The coronavirus continues to have a devastating effect on human lives and livelihoods on a global scale. We’re in a rare situation where no one on the planet has ever experienced anything like this. The challenge is, all we can do is keep our distance and “see how it goes.”
Today, I’m going to move away from the coronavirus coverage and instead, focus on some of the cool things brands are doing to move forward in the face of uncertainty.
Here, I go over 12 best practices gleaned from interviewing 100+ businesses across a wide range of sectors.
1. Communicate with Your Customers
Okay, I want you to think about something right now: what is your brand’s current messaging strategy?
If you haven’t revisited this since the outbreak began, it’s time to at least temporarily consider how your current content mix, ad strategies, tone, and even your relationship with the community.
According to the Harvard Business Review, organizations should follow the HEART framework, which centers on these five key areas:
- Humanize your brand–acknowledge the circumstances and express empathy toward those whose lives have been impacted by the pandemic. Take stock of your socials and remove anything that might come off as tone-deaf–Coors narrowly avoided potential backlash by pulling a campaign with the slogan, “the official beer of working remotely,” while Ford chose to swap out their March Madness spots to promote a car payment assistance program for those affected by COVID-19.
- Educate your audience–How do you want people to interact with your brand for the foreseeable future? Are you moving activities online, changing your operating hours, reducing staff? While in the case of layoffs and closures, it can be tough to bring these
- Assure your customers that your brand maintains the same values it always has. Essentially, you’re reminding customers why they do business with you, and what you’re currently doing to keep things moving in the wake of this crisis.
- Revolutionize your value prop. Sure, you’re the same old brand, but keeping them informed about how you’re innovating during the pandemic, supporting those in need, and taking care of your employees will go a long way in ensuring your customers will stick with you once we come out on the other side of this.
- Tackle the challenges ahead. What kind of timeframe are you working with? How are you complying with new restrictions/safety recommendations?
2. Figure Out How You Can Help with this Threat
Realistically, most of us aren’t healthcare workers or grocery store employees putting our lives on the line to provide an essential service.
Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t help your customers–or community–in some other way.
Take Papa John’s for example. The pizza chain might not be the first place you turn during times of crisis, however, they’ve done something really cool with their no-contact delivery service.
They walk customers through what they’re doing to keep them safe, outlining the process in detail in this illustrated step-by-step:
Ultimately, the idea is to brands have a responsibility to step up to the plate–we’re all in this together. So, we’re seeing things like alcohol companies leveraging their resources toward making hand sanitizer and fashion brands sewing masks.
And then there’s Microsoft gently reminding those new to the work from home experience that they can blur the background during video calls so that no one sees the messy reality of self-containment.
3. Bring Creative to Your PR, Digital Advertising, and Content Strategies
On the advertising side, well, that’s where things get tricky. In the webinar, we discussed whether Papa John’s distancing protocol could translate to paid advertising. I think it could work as this is something people probably want to hear about, especially because we’re being told to avoid grocery stores unless absolutely necessary.
And, while delivery is the logical alternative, there have been a lot of questions about what companies are doing to protect workers and customers from spreading the virus. So, here, the pizza brand might use awareness ads to let customers know that they take safety seriously.
That said, there’s a lot that can go wrong when ads and crises collide. Brands risk coming off as insincere, insensitive, or opportunistic based on one ill-advised turn of phrase or attempt to make light of the situation.
Google recently released the following guidelines to help advertisers navigate paid search in this current climate, though these rules offer a simple framework for evaluating all content–paid, organic, search, or social.
One way to get around this is putting your brand on the backburner as Mucinex does below.
What I like about this example is, they address one of the biggest issues that has emerged during this crisis: misinformation, and use a borderline clickbait statement to drive traffic to a reputable source of information.
4. Create a Page on Your Website that Explains How You’re Dealing with the Crisis and Offers Resources
Consider creating something of a knowledge base for all COVID-19-related info.
