The outbreak of COVID-19 has transformed daily life in near unprecedented ways. As the UK goes into lockdown, joining other countries in Europe, and governments from the US to Australia impose new restrictions to “flatten the curve” of the virus, everyday lives are being altered like never before. Measures such as social distancing and working from home are changing the way we conduct our personal lives and are also taking a toll on businesses, from small local stores to large enterprises.
With the UK’s lockdown now enforced, only a handful of businesses will remain open to the public, including food outlets and pharmacies. Along with limits on the number of items people can purchase at once, shops are introducing new opening hours to accommodate those most vulnerable to the virus. With people urged to visit these stores as infrequently as possible and remain at home, uncertainty and caution are definitely in the air.
Shoppers can still purchase – and are encouraged to purchase – items online, but as demands and bandwidths increase, here too things are changing at a rapid pace. Delivery services are at capacity, and the likes of delayed deliveries and misplaced items are not uncommon, but are very unfamiliar to the instant service we are used to.
So, what can and should businesses do to address the pressure that the coronavirus crisis is putting on everyone across the board? Here are three digital marketing tips for businesses to help satisfy changing customer expectations and demands during these uncertain times.
Communicate with customers
With emails coming in every day about how COVID-19 is affecting business-as-usual, businesses who can communicate with customers simply and clearly about how services will be affected and those that offer a helping hand will be one step ahead.
It’s important to let the customer know that they are still a priority despite everything being upended. Robotic-sounding missives won’t do the trick so it's critical to be genuine in customer communications. It’s also crucial to provide customers multiple ways to contact you – from email to social media messaging to online chatbots – so they know you are there to reassure them and solve their queries.
Indeed, people use an array of different channels and platforms other than a business’ website to get their information and they should be used to keep customers up-to-date. These channels include everything from Facebook to platforms such as Google or Yelp, so if you’re changing your store opening hours or have had a development in your delivery capabilities, let people know how to access your products or services through all viable avenues. This is also a potential opportunity to strengthen customer communities, but it’s important not to overstep the mark. With people preoccupied with more serious concerns, now is not the time for blatant self-promotion.
Ensure your online information is correct
Correct online business information is crucial. As store opening times change and shoppers are limiting trips to the store, it’s vital that customers know when exactly your business will be open, what you can offer and how they can reach you. Having correct business listings information – contact details, address, operating hours – and keeping customers posted of any businesses changes online is key to keeping and building customer trust.
If you have stores, dealers or other physical locations that have reduced hours or are temporarily closing, update this information across the key business listings directories from Google My Business (GMB) and Apple Maps to TripAdvisor and Waze. For most people, Google will be the first port of call as they look for ‘Supermarket’ or ‘pharmacy open near me’, so having the right information ready to go on this platform is key. While Google recently announced that it has limited some of GMB’s functionality due to COVID-19, namely removing the reviews capability, business owners can still edit their business descriptions to reflect any changes to services or product availability and update contact information. Businesses should make the most of this capability and keep customers informed where they need it most.
Publicise new ways of serving customers
As the coronavirus pandemic changes the way businesses operate, with traditional marketing strategies being put on hold and companies moving to complete remote working, business leaders should embrace this as an opportunity to develop new ways of reaching customers, both existing and new.
Many companies have already taken this disruption in their stride whilst also supporting those on the front-line and most at risk. Supermarket chains from Tesco’s to M&S are dedicating special ‘golden hours’ to NHS workers and vulnerable people and the likes of Pret-a-Manger and Costa are handing out free coffee for healthcare workers.
With gyms and leisure centres remaining closed for the foreseeable future, health and fitness apps are catering to those who still want to exercise at home by offering free trials and videos, from Chris Hemsworth’s Center, giving away six weeks free access, to Joe ‘Body Coach’ Wicks uploading free daily workout videos to YouTube. For smaller bricks-and-mortar businesses, the likes of free home delivery and e-commerce alternatives are a way to keep customer loyalty ticking over.
What’s most important is to publicise these new ways you are serving the customer. For example, post these offerings on Facebook and other social media platforms, tagging with trending hashtags, and put those marketing and creative resources to good use by creating new content to accompany your messaging and offers. Google as well is a key resource since it is one of the main information platforms being used at present by people looking for food shops open near them or to see if their local boutique now has e-commerce offerings. Providing relevant information per location on such platforms is a simple way to reach a large number of customers and keep them informed in these unprecedented times.
An opportunity to become stronger
If nothing else, the current crisis calls for creative thinking and problem solving, whether you're a large enterprise or small business. New innovations and multi-channel communications won’t solve every problem, but they do show the customer that they are still a priority, even during times of uncertainty. Businesses that are focused and creative – and genuinely seek to support their customer communities without taking advantage of the situation – will come out the other side and in a much stronger position.