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Robin Colner: A guide to reboot marketing activities during and after COVID-19

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robin colner marketingMany of us are glued to our computers, phones, digital tablets and televisions during this time of social distancing and the new work-from-home reality.

Clients, colleagues and students have been asking me to help them understand how to continue to message customers, clients and prospects in a sensitive and effective manner through digital channels.

It is true that the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be enormous and disruptive. It is important, however, for businesses to continue marketing activities if possible in order to be better positioned for growth in the future.

I recommend adopting the following phased approach to marketing and communications messaging.

Highlight Your Availability
Send communications via texts, phone calls, social media and emails to your current clients and customers to inquire as to their health, the health of their families and their current personal needs. This is the time to demonstrate your humanity and avoid sales driven messages.

Provide Helpful Information
Follow-up that inquiry with details about how your business is currently operating under today’s conditions. It is also valuable to provide links to information regarding ways businesses and individuals can find useful government and private sector resources. This communication needs to be relevant to your audience and will vary by industry sector. Think out of the box, as messages may become redundant over the next few weeks with so many agencies and news sources providing an abundance of daily communications.

For example, I have seen clever messages from nonfitness companies offering self-care tips, including complimentary yoga and meditation videos. Other businesses have sponsored online group get togethers including virtual happy hours and lunches to foster connection during these isolating times. 

Donate Products and Services
If your business can afford to contribute resources to aid the health care industry, it will allow you to show a commitment to your community and inspire others to find ways they can help those in need.

While many of us are not in a position to manufacture ventilators, I have been impressed by examples of local businesses sending food to hospital workers from struggling local restaurants as a way to demonstrate social responsibility. Remember to acknowledge the serious challenges people everywhere are confronting along with describing your own philanthropic activities. Collaboration with other local businesses will increase the impact of your efforts.

Show Your Creativity
Many businesses have implemented innovative strategies to provide products and services safely and remotely to their customers and clients. Showcase your employees, their stories and their creative solutions.  Consider this type of messaging as a way to humanize your company and build a positive connection with the public.

People are seeking personal and professional relationships that are built on trust. I have seen excellent examples of CEOs, managers and their colleagues using video to share their business advice in a caring, sensitive way. These can be distributed through emails and social media stories and posts.

Recent research by Pew and EMarketer indicates a dramatic increase in social media usage especially on Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn usage during the past few weeks.

Update Your Online Presence
Now is the time to review and improve your online presence including your website, social media, video messaging and Google My Business profiles. It is also the time to formulate and implement a marketing plan to increase your email/SMS lists, reach out to influencers, test search and social media advertising and be ready to help customers and clients when they return to their offices and open their doors to the public. Everyone will be running hard to restart their company’s activities.

Take Advantage of Discounts from Digital Providers
Facebook advertising rates have declined on average by 30%. This provides an opportunity for businesses to test lead magnets to grow their email list.

Mailchimp is offering temporary discounts to use its email service. Kabbage and Square have partnered with Facebook to provide access to instant gift certificates to support local businesses. Google announced it will distribute credits to existing advertisers in the near future. Mobile Monkey, a messaging bot provider, is offering free basic accounts to new customers eager to experiment with SMS text messaging their customers.

Professional service providers such as attorneys, bankers, insurance agents, Realtors, accountants and financial planners are well-positioned to produce a regular flow of  “valuable” content in the form of webinars, podcasts, livestreams, blog posts, tutorials and newsletters to provide helpful advice to current clients and their referrals.  Helping beats selling. This type of messaging reinforces the company’s values and its relationships with clients.  It also allows providers to grow their email lists with additional prospects.

Consumer products and discretionary service businesses should continue communicating with current customers, even if it’s at a reduced level of frequency. Customers and clients will remember how businesses demonstrated their values during this challenging time. Since digital and social marketing should always be customer-centric, ideally, each business should develop a customized marketing plan for this time.

I wish you, your families, colleagues and staff continued good health. Most importantly, I hope everyone stays safe, recovers quickly and finds strength, comfort and resilience during these trying times.

Robin Colner is the CEO of DigiStar Media, a full-service marketing firm that helps businesses and professionals generate visibility, leads and sales using digital and social media strategies. Colner is the director of the Digital and Social Media Professional Certificate Program at Fordham University’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies. She can be reached at 914-826-5512 or at RColner@DigiStarMedia.com, and on Twitter: @RobinColner.

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