A Marketer’s Guide to Surviving a Crisis Part One: 5 Tips to Stay Relevant with Your Audience

It’s been about six weeks already (give or take a week or two). The initial shock has worn off and we are settling into our routines. Hopefully we all have a decent amount of TP and flour. This is the new norm, for now. But, wait for it — it will change again, and then likely again. Before you know it the new norm will be so last week, or even yesterday, especially as different regions “open back up” in different ways and at different paces.

You as a marketing leader need to help your company stay relevant right now, as well as next week, next month, and a year from now. But you as a marketing professional also need to stay relevant and indisposable. 

In this post, I’ll start with five tips that can help you help your company. The next post will cover eight tips to help yourself as a marketing professional and an individual. All of these will enable you to assess and reassess quickly, and pivot with intention instead of running around like a chicken with your head cut off (AKA going to Costco and shopping like a crazy person buying a 50-pound sack of flour even though no one in your family bakes). And while this guide was written specifically with marketers in mind, it’s applicable to Sales, Product, Customer Success, and executives in general.

I’m sharing these tips in light of this current pandemic moment, but they are also relevant in less turbulent times. Because shock of shocks, you should always be evaluating your programs and content in order to continually stay relevant. And guess what: it all starts with your customer.

Tip #1 – Reconnect with your audience and truly listen to them

If you are like most companies, you are not aggressively marketing to your customers and prospects right now. And probably won’t for some time. So why not take this time to reconnect with them. I’m talking 1:1 here. Literally give them a call, email them directly, or ping them on social media if you have that kind of relationship. This could be applied 1:many as well via personalized emails if you have the technology. Just be careful here, as you really do want to keep it as personal as possible.

Start with maybe ten people you already know and build from there as time allows. Find out how they are doing. Just like you, they have gone through a dramatic change. Find out if they need anything in general — a shot of whiskey, a gram of yeast, a Master’s in Education —  and what they might need from you and your company, now and in the foreseeable (hahahaha, whatever that means now) future. See if their role, solutions, products, or offerings have changed and if that has impacted their personal or professional goals.

What they have to say may have nothing to do with your company and solution. That’s okay. It may end up relating somehow, or if nothing else, asking them shows you are listening. If they say they have been craving chocolate chip cookies from their favorite bakery, send them some cookies, or a gift card for cookies and milk. Send them a gift card for coffee and say, “Let’s grab some when this is all over.” (I hear wine.com gift cards are pretty popular right now too.) 

Don’t have money for gift cards? Send them your grandmother’s amazing chocolate chunk cookie recipe (and some flour maybe?), or other favorite “quarantine recipe”. Or if you know they have kids, send them links to activities. 

If you are offering customers a discount, promo, or special of some sort, by all means tell them. And if it’s in response to the current situation, you should note that, and let them know you and your company are there for them. 

Reach them via old channels and new (see Tip #2). Understand what questions are top of mind for them. Truly listen to them and show empathy. And then start thinking how you can adjust your programs if needed.

And don’t just do this once. Continue to keep in touch with them. 

Tip #2 – Find out where they are going for information

This is a great time to find out if they have new channels they are listening to. I personally have been spending a lot more time on LinkedIn lately because I find it’s a good way to connect and reconnect with my peers during SiP. (There’s only so much I can learn on the walk from my home office to the fridge. I need some outside guidance, interaction, well, anything really at this point.) 

Maybe now is a good time to send them a quick survey. Ask them what their favorite podcast is right now. It doesn’t have to be work related. Ask them if there are webinar topics they would like to see covered (besides webinars on how to manage online meetings). Find out if there are virtual events and conferences they have attended or are looking forward to attending.

Look and see what LinkedIn and Facebook Groups for your industry are active. See what hashtags people are using and following (besides #covid19 and #sourdough). Are new influencers popping up? Notice what types of questions your customers are asking influencers and see if there is a way for you and your team to participate or respond. 

Understand what topics are forefront in their minds and the channels and influencers they are looking to for answers. This will help define your content strategy and distribution going forward.

Tip #3 – Reinforce or rebuild (or build — yikes!) trust 

Hopefully you have already built trust, and that’s why they are using, or looking to use, your product or service. By having this trust already in place, any changes you need to make, especially during a crisis, will be that much easier for them to take. Whatever trust you currently have with your audience, you should use this time to deepen it. If you don’t have their trust, now is as good a time as any to start to build it.

