Tricks of the marketing trade

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How brands can communicate effectively during coronavirus

We have a new c-word to dread —  and we're already seeing the signs of major disruption in our day-to-day lives. Businesses are understandably focusing on operations, but are perhaps not dedicating as much time and attention to clients and customers. During this time of stress and worry, we need to look at how we can continue to communicate effectively and achieve meaningful customer engagement.

As well as providing an important "value add", businesses that raise their game will be front of mind when things eventually return to normal. With everyone spending more time at home, digital channels offer a valuable opportunity for brands to put customers first and generate a sense of loyalty — even if they've underutilised these channels previously. Here's how:

Be honest about delivery times

With increased demand, clear communication on delivery times is critical. That means full transparency, such as sing pop-up messages to inform customers about potential delays. This is particularly the case for retailers who have hugely in-demand items. If you are able to manage expectations before each user has parted with cash, you can avoid disappointment.

There will of course be additional pressures and complications for brands with physical stores and infrastructure. Most now have a combination of retail and home delivery, and many will be pivoting more towards the latter. For those without e-commerce, a quick option can be to move into Amazon, who already have an established distribution network. Bear in mind, though, that as the severity of the situation continues to unfold, even Amazon may struggle with fulfillment.

Keep your Google listings up to date

For those more reliant on physical stores, Google My Business (GMB) listings are of massive importance at this time of rapid change. Google is already providing some messaging that store opening times can differ, but it's better to use your own initiative to get ahead of the curve.

If store times change or items run out, make sure you update the information quickly and the messaging is clear and consistent across all the platforms. Think about using notifications to reduce the possibility of customers becoming angry and frustrated after making a fruitless visit to your store.

For businesses that are closing temporarily and rely solely on footfall—like health clubs, restaurants, car dealerships, and retailers selling high-ticket items—there remains an opportunity to add value through timely, relevant communications.

Address people's primary concerns

Think about the kind of things weighing heavily on your customers' minds. Hygiene, for instance, has become even more important, so ensure you communicate any additional measures you are taking. Paid and organic social media promotion on Facebook and Instagram within a radius of each of your locations will be a good way of getting the message out quickly—especially if you're switching up your business model, like restaurants changing to takeaway-only.

Restaurant brands could also focus on offering recipes, and challenging customers to replicate their dishes and share the content. With people concerned about their health, also think about immune-boosting recipe ideas. Great user-generated content keeps the dialogue open and gives brands presence and content during an otherwise uneventful period.

Replicate physical experiences online

For fitness businesses, there will be a clear need to support their customers when they are unable to get their gym fix. Peloton has changed the game in this regard and other gyms will want to look at how they can replicate the physical experience online. Online classes, home workout plans, and one-on-one online consultations will support customers as they seek to maintain fitness and stay connected to the wider world.

Think about the full range of touch points and how they can be utilised—from quick tips on Twitter to workouts on YouTube or Facebook Live consultations, all supported by optimising for home-workout keywords.

Even though times are tough, businesses still need to understand and respond to the changing needs and concerns of their customers. Helping to keep people informed and entertained during a potential lockdown is the right thing to do. As a positive side-effect, it may also lead to lasting brand awareness and positive sentiment.

Mike Fantis, managing partner at DAC.

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