A week ago, a CEO of a startup called me late in the afternoon. For the last 18 months, his company had racked up success after success. Customers were using – and loving – his product. Investors had ponied up and potential acquirers were lining up. Life was good.
Then COVID-19 reared its ugly head. And the world stood still.
Though rattled, the startup CEO wasn’t going down without a fight. Believe it or not, the pandemic exponentially improved his product-to-market fit. Over the next 24 hours, we created a proactive strategy to keep the pipeline flowing, convert prospects perched on the fence and convince home-bound users to have fun during their down time. The initial salvo was presented as a personal letter from the CEO that was disseminated via email, blog and social posts. The message was carefully crafted for the times:
“I know you’re nervous. However, while people are working from home, you have a unique opportunity to engage with customers and continue to build your sales funnel. I’m here to help.”
From uncertainty, the startup CEO began on his new, clear path forward, a strategy reflecting current market conditions and designed to instill confidence and conversation in his product.
You can create certainty in these uncertain times, too. But you have a plan and you have to communicate. Here are my suggestions.
One: Take a deep breath, set aside the stress for a minute and start moving forward.
I am really good at freaking out, but even better about moving past it quickly. Worrying is a lot like a rocking chair. There’s a lot of energy expended but you don’t get anywhere. Instead, channel your energy into where you are, where you want to be and what you can do to get there. Here’s an example.
Restaurants are all closing their dining rooms and limiting service to carryout. Instead of giving up, get aggressive on Facebook and other social media channels about your carryout service, daily specials, new offerings like family meal deals, and gift cards. The Igloo in Lafayette, IN, is doing such a great job promoting its drive-through that local businesses and municipal officees are ordering in for the whole team. Large retailers like Nordstrom and mid-sized retailers like REI had 25 percent off site-wide sales this past weekend to spark sales. Both heavily promoted via email; smart as we’re all working from home and on our screens. These types of promotions are cheap and keeps customers engaged, whether you’re a restaurant, retail or service industry.
Two: Focus on the immediate essentials.
People are spooked and rightfully so. This includes your customers, who like everyone else, are working from home or in a newly created vacuum, and wondering what’s going on. This is your chance to get in front of your customers in a timely manner and deliver essentials information like:
- We’re open for business, but working remotely.
- We’re currently using video conferencing platforms for meetings for your convenience and safety.
- Here’s what we’re doing to help you, Ms. Customer.
- If you have questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate in reaching out to me/us here.
Here’s an example of this. South Carolina CPA firm Bauknight Pietras & Stormer (BPS) was deep in tax season working toward the April 15 deadline when the virus hit the fan. Because this is a fast-moving situation (Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has announced changes to tax deadlines and when tax payments are due), we planned a series of messages from the managing shareholder, Russell Bauknight, on the essentials.The first email covered the bullets above, but also included instructions to look for important updates in the coming days and weeks. Communicating clear, essential messages helps promulgate confidence, stability and certainty, and maintains that all important connection with one’s customers and clients.
Three: Continue the conversation.
The pandemic isn’t going to dissipate overnight and your customers’ emotions and need for information, products, and services will be ongoing. Instead of the unexpected twists and turns of a rollercoaster, continue to communicate in a the calming, steady fashion of a ferris wheel.
In the case of BPS CPAs, they plan to continue regular updates on tax deadlines, available small business loans, and other changing regulations and then shift gears to messaging on business recovery services. By continuing the conversation, you can respond to changes related to the pandemic, be there when your customers need you and position for the future.
Four: Keep marketing, just do it intelligently.
People are hurting. Big time. There’s incredible fear. But there’s also significant opportunities. CareAcademy is a smart startup created and led by Helen Adeosun that offers affordable, online training and certifications to those who would like to start a career in the home care industry. Knowing people have time on their hands, need to upskill or have been laid off, Helen is promoting a free class (yes, free) on COVID-19 for direct care workers. People can now gain new and highly needed skills attractive to employers at no cost.
Another example of this is Solential Energy, a solar solutions company in Carmel, Indiana, that is focusing on education, differentiation, and the compelling, ongoing demand for renewable energy sources. In the coming months, Solential’s messaging will revolve around grants, tax incentives and loans; explaining the process of converting to solar and time involved; while focusing on cities, schools, prisons, public utilities, agriculture/farms/ranches, and others with a vested interest in adopting solar sooner rather than later.
Five: Don’t be afraid to hire a marketing specialist.
Yes, budgets may be tight. That’s a given. It’s why you need to make every dollar spent count. An experienced marketing specialist will help you set strategy – including penny-pinching guerilla strategies; identify the most cost effective and results-producing tactics; create on-point messaging, imagery and content; and execute. Also important, choose a pro who is respectful of your budget and committed to your success.
Interested in learning more about Creating Certainty in Uncertain Times with strategic communications? Please give Lux-Writes – me – a shout! at firstname.lastname@example.org or 803.331.4794. Like you, I am working in my home office and happy to schedule a video or phone meet-up. While I can’t offer you coffee, I will have good advice.