In times of economic uncertainty, you have two things to worry about: your business and your customers.
While it may be a knee-jerk reaction to cut marketing budgets during tough economic times, studies reveal that the companies who thrive during a recession are those that tighten the belt in operational efficiency but continue to invest in their marketing efforts.
This is not the time to abandon your marketing plan. Instead, it’s time to refocus, reprioritize, and reconnect with your consumer or target audience.
Don’t retreat. Refocus instead.
Some products and services are better suited for weathering economic storms than others. A luxury fashion brand needs to make different changes to their marketing strategy than a local grocery store does.
If your product or service doesn’t have immediate relevance, you may need to pause your direct marketing to regroup. Create a short term marketing strategy (30-90 day plan) and be ready to repeat as needed.
Sales are crucial to keeping your business alive and marketing channels are a lifeline to your customers, especially during the current economic downturn which is paired with a global health crisis preventing face-to-face customer interactions. Focus content on driving sales conversions.
Clarify your message: What problem does your product or service solve? What need does it fill? Why should your customers hand over their precious dollars to you instead of your competition?
Keeping a clear “why” at the center of your adjusted marketing strategy protects you from hitting an inappropriate or ineffective tone. The clarity will resonate with your customers and make you stand out during these complicated and confusing times.
Keep customers central
According to the Harvard Business Review, “it’s more important than ever to remember that loyal customers are the primary, enduring source of cash flow and organic growth.”
But under economic pressure, customers have very different needs and their behaviors change drastically. Essentials take priority and unnecessary purchases either get postponed or are eliminated. Purchasing habits range from extreme austerity to over-consumption and panic buying.
To reassess your customer’s needs, wants, and temperament, ask these three important questions:
What do my customers need?
If you’re selling an essential product like toilet paper or offering an essential service like food delivery, this question might be easy to answer right now. In this case, your marketing strategy is pretty simple: make your product easy to find and easy to buy. This might mean getting the word out about new services like an improved online store or home delivery options.
If your product is a “nice to have” instead of “need to have,” you’ll want to shift your marketing strategy away from a product/service track and onto a brand identity and customer relationships track. Build awareness and loyalty for when buyers swing back into action.
Keep in mind that what is considered essential can change very quickly during times of crisis, so monitor your market and be ready to jump in. You want to be a Zoom, not a Skype (Zoom is just one example of the many companies that suddenly become ubiquitous during this crisis).
What do my customers want?
In times of uncertainty, customers want products that either directly solve a problem or make them feel less uncertain.
It’s not surprising that online streaming services like Netflix have seen increases despite the economic downturn. A monthly subscription is a small investment and gives customers the entertainment, distraction, and comfort they are seeking.
Legacy brands often do well during crises for a similar reason. Their customer relationships are anchored by a long history of dependability and sentimental attachment that provides a sense of stability and normalcy.
Frame your products with this idea in mind. Even if you aren’t essential, you can still be relevant.
What will help my customers?
Whether or not your products fill an immediate need, you can continue to be of service to your customers.
Use your website and marketing channels to provide regular updates on how you are adjusting your services or policies to help your customers. Maybe your return policies have changed or your warranties are being extended. Provide helpful and proactive content that is geared toward helping customers navigate the changing world and their financial concerns.
Share reliable and trustworthy sources of information about the broader situation on your social media and digital marketing channels. Avoid sharing shocking or negative content; share inspiring how-tos and practical guides instead.
Making information transparent and accessible goes a long way in building customer loyalty.
You may need to revisit these questions several times in rapidly changing situations. Be agile and ready to respond to your customer’s changing circumstances.
Adjust your tone
Focusing on sales doesn’t mean being tone-deaf to the economic realities. Pushy, loud, or exuberant selling won’t work.
Emotional connection is key, but overt pandering to vulnerability or taking advantage of people’s fears is a lose-lose. Customers can spot disingenuous marketing and cash grabs a mile away. It turns them off and it will severely damage their future loyalty.
Empathetic marketing is never more important than in times of crisis. Even if empathy – the concept of putting yourself into your customer’s shoes – is not a major aspect of your typical brand strategy, now is the time to start incorporating it.
Facebook marketing expert Mari Smith says it’s imperative that brands adjust their tone on social media to reflect the current concerns of their customers. “I wanted to be extremely sensitive to toning things down and honoring that people in my audience are likely feeling a lot of fear,” Smith writes.
As the COVID-19 crisis was starting in the US, she immediately shifted her content by asking how she could be of service to her customers and posting credible, trustworthy information about the crisis.
If you truly consider who your customers are and how they are being affected, you’re more likely to create marketing content that is sensitive and relevant. Engagement metrics will reflect this.
Invest in meaningful content
While other parts of your business slow, redirect resources toward building your market presence and stockpiling high-quality content for the future.
Implement a content marketing strategy that is customer-centric and prioritizes genuine engagement with your audience by shifting toward brand awareness activities, public relations, and displays of corporate responsibility.
This reduces your risk of losing customers and increases the resiliency and longevity of your customer relationships. While many other businesses are pulling back on marketing, you will become a more visible and prominent voice in your market space.
One great way to accomplish this is by investing in long-form content like blogs. Blogs engage deeply with a topic and establish you as an authority on the subject. Blogs also allow you to support your industry, showing that you have concern not only for your customers and your own bottom line but your fellow businesses too.
Economic challenges affect different types of businesses in different ways, but it’s still possible to survive and even thrive during times of economic distress. By adjusting your marketing strategy to reflect empathy for your customer, you’ll position yourself as a trustworthy brand and secure the future of both your customers and your business.