In the midst of a crisis, especially one as serious as the global spread of COVID-19 (also known as the coronavirus), small businesses are among the many that take a hard hit. As a small company ourselves, the team at Postern understands the difficulty and uncertainty that comes along with these unprecedented times. We also understand that when times are tough and revenue slows down, marketing efforts are often the first to fall down the list of priorities. However, it’s more important now than ever to maintain a presence for the sake of your business, your clients, and your community.

According to Forbes.com, “there have been a number of studies going back nearly one century that point out the advantages of maintaining or even increasing ad budgets during a weaker economy. Those advertisers that maintained or grew their ad spending increased sales and market share during the recession and afterwards.”

Granted, there are some mixed feelings about marketing during a crisis, and rightfully so. One person’s tragedy should not be another’s opportunity for self-promotion. But your business may have a genuine way to support your clients and community through the delivery of your services and sharing of your expertise. Plus, your employees (read as: team or work family) are depending on your business remaining viable through adversity. It’s all about intent.

Staying fluid, creative, and adapting to the changing circumstances will help your business weather the storm. And, when the clouds finally do lift, you’ll be more likely to successfully bounce back. To get you started, we’re covering some strategies to market your small business during a time of crisis or a recession.

1. Crisis Messaging

In a perfect world, it’s best to have pre-determined messaging ready to go at a moment’s notice. But, unfortunately, we live in neither a perfect world nor a predictable one, so there’s no time like the present to get started. Keep in mind, however, that the sooner you can clearly and accurately communicate with your employees, customers, vendors, stakeholders, and community, the better.

Your crisis messaging will be the basis of all other marketing strategies during this difficult time, including your social media, public relations, and lead generation methods. Make sure to spend the time here to get it right in order to best support the rest of your marketing efforts.

Start with 3 simple, yet important questions:

  1. What do you need to say?
  2. Who are you going to say it to?
  3. How do you want to say it?

When developing your messaging, you may wonder – “What’s even appropriate to say right now?” If you’re too institutional in your approach, you’ll be accused of sounding cold and uncaring. If you’re too casual or “sales-y”, you may be perceived as tone deaf to the circumstances. All of a sudden building your messaging feels like performing a high wire act without a safety net.

Here’s something to consider: What are you offering, and are you adding value to the community in the midst of the current crisis? Your messaging should reflect the manner in which your organization is positioning itself to support the community through its products and services. Focus on what people need to know and not simply what you want them to know, because the latter is just pushy sales.

Additionally, you’ll need to consider each of your audiences, such as your customers and stakeholders. Determine who will hear which message and in which order. For example, you’ll most likely want your employees to learn important information first, with customers and key stakeholders not far behind. If your employees have clarity on the organization’s messaging and objectives, you can rely on them to help spread essential communications to the broader community.

Consider each audience on a macro level and micro level. Don’t just weigh what your customers will think about the message, but consider how the CEO of your key account might respond or how family members of your employees might feel. Fear and isolation has most people thinking about information in the context of, “What does this mean to me,” and justifiably so. Which means you need to consider your audiences in much the same way.

Then, finally, decide how you will reach your customers. Perhaps you send an email to your current client base, but save the conference calls for employees. Maybe you want to create a press release for your media contacts and offer useful blog content for potential customers. If budget is strained and you need the message to have the furthest and quickest reach, lean heavily on your digital resources. A little paid advertising on social media platforms can go a long way.

Of note, you will want to identify a sole spokesperson to convey your most essential messages. This ensures the communication maintains continuity of voice and accuracy, and it builds trustworthiness in that your audience will become familiar with a primary figure as opposed to a frequent rotation of new faces.

2. Social Media

There’s no denying that the current COVID-19 crisis requires an immediate shift in how we’re each showing up on social media: How should posts be positioned? What should be said? Is maintaining a social presence appropriate?

With the right tone, intention, and approach, maintaining a social media presence during a crisis can not only prove to be appropriate but essential for bringing communities together and helping small businesses persevere through difficult times.

First and foremost, check your pre-scheduled social media posts: Do they match the tone of the current environment? If they don’t take into account the pandemic and people’s current and evolving needs, pause them until a later date.

