Tailoring Your Marketing Messaging in a COVID-19 World

4 min read • Jun 09, 2020 • Grant Olsen

There are often dueling demands in the midst of a crisis. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, more people in your area are struggling to put food on the table due to job loss and other financial pressures. These people may go to the local soup kitchen for assistance, but the increased number of visitors to the soup kitchen will result in fewer resources being available to everyone.

Both parties in this scenario, the families in need and the soup kitchen, have reached dire levels of demand. And it’s hard for them to coexist. Either the soup kitchen gives out an unsustainable amount of food or the families go home with less food than they hoped for.

Your marketing efforts during the COVID-19 crisis share similarities with the example above. In one corner is your small business, likely struggling with sales declines, supply chain disruption, and restrictive health guidelines. The resulting demands can feel overwhelming, which translates into urgent marketing messages. After all, you need the support of your customers immediately.

But you should also have empathy for your customers and realize they’re feeling similar pressures. Perhaps they’ve taken salary cuts, lost their jobs, or struggled with health issues. Regardless of the specific scenario, it’s a safe bet that they’re hurting right now.

“Looking ahead to the ‘next normal,’ consumers remain hesitant to return to some of the activities that were part of their daily life before the start of the pandemic,” explains a detailed profile from McKinsey. “Consumers globally do not intend to undertake international travel soon, while consumers in several countries—with the exception of Germany and France—plan to restrict domestic travel as well. Most consumers expect to shop less frequently in physical stores for items other than grocery, simultaneously shifting that spending online.”

The point is that you can’t let your needs supersede those of your customers during the intensity of COVID-19. Instead, focus on how you can offer solutions. As the business adage says, “Where there’s a benefit, there’s a way.”

Here are a few suggestions for making sure your marketing messages cut through the noise and make an impact:

Be clear and honest: Consumers are desperate for authentic information right now. So instead of posting a vague notice that your business is temporarily closed, consider being more specific: “We will be closed until Tuesday, June 2. At that time, we will open our doors and resume regular business hours. We look forward to seeing you again!”

This type of clarity won’t always be possible, given the volatile time we’re living in. But whenever possible, strive to reassure your customers with details. It’s a little counterintuitive, but it can be better for your business to share negative news in a transparent way than to skirt the issue with ambiguity and hope nobody ever asks additional questions.

Take your message digital: It’s crucial for you to reach consumers in the most efficient and effective ways possible. This means that billboards, radio spots, and print ads aren’t going to move the needle for you. You need digital tools that allow you to connect with consumers in their online environments.

“In the coming months, businesses are going to become more reliant than ever on their digital strategy,” asserts a business strategy report from Forbes. “Without wanting to sound too alarmist, in many cases it will be the deciding factor in whether they make it through the tough times ahead. The unprecedented, almost-total disappearance of all channels related to live events and conferences, and the increasing barriers on face-to-face business, pose an enormous challenge. Key to resilience is the development of ongoing contingencies to mitigate against this loss.

The reality is that 8 out of 10 Americans shop online regularly. If you want to be part of that purchasing cycle, you’d better get your advertising online as well. Digital marketing can be among the most inexpensive routes possible and makes it easy to test results and update content on the fly. 

Be a customer support maven: While your ad’s headlines and body copy help convey messages, one of the best ways to convey your message is through actions. When done right, customer service allows lasting connections to form.

“All humans, including the humans we call ‘customers,’ tend to remember what happens to us in our lives in terms of stories,” says consumer support expert Micah Solomon. “The implication for any company striving to build customer engagement and loyalty is this: Merely satisfactory customer service, when everything is ‘just fine’ but not extraordinary, may not be enough to lodge yourself indelibly in the memories of your customers. For this you’ll need to step it up, at least in some interactions with your customer, in order to ‘wow’ them in a way that will be truly memorable.” 

By focusing on the needs of your customers, you’ll spur engagement and loyalty that simultaneously address your business’s needs. It’s a true win-win.

The road ahead is filled with uncertainty. Perhaps our nation’s small businesses will rebound faster than expected. On the other hand, there could be multiple COVID-19 outbreaks ahead that present even more hardships.

Building connections with your customers allows you to create some consistency. Your business needs any form consistency now more than ever, and many of your consumers are also craving it.

Grant Olsen

Grant Olsen is a writer specializing in small business loans, leadership skills, and growth strategies. He is a contributing writer for KSL 5 TV, where his articles have generated more than 6 million page views, and has been featured on FitSmallBusiness.com and ModernHealthcare.com. Grant is also the author of the book "Rhino Trouble." He has a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University.