Adobe offers a good example of this; embedding a large, clickable element at the bottom of its blog posts that directs users to their resource page:
From there, you’ll be directed to the platform’s coronavirus resource center, where you’ll find news updates, industry-specific resources, and for institutional customers, the ability to access temporary at-home access to Creative Cloud apps.
During our interviews with small business owners, we found that organizations were able to improve their thought leadership by offering timely resources to clients dealing with difficult times.
5. Respond to Media Requests in Your Niche to Support the Greater Good
Aside from establishing resources that support your customers in need, you might also use this downtime to explore new media opportunities–maybe take advantage of that PR request from a little-known brand or connect with like-minded folk in LinkedIn Groups or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
While engaging the community might not deliver an immediate cash infusion, it can help you build a loyal audience of future customers, as well as industry connections that function as a support system.
6. Check Out Your Stimulus Package Options
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) is designed to support small businesses that have been hit hard by stay-at-home orders and mandatory closures. The act provides a few different aid options based on need.
The Paycheck Protection Program offers capital to help businesses retain employees, while the Emergency Economic Injury Grant offers an infusion of cash to cover immediate expenses. CARES also includes a small business debt relief program, as well as assistance through resource partners (think women or veteran-owned business centers).
Keep in mind, while there are restrictions, the “small business” designation casts a wider net than you might think. Sole proprietors, independent contractors, non-profits, and companies with under 500 employees are welcome to apply for aid. Check out sba.gov for more details.
Additionally, many cities, states, companies, and industry groups offer support to struggling business owners. I recommend checking out this guide from Forbes which covers everything from coronavirus stimulus checks to CARES benefits to sick leave and mortgage payment relief.
If you fall outside of the SBA’s criteria, here’s another list of resources that offer aid to artists, freelancers, and other creatives.
7. Get Ready for a Big End-of-Year Push by Planning Your Strategy Now
Okay, admittedly this point is a bit controversial–we don’t really know when things will return to normal. Heck, we don’t know that things won’t be completely different when we emerge on the other side.
That said, I like to be optimistic. We’re just now entering April–allowing you plenty of time to consider where you might invest your ad spend to deliver the best possible outcome–and hopefully, a bright 2021.
8. Improve Your SEO Rankings
Look, as it stands, just about everyone is online 24/7, these days, and as a result, search traffic is absolutely surging. This means that you should make it a priority to really focus on nailing SEO NOW, so you can get ahead of the curve when business picks up again.
Consider developing a content strategy that focuses on delivering value to your audience. While that sounds incredibly obvious, delivering value in a crisis situation looks a lot different than delivering value when everything is going great.
Ipsos offers this great little graphic listing out what brands should do in response to COVID-19–notice that we’re shifting away from focusing on the benefits that make buyers’ lives easier/better/more aesthetically pleasing and more toward offering relief during trying times.
9. Invest in Paid Search & Social
Building on my last point, with more people scrolling on their phones and surfing by computer screen, now is a great time to invest in paid ad strategies across all relevant platforms.
One platform that’s really thriving right now is LinkedIn. The platform is offering 16 free online learning courses aimed at helping newly remote workers pick up some new skills during the transition.
According to Search Engine Land, there’s a real opportunity for media platforms to capitalize on the uptick in coronavirus queries, though they do note that you should only do this if you’re sharing factual, up-to-date information.
The Red Cross and the WHO’s TikTok ads are one of the best examples of organizations leveraging social channels to reach an audience that might otherwise miss televised PSAs or local news segments with critical health information.
Do note, both Google and Facebook have updated their policies to discourage bad behavior such as price gouging, using keywords related to public health crises, tragedies, or natural disasters, or any other blatant attempt to leverage sensitive situations to drive traffic or conversions.
Facebook and Instagram have banned the sale of face masks, wipes, and hand sanitizer, while YouTube takes a more relaxed stance, stating that they’ll remove content that blatantly spreads misinformation.
