Nobody was truly prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic; it has so rapidly changed the face of business around the world. In the wake of the pandemic, over 100,000 small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have had to close their doors according to one study by researchers at the University of Illinois, Harvard Business School, Harvard University and the University of Chicago. Larger businesses are feeling the pinch as well, with 85% or more of Fortune 500 companies expecting it to be 2022 or later before economic activity will return to pre-pandemic levels, according to a recent survey.
However, in the midst of the turmoil, some companies are thriving, while others are merely surviving. You may already have a sense as to where your business falls on this spectrum. Reliance on PPP loans, supply chain shutdowns, changing customer behaviors and a severely decreased workforce are forcing many companies (especially SMBs) to make crucial decisions on an almost daily basis. Clearly, some industries have been hit harder than others, especially hospitality, travel and restaurants. So what are some businesses doing to thrive during this time? The internet and business community are buzzing with suggestions including how to pivot your business to meet changing customer needs, shore up internal operations and employees, recover revenue and accelerate digital solutions.
What does this mean from a marketing and branding perspective? The last blog and webinar in our “Back to Business” series focused on steps you can take to leverage your brand internally to strengthen your team and prepare your company for the road ahead. Now we want to look at two big ideas to keep in mind, based on whether you’re surviving or thriving.
SURVIVING? FOCUS YOUR EFFORTS
If you are more in the surviving mode, one of the first things you can do with your branding and marketing is to focus. This in no way means to stand still or be unaware of what is going on in every aspect of your business. It simply means that you need to put most of your attention on the aspects of your marketing that will yield the greatest results.
- FOCUS YOUR BRAND – Take a hard look at all aspects of your brand. Which are most relevant to today’s client and marketplace? If you are hard-pressed to find something that works in today’s situation, then choose the aspect of your brand that you can expand and put your attention there.
- FOCUS YOUR AUDIENCE – At first, this may seem counterintuitive. After all, don’t we want to cast a wider net? Actually, times of trial are a time to double down on your core audience. Listen to their needs and meet them rapidly. Targeting your audience in a normal market is good sense; in a crisis situation, it will help you better use assets and have more precise communication. Look at demographics and psychographics of where your greatest number of sales are happening and create “look-alike” lists.
- FOCUS YOUR MESSAGE – Clarity cuts through chaos and now is a time to be clearer than ever on what your company stands for. Clarifying your brand message will help your audience more quickly relate, remember and respond. Outline benefits, differentiation and calls to action, making it obvious how and why to rely on your company for goods and services. Also make calls to action simple and easy to understand.
- FOCUS YOUR OFFERINGS – This may be the most obvious tactic, but narrow in on offerings that make the most sense to your core audience and put most of your attention there. This may mean pausing ancillary goods and services or it may mean bringing new innovation into rapid development. Whatever will connect you to your core audience in the strongest way should receive most of your efforts.
- FOCUS YOUR MARKETING – Many companies will want to stop or pull back on marketing efforts during an economic downturn, but history proves this isn’t wise. Instead, FOCUS your efforts on key tactics that are working including digital and social media. Ramp up technical solutions that help you meet customer needs in a social distancing world.
THRIVING? BUILD YOUR CONNECTIONS
If your business is thriving, whether by design or chance, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have it made, or you may find yourself in the SURVIVING bucket soon. Some businesses found themselves suddenly in-demand as a niche offering became more popular due to the pandemic. Others quickly shifted their focus and met a perceived need in the marketplace.
- CONNECT TO NEW CUSTOMERS – If your business is thriving, you may have experienced a windfall of new customers, whether that is because of a shift in your business model, or simply an increased demand for what you already offered. Don’t let this moment pass. Let new customers know how much you appreciate their business and take this opportunity to let them understand more about your brand.
- CONNECT WITH YOUR CURRENT CUSTOMERS – In a similar way, now is the perfect time to build loyalty with current customers. Making them feel like part of your brand family and letting them know how you are meeting today’s challenges in a personal way is a good start. Develop a strong loyalty program to keep your current clients connected.
- CONNECT YOUR BRAND – Now is an excellent time to reinforce what your brand stands for in the mind of consumers and how that connects with both your traditional and any new products or services you currently offer. As the landscape of your market continues to shift and settle over the coming months, showing brand stability and strength will provide a solid foundation for holding your audience’s trust.
- CONNECT TO YOUR VISION – Use the momentum of your current success to be the wind in your sails for taking a giant leap toward your core brand vision. Look at your long-term business and marketing plan and look for opportunities to move innovation forward or try a new approach that gets you closer to major milestones. The innovation spurred by the changes in culture through this time can inspire you to make bigger changes than you may have considered before.
These are just a few suggestions to consider based on where you are on the survive/thrive spectrum. If you want to move from surviving to thriving or from thriving to a strong future plan, our team would love to help you lay out a brand strategy to get you to the next level. In the meanwhile, we will be hosting two webinars in our Back to Business series this month. The first is titled Survive! Finding and Maintaining Stability During a Storm and will be presented on August 14th at 1:00 pm ET and last approximately 40 minutes each. We’d love for you to join us!