Your target market's needs are continually shifting, so it is important to stay up to date with trends and modify your business strategies accordingly. One way to reach your customers during this unstable time is by adapting your marketing plan to meet their needs. We spoke with small business owners and marketing experts to determine the 10 best ways to adjust your marketing strategy during the pandemic.
What is a marketing plan?
A marketing plan is an overall strategy for how you will communicate with your target audience and influence them to buy your products or services. Although marketing plans can vary from basic to comprehensive, they should include pertinent information about your brand and how you want to be perceived by your customers.
"A well-rounded, strategic plan will address where the company currently is in the market along with a road map for where it would like to be and in what timeframe," Heather Schuck, founder of TheSchuck.Agency, told business.com. "While the specifics can vary by industry, most commonly you'll want to address the seven P's – product, price, promotion, place, packaging, positioning and people."
When promoting your products and services, it is important to adhere to your marketing plan to stay in line with your brand identity. However, a marketing plan is a living document that should be modified to best fit the current needs of your customers. For example, the coronavirus crisis, recession and civil unrest have caused drastic changes in consumer behavior, and your business should adapt your marketing strategy to match consumers' current demands.
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The economy and marketplace are in a state of constant change, forcing your consumers into a wide variety of purchasing phases. How you pivot your marketing efforts to match those needs can make or break your business. Instead of continuing with "business as usual" – which your customers may perceive as insensitive – or overcorrecting and flooding your consumers with exhausting information, there are several great marketing strategies you can employ.
We spoke with small business owners and marketing experts to help you determine the top 10 ways to modify your marketing strategy and reach your audience during the current economic upheaval.
1. Emphasize the true relevance of your product or service.
As consumer needs change, the relevance of your product or service may change as well. It is important to emphasize how your brand is still essential to your consumers and how it can be beneficial to their lives. This may mean shifting focus from one product to another or emphasizing unique ways that your current offering can fulfill your audience's needs.
"As far as messaging goes, between the pandemic and the possible recession, leaders and brands have an opportunity to further connect with anxious consumers and focus on the true relevance of their products or services," said Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls.
2. Meet current consumer needs.
"Focus more on meeting consumer needs and helping them deal with the realities of the pandemic rather than blatantly promoting what you have to offer," said Linda Pophal, marketing consultant and owner of Strategic Communications. "I've seen a number of SaaS and app providers offer free subscriptions for some limited time period, [and] some news outlets have taken down their firewalls to offer access to virus-related reporting, etc."
Offering helpful tools and thoughtful promotions can build brand awareness and loyalty. Think of ways you can help your customers make a purchase, whether that is by promoting online services, offering curbside pickup, or providing live chat and support.
3. Increase your digital marketing efforts.
Your consumers are online, so it is important that you are too. Focus on digital marketing efforts like paid ads, search engine optimization (SEO) and email marketing. Keep your website up to date, and focus on establishing yourself as a thought leader through blogs, videos, social media and other digital content. If you have the marketing budget for it, consider hiring a marketing professional or social media influencers to increase your online visibility.
4. Modify your email marketing campaign.
Companies should focus on adapting their email marketing campaigns to address the unique challenges customers are facing. Instead of sending out the standard email content you've always offered, change the tone, content and frequency to match your consumers' expectations. Stay on brand, but be cognizant of how your emails are adding value to your audience.
"For example, just because a day care closed doesn't mean a parent still doesn't need help caring for their children," said Schuck. "Don't waste that email sharing your updated hours for the third time; provide value such as tips on fun ways to practice the alphabet while preparing dinner. Those types of value-add communications will pull your customers in towards you, not repel them."
5. Focus on social media marketing.
Chances are a large portion of your audience is on social media, so use that to your advantage and take part in the conversation. Focus your marketing efforts on the social media channels that drive a lot of your customer engagement (such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram). Create relevant posts that add value, education and entertainment, instead of strictly trying to make a sale.
"Be engaging, comment on audience posts, and adjust upcoming posts based on the current sentiment and feedback," said Schuck. "When our world is in a state of upheaval, creating content to be automatically posted 30 days in advance might not be the best option. It can make you appear tone-deaf and heartless, no matter how innocent the posting goof was."
6. Communicate critical information.
Keep an open line of communication with your audience, and the transparency and honesty will be well received. Each state and industry has its own set of regulations and guidelines, so keep your customers informed on how you are being impacted. It can be especially helpful to update your hours of operation on your website and Google business listings.
"Even if you have to be shut down, don't stop communicating with your audience," said Pophal. "They need to know you are still out there, and they want to know when, if and how you will reopen. With small businesses particularly, your customers are likely worried about you personally, so make sure you're sharing messages and updates frequently."
7. Incorporate your audience.
Schuck said this is an opportunity for you to show true leadership by reevaluating your goals, adjusting timelines and welcoming your audience to be part of the conversation. Invite your target market to help guide the direction of your business, as they will likely have valuable insights about what they need and how you can help.
"For a company to create raving fans, there must be some level of buy-in from the audience," Schuck said. "When you demonstrate to your customers that they are being heard, it builds trust and strengthens customer loyalty."
8. Show compassion and empathy.
It is crucial to show your customers compassion, especially during this tumultuous time. As your customers deal with financial, emotional and mental stressors, offer empathetic content that shows you truly care.
"Words are part of the healing process, and we can see which leaders and brands are doing the best job every day with messages that touch not only the mind, but also the heart and soul," said Arnof-Fenn. "There has never been a more important time to provide accurate, empathetic communication with transparency, truthfulness and timeliness."
9. Give back to the community.
Help out your community in any way you can, whether that involves donating, volunteering or collaborating with other businesses. If possible, pivot your business strategy to better serve the community. Giving back will help you increase your community support, goodwill and brand awareness. By encouraging your staff to take part in the conversation, you can facilitate corporate social responsibility movements that your whole team believes in, building a positive company culture.
10. Audit your sales funnel.
Just because your marketing strategy was working three months ago doesn't mean it's going to work right now. As the market changes, it is important to thoroughly audit your sales funnel and analyze the data. Conducting a competitive analysis can help you see what others in your space are doing, letting you evaluate what is working and what isn't.
"I think we all get a bit emotionally overwhelmed, and it's easy to fall into the trap of complacency," said Schuck. "However, there's opportunity in hardship. Taking that extra step to reevaluate your funnels might mean the difference between gaining an extra 25% market share or losing it."
What to avoid in your marketing plan
There are several things to avoid when you are reworking your marketing plan. For example, you don't want to continue sending out the same old marketing campaigns as though nothing has happened, but you also don't want to inundate your audience with exhaustive marketing and political material. Consumers are fatigued and can see through PR stunts and bandwagon emails.
It is important to acknowledge the current state of affairs, but don't talk about these things any more than you need to. Instead of flooding your audience with generic information, provide them with educational or entertaining marketing messages that add value and enhance their customer experience.
You also want to avoid being too pushy for sales or over-promoting your products or services. Ensure that every communication you have with your customers has a purpose and value, whether it be on your website, through email or on social media. As the social and economic situation changes, adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.