Managing a company’s brand, even during “normal” times, can be challenging depending upon your niche, your competition and the current circumstances. And of course, most of us have heard of (but hopefully, never experienced) instances in which a misstep by a business created serious reputation issues for the brand.
When circumstances are severe, however, such as the tremendous upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a host of new pitfalls can present themselves.
Let’s discuss some of the special risk factors you may be facing, the many things that can change both the company’s approach to business and that of its customers, and offer some possible opportunities to protect – and even greatly improve – the reputation of your business during a crisis.
Assess your business’ current situation
As with any project, it’s critical to first identify your starting point. You should be conducting quarterly audits of your marketing efforts to help with strategy development as it is, but in times of crisis it’s even more important to conduct audits and see how you can improve your online presence.
Audit your current brand status looking at the following:
- Brand mentions
- Reviews across listings and social pages
- Social media engagement and fans
- Rankings and organic traffic data
- Content production
- Overall brand sentiment
- Overall site data
Then, correlate this data to keyword performance and content (including user comments) across all platforms, looking for any patterns.
It should be fairly easy to spot any negative indicators, and just as easy to spot the positive signals. Taken as a whole, this should provide a general overview of how your brand presently stands online.
Next, you’ll need to look for any outliers. If you see just one or two items that stand out from the rest, either negative or positive, you may want to handle them independently.
On the other hand, if you see a trend developing, you’ll need to consider those as major contributors to the overall brand reputation. Regardless, strong negative items need to be addressed aggressively and extremely positive outliers can often point to opportunities that should be exploited further (and may even create a new influencer relationship).
During normal day-to-day operations, it’s wise to conduct a brand image evaluation periodically – quarterly is a good general rule. But when either the business, its niche or society in general are in a crisis mode, a brand audit is critical in establishing an appropriate strategy. When everything around you is changing, you need to adapt accordingly based on where your brand was, is, and should be.
Assess your customers
During a pandemic, such as the current COVID-19 situation, virtually everything you know about your customers can change. Their needs, pain-points, buying power, mobility, and receptiveness to your marketing efforts won’t be the same as before.
Your customers may now be frightened, frustrated, uncertain and preoccupied – your tried and true methods may not only be ineffective, they could even alienate formerly faithful advocates of your brand.
Depending upon your existing marketing, you may need to adjust or remove existing ads or campaigns that seemed perfectly acceptable, pre-crisis. For instance, during this pandemic period, if you sell life insurance, funeral services or childcare services, your approach should avoid any potential of being perceived as salesy, unconcerned, or opportunistic.
Take into consideration the probability that your customers may be hypersensitive, due to the stress caused by the crisis situation. Knowing the following will give you a better idea of your customers current stance on the situation and how you can best market to them, if at all.
- What are their current pain points at the time of crisis?
- How are these unique to their normal pain points?
- Where are they getting information?
- How are they still making purchases during a crisis?
- Has their purchases increased or decreased?
- If so, what types of purchases have increased or decreased? Why?
- What is their decision making process and how has it changed due to the crisis?
As always, you’ll benefit most from an empathetic approach. Make it clear that you not only understand their situation, but that your business has adjusted to accommodate them. One example would be to provide customers and followers with reliable resources for accurate information, particularly focused on things that can have the most immediate effect on them.
My bootcamp instructor now offers Zoom bootcamps for all of his customers and their family. Instead of just going virtual to continue offering services, he schedules an extra 15-minutes after each class for us to network and communicate with each other. At the end he says the same thing,
“If any of you need anything or need to talk to anyone during this time, please let me know. I’m here for you.”
That simple sentence and adding extra time to just communicate together adds that personal empathetic approach that he knows his customers need right now.
Depending upon your niche and market, you may be able to offer a new level of service that can satisfy the unique needs of your customers during the crisis. The manner in which you approach the process could result in a lasting boost to your brand’s reputation, or it could spell financial disaster for your company.
Tread lightly and go with the empathic approach to protect both your brand and your customers.
Know when and where to cut back – or to expand your efforts
In times of crisis, businesses can be forced to furlough staff, curtail some marketing campaigns, and postpone or cancel their events. Those with limited financial reserves will naturally be looking to cut as much marketing spending as possible, especially ad spend, in an effort to remain viable until the crisis ends.
