These are unprecedented times for small businesses. Research sponsored by OnDeck shows that COVID-19 has already impacted 86% of small business owners. Moreover, nearly all SMEs expect some impact in the future.
The current environment also means the timing and the methods of communication you select will be critical in helping you retain customers and keep your business solvent.
Whether you use digital marketing, social media, or public relations the communications methods you choose will depend on the business you operate. That said, we have provided some helpful strategies and tips to help keep your client communications running smoothly and avoid any faux pas through this challenging period.
1. Appoint a communications lead
For plenty of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), communications and marketing roles may be outsourced or split between employees. If you don’t have an existing staff member dedicated to overseeing your communications, assign someone in your team immediately to be your firm’s communications lead for the duration of COVID-19.
Also establish appropriate policies and processes to ensure all internal and external communications are approved by the communications lead. By having one person with this oversight, you can ensure all customers receive communications from your business with consistent messaging.
2. Ditch the hard sell
While everyone is trying to get by, overtly trying to make a profit through hard or opportunistic selling is undesirable and can be a risk to your brand.
If you are still operating or have changed your service, opt for encouraging and engaging communication that is centred on awareness, asking for support, and showing you are always available to assist your customers.
Your messaging should be reassuring and hopeful. Your customers will know you’re in an awkward position and will respond positively if they don’t feel pressured during this time.
3. Create a centralised key messaging document
Your communications lead should have an overview of what every team and channel is distributing to their stakeholders. To do this create a live, centralised key messaging document, which is stored in a shared Google Docs, Smartsheet or Dropbox file. This central cloud location should have appropriate administration settings, so the live version of the messaging document is accessible for all relevant employees.
The key messaging document must be updated as significant business decisions are taken or in response to new government directives such as lockdown orders and social distancing measures.
Keeping your communications and information consistent:
- Promotes reassurance among your staff as they know your business is focused and has a clear direction
- Encourages customer trust, which is critical to business continuity
- Minimises the potential for conflicting instructions and information
- Increased brand reliability.
4. Review your full communications queue with COVID-19 in mind
Be sure to re-examine any existing, automated or scheduled digital advertising campaigns, social media posts, email automation, SMS or print advertising.
Pause or delay all upcoming posts and automated communications that are insensitive or irrelevant to the present situation. Audit any automation that can continue, to include appropriate messaging if it’s required.
At the same, don’t shelve all non-COVID-19 communications. Just ensure any communication you plan to post or send is sensitive and relevant to the current climate. The messaging must also be considerate of your customers’ situations. Don’t forget, if the communication looks like a hard sell, hit the pause button for now.
5. Embrace email marketing
No doubt you’re email inbox is overflowing with COVID-19 messages. During a crisis, consider carefully the needs and priorities of your customers. Therefore, ensure your emails are communicating new, essential and relevant information.
- Send updates on your business operations – keep your customers updated on your services, hours and any disruptions they may face.
- Provide value and assistance – use your emails to provide value and help to your customers. If you have a blog or online resources that will be of support right now, use email to deliver this information to add value to your clients.
- Automate your customer service emails – if your services have been interrupted, use email to communicate your current circumstances, update processes, and operational changes.
6. Put your energy into creating engaging social media content
The amount of time spent on social media is exploding right now. Research from online marketplace IZEA Worldwide in March found that 66% of social media users believe their social media usage habit will increase in the event they are confined to their home due to the Coronavirus[i].
The takeaway for SMEs is that there is plenty of business potential if you put some time and energy into creating hopeful, useful, social media content. Now is also a valuable opportunity to think about your brand and values and create appropriate content that aligns with who you are as a business. It is also an opportunity to build your organic audience and engage with a broader community online.
Aim to create valuable and engaging content and avoid sliding into any doomsday messaging or a hard sell of your business. Audiences are sensitive in the middle of a crisis and posting content with the wrong messages can have a detrimental impact on the way customers recall your brand.
7. Send SMS check-ins and urgent updates
The Federal Government is a shining example of how to use SMS sparingly to send COVID-19 updates and messages to all Australians. If your SME has the data and the technology available, consider sending SMS messages to check in with your customers and give them useful news updates. A once-off message of kindness and support to show unity can keep your business top of mind with your customers and create a positive brand association.
An SMS message will work well as a customer communication if your business has adapted to lockdown measures. For example, a restaurant changing to a delivery service might consider using an SMS campaign to let its customers know about the new service or alert them to the latest delivery measure.
Whether you choose to use SMS, email or other marketing channels, you must keep communicating with your customers. We appreciate the environment for SMEs is challenging now, but when we get through this, your customers will know you were there for them, and they weren’t forgotten.
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