A Guide to Business & Marketing Success in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Let’s be honest. We weren’t prepared for this. The disruption this pandemic is causing, wdidn’t have a contingency for it, at least not an effective one. Now we’re scrambling to react, grasping for a safe foothold in a place unfamiliar to us. This global health crisis is shaking us to the core, particularly in business and marketing. We didn’t ask for this, yet we are now facing it. This is our new reality.  

We’ve entered a time where what we’ve done, and how things always worked dont apply so well anymore. Nobody has written the book on this remarkable chapter in human history because its not over yet, and we can’t be sure how this story is going to play out.  

Situation Report 

According to the CDC, cases of coronavirus infection have been reported in over 170 countries globally. Like other nations across the world, the US is now in an official state of emergency. The escalating pandemic has brought the nation to a virtual standstill.  

Forbes reports that 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment over the past two weeks. No one can predict how long before things will return to normal. We can, however, exercise control over our reactions to this unprecedented health crisis. 

 

Seeing through the fog 

In a way, this profound disruption is giving us new clarity. It is helping us to see what is truly important and providing a clearer direction forward. We must confront the truth. We must guard ourselves and those we care about against this threat. We must rise to the challenge and fight this enemy for the greater good. Our survival depends on it. 

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Opportunity for revitalization 

This coronavirus has spread like wildfire across our nation. A forest fire is a terrible event, yet it is also renewing and transformative. It stimulates new growth. It opens the canopy to sunlight and clears away the undergrowth. Resilient seeds can now flourish in a newly opened space, in soil fertilized by the ashes of destruction 

This is the mindset progressive business leaders will adopt. They will look upon this dramatically altered economic landscape and see through to the opportunities it has created. They will keep what is salvageable and regrow what is not, with an eye toward improving and adapting their products and services to a new and changed environment.  

A leveled playing field 

In our metaphorical book of business, concerning the section on marketing strategy, pages have been suddenly ripped out and thrown away by the pandemic. In this respect, we and our competitors are now in similar situations. We must rewrite the next chapters, mindful of the new and fearful antagonist that has entered the narrative—COVID-19. 

How will we begin? While we devise our starting passages, we must think carefully about how we want our story to work out. Will we fulfill our harrowing quest and beat this virus, so that everyone can live happily ever after? If so, the words we choose now must lead to that conclusion. 

Communication is key 

Good communication is absolutely essential to an effective response. We must create a comprehensive vision of the optimum outcome. The plan of attack must be voiced clearly to all levels of business, internally and externally.  

People are justifiably distressed and are looking for guidance. Your message should convey an assuring tone of calm and control. It is important to prove that you are listening and understanding their needs, and that you are committed to compassionately addressing those concerns.  

This must begin with a strong statement of acknowledgement of the severity of the situation. You should explain how this is affecting the core interests of your business and be transparent about the steps you are taking to stabilize your finances and logistics. Your employees are more likely to bond together to back your efforts when you allow them to fully understand the situation. 

MARKETING COUNTERMEASURES 

In the quickly changing economy, brands are altering their strategy to address rising levels of uncertainty in every market. Many brands have started to use mission or cause related marketing messages. Ad spend on both traditional and digital platforms is predicted to decrease by 25 to 40 percent. More than half of all businesses plan to decrease their ad spending in the second and third fiscal quarter of 2020.   

Businesses are looking for actionable insights into how to mitigate the impact of the pandemic while the coronavirus storm passes. This is the perfect time to be amping up online sales and exploring at-home delivery options for your products.   

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Monitor your social media feed 

Social listening is of critical importance to your business during this crisis. The social and economic climate is changing rapidly as people try to cope with the health risks and comply with social distancing. Continuously monitor feedback about your brand online. Investigate keywords related to your industry and analyze SEO metrics.  

By paying attention to what people are saying about your brand and following keyword trends, you will gain vital insight into how your business is perceived. You will learn how your customers requirements are changing so that you can act swiftly to meet those needs.  

Eric Gruboy (SEO) Founder of Lightwalker Media: 

Businesses are experiencing some tough times right now. Those that are brick and mortar and rely on foot traffic are getting hit the hardest. However, if your business sells a product or service that is not restricted to a certain location, you may still have some upside.  

While most companies that sell online may be inclined to lower their ad budget, now is actually the time to increase it. The reason is manyfold. Not only are ad costs much less for Google Ads and Facebook at the moment because of less spending attributed by businesses, but people that you would be targeting are now working from home. And while these people are working from their bedside, they’re also browsing the web looking around for deals.  

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should throw all of your business’ money and ramp up ad spend all at once. Tread lightly and start slowly and measure results. If the conversions are there and the ROI is coming, then pick up the amount of money put into your advertising. Rinse and repeat.   

