If you’re an Australian business owner, the uncertainty around how badly Coronavirus will affect your business is undoubtedly on your mind at the moment. It’s started to bite the tourism, hospitality and retail sectors hard already, and it’s hard to know what’s in store for us in the coming weeks and months.
It’s imperative that you act now to protect yourself from the worst effects, and potentially even grow as a result of this evolving situation.
There’s been basically no solid advice given to Aussie business owners of what we can actually DO to mitigate the damage, so I’d like to do what I can to help by giving you what information I can. If you haven’t already started, the time for you to plan is NOW. The business landscape has already started to change – and I am not exaggerating when I say that it will not go back to the way it was anytime soon, if ever. So the first step is to re-envision your business for this new landscape. If you’re at a loss of how to maintain a relationship with your customers given what’s going on, this article is doubly for you.
BEFORE MARKETING – HOW ARE YOUR SYSTEMS AND H.R.?
You may need marketing to speak to your market, but you need systems before you can trade. So before we get into the marketing side of things, given there’s every possibility we could end up with some form of lockdown, and/or practical need to keep our staff safe, a quick note about systems. At Ronin, we have been using a combination of cloud platforms, so as required, all of our Brisbane staff can collaborate easily from our homes if need be with basically no impact on any of our workflow.
The question is, how will your own systems hold up if you’re given little notice to do so? So if you’re not already looking into how you can operate with some of your team working remotely, or via the cloud, now is a good time to do so.
That being said, of course, your other big challenges are sales and marketing, as without those, you don’t have a business. The answer may not be what you think, though. In uncertain times, you can’t just bunker down, or you will slowly die.
IT’S A SCARY LANDSCAPE – WHAT’S THE SAFEST ROAD?
Australia is in a strange headspace at the moment. Although some people are mentioning it, it’s not the same as the GFC, but in ways it’s similar. I started Ronin a couple of years before everything hit the fan in 2008, and saw first-hand how some businesses made it through better than others. More than anything, it taught some solid lessons of what to do when things feel shaky. I also ended up doing a lot of reading.
The world’s best experts have actually written a lot about uncertain times and what the textbook “right thing to do” is as a business. The overwhelming consensus among experts is that the most critical thing you must do is change how you are speaking to your customers’ shifted mentalities. This is actually the same for B2B and B2C audiences, as both are potentially in a fight or flight mode because they’re not quite sure how to act in this uncertainty.
For some background, please do check out these great, plainly-spoken articles from Harvard Business School, who are obviously the Bible for best practices – Marketing Your Way Through a Recession is a good quick read on some of the stuff I am speaking about below, as is the longer / more detailed and How to Market in a Downturn. Do note that we are NOT in a downturn as the GFC was (IE a situation where the world was basically afraid to trade). Instead, the Coronavirus is actually imposing a temporary state of mind similar to one. But the takeaway from the Harvard research (among others) is that many of the companies that not only survived but actually thrived did so by reorganising the way they use their communication channels, and their messaging to harness the uncertain times to their benefit.
But how did they do that?
YOUR CUSTOMERS IN UNCERTAIN TIMES
Your most conservative, solid strategy for business stability in the short / medium / long term is firstly to maintain, and actually grow, your relationship with your target audiences. In general terms, this is something that we at Ronin do with our clients anyway in the way we approach their social media, blogging and EDM channels. In a nutshell, you must be like a good dinner party guest – speak about things that your customers will find interesting, and actually AVOID selling at them all the time. Constant selling is the fast way to piss people off on social.
Importantly, a good digital relationship becomes imperative in times like this when people need to “know who they can trust”. You must maintain and grow your position of authority, and electronic means are really the only way you can practically and economically do this. The funny thing is that due to these trying times, doing so is actually easier and more “sticky” because psychologically, people are actually craving for those voices of authority.
You are seeing this shift in consumer “state of mind” in effect all around you. When you think about it, the toilet paper raiding is a perfect example of people’s desperate need for peace of mind and reassurance when unsettled. It’s because their buying criteria has changed radically. The business reality is that this shift MUST be harnessed moving forward in order to get your audiences/markets to engage with you, and you in particular.
TAP INTO THEIR HUNGER
Beyond mindset, the other factor is information, and what media your relevant audiences are consuming. Luckily, Aussies are taking to social media in record numbers – even more than just a couple of months ago. When you look past the news to the literal reality of what your customers are actually doing now and in the future, you will see that they are on social media, consuming that more and more; checking posts. They are increasingly staying at home, killing time watching Netflix while cruising Facebook and Instagram – in other words, they have time on their hands and are consuming information. Any information.
Over the coming weeks and months (and beyond), people are going to be bored, and/or stuck home with the kids, so it’s very important that you are prompting them by putting YOUR name out there so that you’re the one who they come across. This WILL increase in the coming weeks, so again, we as business owners have to be harnessing that.
SO WHAT SHOULD YOU ACTUALLY BE DOING?
When we put all of these factors together, the path is clear – you MUST engage with your market. Because of people’s new, more vulnerable state of mind, it actually adds up to an excellent opportunity to get your name out there as an authority in a new and incredibly powerful way. Again, observe, and you will notice how many emails you are receiving recently from many “big end of town” companies, assuring you that they have everything under control. This is because they’re following these same principles. Likewise, you need to use all channels possible to project safety, trust, solidity and stability. Essentially being a textbook example of a trusted market leader.
I can’t stress this enough. When people are in this situation, where the world can feel shaky, if you act as a leader, they will take that in in an amplified way and affect their purchasing decisions because you are speaking to their deeper, unconscious emotions, which are far more powerful than any logic.
So the other strategy you should be adopting is to connect what you’re selling to these emotions; so by establishing this modified relationship with you, they gain that peace of mind. Right now, whatever your business, you are now partially in the business of selling your customers’ safety – NOT just what you’re literally selling. Doing so will leave that mark in their mind that you were forthright and speaking as a reliable citizen where it relates to what you sell – and these are actually perfect brand qualities that are then harnessed to drive sales in the weeks and months to come. As the research shows, it is the companies that do so that come out way ahead, and tend to gain significant market share in the process.
GAINING MARKET SHARE
I’m going to be blunt here – as the Harvard materials and other studies showed, a lot of the people that didn’t follow these principles in the GFC went bust. But many others used them to tread water and come out far stronger.
From a competitive point of view, it’s basically taking a Warren Buffett approach to do the equivalent of buy low, sell high. You market hard when others are scared, and gain that extra market position that you can then exploit massively a) immediately, for the people that still need your services, now, and b) when people who have held off out of fear come back with their cash they have been holding onto.
You will be in their social media feeds, building your familiarity in your market, enhancing your visitor libraries for more cost effective digital remarketing, sitting better in Google’s search results, and have better brand recall so that people simply call you rather than Googling in the first place. Meanwhile, your competitors who have withdrawn will be playing catchup in a world that has moved on.
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