On another note, you might try using reduced CPC costs to promote new services such as e-consulting or an online course that could serve as an additional revenue stream that helps you stay afloat.
10. How Can You Maximize Revenue Right Now? And How Can That Serve You Later?
One of the more notable examples of how brands are changing course to meet changing demands is breweries and distilleries are using their inventory to make hand sanitizer since no one can get their hands on a bottle these days. Sure, people still want to drink beer but priorities have changed.
Long term, chances are Anheuser Busch and Dogfish Head will ditch the new product line, but this strategy allows them to mitigate at least some of the losses caused by the outbreak.
At the local level, at least here in California, restaurants are now allowed to sell cocktails-to-go.
People are starting to search for things like “alcohol delivery” or “cocktails-to-go” which has created a new category that people are searching for and restaurants are ranking for those new terms. Essentially, we’re seeing a lot of brands adapt by creating new product offerings designed for the times.
In the webinar, we mention a San Diego breakfast spot, Snooze that is doing this. They’re putting together brunch packages that include their signature cocktails and breakfast foods, or a Taco Tuesday party pack (pictured here) that you can pick up and bring the restaurant experience into your home.
Loom, a video app, is taking a different approach by offering free accounts to teachers and students who have abruptly been thrown into an online learning experience. While they’re not selling anything, Loom is driving major adoption–which could lead to an influx of paying customers once things start to go back to normal.
That said, you’ll often see these types of initiatives backfire–people cancel their accounts when asked to pay up–or in this case–users (like school-aged kids) probably won’t need it anymore.
Still, I think that whether Loom nets all these paid accounts or not, they’re creating brand awareness by performing a good deed, so, at the very least, people will associate them with that action long-term.
The lesson here is, what new things have popped up and how might you address those new things based on the resources you have available.
11. Make Your Offer Virtual for Now.
Everything from SXSW to Google’s I/O 2020 to the Tokyo Summer Olympics have been called off. Across the country, schools are shuttering until next fall (if all goes well) and well, the bright spots in our social lives happen on the same platform we use for conference calls.
Still, people want to connect, and brands are starting to open their minds and putting together more inventive online experiences. Personally, I think online events have gotten WAY more important. Right now, there’s this opportunity for brands to reach audiences in new ways.
If you can get it right, you’re reaching people at a time where they’re getting used to online events–and possibly even paying for them–a habit that may well stick around after shelter-in-place becomes a distant memory.
ArtCenter Extension sent out a registration reminder that more or less felt like business as usual. While classes don’t start until May, the school includes a note under key registration deadlines that all summer classes will be held online (better to plan on keeping things virtual rather than eat the costs associated with canceling).
Another example from the B2B side comes from a Sales Hacker email newsletter. Instead of pushing readers to register for an expensive seminar, they use this weekly update to subtly promote the Unleash Virtual Summit, a free event boasting a ton of speakers discussing the future of sales over four days. While sure, nothing beats making new connections or hearing new insights in person, Unleash is forward-looking and feels hopeful.
Additionally, the email uses this space to highlight resources from other companies in the B2B sales community (a good strategy for avoiding the humblebrag vibe that comes when announcing your own good deeds).
Sales engagement platform, Outreach has created a job board for out-of-work sales reps by asking their customers to post available openings. While Replayz, a sales coaching company has launched an initiative to feed those in need. The brand is giving away training sessions to companies that donate $1000+ to their local food bank.
12. Finally, Be Good to Everyone Right Now–They’ll Remember Your Response.
If you think customers have bigger things to worry about right now, think again.
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2020: Special Report on Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic, 69% of survey respondents say that they will not buy from brands in the future if they see them protecting their bottom line before their people.
For a deeper dive into how businesses are coping in the face of COVID-19, check out the webinar on YouTube. We’ll cover all the points outlined above and more. Don’t miss it.