Connect to your audience through Influencer Marketing 

With isolation measures in place and social distancing keeping most of us close to home, people are understandably restless. We are spending much more time monitoring the news and communicating with our social network through various social media platforms and video communication tools. With people more glued to their screens, you can use the opportunity to get your marketing messages out online. In addition to enhancing your online presence, you can communicate your marketing objectives by partnering with the right kind of influential members of the online community 

As people look to escape the boredom of their isolation, they are turning to online entertainment in the form of streaming shows and watching social media influencers. Influencer endorsement can contribute significantly to your continuing relevance and keep the discussion going about your business.  

Alessandro Bogliari (Influencer Marketing) Co-Founder/CEO of The Influencer Marketing Factory: 

Influencer marketing, in my opinion, has been only partially impacted. In fact, a lot of influencers can still produce great content from home and because of Covid-19 a lot of social networking apps saw a pick-up of downloads in the last weeks, since everyone has to stay home.  

TikTok is working great in this period since a lot of content is made in your own bedroom with only the need of a professional light and that’s it: the influencer can continue earning money to sponsor content and the users are watching more than ever social media contents. My advice to business owners that have digital products (apps especially) is to invest now in influencer marketing because more people are in front of their devices. 

 

Modify Your Marketing Messages to Reflect Customer Concerns 

The most important factor of your communication with your relevant audience must be to show empathy. Your message should demonstrate an awareness of the factors effecting the state of the economy. Show respect for your customers and speak sensitively to changes in their financial status due to unemployment. Be careful about how and what you promote during this period. In a time of financial hardships, it is perhaps not appropriate to be pushing expensive luxury products, for example.  

Your tone should be one of compassionate, restrained optimism. Merely expressing an understanding of the situation does not add value to your business. Consider how to action creative initiatives that exceed your customers expectations. 

Nancy Harhut (Behavioral Science) Chief Creative Officer, HBT Marketing: 

In the middle of a pandemic and a financial crisis, buyer behavior will understandably change. People will be frightened, distracted, longing for the familiar, and extra focused on the safety of themselves and their families.   

For marketers to communicate in this environment more effectively, it will help to tap into certain human behavior triggers – prompts that can activate the automatic, hardwired decisions people rely on. For example, human beings have an innate need to feel in control of themselves and their circumstances. Behavioral scientists refer to this as Autonomy Bias. And the desire to exert control will be especially strong during this time of uncertainty.   

One way a marketer can make people feel in control is to offer them choices. When we make a choice, we feel we are exerting some control over our situation.  In fact, research has shown providing a few options can quadruple the likelihood of someone making a buying decision versus simply offering a single option.  

Another factor marketers should be aware of is that people place greater value on what is already theirs. Referred to as the Endowment Effect, this means that people prefer something that is already theirs as compared to something they’ve yet to acquireSo marketers can use this behavioral science principle in retention efforts, to get people to reconsider canceling a service or subscription. However, the Endowment Effect can also be used in acquisition efforts — for example by giving customers or prospects a credit that can be used toward a purchase. (Note the difference between a customer having a “credit”, and a marketer having a “sale”. The former is possessed by the customer.)  

Finally, marketers need to remember the pain of paying. Neuroscientists have found that the same part of the brain that is activated when a person is in physical pain also gets activated when a person needs to part with their money. In order to minimize the pain of paying and encourage purchasing, marketers should avoid or limit using words such as cost, pay, price, and spend. Instead of saying the “price of this new widget is only $X,” they can say for “only $X you can gain this new widget”. Additionally, several studies show making dollar signs smaller than the numerals that follow them can also increase sales. 

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EMPLOYEE COLLABORATION 

Consumers judge businesses by how they treat the people that work for them. Ask your employees what they need for their safety and comfort during this difficult time. Take appropriate steps to release them from duty with support if required. Set up remote work access when possible, or adequately protect them from exposure to health hazards if they must continue working and interacting with the public through this crisis.  

Create a temporary virtual workplace 

If your type of business allows for this, consider implementing telecommuting arrangements to enable employees to work from home. You can use a variety of technology platforms to communicate and collaborate with everyone on your team.  

There are a variety of effective applications that you can use to communicate and exchange information, such as the Office 365 suite, Microsoft Teams for online collaboration, Google Drive for file sharing, and Slack or Google Hangouts for virtual meetings. 

Max Awad, CEO of Chopstix: 

Here at ChopStix, we take our company’s response to COVID-19 very seriously. We immediately sent and urged people to engage in social distancing and to start staying home. It applies to all our staff across all states. Working remotely reduces the risk of exposure to the virus and give us more time to take care of our loved ones.  

To ensure that our operations stay active during the event, we have made sure everyone’s able to still communicate across teams and work together through video conferences and other online resources.  

 We are proud to be fully operational through the cloud. We are using Google’s G-Suite to host conferences and have shared calendars in addition to their gmail platform. Slack is allowing cross team communication with the amazing integration of our project management tool, Asana, as well as with G-Suite. Github and Heroku are providing a fast and stable platform to release out code and to be able to see it on the web.   

