Marketing during COVID-19

Digital Marketing During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has shut our nation down. As a result, our economy and the future of thousands of small businesses has been thrown into chaos. As best as we are able, we want to help you survive this crisis and thrive in the recovery. The information we’ve gathered below is the result of every member of our team committing 100% of our time and energy to small businesses everywhere who need to know what to do now.

If you are a client, let us know how we can help you make these strategies a priority. If you’re not a client, we’re available to help you too. If you’re just looking for information, take this and use it. Now is a great time to do whatever you can to help your neighbors, and that’s exactly what we want to do.

SECTION ONE

Communication must come first

What should my message be?

Customers will be looking to you for guidance and leadership during this unprecedented time. Be honest and upfront with customers, and communicate any changes or expected disruptions. Although it is still too early to fully understand the impact this virus might have on our current way of life, let your customers know that your commitment to your organization is unwavering and that we are all in this together. Assure them that you’re fully committed to continuing to serve customers in the best way possible.

How should I use social media?

As we become more isolated physically, the internet will have to provide the world with information as people are searching for timely updates and information within their community. It’s important to continue to use your business’s social media during the coronavirus crisis, and with the right tone, messaging, and approach, you can provide helpful, beneficial information to your audience and keep them informed on happenings within your business almost instantly. Here are some key tips on how to effectively use social media during this time:
  • Understand your brand — How does your company play in people’s lives, how has that changed, and how can you extend help and be useful to your consumers during a crisis?
  • Stay updated — Ensure that your messaging stays relevant as information and updates are changing by the hour. You should only be providing reliable, accurate information.
  • Be mindful of tone — Listen to the concerns your customers are having and evolve your tone to one with empathy and understanding. Use this as a time to offer something meaningful to your consumers that is true to your brand. For example, if you are a fitness equipment company, you could provide at-home workouts and other wellness tips.
  • Customer service and support — Use social media platforms to interact directly with your customers and support them during this time of crisis. Address their concerns to the best of your ability and give them peace of mind that you are there to support them as we are all in this together.
  • Radiate positivity — Use your platforms for good and radiate positivity during these times of uncertainty. A little bit of distraction can go a long way.

How should I change my customer support plan?

Plan, prepare and respond. Communicate with customers regarding any changes in business hours or disruptions in services.

How do I send out mass emails?

If you use a mail client like Microsoft Outlook to send bulk emails, you can go to the ‘Tools’ menu and select ‘Address Book’. Hit ‘New’ and select the ‘New Group’ option. Select a group name and add all the email addresses you want and hit ‘OK’. Once completed, you can create a new mail message and incorporate any group you want in the ‘To’ field. On the other hand, if you want life to be a little less complicated so you can focus on your core tasks, go for the more sensible alternative — a professional email marketing service provider. Our favorite is HubSpot, but MailChimp is a good second choice. These service providers help you build and manage your subscriber email list, create email campaigns and deliver and track your emails. Apart from this, you can even plan automated emails delivered at a pre-set frequency schedule, and dispatch emails to your clients at times when they are most receptive.

How many emails are too many or too often? Too few?

Email frequency is the line between helpful and annoying, timely and spammy, converting and unsubscribed. According to Direct Marketing Association’s National Client Email report, most marketers (35 percent) send two to three emails a month. Nine percent of marketers send six to eight emails a month, and 19 percent send just one email a month.

What ways can I communicate changes in my business hours?

If your business hours have changed or you have adopted a work from home policy, it’s important that your local listings, social media channels, and website reflect those changes. We recommend doing the following:
  1. Include a notice on your home page and update your contact page with new business hours.
  2. Update your Google My Business listing and social media platforms with new business hours and create a post on how you are conducting communication during this time.
  3. Send out an email to your customer list announcing changes in your business hours and/or services, as well as how they can reach you.

How are social media platforms fighting back against coronavirus scams?

