Meeting Customers Where They Are: Intentional Marketing During COVID-19
Updated: Apr 16
Megan had the pleasure of sitting down for a Facebook LIVE “Real Talk” session with the team at Outshinery this morning to discuss ways to foster meaningful relationships during this global health crisis that can better serve your clients - and your brand - in the long term.
The theme of the day was a topic we have become incredibly passionate about here at Solutions On 2nd: meeting customers where they are. The idea started percolating as companies started mass e-mailing every one of their contacts, active or not. Megan watched these emails roll in to her personal inbox, and noticed almost all of them missed the mark in providing a meaningful message to her as a consumer:
“I’d become inundated as a consumer with emails from brands I have engaged with at one point or another over the years and who I rarely hear from. All of a sudden because they are in crisis they want to reconnect - or worse: send out multiple emails per week. I don’t need you to ‘carefully monitor the situation’ for me, thanks. What I need in my inbox right now is something fun or interesting to distract me from my own careful monitoring of the situation.”
And she’s not the only one who’s noticed this change in brand communications. Comedian and actor Matt Buechele shared a video he made about these messages that went viral on Twitter, having over 24.5k shares and 2 million+ views. It is an exaggeration of the issue, but not by much and is definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.
It seems some businesses might have forgotten a crucial point:
Having space in a customer’s inbox or on their social feed is a privilege, and a pandemic is not the time to misuse that gift of attention.
At best, your brand can come off as white noise that gets discarded or scrolled past without a second thought. At worst, your follower could choose to rescind their generous offering of connection and unsubscribe or unfollow you completely.
This rings especially true on social media. Before, if your brand made a posting faux pas in image, copy or hashtags it might have gone unnoticed. But with the influx of people coming together on the social media platforms to check in on family, friends and their community they are paying closer attention to what they see in their feeds. They are becoming more vocal about things they see brands share that may contradict government guidelines or individual safety protocols, and even some jokes and off-brand attempts at humor are falling flat.
Which brings us to the next crucial point:
It’s called social media, not market-at-me media.
Brands and their ability to engage on social media platforms is an after affect to the initial purpose of allowing users to engage with their friends, family and community members around the globe in a real-time, virtual space. Brands and businesses are the outsiders here, and while the platforms provide a space to communicate with your followers it’s important to remember that people are first and foremost here for their personal connections.
Twitter prepared a wonderful list of tips for managing brand communications during COVID-19. There are some helpful tips and suggestions that apply to every platform, but the one that really stood out to us as a great mantra for marketing during COVID-19 is:
Consider the value you’re adding Resist joining the conversation just to join.
Don’t send another email blast just because you haven’t gotten a purchase since your last email three days ago. If you have nothing new or unique to communicate, there’s no reason to reach out again until you do. And no, a slight variation on the same offer from the previous email does not count as “new and unique”.
Mix things up and keep your mass communications to a respectable minimum. If you send out a promotional email about a sale this week, make next week a behind the scenes update with photos from your staff working remotely, or ways you are supporting your community through the products and services you offer.
Don’t jump in on a trending joke or meme theme just to be a part of the conversation and get exposure. This especially rings true for alcohol-related brands right now because there is a plethora of parents sharing their love of a good stiff drink (or three) after a day of working from home, home schooling and managing the new stresses of this global pandemic. But before you offer to ship them a new case to get through next week, think about moderation. Think about enjoying responsibly. And keep in mind that around the world cases of domestic violence and child abuse are going unreported in a scope we won’t fully comprehend until after COVID-19 is behind us and the victims can share their stories freely without fear of retaliation as they stay at home.
While it might be all in good fun, it might not seem that way to someone who is impacted by addiction or domestic abuse and perceives your brand to contribute to the situation. Because you can’t know who those people are, think long and hard about whether it serves your brand’s identity to engage in these activities to begin with.
Don’t make your messaging one sided. This last one is going to be especially tricky because as a small business you have bills to pay and your ability to work may have been limited or eliminated altogether in its current state. But now is the time to give gifts to your customers and build a stronger relationship with your business.
