By Kashmira Chawak

Let’s face it: it’s been a tough beginning to 2020. The rise in the number of COVID-19 cases is impacting most businesses – some sectors such as hospitality, travel and F&B more than others. While businesses brace themselves for potential ramifications of the imminent slowdown, SMEs are highly vulnerable, owing to smaller operations and reliance on immediate cash flow.

Over the last few weeks, I have had conversations with my SME clients on revisiting their marketing approach in the face of this crisis. Here are a few recurring themes that came up in our discussions.

Keep calm and understand your customer mindset

A crisis is bound to change people’s spending behaviour. Whether it’s necessary precaution or driven by sheer fear, people will be staying home more often, cutting down on discretionary spending. In any case, your digital marketing campaigns are likely to be affected. Multiplying marketing spends and/or making ad-hoc panic-driven changes to your marketing campaigns isn’t going to change that.

For example, if you are a travel agency facing cancellations and a slump in bookings as a direct response to the crisis, paid campaigns may not do much. Instead, take some time to understand your customer’s mindset in such stressful situations and customize your strategy to meet their needs in this changing environment. Ask yourselves the following questions:

  • If your customer can’t come to you, can you make them experience your product or service differently?
  • Can you expand your offerings to cater to immediate challenges arising from this crisis?

If your business is able to pivot and serve in this complex environment, then tailor your marketing plan to these realigned business goals. If your product/service doesn’t allow you to pivot easily, holding on to your marketing purse may not be a bad idea.

Be sensitive to the environment

There is nothing worse than a marketing strategy that cashes upon a crisis. So while puns and memes might be tempting, this is not the right time for F&B outlets to run one-for-one Corona beer campaigns. This is probably a good time to earn brand equity from your customers. Reach out, be informative and show that you care. Promotions and offers to improve sales are fair game as long as you are sensitive about it.

Focus on ‘discovery’ rather than brand education

Most SMEs play around with limited monthly media spends. Building awareness is key to campaigns, especially for B2C businesses. It’s worthwhile revisiting your digital distribution and make the brand more discoverable. You may want to focus on Google search ads and optimize on keywords, as opposed to investing in awareness campaigns. For the moment, it’s better to spend money on being discovered by people who are looking for you rather than educating people about your brand.

Optimize on your community and loyal customers

It’s cheaper to retain a customer than acquire a new one. Customers are less likely to be experimental and prefer coming back to a brand they connect. Design marketing campaigns and restructure loyalty programmes to engage your community and loyal customers. Additionally, this also the best time to demonstrate your commitment to them. For instance, certain hospitality and travel companies are extending loyalty programmes to customers affected by COVID-19.

The COVID-19 situation is dynamic and the long-term effects remain uncertain. Don’t shy away from hitting the whiteboard and revisiting your approach to marketing more regularly.

Kashmira Chawak is the founder of Storyboard Communications, a boutique integrated marketing and communications consulting.

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