According to authorities, some criminals are using this as an opportunity to scam people by going door to door claiming to be a part of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and unfortunately, the scams don’t stop there. Many social media platforms are taking a stand against online scammers who are sharing inaccurate, unreliable information. Facebook has banned any advertisements that claim to cure or prevent the coronavirus. This includes any posts that include potentially harmful misinformation about treatments. You will see a “fact check” label for content that has been rated false. Aside from the removal of posts and ads, Facebook is also pointing its visitors to reliable sources. If you type “coronavirus” into the search bar the first link is for the Center for Disease Control. They have adapted this same policy to their photo-sharing platform, Instagram. Twitter has reported seeing a COVID-19 related Tweet every 45 milliseconds and #coronavirus is now the second most used hashtag of 2020. Now when using their platform there is a prompt in place which directs people searching for coronavirus content to accurate information. You’ll also notice the most important content pushed to the top of the search results and in your home timelines. Efforts by these social media platforms have not managed to completely stop the spread of misleading or false hoaxes of the outbreak, but it’s a good start. Before liking, commenting or sharing any articles to your profile make sure the information is true and from a credible source. That is the #1 way to stop the spread of misinformation. On a related note, it’s important to realize that these large companies like Facebook and Google are operating on reduced staff themselves, so they’re relying on AI to identify and suppress fallacious coronavirus-related information or predatory practices from unscrupulous individuals. One of the primary ways their algorithms recognizes related materials is by identifying keywords. If you’ve seen your posts disappearing, don’t panic, and don’t spread panic. What you’re seeing is the result of an imperfect program imperfectly trying to do a good thing. Facebook and Google, like the rest of us, have never had to adapt to a global pandemic before. They’ll get it figured out.
SECTION TWO

Working from home effectively

The technology you employ on your website and as a part of your workplace infrastructure will either make or break you if you or your company has decided to work from home. As we find ourselves becoming more and more isolated due to current events, technology is what will keep us connected. Communication, meetings, advertisements, and much more will take place via technology. Here are some ways you can stay connected with your company and your clients:

How can I best employ web conferencing software?

Staying connected with our co-workers and clients is crucial. If your company doesn’t already use a web conferencing provider, you should identify and start using one immediately. While most web conferencing softwares offer paid plans, many also offer free plans such as GoToMeeting, Zoom, and Webex. Once you have chosen a provider, it is essential to become familiar with its workings and features. Make sure your sound and video quality is where you want it to be. A dedicated microphone or headset is strongly recommended, especially noise cancelling microphones. Also, when web conferencing from home, ensure that your environment is noise- and distraction-free, especially if you plan on using video as well as audio. Here are some other tips:
  • Test your equipment
  • Preview your camera angle and shot
  • Ensure that your environment is well lit
  • Remove unnecessary or distracting items from the background

How do I maintain productivity?

For those new to working from home, maintaining productivity for you and your teammates is paramount. If your company has chosen to work from home, external and internal communication is going to be the lifeblood of your organization. Here are some ways you can make sure that you stay focused and that everyone is on the same page:
  • Dress how you would normally dress for work
  • Plan daily check-ins with your superiors and your direct reports
  • Be proactive in communicating project updates
  • Set aside an area in your home that will be used exclusively for work
  • Identify items, music, rooms or other environmental factors that distract you from work
  • Keep your usual dedicated working hours
  • Take advantage of project management software such as Trello, Teamwork, Basecamp, or Monday.com

Will the coronavirus boost the adoption of remote work long-term?

The short answer is: probably not. After the dust settles from lockdowns and quarantines, employers will still largely prefer to have their employees coming into the office — and most employees will be thankful when that day comes. However, our current situation is doing a very good job of highlighting all the ways that businesses were unprepared to send their employees home for even just a few weeks. While it is unlikely that many people will want to make their home offices permanent, there will be a heavy emphasis on good, scalable, and agile communications and data processes for businesses of any size moving forward. As it happens, our own company already had extensive policies, guidelines, and processes in place for managing communications and company data while working off-site. We’ve also been regularly using video conferencing to communicate with clients and with each other for years. These kinds of preparations and practices proved indispensable for our business and many others in this crisis, and they will surely be a top priority for everyone else moving forward.

How do I keep my data and systems secure while my employees are all working from home?

If you didn’t already have strict information governance policies in place before you sent your employees home with company (or even personal) computers and phones, you may be unknowingly exposing yourself to the risk of data exposure and data loss. While we can’t give you a comprehensive information governance framework here, we can give you some tips to make your communications and data more secure while your employees are working from home:
  1. Require all employees to run up-to-date anti-virus software. Our pick is Kaspersky Small Business, but anything is better than nothing. Don’t expect all of your employees to do this on their own, either. You will need to verify that any device that is used to handle company data or communications is appropriately protected.
  2. Require all employees to use a VPN service. It would be impractical to go through the steps to make sure everyone’s home network is shielded from outside eyes, but a VPN ensures that your employee’s online activity remains hidden — even if their home network is compromised. Our recommendations for a great VPN service are NordVPN and ProtonVPN.
  3. Have a process for communicating sensitive or personal information. The need to send sensitive information over the internet will be increased. Do you know how to properly protect that information? You should never put sensitive information in an email or text message. Also remember that not all cloud services encrypt your data while it is being stored on their servers. The best way to communicate private information is to make sure that you have some form of end-to-end encryption in place, but the simplest way to communicate private information is with a simple phone call.
  4. Make preparations now to plug the data leaks when things return to normal. Working from home is a great way to build bad data-handling habits. Be prepared to review data-handling policies with employees when they return, and if you don’t yet have a comprehensive information governance policy in place, consider using any down time you have now to create one.
We went through the process of auditing all of our own data handling and storage practices just six months ago in order to build a comprehensive set of policies to protect our own data and our clients’ data. That extensive exercise (and the information governance framework that resulted) has proved to be invaluable in this crisis.
SECTION THREE

Is my business safe?

What can my small business do to thrive in this time?

  • Review your marketing plans for the remainder of the year. What things can you do now that will expedite your business’s recovery?
  • Challenge your other staff members to come up with creative ideas. You might be surprised by what they come up with.
  • If you’re in sales: Who is now at home and has time to talk that would be otherwise difficult to reach? What can you offer to help them?
  • If you sell products: Where can I find cheaper inputs for my products right now to make me more competitive when the economy picks up?
  • Use this slower time to focus on improving your current processes and systems. For example, if you’ve been thinking about a software or system upgrade, then now might be the perfect time to do it. It will allow your team to make efficient use of their time, and when we come out of this your business will be in a stronger position.
  • Think about those projects you’re always planning to get to, but never really do, such as:
    • Organizing/cleaning up your CRM. Think of creative ways to segment your contacts for future targeting.
    • Writing a piece of useful content for either sales or marketing.
    • Review all of your existing marketing and sales collateral and develop a list of what can be improved. Then, start to work on it.
  • Review and update your sales processes, or create them, if you don’t have anything in place.
  • Look for ways you can help your existing customers. Everyone is being affected by this crisis, so think of ways you can encourage and help them. It could be helping them with communication, planning, or just offering words of encouragement.
  • Training
    • Now is the perfect time for everyone to improve their knowledge and skills, and you can do much of it online.
    • Set some goals for your team and encourage them to take advantage of this time for personal development.

What can my b2b business do to maintain relationships with other businesses that are in a rough spot?

  • Reach out and communicate with them. We’re all going through this together, and can encourage other businesses to remain positive.
  • Find out what their primary concerns are and if you can help in any way.
  • Do they have any informational content on their product or services to promote? We expect there will be a higher than usual number of people doing research online as they have more free time. They may not be ready to buy for some time, but offering valuable content could help to nurture them through a longer sales process.
  • Get creative. Can you offer incentives or different payment terms that will help them out?
    • Are there things you can do now and defer payment until later?
    • Can you discount any online products, training courses or other content your company produces?
  • If your business provides project-based work, then now may be a good time for your customers to tackle projects that can be disruptive to an active workforce. Some examples are:
    • Computer hardware upgrades
    • Software upgrades or migrations for things like Accounting, IT, and Marketing
    • Major facility maintenance, such as floor refinishing, painting and remodeling
SECTION FOUR

Should this impact my marketing budget?

What should I do with my marketing budget in light of the coronavirus pandemic?

Obviously every business is going to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic differently. Many businesses will be negatively affected, while some may see an increase in revenue. Regardless of how you may be affected in the coming months, here is our advice to anyone on either side of the spectrum:
  1. Don’t do anything rash. The situation is changing and evolving every day. There’s no way to know how this will all play out. Before you make any budget decisions, we recommend taking the time to let the forecast become more clear. It may also be worth waiting to see what action congress takes to support small businesses.
  2. Think long term. While the business world is reeling, many people are focused on the short-term effects of quarantines, lockdowns, and disruptions. However, most experts are still insisting that our nation is well positioned to make a relatively quick economic recovery. Think about how you want to be positioned when things begin to return to normal.Update (3/26/2020): Depending on how long our economy is restrained by closures and stay-at-home directives, we are facing the real possibility of a longer-term recession. While it is still too early to tell how quickly our economy might rebound, it would be wise for businesses to begin working on new strategies for how you should be positioned during an economic downturn. This would include:
    • Re-evaluating your target personas as their priorities begin to shift with regards to budgeting, risk vs. safety, and goal-setting.
    • Re-evaluating your value proposition statements that headline your marketing communications.
    • Incorporating new technologies to streamline your marketing and sales processes and make your teams more efficient.
  3. Don’t cut. Pivot. We think that certain B2B marketing tactics have become less effective under these circumstances (e.g. trade shows). Now is a very good time to talk to your marketing team or agency about how to reallocate your budget toward projects or activities that will better position you for the eventual recovery. Many will be tempted or feel pressured to cut marketing budgets, but the best long-term strategy is to use this bump in the road as an opportunity to accelerate your business to the front of the pack.

Should I focus on paid ads?

Depending on your market and what service you provide, you should re-evaluate your paid ad spend. You may see increases since people are trying to avoid public areas as much as possible. As more people are spending time online, there will likely be an increase in ad exposure. If your competitors are pausing their advertising, this can be an opportunity for your company to generate brand awareness through content marketing and paid ads. One recommendation is to use this time to recycle your current content and promote it through Display Ads. This will allow you to start ranking well for dominant, competitive keywords. If you are a plumber, for example, with people spending more time in their homes there will likely be an increase in plumbing issues. Re-evaluate your messaging and tone to speak to their specific conditions and generate traffic through your ads. Remember during this time to take precautions, ensure your tone is extremely sensitive, and use your ads in a respectful manner to offer value and help to your consumer.

What marketing activities should I emphasize during this crisis?

Here are four marketing activities that we think are super effective during a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic:
  1. Email & Social Media: The world is changing every single day. You need to be effectively communicating to your customers as things change.
  2. SEO: Search activity and search behaviors just completely changed overnight. A wave of new ranking opportunities is here, and the companies who act now could see a massive upside in the months (or even years) ahead.
  3. Branding & Positioning: When the dust from this crisis settles, the landscape in your industry will have changed. Some of your competitors will be gone, and new competitors will emerge. Companies that intend to survive should begin now to consider bolstering their brand and positioning.
  4. Marketing & Sales Technology Upgrades: Any downtime you may experience is an opportunity to upgrade your marketing and sales processes. If you aren't already using a CRM, marketing automation, live chat, or chatbot technologies, consider reallocating some of your marketing budget towards these or other technology implementations that you've been putting off.