But the current pandemic also presents an opportunity for businesses who can afford to reposition themselves in new markets, give their business a facelift, or simply up their marketing game to jump ahead of the competition once the crisis ends.
For example, adding home delivery or curbside pick-up can certainly be an option for some restaurants. But many potential customers may be worried about the possibility of infected food putting their family at risk. Innovative restaurant managers have overcome this concern by offering meal kits, to be cooked by the customer. A great example of adapting and thriving, even if that means changing your business model during a crisis.
Some pizza shops, for instance, are offering a “pizza kit,” with dough for the crust, accompanied by sauce, cheese, and all the desired “fixings”, along with instructions. Some enterprising restaurateurs of less specialized menus provide a variety of options for delivery or take-out, complete with seasoning, garnishes and dessert.
This allows the customer a greater sense of security and provides a restaurant-quality meal at a lower than usual cost. It also enables the restaurant to lower its costs, while sustaining itself and at least some of its staff. Not to mention that this option also keeps a relationship going between the customer and the business, which is the ultimate goal through a crisis.
Finding a way to fill a gap in the market is one of the oldest tenets of business. Take a look at what new needs aren’t being serviced, what new pain points your customers have, and consider whether your business can transition into a new market, service, or product.
It could not only provide you with the necessary capital to keep your business alive, but it can develop into an entirely new arm of your company, perhaps more profitable than what you have now.
This can also be a perfect time to undertake some of those tasks you haven’t had the time to do. A website redesign, for instance, working on the new logo you’ve always dreamed of, producing interactive content for the first time, are all things businesses who need to cut back on marketing budgets can focus on during the downtime of a crisis.
It’s also a great time to take a look at your business structure and make sure it’s operating in the most efficient way possible. Crises can bring times of pause, so take advantage of that extra time by looking at the structure of your business and make sure your brand is perceived as you want it to be.
Of course, new services or a new image will go unnoticed without some marketing behind them. So if you intend to take advantage of that gap in the market or sudden glut of free time, you’ll need to be prepared to put it in front of people. Just bear in mind that your marketing will need adjustments.
Maybe a roadside billboard worked wonders for you in the past, but with very few people on the road, social media might be the better choice now. This all comes down to knowing your customers, what they need or want and where they are.
Put yourself out there
This isn’t the time to fade quietly into the shadows. In fact one of the worst things you can do is go dark during a crisis. Your fans, your customers, your visitors need you and they need to know if you’re still operating. If you offer something your customers need, you need to be very visible, actively letting them know how you can help them.
Even if your business doesn’t have anything to offer during the crisis, you still need to keep your brand in front of your audience. If all you can offer is volunteering to help deliver groceries or cleaning supplies, do that. Don’t brag about it, but don’t hide it, either. Wear your branded T-shirt or drive your company’s truck. Post photos on Facebook or Instagram. Be visible, but not in a bragging fashion.
If you have a blog on your website, now’s the ideal time to force yourself to post regularly. Offer valuable content and become a resource.
Just adding a banner on your homepage that expresses you’re still operating won’t impress anyone – and it certainly won’t help anybody. Likewise, posting fluff content on social media or your website isn’t going to make you stand out as a valuable resource.
Take the time during a crisis to polish your content strategy based on the current situations.
In our current crisis, during the enforced isolation, most people are at home. Many of them are starved for information – others are bored. And nearly everyone is spending more time online.
Now is the time to publish new content and expand social media activity. Content that helps your readers address their needs will make your brand stick in their minds. That’s only half the battle, though. The other half is ensuring the memory is favorable.
Be what people need
Crisis situations tend to bring very little good with it. But it does provide an opportunity for you to do a lot of good.
- Be a valuable resource: Provide the new information your customers are looking for, whether it’s your new hours of operations or resources to get help. Offer new services and goods that make sense for the current market and avoid trying to oversell products that simply don’t make sense anymore.
- Be a contributor: Offer support to your customers, on a human-scale. A crisis is not the moment to amplify bad customer service. It’s extra bad during crisis situations so instead focus on offering emphatic support to your customers by offering discounts and unique ways to assist.
- Be empathetic: Show your customers your brand cares – then prove it every day!
People will remember the brands that are human during times of crisis and develop a brand loyalty they may not have had before. Be that brand for your customers, the brand they need at any time, whether in a world-wide crisis or just a regular Wednesday afternoon.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.