How Do You Market in Such a Strange, Strangled Business Climate?

The COVID-19 pandemic caught many small businesses in a web of restrictions. States closed down their offices, gyms, and restaurants. Schools, universities, and colleges wavered between holding live classes, on-line classes, and none at all. Office buildings were closed, then opened on a limited basis, and businesses supporting these enterprises experienced 2020 in survival mode, trying to avoid becoming another casualty of the pandemic’s spider of doom.

Supplies and suppliers were also affected, and so many different types of businesses were forced to take a hard look at their own viability. Not surprisingly, this could mean cutting staff and “nonessential activities,” such as marketing. In fact, the pandemic changed many answers to the most basic marketing questions: Who am I marketing to? How do I reach them? How do I keep track of my customers’ changes (considering layoffs, furloughs, and outright closures)? Do I even have a budget left for marketing? Make no mistake: These are existential questions for the business owner—how do they speak to existing, past, or prospective customers? And there are few answers.

The key is to demonstrate your firm’s stability in this highly volatile environment. People want to see their favorite businesses survive, and it reminds them that they will get through the current hardships.

Here are a couple of tips: (1) If you know your customers will need you during the pandemic and afterwards, you need to do everything you can to let them know that you are still open for business and plan to be there for the long term and (2) if you and your customers are subject to changing recommendations for in-person, live interactions, deal with the uncertainty—don’t be frozen into inaction by it. That means that you need to market as cost-effectively as possible and be nimble and flexible to quickly adjust to changing federal, state, or local directives.

Here is a case study of how one company, a local auto repair shop, approached the pandemic. Knowing that, despite the pandemic and the social restrictions associated with it, people would be driving their cars (even more than possible in some cases) to maintain social distancing for work, personal needs, or family. The need for state auto inspections, oil changes, and car repairs would remain, even if more people were staying off the roads. The business owner redoubled the shop’s efforts to remain in contact with customers. For example, he invested in more direct-mail advertising to reach local drivers at their home. The office staff increased its Email marketing activity, to make sure existing customers knew that the auto business was fully open, and that it was adapting to the new COVID-19 environment to make sure customers’ cars, trucks, and vans were safe and compliant. The business adapted its basic car care practices to include sanitization of the vehicle after servicing, “contact-free” car pickup and delivery, and encouraged credit card payment by phone. They are very well positioned to communicate with customers about any changing situation that may arise, whether there are more restrictions or the eventual complete return to normal business.

Remember, focusing your marketing efforts today will help keep your business healthy (or healthy enough) so that you can finally escape the COVID-19 web. Do not put aside your marketing tools today; it is far better to spend even more resources using them to stay in contact with your customers and reach new ones. But do it cost-effectively!

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