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3 Tips for Marketing Your Small Business During the Pandemic

Communicate how you can help customers navigate tough times

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En español | Over time and through trial and error, you've likely developed a system of marketing that works for your business. But, in many ways, 2020 has ushered in changes that can have an impact on the way businesses communicate. This period of pandemic, social unrest, economic volatility and general uncertainty weighs heavily on the minds of many customers. Businesses may need to overhaul their tried-and-true outreach to be sensitive to current concerns, not to mention to preserve cash.

"I think a lot of folks are having these introspective and reflective moments to go back to the root of who they are,” says Rakia Reynolds, founder of Philadelphia-based public relations firm Skai Blue Media. Reynolds says the first step many businesses should take is to audit how they're currently communicating with customers and prospects, making note of their tone, messaging, frequency and outreach platforms. Once they have a clear vision of how they're communicating, they can start to adjust.

1. Find out what your customers want

Regardless of who your target audience is, chances are it's been affected by the pandemic, says Jonathan Ochart, CEO of the Postcard Agency, a San Antonio, Texas, marketing agency. It's important to understand your would-be customers’ thinking now, so get their feedback about the concerns they have, ask what kind of information they want from you, and ask how your business can help them now. You may also inquire about the platforms and vehicles they prefer. For example, are they following your social media channels daily for updates or would they prefer weekly email newsletters? This information will help you choose the right platforms, Ochart says.


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To collect the feedback, you may want to send out an email and ask respondents to fill out a short survey on a tool like SurveyMonkey. Or you may simply call some of your top customers or clients to get their thoughts. The latter will also give you an opportunity to connect with some of the people or businesses that are important to your company and strengthen the relationship, Ochart says.

2. Evaluate your messaging

Make no mistake: Customers do want to hear from you now. A survey of Twitter users in March found that 64 percent think brands should continue advertising, and more than half agreed that seeing and hearing ads gives them a sense of normality. At the same time, they want your tone to reflect today's context — just 7 percent think brands should continue using their “normal brand tone of voice."

"Gone are the days where you can focus on broad messaging that you think will get every single target that's out there,” Reynolds says. Today, you need to speak to your audience in ways that acknowledge customers’ concerns and priorities. Some are concerned about COVID-19 and need to know how your business has adopted new policies and practices to protect them from the virus. Some are concerned about your positions on social and civil rights issues and want to hear you voice your support for marginalized groups. Some are concerned about how you're giving back to and supporting your community during the recession and want to hear if you're supporting food drives and fundraising efforts. Find out what matters to your customers and adapt your messaging accordingly.

Lynn Power, 52, launched her premium hair care brand, Masami, as an e-commerce offering in February. Within a matter of weeks, she and her team were faced with how to promote their brand-new business while being sensitive to customers who were worried about everything from their jobs to their health.

Power, a longtime advertising executive, understood the importance of addressing the customer's mindset. “We shifted our messaging to be more about the importance of self-care,” she says. As people spent more time at home during the pandemic, she found the message resonated with people who wanted to make small splurges on upscale grooming products, which made them feel better.

3. Review — but don't eliminate — your marketing budget

The financial aspect of marketing can't be ignored. Many small businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic. A July report published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences found that the median business with more than $10,000 in monthly expenses had roughly two weeks of cash on hand at the time of the survey. It may be tempting to include marketing in the expenses you cut. However, promoting your business is more important now than ever.

If money is tight, turn to affordable options such as email marketing and engaging with your customers on social media, Ochart recommends. This is also a time when slick production value is less important than authenticity in many cases, he adds. If you have something to say about a matter that's important to you, write a heartfelt email or shoot a video on your smartphone. Sometimes, accessible methods also are the most effective, he says.

Regardless of the national climate, you need to keep promoting your business. However, more than ever, the messaging and approach need to be thoughtful and nuanced. By keeping in touch with customers’ needs, shifting your message and maintaining sensitivity to current events — and your own budget — you can get the word out in a way that makes relationships stronger.

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