When creating new content, take the time to think through what your followers need from you right now. Your content should convey a sense of direction, purpose, and sensitivity in a time of crisis, so avoid efforts that might induce tension or perpetuate conflict. In a recent PRNEWS webinar, Gil Bashe, Managing Partner of Global Health Partners, said, “Great communications is not just about facts, it’s about positive experiences under difficult circumstances.” So make sure your content is creating positive experiences.

Next, strategize unique ways your business can remain engaged with followers through each platform; whether that be going live on Facebook or Instagram to share updates, creating polls to better understand how your audience is feeling, or conducting a Q&A to answer any questions they may be having.

Some important trends to note:

  • People are largely at home and utilizing their mobile devices more than ever.
  • Right now, it’s estimated that engagement for video content is up 800% and is outperforming any other posts on all platforms. Additionally, video engagement is sustaining a 3-5 day shelf life, which exceeds norms.
  • Live streaming platforms are highly effective right now and create a sense of personal connection which many are in need of at this time.

When it comes to topics, consider the following:

  • Information: People are looking for answers and peace of mind. What facts can your industry provide? What tips or insights can you share?
  • Customer Support and Services: Get ahead of the questions by openly sharing relevant information and business updates. You can also add information to related sections of your website or send an email out to your customers.
  • Connection and Community: Show how you’re providing resources, education, and support to your employees, customers, and community.
  • Leadership: Embrace your leadership role and provide consistent updates on your progress. Perhaps share your business continuity plan—it could be helpful to others.
  • Distractions: While addressing the current circumstances is vital, more and more people are looking for ways to find some semblance of normalcy in an otherwise chaotic world.

There are several ways your business can show up on social media during a crisis, and there is no one right way to do so; it all comes down to your specific business and audience. But at the end of the day, be authentic and be empathetic.

3. Public Relations

There may come a time when you need to speak to the media regarding a crisis or issue. Sometimes the media reaches out to you, and other times you’ll seek the help of the media to spread your message.

When working with the media in a time of crisis, it’s important to have all your key players involved to create official statements that are informative, timely, and accurate. Whether you’re creating a press release, calling your contacts, or sending out a pitch, keep your message consistent and concise.

Alternatively, if the media has reached out to you, ask them to send their questions in advance so you can craft your message around the information they specifically want to know.

If you’re not a wordsmith yourself, work with a copywriter or a copy editor to ensure that your message is refined and polished. Keep in mind that this message will be shared with the masses, so it should be as perfect as possible.

Don’t have a defined media list with specific contacts and outlets? Don’t panic. Think carefully about your key audience and consider, “Where would they likely go to get their information?” Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to ask industry partners for some advice on possible media outlets.

4. Audit Your Marketing and Sales Tools

If circumstances have caused your business to slow down or even shut down, it’s a great time to revisit your current marketing tools, such as your website, branding, lead nurturing strategy, and sales tactics. By evaluating each of these pieces of the marketing puzzle, you’ll be well positioned to keep customers flowing into the sales funnel once the crisis has dissipated.

Is your website functioning properly and displaying accurate, up-to-date copy? Is your current brand aesthetic still aligned with your organizational goals? Does your logo still represent your company’s personality? Are your company colors outdated? Does your imagery feel refreshed and modern? When was the last time you took a deep-dive into your current sales approaches and their effectiveness? Have you run the numbers recently to see if your marketing budget is, in fact, leading to a conversion of sales?

Now is the time to ask yourself these questions and identify steps for breathing new life into your organization’s marketing.

If you’re not sure what the answers are, consider speaking with your marketing and branding agency to help walk you through a formal audit. Together, you can develop specific steps to improve your marketing strategies, so that when the down time is over, you can get back up and running once again.

So, is it ok to market my small business right now?

Yes. But again, ask yourself: “What am I offering, and am I adding value to the community in the midst of the current crisis?” Authenticity and empathy will go a long way to ensure that your clients and new potential business leads will see you as a legitimate ally. Make yourself available to your community, create opportunities to ask and answer questions, and stay flexible to the evolving needs of those around you.

Trust us, we know how difficult running your small business can be, both in the good times and in the bad. For help with your marketing strategy, please reach out to us at Postern here. We would love to have a conversation, learn more about you and your business, and see if there are any ways we can support your goals now and into the future.

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