By Wendy Scott
The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant and lasting impact on businesses worldwide. As restrictions wax and wane, every company needs to assess evolving market conditions and develop new marketing and communication strategies.
- Increase customer engagement with virtual features. Over the last few months, the business environment has quickly shifted from in-person sales meetings and networking events to video conferencing and webinars. With the end of the pandemic unknown, prudent businesses are laying the foundation for continued operations in a virtual world and experimenting with new approaches for connecting with customers. Clients have begun to expect that all organizations will leverage the latest technology and deliver custom online experiences.
Customer engagement tools such as 360° virtual tours, aerial video, video stories, and live video on social media platforms can drive sales and marketing efforts. A strategy that incorporates the right mix of virtual experiences is more important than ever before for reaching your sales goals. For instance, when in-person tours were suddenly not possible, Blue Blaze designed virtual tours for a senior living community.
- Make the shift from a sales mindset to a trusted advisor. Today’s unpredictable business environment creates anxiety among management teams. Leaders stressing about their bottom line are often skeptical about a typical sales approach. Customers are grappling with immediate challenges that demand understanding and innovative solutions—not sales offers that seem out of touch. Sales teams will benefit from focusing less on making the sale and more on building client relationships and solving problems.
Review your editorial calendar carefully, and shift your content marketing strategy from a sales-based to a resource-based approach. Create social media and blog posts that provide helpful tips, including thoughtfully curated external links. Develop informative programs such as webinars and virtual presentations to educate your current and potential customers on topics that address their interests. By positioning your organization as a valuable industry resource and delivering on that promise, you’ll gain your customers’ trust and earn brand loyalty for years to come.
- Manage the message. The pandemic has created an opportunity for businesses to differentiate themselves by telling their story during the crisis. Pay close attention to how your competitors are responding and how your industry is being reported on in the media. Look for ways to illustrate how your company’s proactive response sets you apart. Develop a narrative around your detailed action plans for short-term and long-term strategies to navigate the crisis. Share your stories through external communication channels, including blogs and social media posts from senior leadership, website content, videos, and press releases.
Use photos and videos to provide a behind-the-scenes view of your operations and new safety measures. Giving others an inside glimpse into how your own business is responding with creative problem-solving makes for very relatable storytelling and can open up a dialogue with new prospects and partnerships.
- Communicate honestly and with transparency. Although companies may hesitate to share details of how the virus has impacted their business, customers respect and appreciate an honest and transparent approach. Offering communication tools to respond specifically to crisis-related questions—such as a dedicated email address, phone number, or special website section—strengthens the relationships with your key audiences and helps to deliver the facts in a productive way.
Letters sent at regular intervals from the leadership team with updates, about how the business is rising to the challenge with big and small changes in operations and policies, will build reassurance and demonstrate how you are adapting during the crisis and leading with integrity. Reach out not just to your customers but to all of your stakeholders, both internal and external.
For a senior living community in southeastern Pennsylvania, Blue Blaze worked closely with the leadership team to produce a series of communications as the pandemic unfolded. These communications provided residents, extended family members, and employees with details about the current restrictions and proactive changes being made to ensure their safety and continuity of essential services. The tone and delivery of these updates was clear, compassionate, and organized, and engaged the whole community to join in support of one another. This approach has had a positive impact on reducing anxiety, and helped to make the whole campus feel more connected.
Effective crisis management skills can be learned. In 2018, Blue Blaze Books (a division of Blue Blaze Associates) published Corporate Smokejumper by Gil Meyer, a renowned expert in crisis management. This book draws on stories from Meyer’s first-hand experiences on the front lines of corporate crisis management for many years at DuPont, and offers tools, tips, and techniques that can be applied today by any business or nonprofit. The book is available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or independent bookstores.
- Share the microphone. The comments and testimonials from your clients and customers provide a deeper layer of social proof that you are a trusted business or organization. If you haven’t already, consider creating a testimonial marketing campaign. Invite customers, partners, and team members to share their observations and stories of how your company has responded to this pandemic crisis from their perspective. Take your best testimonials one step further, and turn them into case studies to highlight your problem/solution skills. This is rich content you can share and repurpose across a variety of channels.
And finally, in addition to the big things that you’re doing consistently well, keep in mind that it’s often the little things you’re doing for clients, customers, staff, and others that can have a positive and memorable impact on your brand—today and into the future.
Named one of the “People to Watch in 2020” by Delaware Business Times, Wendy Scott is principal and chief strategy officer at Blue Blaze Associates, an award-winning full-service, certified women-owned marketing and design agency that was founded in 2001.