruments.
Prioritize your social media interactions to associate your brand with a sense of humanity, community and compassion. Don't spread fear or anger. If you're able to volunteer in any way, show your efforts. For example, tattoo parlors and nail salons have donated medical personal protective equipment in order to alleviate the national shortage, and breweries and distilleries have started to use their alcohol in order to manufacture hand sanitizer.
Ask questions of your audience, share fun videos and promote good mental health and physical activity. Bring your whole team on board for brainstorming and collaboration. Let your employees still feel needed and valued by creating small teams to remotely manage a particular social media platform or put one team in charge of videos and another in charge of blogs. Then, switch things up and let everyone try something new.
Being Charitable as a Marketing Strategy
Still can't think of a way to keep your business relevant? Go a completely different route and fundraise for others. There's a shortage of PPE in the country, and your local health care facilities may be struggling to purchase what they need to keep frontline workers safe. If you can rally your customers into contributing to a fundraiser, you can enjoy some positive PR while also knowing that you've done your duty as a responsible and compassionate citizen.
If You're Going Out of Business
If your business has been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic and you feel it's best to cut your losses and close your business, you can still use some marketing strategies to create the best possible outcome for you and your employees. For example, get on social media and request gift card donations to help your employees purchase food during this transition. If you have a chance to build your business again after the coronavirus pandemic, you'll be remembered as a thoughtful employer who made the best of a difficult situation.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has put all small-business owners in a unique situation, technology offers a way for you to stay connected to your customers through marketing strategies. Evaluate your situation honestly but try to have hope. Humanity is resilient as a whole, and so are you.
Cathy Habas specializes in marketing, customer experiences, and behind-the-scenes management. Cathy has contributed to sites like Business and Finance, Business 2 Community, and Inside Small Business. She served as the managing editor for a small content marketing agency before continuing with her writing career.