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Connect with customers and build brand awareness during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis so when business returns to “usual”, your brand is still on their radar.
Unless you’re in the business of telehealth, groceries or videoconferencing apps, you are probably looking to build your brand awareness and maintain long-term relationships with customers who aren’t quite ready to spend. Edelman, the international public relations and marketing consultancy, has released a special report surveying how people expect brands to respond to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis, which, in turn, provides critical insights into how small businesses can build their brand and how they should respond to their customers.
Digital marketing leader Chris Richardson points out that right now every entity across the planet is desperate to communicate with their customers. “Be conscious that email inboxes and social timelines are flooded with COVID-19 communication,” he says. “I’d be encouraging businesses not to communicate for communication’s sake and instead deliver pertinent information.”
According to Edelman’s “Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic” report, 88 per cent of people say they want information relevant to them, which means updated opening hours, closures and changes to product and services on your brand’s website, social media and Google My Business listing. “No customer experience is more frustrating than loading up a shopping basket [online] only to discover deliveries are suspended,” says Richardson.
As people get comfortable in the “new normal”, adapting to social distancing measures and remote work, the next step is about transitioning your business’s product and services to create cash flow opportunities – and communicating that. Richardson particularly admires Gelato Messina’s cookie pie giveaway for customers who spent more than $32. “They were inundated,” he says. “They probably had loads of stock. But they pivoted and it blew up on social media.” It drove customer engagement and brand awareness because dessert was relevant for anyone stuck indoors that April Friday.
According to the Edelman report, 54 per cent of respondents say they’re paying no attention to new products immaterial to the times. “It’s better to go silent rather than actively market products that are not relevant,” says Richardson. This will give your brand time and resources to gear up for the post-lockdown recovery phase and build on and communicate your business continuity plan.
Small businesses and brands might be nervous about looking opportunistic when promoting helpful products and services but it’s a matter of positioning. “It’s a difficult and subtle nuance in communication,” says Richardson, whose background is in performance marketing. “It’s positioning the products as there to support customers – as opposed to taking advantage.”
It’s unwise to explicitly reference the coronavirus outbreak in every missive but one in three respondents told Edelman they’d already punished businesses that weren’t acting appropriately. “If brands are not not tempering their communications to make note of the new normal, that in itself would be really off-putting,” says Richardson. So rather than a salon sending an automated text that a customer’s overdue a service, short-term it should build brand awareness by offering tips and products for at-home styling.
Richardson says while there’d be few industries and businesses that would benefit from staying quiet right now, it’s also time to prepare for emerging consumer shifts around health and wellbeing, digitised socialising, online retail and working from home. “Even if a product’s not positioned for sales right now, it might be for when people start to come out of their homes,” he says.
Richardson also recommends both extreme empathy and “heightened scrutiny” of any messaging: some customers and employees will be in worse circumstances than you; some will feel more sensitive. But don’t be afraid to engage with information, entertainment and assistance. “You might have experienced it yourself,” says Richardson. “When you feel a bit cut off, if a brand is proactively engaging with you, through caring responses on social media or by inviting customers to share how they’re using products at home or through retweeting posts, it’s a very human instinct to feel recognised and to engage.”