How businesses can respond to both the challenges and opportunities during the COVID-19 crisis

With the rapid, global spread of COVID-19, the entire world is facing a scary time. Even more so with the high levels of uncertainty and so many unknowns, as we move through this unprecedented pandemic one day at a time. 

Already, we have seen some businesses doing all that they can to keep up with increasing consumer demands, selling out of many products and struggling to keep up. While other businesses are struggling to survive, with sales and leads drying up, and some being forced to make drastic cuts or completely close up shop. It really is hard to know how long this will last or how things will look once we are on the other side of it.

While we don’t have a crystal ball, we can look at the trends that are presenting and learn from the successes and failures of how businesses have been responding to this crisis. Below, we have compiled a list of key ways that businesses and marketers can adapt during this time, to navigate the challenges and leverage the opportunities, to survive and even thrive during this time.

Increase efforts in online customer service

Stress levels are high across the globe, made worse by panic buying and shortages of many essential products, and one of the best things that marketers can do is help calm the nerves of customers. A lot of our clients and probably many businesses across the globe have been fielding questions from customers about warehouse practices and products being sourced from Asia, and it’s more important than ever to stay connected and be meeting your customers’ service needs.

Some ways businesses can adapt to be more connected with their customers include:

  • Re-assign staff with downtime to assist in the increased customer service effort.
  • Proactively communicate what you're doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Increase your customer service capabilities and ensure customers can reach you wherever they are, for example:
    • Offer chat via Facebook Messenger and/or any other social messaging platforms.
    • Implement video call options to allow for a more ‘face-to-face’ experience.
    • Ensure FAQ and support information is easily accessible on your website.

Clear and timely communication of changes

We’re all figuring things out as we go at the moment, with so many unknowns making it difficult to plan too far ahead. In response to ongoing developments and instructions from health authorities, many businesses are needing to make changes such as changes to their opening times, or operational changes. Communicating these changes to customers quickly and clearly can help to instill confidence that your business is acting responsibly and has everyone’s best interests at heart. It also provides a way for you to stay connected with your customers and create a sense of community, that ‘we’re all in this together’.

Get creative with messaging and offers

With rising concerns about the economy and so many consumers staying in their homes for prolonged periods of time, consumer priorities are likely to shift. It is important to understand and empathise with consumers, and adjust your messaging and promotional strategies to resonate with customers’ current situations. 

At the same time, it is best to avoid exploiting the fear that people are experiencing - instead, position your brand more positively, finding angles that will amplify positive emotions among consumers. How your brand responds during a time of crisis, can shape consumer perceptions for a long time ahead. 

An example of this in action is Bunnings, who have been running ads showing inspiration for DIY mini balcony makeovers that people can do themselves while at home. Another example is Luxey Cup, who engaged their audience in a positive way, by asking their Instagram followers to share things that they are looking forward to and then sharing the responses. 

You might also like to introduce promotional offers that increase appeal in line with current consumer behaviour. For example, people are socially distancing themselves and staying at home, so you might like to offer a free shipping promotion.

Continue to invest in (smart) marketing

When things start to slow down, marketers often cut spending on advertising and other initiatives. However, cutting back ad spending can cause your brand to lose mind share among consumers, which can impact current and future sales. On the flip side, increasing ad spend while many competitors start to scale back can generate greater brand presences and build a stronger voice in the market, leading to greater market share. 

An example of this is during the 1990-91 recession, when McDonald’s decided to drop its advertising budget, while Taco Bell and Pizza Hut both ramped up their spending. The result was a decline in McDonald’s sales by 28%, while Taco Bell sales increased by 40% and Pizza Hut Sales rose by 61%.

Cutting back advertising is not the answer, but repositioning your advertising messages and adopting new tactics may be. This is where working with an agency can be highly beneficial, as an agency will bring to the table insights from what is and isn’t working across numerous other businesses.

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