We aren’t necessarily talking about something that costs money, either. Brands are coming up with creative ways to give something that costs them nothing but has intrinsic value to their audience in the form of a new tool, resource or activity.
When travel restrictions and stay at home orders started getting introduced, museums and art galleries around the world shared their virtual tours so people could enjoy their facilities from the comfort and safety of their homes. Travel + Leisure pulled together their Top 12, and you can find them here.
Disney Parks and Doubletree Resorts decided to share once coveted secret recipes with their fans and followers. In the words of Doubletree Senior Vice President Shawn McAteer: “A warm chocolate chip cookie can’t solve anything, but it can bring a moment of comfort and happiness.”
Unable to share their destination with visitors while stay at home orders and travel restrictions are in place, Discover Buellton got creative with ways to share their local businesses with people online. Among their virtual experiences? Custom Buellton backgrounds for Zoom and photos-turned-coloring-pages of popular local attractions!
What’s something that you can provide to your audience, doesn’t cost you anything but time, and can help them make a special memory with you to brighten these difficult days?
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Plato was on to something. In these trying time, businesses owners across the country are thinking of unique and creative ways to meet their customers where they are. From bringing the party to them through door-to-door delivery, to allowing customers to pay what they can, here are a few of the unique and innovative stories we thought really stood out.
You’ll probably notice that each of these instances truly cater to what the individual brand stands for, the services they provide, and the customers they serve. While these ideas aren’t appropriate for every business, hopefully they are unique enough to get you thinking about how your business can temporarily reinvent itself while staying true to your origins, to meet your customers where they are.
Trek Light Gear is an online retailer who specializes in hammocks, outdoor gear and handwoven blankets. One thing that we found incredibly inventive, on brand and sensitive to the current climate is their “Pay What You Can” program. Essentially they created a special landing page here that shares multiple discount codes from 5%-20% off, so users can pick the code that helps them comfortably purchase items to spread a little happiness for themselves or for others. They also offer for anyone in need of a deeper discount to reach out directly, all while reminding visitors that they are a small business and ask anyone who can pay full price to do so, to offset the discounts being provided to others in need.
From their About Us: “Trek Light Gear was officially founded by Seth Haber in 2003. Over the years we've focused on a simple, but grand, mission of spreading happiness and changing the world one customer at a time. We make products for people who live their lives with passion. For people who believe in following their dreams and in the power of a smile to change the world.”
When we first heard about “Boober Eats” we thought it was a joke, but it turns out an enterprising strip club in Portland, Oregon decided to bring the show to their customers when they had to close their doors due to the pandemic. With a commercial kitchen on site and dancers and bouncers in need of income, they hatched the idea of topless food delivery. The dancers wear hot pants and strategically placed pasties and deliver to the customer’s door - following all of the physical distancing guidelines while they do so - and the bouncers are the drivers and onsite security for each delivery.
Their growing popularity and features in publications like Rolling Stone magazine resulted in a cease and desist from Uber for use of the name Boober Eats and Boober, but Lucky Devil Eats has certainly found a creative way to deliver their unique experience to their customers!
Sweet Farm is a nonprofit animal rescue and sanctuary in Silicon Valley, that is usually funded by in-person visits and donations. When the stay at home orders were issued and activities like sanctuary visits ceased, Sweet Farm co-founders, Anna Sweet & Nate Salpeter came up with a unique and creative way to bring their animals and their cause to an audience well beyond their Northern California community; Goat 2 Meeting.
Goat 2 Meeting (a clever play on the virtual meeting software GoToMeeting) allows users to schedule a cameo appearance during their next video chat or virtual company meeting with one of their resident animals! In addition to this quirky paid service, they are also offering free virtual farm tours for schools and nonprofit groups.
These three examples are wildly different, from the type of their business to the audiences they serve. But what their unique programs have in common is a creative solution to continuing to serve their customers in a way that is just as different as the world we presently find ourselves in. We hope these ideas inspire you to think about ways you can meet your customers where they are, all while remaining true to your brand’s identity and the experience your audience has come to know and love.
If you find yourself wearing new hats these days like creative designer, social media manager, or brand developer due to changes in your staffing, you might find these previous articles helpful: