The world has changed whether we like it or not, and many small business owners have been thrown into a world of transformation.
During this time, it’s important to plan out your short and long-term goals and make changes to your marketing where appropriate. In trying times, a significant part of running our businesses is listening to and observing our customers in order to find out what they really need.
As someone who owns a digital marketing agency and who is a partner in other ventures including retail, I have seen the unique challenges businesses such as ours are facing during this time.
In this article, I will cover specific tactics you can use to successfully market your business through these difficult times. But first, we have to ask the big question:
Should you stop marketing and advertising during a crisis?
In time, the market will recover. If you’re seeing a decline now, search traffic will pick back up. When it does, will you be there when your customers are looking?
It’s easy to be reactive during stressful times when there are a lot of unknowns. The problem with reactive marketing, though, is that you’re typically jumping from tactic to tactic without a plan, as well as making decisions based on fear.
Instead of letting that fear control you, it’s time to plan out what the business realities are for your business in 30 days, 90 days, 6 months, and a year out from now. Ask yourself, “What will my market look like in a year?” and “What do I need to do to get through this time”? This is how you can develop and align your short and long-term goals. With this in mind, you can develop an action plan based on strategies that will help you meet your goals.
While relying on your past strategies, it’s likely that you will also need to consider tactics you haven’t implemented before and even consider marketing more during this difficult time.
Some business owners will be faced with cash flow crunches that require more extreme measures. But this is not the time to give up. Rather, it’s the time to slow down and focus on what matters most to you.
Start by clarifying your message
If you’re a traditional brick-and-mortar retail store, it’s possible that you have had to pivot your operations to stay open during this time.
If this is you, it’s important that you share this information with your clients along with the fact that you’re open.
The content you share during difficult times such as these will be remembered, so it’s important to stay away from self-serving content and instead practice empathy.
Tactics every business needs right now
Before you can spread the word, it’s important to know where you need to spread the word. Depending on your business type, these channels may vary.
Start by making a list of these channels and sharing the list with your team. They can then use this to update and promote your brand message.
You can start with the most obvious ways people find your business such as:
- Your website
- Google My Business
But if you want a more comprehensive approach, make sure to look at your analytics data, too. You can look at your referral data and sort that by conversions to figure out if there is anywhere else you should update your customers.
1. Let your clients know if you’re open for business
There is so much uncertainty right now, and many states, counties, and cities have different orders ranging from nonessential business shutdowns to social distancing.
If you’re not telling your clients you’re open for business, they probably don’t even know. Practically, this means that even if they find your website, they may not contact you because they don’t know if you’re open.
Some potential clients might also check if you’re open on social media. Have you posted an update? Are you active? If not, they might take that as a sign that you’re closed.
If you are temporarily closed, you need to let people know that, along with an expectation on when they can expect to hear back from you if they do contact you.
2. Add a website banner or pop up
I have hated these things for years. But now there is a great need for them. Potential customers might land on any page of your website when they find you. A homepage message just isn’t good enough.
Here, using a simple and lightweight bar or pop up with an empathetic message is a great solution.
Check out this example from Vanderginst Law below:
You can customize these popups with videos instead if you’d like.
If you implement pop-ups, I recommend that you only show it once to each website visitor. If it pops up on every page after a visitor has already seen it, they could get annoyed.
If you don’t have a website but you do have a Google My Business listing, you can create a free website there and put your message on the homepage.
3. Update your contact forms
If you use contact forms or a contact page on your website, I recommend updating this with expectations for your customers. For example, if you have limited staff, tell people and inform them of your expected response times.
Setting the proper expectations will help prevent frustration and keep customers.
4. Update your Google My Business hours and posts
I have to give credit to Google for implementing changes to Google My Business since they’re likely facing the same staffing issues as other companies.
First, they have rolled out a Covid-19 update option under Posts, which allows people searching for your business to see your current status.
To implement this, simply login to your Google My Business account.
After you’ve selected your business click Posts > COVID-19 update button, as shown below.
Make sure to tell clients everything they need to know. If you have new information like offering delivery when you were traditionally a sit-down restaurant, you can add a different Google Post to make this information readily available.
Second, there is also the option to update your listing as temporarily closed (shown below).
Of course, you should also update any other pertinent business information as well, including your business hours.
5. Write a blog post
In order to let our clients know that, for us, it was business as usual, we wrote a blog post addressing the issue.
This may not get the same exposure you’d want or expect from the usual content, but it’s something you can share on your social channels to increase reach and, more importantly, inform customers.
6. Send a text message
If you have a strong base of customers that opted into text messaging, this is a great way to spread the word quickly. Keep in mind that, just like with all text message marketing, you don’t want to over-text them.
A simple message with how your business is operating during this time should do the trick.
7. Share on social
One great opportunity right now for small businesses is social media. People are bored right now and are spending more time on social media.
In addition to this, many communities are pulling together and helping out. Right now, social media is an opportunity to introduce yourself to an audience who may not even know about you yet.
In my neighborhood, for example, we have community-based groups that share information about open businesses. Some are even open day-to-day. This is a screenshot of a Facebook group that updates its lists of open restaurants doing takeout and delivery daily:
Here are some opportunities you should take advantage of right away:
- Find Facebook groups in your town and let them know you’re open! These will be town groups, food groups, and local community groups.
- Search your cities’ Reddit threads if they have one and post there. Get added to any lists.
- Do a Google search for: [open for business + city name] or [businesses open during shelter in place in city] and see if there are any lists you can ask to be added to.
8. Get on Nextdoor
If you operate a local business, chances are your customers are spending time on Nextdoor. Make sure you’re sharing relevant information with your local community as these customers are your lifeblood.
If there are any other city-specific places where your potential clients hang out online, make sure to post there too. The more people that know about your situation, the better.
9. Record and share a video
Here’s a great example from a local brewery near me doing video content right during Covid-19.
They created a quick video that shows their sanitation practices and how they’re pivoting:
Tactics to avoid right now
1. Generic email to all your email lists
While I don’t think this idea is coming from a bad place, we’re all fed up with these emails. At this point, it’s been done so much that, as a consumer, I’m now likely more annoyed if I get an email from a business I shopped at 10 years ago telling me how they’re responding. In my opinion, it also lacks empathy.
Bear in mind that a generic one-size-fits-all email is different to a short, very personalized email to active clients. That being said, I still recommend other methods outside of email at this point.
2. Google My Business name edits
Google has cracked down on name edits for restaurants and grocery stores. They are now more stringent, disallowing you to edit your name to include a delivery modifier. This would be against Google My Business guidelines anyway, and you don’t want a suspended listing right now — it’s too important.
3. Focusing only on Google reviews
When this all started, I saw many businesses seeking reviews. Unfortunately, Google has suspended these and they will not be shown publicly.
So any new reviews your business receives now may not show for a while. That’s not to say you shouldn’t focus on Google reviews at all, but try to diversify your efforts for more immediate results.
4. Using Google Q&A
The Google My Business Q&A feature may have been a good place to post business updates, but this has also been removed by Google for the time being.
Growing your brand during crisis
There is no benefit to your brand if you’re trying to be the best-kept secret. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and show the world who you are, even during times like these.
What you are able to do during this time will greatly depend on the financial health of your business. But if you have the means, time, or resources to show the world your values and who you really are, seize this opportunity.
This is also a great way to build net promoters. When the dust settles and things return to normal, people will remember those who were able to help and give back in a time of need.
Other benefits of effective brand-building include:
- Generating new customers
- Getting free exposure
- Building brand advocates
- Building an email list
Share your brand message
Your brand message through this time needs to be consistent and not self-serving. Whatever you share, people are going to be more likely to engage with messages that help solve their biggest problems or fears during this time.
Think about what your clients need most, what their concerns are, and how you can address them. Here are a few examples of concerns that your customers may have and how you can address them:
- Restaurant: Showing a video of your sanitary practices/social distancing in kitchens and the delivery process.
- Business Lawyer: Hosting and recording a webinar discussing force majeure and the implications with Covid-19.
- Criminal Defense Attorney: Creating content around airport fights and purposeful Covid-19 related injuries.
- Retail: Showing how your operations have shifted online, offering free delivery, etc.
Giving to essential personnel or the community
If you are providing support to essential personnel and your community, these are campaigns that can and should be posted on your website and shared on social.
These stories may also be newsworthy. People can get bad news all day long if they want to, so journalists are looking for lighter news stories. You can be a part of that.
Community-related giveaways will help your brand thrive, and there are potential long-term benefits such as generating new customers, earning links, and gaining media exposure.
Below are just a couple of ideas to engage with and support your community right now.
Hand sanitizer giveaway to key workers
Hand sanitizer and other disinfectant products are hard to come by at the moment. While that’s the case within the United States, you can still source these products from overseas using websites like Alibaba.com or Ali Express.
Ordering these items and giving them away to people who can’t find them will show how your brand cares about people’s health and is a lighthearted way to encourage good hygiene.
This is something we actually implemented this ourselves. Recently we gave several thousand bottles of hand sanitizer and hospital masks away to our community without interrupting supply chains here.
Food giveaways (whether you’re a restaurant or not)
If you’re a restaurant, doing a weekly food giveaway to build your email list is not a bad idea. If you’re not a restaurant, you can leverage either UberEats giveaways or gift cards to local grocery stores.
If you don’t have a system in place to collect email addresses, sign up for a service like Mailchimp.
Here are some more examples for successful email marketing campaigns:
- Food giveaways to essential personnel
- Giveaways to people in your neighborhood
- If your clients are nationwide, giveaways via Doordash or UberEats
If your program is nationwide and your clients are average consumers, make sure to get the word out by submitting this to giveaway sites.
Increase your exposure
The tactics in this section greatly depend on the industry you’re in. Some will be more relevant for professional services, but try to think outside of the box!
Participate in podcasts
Podcasts’ popularity and presence have significantly increased over the last few years. According to an article from Podcast Insights, there are now over 900,000 podcasts. If you’re looking to get in front of your target audience, this is a great way to build your follower base.
If you have the right background, it’s typically pretty straightforward to get an interview since hosts are always looking for qualified participants.
To find podcasts, you can do a Google search for podcasts in your niche or use a tool like Sparktoro to find people who commonly discuss topics relevant to your business.
Below is a screenshot of a Sparktoro search using their podcast feature.
After you curate your list, you can reach out to the host. Make sure to include your background information and recordings of speaking events or podcasts if you have any.
If you participate in a podcast, make sure you have good audio. Investing in something like a Yeti microphone or a Smart Mike+ can make a big difference in your audio quality.
Participate, attend, or host a digital summit
The conference industry was hit very hard by Covid-19. With all in-person events being postponed for the foreseeable future, many of these events were canceled altogether or had to move online.
At a time when most people are working from home, attending, speaking, or hosting a digital conference might be a little easier.
For example, at Juris Digital we were going to host an in-person legal marketing conference in Las Vegas. We recently made the decision to move it online.
Attend a digital conference
I wanted to include this because I believe that we should always be investing in ourselves. The more you can learn, the more you will be able to accomplish. If you were previously unable to attend a conference due to geographic or monetary reasons, you may be able to learn a lot for way less money (virtual conferences typically cost less than in-person ones).
Participate as a speaker
With conference schedules shifting and new conferences popping up, there is an opportunity to speak at one if you’re qualified. One way to do this is to search your niche for conferences and see what’s coming up. I also know of companies like Summit Beast that are hosting digital conferences and actively looking for speakers across all niches.
Host a digital summit
Don’t be intimidated by this thought. When I say host a digital summit, I’m talking about something that could be as small as hosting a webinar with 10 people, although they can be as large as a conference with 2,000 attendees.
If you’re looking to host something small with your ideal clients, prospective clients, or a core group, you can simply use Zoom. Zoom makes it easy to host a video meeting and interview multiple people (as well as recording it).
If you host a digital summit, you will have content for a long time after it’s all said and done. You can break it up into helpful bits and share it across your social channels for a year.
Create a paid-for training course
Do you sell a training or mentoring program? Some personal trainers and digital marketing experts have pivoted to online courses. The best part? You can charge for these courses. By using a platform such as Teachable or Kajabi, you can build courses from the ground up and monetize them.
Host a digital event
Summits are not the only type of event you can host. Almost any business can host some sort of online event to grow their audience or keep their audience engaged.
One example of a digital event is a wine bar and cooking school I like here in Lone Tree, Colorado, called Uncorked. They focus on date night cooking instructions, but since their facility is closed by order of the Governor, they have pivoted.
They now offer food pickup and online cooking instructions to their customers.
Restaurants can showcase how they make certain dishes as an added bonus. Or people watching who might not be able to source the necessary ingredients can use takeout or pickup instead.
Plus, you can even take happy hours online! Friends of mine that own a hangover and health patch company are hosting a virtual happy hour through Zoom to connect with new and existing clients.
It’s harder to stay relevant in some cases, but still very possible!
Create video content
Most people get stuck on video because of production quality. With high-quality video features available on smartphones, a lot of that is not really a problem anymore. Actually, phone recorded videos come across as more authentic. While you could produce more professional videos, right now, authentic videos might be the right choice given our current sensitive situation.
Looking to up your game? Check out the Soapbox Station to learn more about what you need for a mobile video studio.
If you’re looking for software, Loom is one application that I use for free to create videos with a screen share.
Here are some content ideas for video that you can use today:
- Record video updates about your business to share on social media. Maybe record a video wearing a mask or showing social distancing practices at work.
- Keep your customers informed about your operations.
- Provide a daily update on how things are going.
- Record a video on how you’re giving back to the community.
- Record videos that are useful, such as ways potential clients can use your products or services.
It’s a Time to Be Social
People are spending more time on social media right now. When considering content creation for your social media channels, keep a few things in mind.
All content needs to be helpful. Additionally, address pain points and give information away. Your content should not be self-serving. After all, as we discussed earlier, most people are turning to social now to see if you’re open and active.
Post on your company-owned channels, but you should take it a step further. Here are some ideas for different social media channels.
According to the March 24th, 2020 blog post “Keeping Our Services Stable and Reliable During the COVID-19 Outbreak” Facebook has seen chat up over 50% in most countries, as well as an update in posts and feeds views. However, it’s important to note they have also seen a reduction in ad spend in areas affected by Covid-19.
Regardless, it’s clear that people are spending a lot of time on Facebook. For your business, it’s important not to push salesy material, but rather to focus on content that will help your customers solve their biggest problems.
Here are the Facebook tactics we’re focusing on now:
- Promoting content that serves the community
We are creating, publishing, and boosting content to our followers and specific audiences that might benefit from what we have to say. We’re not trying to make any money doing this. We’re just trying to be real and help people.
- Remarketing content
If you run remarketing and target people on Facebook who have visited your website, it may be time to change your message. Instead of promoting self-serving content, promote helpful content that helps and supports.
You can easily promote your non self-serving content to your subscribers on YouTube. Plus, if you don’t have a following yet, you can purchase ads to get your information in front of the right audience.
If you need help ranking on YouTube, check out Brian Dean’s great resource YouTube SEO: How to Rank YouTube Videos in 2020.
It will be interesting to see how LinkedIn traffic shakes out. On one hand, users are mostly in B2B companies, and the platform isn’t particularly social. On the other hand, many people are seeking employment after being laid off. If you hope to hire great talent during this time, it’s worth your effort to spend time here.
- LinkedIn Text Ads for Brand Awareness
One of the bigger and cheaper opportunities on LinkedIn right now is paying for text ads set with a CPM goal for brand building.
Basically, by changing your goal from conversions to cost-per-click (CPC), you will receive a lot more brand impressions than you would from LinkedIn’s CPM Model.
Search Engine Optimization [SEO]
If you haven’t invested in a long term SEO campaign, it’s time you start. Especially if you have a lot of time on your hands. The truth is that, depending on some markets, search volumes could be going up or down.
Here is an example of searches for [personal injury lawyer] rising during this crisis. Is it lawyers at home searching for their own keywords, or is it potential clients looking to generate more cash from a settlement?
I don’t have the answer yet, but I do know that the searches will return. When things have calmed down and people are able to think about things that worry them less, the searches will come back.
In the meantime, use Google Trends to identify topics you can blog about and rank when people are looking for answers.
For example, if shelter in place orders are trending, think about how your business can write about it. Maybe include restaurants that will be open, things to do, or virtual classes for people — whatever is related to your business.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Maybe it’s human nature, or maybe it’s just pride that gets in the way. Regardless—don’t be afraid to ask your friends, colleagues, and community for help.
We’re going to get through this
Some industries are getting hit harder than others, and I know this will bring a lot of change worldwide. In tough situations, I like to say “plan for the worst and expect the best.” However, you also need to plan for the best. Plan for your business to continue to thrive when this is all over. Don’t give up hope.
If this post gave you any ideas and you have more to contribute, I would love to hear them. If you have other ideas from things you’ve read or seen, I would also love to hear those. Together, we’re all going to get through this.