Keep Communicating During the Crisis
As Your Business' Values Are Being Tested, Keep Connected with Your Customers
According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, nearly a quarter of brands have gone dark , pausing all of their paid marketing communications for the first and second quarter of the year. You likely have competitors who have shuttered their businesses and have stopped communicating; if you are able to keep offering valuable content, you become a reliable source and a community asset - and may pick up new customers along the way.

Times are uncertain for businesses and customers alike, and your ability to align with your customer's needs during this time will build an authentic connection that will help your business rebuild when the economy begins to open back up.

Consider the Customer Experience
Like you, your customers have had to make extensive changes to their lives and businesses, and they are working to navigate new roles (remote worker, classroom teacher, caregiver). As you consider what you want to share with them, be aware of those changes and serve as a meaningful touchpoint.

  • Review your online voice. Do your website and social media accounts represent your brand? How can you show the human side of your business and illustrate awareness without prescribing solutions?
  • Explore alternate delivery of your product/service. If you are not able to work with customers in person, are there online options you can provide in light of customers' current experiences (free online classes, tools, tutorials, etc.)? Because you already have a connection with your customers as as trusted brand, you have the opportunity to continue to be a source of truth in an environment of misinformation.
  • Add additional value. Can you add to your business' offerings? One example of this is Sysco Pop Up Shops, which enable restaurants to offer pantry basics while customers are picking up their prepared meals.
  • Provide experiences. In such a disruptive time, many customers are finding comfort in routines and small opportunities for joy. Can you provide customer experiences in the form of online events, personalized shopping events, activities to do with the kids, relaxation for Mother's Day, or take-home kits/materials? Is there a local celebrity that could connect with interested participants in a casual online concert, happy hour, class, or other format?

Align Your Stated Values and Reality
Whether or not your business is actively connecting with customers in this time, this is an opportunity to show connections. Consumers are interested in businesses who:

  • Have a stake in their community. How can you support your neighbors in need? Edelman, a global communications firm, conducted a survey of 12,000 consumers in 12 countries. One conclusion of the survey was that 86% of surveyed consumers view their brands as an essential safety net, ready to step up to assist anyone not helped by a government’s response to the virus. This belief shows brands as having a clear role to play in recovery efforts.
  • Connect one-on-one. Because everyone is experiencing uncertainty, simply being available to listen can solidify your business as a trusted partner - and give you insight into what your customer needs are currently.
  • Establish partnerships. Connecting with other local businesses can help build up both brands and stake your role in the community. For example:
  • Metcalfe's Market is supporting the sale of local gift cards by offering, for every $25 gift card sold, a bonus certificate for $20 off a $100 purchase at their own stores.
  • Build connections with other local business owners to discuss challenges and provide ideas.
  • Six Madison boutiques joined together for a Virtual Boutique Crawl where owners gave a tour of products in their stores to offer
  • Leverage their business' assets. How can your business lend a hand during this pandemic? Two examples:
  • If your business provides food, can you donate meals to local healthcare workers - as this local Subway owner is doing - or, like SSM Health (St. Mary's Hospital), supporting homeless shelters and other organizations in need? If funding is the concern, you might be able to raise money for the effort through partnerships with other types of businesses or through online fundraisers.
  • For other manufacturing or goods, how might you re-purpose your technology or manufacturing process to support PPE production or other needs?
  • Have strong values. How have you worked to take care of your employees in this crisis? Did top leadership take pay cuts or make other sacrifices to support the organization's overall health? What have you offered in terms of flexibility, sick leave, etc. to keep your employees going? The Edelman survey indicates 71% of those surveyed promised that "brands and companies that placed their profits before people during the crisis would lose their trust forever."
  • For example, one local business that has sustained its values is Brasserie V. They have kept connected with the community by sourcing food locally when possible, partnering with local shops to offer add-on gifts for Mother's Day meal kits, featuring Wisconsin-brewed beers through A Beer & a Bite with the Brewer events, and accepting donations for Pay it Forward meals in partnership with the River Food Pantry.
  • Are transparent. How is the crisis impacting your employees, your brand, and your products? What steps are you taking to combat those challenges?

Provide Clear Instructions
While you have likely used change management principles in connecting with your employees, your customers need to understand changes as well. Since customers who want to support your business also want to understand "the rules," make sure that you provide them with a clear understanding of what they can expect when they visit your business.

  • Make sure your online presence is current. Update your business hours on social media, Google, Yelp, etc.
  • Clarify new or altered offerings, such as online ordering, kits, gift cards, discounts, etc.
  • Set expectations about what you are or are not able to offer if availability is limited. Similarly, if you are able to newly restock an item, let folks know that as well!
  • Check out Table Wine's website for an example of how the online ordering process works, when customers need to order, and what kind of communication they should expect from the shop as the order is being processed. The shop also notes that they do not have their full supply at hand, and that they can better fulfill orders if the customer is flexible in their requests. This information helps customers keep informed and gives them a glimpse into the process.
  • Miko Poke, a Food Fight Restaurant, has partnered with EatStreet and ChowNow to enable online ordering. When patrons arrive at the restaurant, they see clear directions on the door of how to access either curbside delivery to their car, or when to step into the vestibule to pick up the order when it is ready (the app provides real-time order tracking).
  • Forecast future experiences. As your business moves to reopen more broadly, help customers understand anything that might be different about their experience due to governmental or other restrictions.
  • Establish how you are keeping customers safe. Just as this information was important before Safer at Home began, customers will be looking to you for reassurance once in-person business begins to reopen.

When you built your business, you considered your Unique Value Proposition, developed your organization's values, and began connecting with your community. While it can be tempting to retreat while there is so much uncertainty - especially if your business' doors are closed - it is important to remember that your values are meeting reality right now. The way that you show up (or do not show up) for your customers and employees will impact their view of your brand.
The Wisconsin SBDC Network is a proud part of the  Institute for Business & Entrepreneurship  in the  University of Wisconsin System . It is funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the  U.S. Small Business Administration.