SMEs not only have an opportunity to stay in touch with their customers, but can adapt their content to offer support and even grow an audience.

I gave a presentation last week at a networking event on how marketing and communication strategies can adapt and evolve to maintain engagement through the Covid-19 crisis.
We have seen that engagement with owned and shared content has grown dramatically over recent weeks. People are online more, some are still spending, but many just want advice from the sources they trust.
This means that SMEs not only have an opportunity to stay in touch with their customers, but can adapt their content to offer support and even grow an audience.
Businesses have had to adapt their content marketing strategy to take the changing circumstances, of their customers into account but that doesn’t mean they have to stop talking.

Upside Down Psychology

I started with reference to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  It may have evolved over time but this was a useful aid.  Normally marketers want products at the apex of the pyramid but currently we may have to realise that we need to race to the bottom in order to succeed.
I asked delegates to think about their business in the context of this model. Where on the Pyramid would they place the type of products or services they offer right now?
Then asked them to consider where the psychology of their customer is, maybe it’s still somewhere at the bottom.

Revisit your customer personas
Customer personas highlight characteristics of our target customers. Personas that represent the segments of our market, help keep your marketing on track.
I suggested businesses take a look at their personas and think about the impact the crisis would have had on them. Then consider their own value proposition and determine whether it was still valid and whether the real value they could add to a network or a supply chain had changed.
Either of these new perspectives can add clarity to a content plan, which channels to use and what messages to draw on.
Websites or social media bios should explain any changes in the services you provide.
If you are still struggling, go back to basics. Customer-led content strategies always perform better. Cut out the guess work, achieve better results and make people feel valued by asking them what they would find helpful from you.

The lifecycle of the crisis
Although for many, the recent PM speech lacked clarity and many are still looking for key information there is no denying that we are seeing a progression in the lifecycle of the pandemic.
Broadly speaking, we see four stages (to date) of the pandemic that may affect the way customers respond to or impact on your business and specifically its marketing:

  • Pre-lockdown/ early lockdown: Customers stocked up on staples, toilet roll and flour was nowhere to be seen and people started shopping online more.
  • Lockdown becomes normalised: Online activity increased dramatically, Netflix, wine clubs and other subscription services record numbers. Consumers make treat purchases online, such as make-up, bags and nice alcohol.
  • Easing of lockdown: This week people look for social distancing-friendly activities, meeting a new person in the park and visit more places with large outside areas.
  • Return to normality: The UK economy crashed a record 5.8 per cent in March, according to the Office for National Statistics, so it is likely we are already in a recession. Consumers may prioritise spending accordingly and the length of time it takes to close higher price point or longer B2B deals is likely to increase.

Watch your tone
In crisis, consistency and credibility are still key to effective communication. Businesses can rarely avoid references to the current situation and the impact this has on their service and customers. However, messaging that doesn’t fit within the existing relationship and style of communication can erode trust; so be authentic.
Also, be aware of the fatigue developing around certain types of crisis content too. This comes back to thinking about what’s appropriate in the different stages of the crisis.
Brands that have moved on from generic messages about staying at home, togetherness and are now looking to the future with optimism have been more likely to resonate with consumers during the pandemic.

Ready to change the Channel

With so many smaller businesses feeling some negative impact as a result of the crisis, reviewing channels that have worked well maybe a moot point. With a limited ad spend available for example, paid media may not be an option right now.
The PESO model, Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned, is a nice way to segment your channels and work out what you can get for free!
I would start with Owned Media.
Owned Media
is another name for content. It is something you own, and it lives on your website or blog. You control the messaging and tell the story in a way you want it told.
Earned Media is PR or media relations. It’s having a newspaper or trade publication write about you. Appearing on drive time radio or a podcast to talk about your product or service.
Shared Media could also be considered as –organic- social media. Right now, organisations are relying on it as their main source of communications internally and externally.
Paid Media, in this case, doesn’t have to refer to large ad spends or print advertorials, although these have benefit if they can creatively capture the mood,  but in this context, I would refer to paid media as social media advertising, sponsored content, and email marketing.
Email marketing in particular has grown in prominence as Marketers move from broad-based brand advertising to direct response communications and this trend will likely continue beyond the pandemic.

Shorten your planning cycle
Armed with an understanding of how the crisis is affecting your customers, a review of your proposition and the channels at your disposal, you can start developing your marketing plan.
Let’s be clear, your three – five year goals may still be achievable but over the next three to five months you may have to realign your targets.
Be ok with that. Deal with the here and now and review your plan on a regular basis to see what you have learned about yourself, your business and your customers over this period.
Start with your ability to commit. Overall, if your home/work circumstances have changed, how much time can you actually commit to marketing? While it’s great to prioritise this, you commitment needs to fit in with the other aspects of running your business or your family.

Set goals and track performance
As always, it’s important to have clear goals for your marketing activity and track performance. It’s great to want to create content just to support your community, but think about the level of engagement you want to get and what you want them to do next.
My work with When in Rome wine has seen us create UTMs and events within Google to track traffic sources, clicks to the online shop and engagement with social media platforms and posts. Lockdown purchasing and a new partnership with Phillip Schofield has seen traffic increase some 9x since the start of the crisis.

Whatever stage you are at with your Crisis Communications plans, Caversham Marketing is still working to help small businesses tailor a strategy to suit. Zoom us for a free consultation.