How do I position my business for success after the coronavirus pandemic?

Businesses need to invest in marketing strategy and position themselves to meet the needs of a different market than the one that they had before the coronavirus pandemic. While other businesses are consumed with how to manage their messaging during this crisis, businesses with a strategic marketing team will turn their focus quickly to the question of how to position themselves after this crisis has passed. We’re all in the same bad situation together. If you look around at all of the other businesses out there (especially your own competition), you will see that no one is immune. We’re all feeling the same pressures and fears, and some weaker players won’t survive. Now is the time to decide what your business should look like as recovery begins:
  • Your market will be different after coronavirus passes. Your brand and positioning will need to meet the needs of that market.
  • Some of your competition won’t survive. How will you capture the attention of that new business?
  • Consumer behaviors will change. Our dependence on technology to connect and do business is being rapidly accelerated.
  • Search patterns and consumer attention shifted overnight and created an abundance of opportunities to answer questions that have never been asked before. Will you seize upon that opportunity?
Every business is different, but now is an excellent time to find a trusted partner to help you build the right strategy for long-term success and prosperity.

What features can I add to my web presence to improve my users’ online experience?

With many businesses closing their offices and instructing employees to work from home, more consumers are depending on the ability to access services online. Here are a few ways you can remain accessible to your customers while your office is closed:
  1. Live Chat. Both Facebook Messenger and HubSpot Live Chat are free services that can be quickly implemented on your Facebook page and website, respectively. Both services also enable you to have an entire team of remote employees supporting customers who engage with you.
  2. Alerts & Updates. You need to make sure that visitors to your website are presented with up-to-date information about how government-imposed quarantines may be affecting your business operations.
  3. Updated Local Listings. Most businesses’ listed hours on Google, Bing, and other local directories are now inaccurate. Be sure to keep your local listings up to date with accurate operating hours and other relevant information.
SECTION FIVE

Community focus and involvement

How can I support other local businesses?

  • Don’t stop “eating out” — Carry out and delivery is still an option for many restaurants and bars.
  • Buy gift cards from your favorite restaurant or boutique — This helps small businesses keep money flowing through the next 1-2 months and gives consumers a great reason to be local when it is finally time to gather collectively again.
  • Shop online — If you see something you like on Facebook or Instagram call and order over the phone or take advantage of the local businesses with e-commerce via websites.
  • Buy local produce
  • Consider a donation
  • Leave a review — Even if you can’t shop but still want to make sure your favorite local businesses are feeling the love, leave a review online and make sure others know just how much our small businesses mean to our communities.
  • Promote Social Media — Like, comment and share posts from local small businesses. Help them increase their social media engagement so the next time they promote an event or new menu item or special sale, more customers can see it.
  • Subscribe — Be the first to know about special tickets on sale, new events, in-store specials and news from your favorite local businesses by subscribing to their e-newsletter. Help them grow their following by sharing it with your friends and colleagues.

How can we stay connected?

  • Promote your product in an organic way through interesting blog posts, customer stories, testimonials, updates.
  • Reward loyal customers (see next block).
  • Increase social media exposure.
  • Host Facebook live events.
  • Send customer surveys.

How can I reward customer loyalty?

  • Celebrate your customers — recognize customers for their support and contributions.
  • Create an early access program — give customers exclusive access to a product or service that has not officially launched to the general public.
  • Ask for customer feedback — send a survey to your loyal customers and ask their opinion. Be sure to make it clear that you’re asking them because they are such valued followers.
  • Invite customers to a special event (when permitted) — Keep track of those customers that supported your business during this time and invite them to a “re-grand opening” or special launch.
  • Offer a referral bonus or reward for recruiting new customers — You don’t have to give a huge bonus to make a positive impact and increase referrals. Try providing a small discount or some company swag to show your appreciation.
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