Ways to promote your business during the COVID-19 crisis

April 8, 2020 / Roberta Hill  / 
It is a delicate matter to find out how to promote and market your company in a time of crisis.

On the one hand, many small businesses struggle to stay afloat in the hope of weathering the storm and reopening after the crisis. On the other hand, nobody wants to appear insensitive or opportunistic.

Nevertheless, there are still opportunities to promote your business in these troubling and frightening times.
The key is to do four things at once:
1. Meet your audience where they are.
2. Offer a clear value in a time of need
3. Be sensitive to the time and avoid missteps.
4. Take advantage of special advertising offers and promotions.

Here are some suggestions to help you.

Meet your audience where they are

In a sense, the fact that most people stay at home and avoid social gatherings gives small business owners a unique opportunity. Even at the risk of taking the seriousness of the situation too lightly, you have a captive audience. This means that the people you want to reach, spend more time with you than they normally do online. Digital marketing will be more critical now than ever before – and small businesses can and should benefit from it.

It is an excellent time to rethink your marketing mix. You should consider taking money from things like direct marketing if you've always done it and investing it in these things:
  • Advertising in social media
  • Advertising in search engines
  • E-mail marketing
It is a good time, as you are going through your analyses over a few weeks after an almost worldwide “stay at home” to see what is happening to subscribers. Do you have a bunch of new followers at Pinterest? Your marketing budget should reflect that.

Offer a clear value in a time of need

While many of us are scared and unemployed, many people work from home and like to support local businesses. It is an excellent time to get creative and think about how to serve them. For example, I have seen some companies offering “Buy Now and Save Later” promotions where they introduce offers even if the company is closed at present. What a great way to engage your audience and buy from you – and create some continuity to help you through a temporary closure. Another option is to find ways to put your regular services online. This is not a solution for everyone, but many companies have adapted in a truly inspiring way.

If you can find a way to use technology to help your audience, now is the time. If you are a manufacturer, there are potential ways to help people directly and concretely. A good example is Toast, a company that usually makes phone and laptop cases and other products from natural materials such as wood and leather. In a short period, they have converted their machines and developed a fully reusable face shield that they make available to hospitals and emergency responders.

Refine your SEO

Your marketing should reflect what you do to create added value. If you offer emergency services or virtual services, you might want to put some money into SEO for keywords related to the changes. For example, a restaurant that is focused on display and delivery could invest some cash in local keywords that contain these terms to ensure they reach their audience. However, it is not a good idea to completely stop spending on your regular keywords. Remember that both Google and Facebook have advertising credit programs for small businesses to use during the pandemic. It's still important to maintain your Google rank for your general target keywords. If you don't do this, your ranking may get a hit – and if that happens, it can be difficult to recover when we return to business as usual.

Keep the conversation going

If your business is temporarily closed or offers limited services, you can still invest in “soft” marketing to engage and involve your audience. Two of the best ways to do this are social media marketing and e-mail marketing. You may be tired of hearing me talk about e-mail marketing, but it still has a very high ROI, and it's a great way to stay in touch without being overbearing. The same goes for social media marketing. Your organic contributions provide an opportunity to stimulate conversation, find out what your followers think, and remind them of your value. Promoted posts can do the same.

Be sensitive to time and avoid missteps

One of the most challenging things in marketing during a crisis is finding the right balance between sensitivity and business issues. Any business that is seen as an attempt to exploit people is likely to have unpleasant consequences. The first thing to avoid is for marketing to take the current situation lightly or to reject the genuine pain and fear of people. Empathy is the word of the day and companies that demonstrate their customers will reward this. The second point is that you focus on your customers and not on your financial worries. There is nothing wrong with worrying about the survival of your business, but if it looks like that is the only thing you worry about, you may end up alienating the people you want to attract.

Be adaptable

None of us knows what next week or next month will bring. It may be that a marketing campaign that works today will be twice as effective in a week, or it may not deliver results, and you will need to redesign it. I realize that this may not be reassuring, but I believe that with the right attitude, it can be a good thing.

Check your analyses regularly.

If you can afford it, do some A/B testing to refine your campaigns. Change elements as needed – and be prepared to change them again if you need to. Marketing your business is still a must during the pandemic, but you need to be on your feet and do everything you can to serve your audience. If you can do that, your company will survive the crisis.
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