 These tools and more are great resources to have your team work remotely with efficiency, but the key to working in such a chaotic environment is our employees’ mindset and character. Everyone has been doing a great job after the sudden change but were quick to develop a new flexible work from home environment that accommodates everyone. 

Implement Health Protective Policies 

Scientifically rigorous, professional healthcare-endorsed workplace policies must be immediately put in place, clearly communicated, monitored, and enforced among your employees. Supplement direct communication with information from verifiable sources and print out clear and simple posters, bulletins, and infographics, to effectively communicate the message to all employees. 

Your customers are going to want to know how you will continue to serve their needs. It may be necessary to completely shut down your operations to protect against the spread of coronavirus. Let customers know you value their business, appreciate their needs, and will do everything in your power to meet their needs as soon as it is safe and practicable to do so. 

FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS 

The impact of this pandemic has been felt by the full spectrum of small and medium businesses across the US. SMBs represent nearly half of the economy and employ close to 60 million Americans. Businesses that rely on foot traffic have been hit most severely due to public health isolation policies. 

The US is entering a recession as quarantines, travel restrictions, and social distancing have contributed to a drastic decrease in consumer and commercial spending. All levels of business are facing serious financial pressure, and the economy is not expected to begin to recover until the fourth fiscal quarter.  

Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company reports that the US small business sector is in crisis due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In response to this economic emergency, the federal CARES Act has been launched, providing $376 billion in relief for effected businesses.  

Joe Serrone (Accounting) Tax & Accounting Strategist, Polaris Tax & Accounting: 

As small businesses across the country are grappling with the current and potential impacts associated with COVID-19, our firm is continuing to track the latest developments from healthcare officials, congress and the administration. This is a very fluid situation and the information we are sharing below changes very rapidly.  

SBA Disaster Loan Assistance:  

If your business has been financially impacted by the COVID-19 coronavirus the SBA Disaster Loan program provides small businesses with working capital loans of up to $2 million that can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing. While you can apply for the Disaster Loan Assistance online at this site, we suggest reaching out to us so that we can place you in contact with a Small Business Loan Advisory firm that can assist you navigate the intricacies of applying for this loan. Also, we suggest you finalize your 2019 Tax Returns since this could potentially expedite the approval process.  

 Leeway from Financial Institutions:  

Banks and credit card companies are offering assistance to customers experiencing financial hardship due to coronavirus related business closures. Customers may have late fees waived or receive assistance with minimum payments. Financial institutions encourage customers to contact customer service for assistance 

Assistance from State and Local Governments:  

Local governments are offering assistance to small businesses experiencing financial hardship due to coronavirus. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the City will provide relief for small businesses seeing a reduction in revenue because of COVID-19. Businesses with fewer than 100 employees who have seen sales decreases of 25% or more will be eligible for zero-interest loans of up to $75,000 to help mitigate losses in profit. You can learn more about this program by clicking this link. Business owners in other states or cities should check with their State or Local government for potential relief programs designed for small businesses. 

Defining Success 

The real exploitation of this unique situation comes in the chance to show the passion and admirable spirit of your brand. Demonstrate the virtues of your vision and show the tangible benefits of interacting and aligning with your business.  

Becoming an active part of the solution to this crisis is to elevate your business profile above those that decline the responsibility and only look inward during this time. 

 

Focusing on what you can do 

The coronavirus pandemic is indeed a major health and economic crisis, with many obstacles to be overcome and limitations that will need creative solutions, but together we are up to the task.  

Hard decisions will have to be made. There is nothing easy about this situation. For the businesses that survive this economic blow, there will probably be significant negative impact on operations and a short-term loss in profit.  

“In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein  

Despite the restrictive isolation measures there has never been a better time to show your business mettle. This is a time when forward-thinking business leaders will emerge with distinction.  

Strong positive reputations and bonds are formed in the crucible of disturbing experiences. This collective trauma will mark us all and change the way we feel about things moving forward.  

Time to think ahead 

This is certainly an unforgettable moment in history. We will eventually look back on our experiences during the Coronavirus Crisis of 2020. We will remember what we did, with shame or with pride. We will remember how our fellow citizens, government bodies, and businesses around us behaved when the coronavirus struck, and isolation measures turned our world upside down.  

Emotions during traumatic times run high, and emotions are the strongest drivers of consumer impulses. The more you can connect yourself to the positive elements of this ongoing story, the more firmly you will earn customers’ trust and future business. 

Seize the moment 

This is an opportunity to not only survive but strengthen your business position in terms of communicating your vision, crafting your image, and building your reputation. The steps you take now will have a strong and lasting effect on your success in the wake of this health crisis.  

The world will eventually recover from the coronavirus pandemic, as will the economy. If you passionately dedicate your efforts to protecting and supporting the people around you, your business will not merely weather this storm but flourish in the days to come.

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