I have been watching how different companies are reacting to this ever-changing situation. And I’ve seen some themes evolving from the companies that are excelling at responding and pivoting that I recommend you incorporate into your programs and messaging: 

  • First, be human. Duh! It’s a bit of a shit show out there right now. So don’t think so much about them as a customer, but rather as another human being.
  • Second, be empathetic. Let them know you understand them and feel for them.
  • Third, be responsive. Pay close attention to all of your channels and listen for both good and bad insights, and respond, preferably quickly. 
  • Fourth, be transparent. Shipments are going to be delayed? Let customers know, and if possible, give them some context as to why. 

By the way, you should be doing ALL of these. Don’t just pick one or two. 

One effective way to share at this level is by leveraging video, with very personal messages from company leaders. A great example is Christina Stembel, Founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers, who has captured via video the entire journey they have been on over the past several months. The ups and downs, changes, challenges, pivots. Closing down some distribution centers, opening up others, dealing with the PPP process — she has shared them all while trying to hold back tears. (You can see her journey here.)

Do all that you can, whenever you can, to build trust. Which you can do by being human, empathetic, responsive, and transparent. Think about these things in all of your communications and programs, and tweak your messaging as needed. But more importantly…

Tip #4 – Don’t just tell them, show them that you care

As important as it is to connect with empathy, it isn’t enough. I am a firm believer that you should always show prospects and customers how you are aligned with and care for them. I recommend you start by revisiting your company values and mission. Now is a great opportunity to make sure you’re living up to your core values in a way that helps address your customers’ current needs.

Below are just a few great examples:

  • Zappos. Their mission is to “Deliver WOW Through Service.” The company has always had amazing customer support, but now they are taking it a step further and standing by even if you just need to talk. If you are alone or feeling lonely, or need to escape your in-laws who you are now living with — give them a call. Recently, they also joined forces with Crocs in their “A Free Pair for Healthcare” initiative to aid in donation efforts to healthcare heroes on the frontlines. In addition, they are using their campus bistro to provide ready-to-eat WOW meals to the elderly and most vulnerable in Las Vegas, where Zappos is headquartered. Thanks Tony and team.
  • Bill.com. Their mission is to make it simple to connect and do business. Now, the company is helping to fund the Small Business Relief Fund to aid struggling businesses, has extended support hours to accommodate their customers trying to balance a new WFH-while-homeschooling-your-kids life, and has extended free trials of their service for those impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. To read more about how they’re connecting their mission to our current world, check out https://www.bill.com/blog/I-stand-for-small-business/. Thanks René and team.
  • Chobani. Better food for more people is a core part of their mission. The company recognized early on that with the pandemic, some school-age kids would no longer have access to food through school, so they worked with local organizations and donated significant amounts of yogurt to help. In addition, they recognized the efforts their teams and vendors were putting in to keep it all churning and created a special “Thanks” video. You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmYKXTHJTV0. Thanks Peter and team.

There are so many other great examples of ways companies are keeping their missions aligned with our current reality and emerging customer needs. They aren’t just talking about their values, they are living them. And it’s truly inspiring. I would love to see examples you have seen that are inspiring to you. Feel free to share here in the comments.

Tip #5 – Add massive amounts of value 

Whatever marketing you decide to do, make sure it adds massive amounts of value to your customers, prospects, and individual contacts. 

  • Look at your promos. Are they truly useful and well timed? Are they helping customers by alleviating stress or financial burden right now? E.g. waiving the next month’s fees or providing access to essential tools that will help them through this.
  • Look at all the content you are sharing. Whether it’s white papers, webinars, case studies, or infographics, ask yourself, is it helpful? Will it allow people to do their job better? Is it something that will give them comfort in these crazy times?
  • Look at your ad campaigns. Are you still trying to sell them something? That’s okay, just do it mindfully and with intent. Or instead, is there some way you can help them right now? If so, use your ads to let them know about it. 
  • Are there best practices you can offer them that will help them at minimum maintain their momentum, via content, videos, guides, webinars, or virtual workshops?

What will add the most value? Well, that goes back to the earlier tips about reaching out, reconnecting, listening, and building trust. By doing this, you will find out what they really need and then, hopefully, you can find a way to share that with them. 

Utilizing these tips can ultimately help customers and prospects feel good, and that is key to your business staying relevant and thriving. This is important, really important — but it’s not the only thing to consider. So in Part 2, we’ll look at how to stay relevant yourself, as an individual marketing professional. Until then, stay safe and sane.

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