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Small and medium-sized companies are among those hit hardest by an international financial crisis, a trade dispute or a pandemic. Luckily, such major events are rare. But even minor incidents can lead companies into a crisis: a noisy construction site in front of a café can keep guests away, or a break-in or renovation that cannot be postponed can lead to closures. Unreliable suppliers, quality problems with manufacturers, a hacker attack on customer data or a poor online rating get online shops and digital service providers in trouble. The results are a loss of sales. Here, careful crisis management is required.
In uncertain times, customers and orders dwindle. This does not always threaten the very existence of a company. However, businesses shouldn’t wait for a solution to appear out of thin air, but instead proactively explore their options. Freezing your marketing budgets at this point, for example, is the wrong way to go. Rather, targeted crisis marketing is required to strengthen your brand, regain trust, and boost demand. A new sales channel, an expanded product range, Facebook campaigns or the re-engagement of regular customers - crisis marketing includes many means for coping with economic difficulties.
Marketing during a crisis? Advertising in a crisis? The idea alone can cause confusion and outrage. But it’s important to understand that the meaning of crisis marketing has nothing to do with generating a profit at the cost of people or businesses suffering the economic consequences of such difficult periods. Crisis marketing is all about leading a business out of a difficult situation with marketing tactics to secure the future of the company. The practice encompasses a range of practical solutions that local and digital companies can use to master critical times.
- Well-thought out crisis marketing: tips for the right strategy
- Which strategies help during a crisis
- Online and offline tactics to beat a crisis
- How local businesses should proceed in a crisis
- Tips for online companies
Well-thought out crisis marketing: tips for the right strategy
Prevention is better than cure. Using a crisis management plan or a crisis communications plan buys business owners time. But even if you haven’t prepared in advance for an emergency, it is helpful to proceed carefully and first determine the causes and consequences of the situation. Thus, start by clarifying the following points:
- What is your USP?
- What do your customers like about you and what needs to be improved?
- What are your target audiences?
- How are competitors performing?
- Which marketing channels are performing well and which are not?
- Would new sales channels make a difference?
- Which financial, personnel and time resources exist for crisis marketing?
Which strategies help during a crisis
In general, digital strategies are gaining in importance. After all, online sales and communication are the best option for working regardless of location, responding to new circumstances in real-time, focusing on the right target group and trying different marketing approaches.
In times of general uncertainty and a weakening economy, companies are particularly dependent on good customer relationships. The strategic focus should therefore be on the customer. If your marketing budget is tight, it helps to set additional priorities in order to bundle resources. Perhaps it is more promising to only address a clearly defined target group. Or it may be more effective to keep existing customers than to win new ones.
Be sure to consider whether a crisis will change your unique selling points. A new brand message and advertising that is adapted to the new situation will encourage customers to continue to shop with you. When it comes to crisis marketing, it is important to appear serious and confident to the outside world and to gain the trust of customers. They should have the impression that they are getting exactly what they need despite the difficult circumstances. Sometimes this requires thinking about other values in order to adapt a business’s image.
Strategic communication is the order of the day when trust is breached. Say a band couldn’t perform or a venue was damaged in a storm - organizers now must relieve customers’ fears that they won’t get a refund for their tickets. Whether you’re dealing with quality problems with products or a bug in the online ordering system, targeted communication and reputation marketing limit the damage to your image and restore your reputation. Transparent and credible crisis communication is often the best strategy.
If the problem is related to the product range or the products themselves, it is important to adjust and zoom in on product development. For example, it makes little sense to rely exclusively on sausage products and meat dishes following a scandal in the meat industry or to offer goods from a manufacturer that has fallen into disrepute.
The restrictions, lockdowns and uncertainties associated with Covid-19 have an enormous effect on purchasing behavior and have resulted in a sales crisis across many industries. Local retailers, hair salons, and gyms often only get by with new sales channels and offers.
Offer vouchers or membership renewal if operations have to be reduced or completely stopped. Many customers like to support their local businesses. Intensify communication with your customers during these times and adjust your offerings. If people need to protect themselves during a pandemic and withdraw into private life, other products are sometimes in demand. Digital distribution is a promising direction, if it is suitable for your industry: an online shop, social buy buttons or online courses via Zoom are all ways to make your services more accessible.
Companies that already operate digitally should adapt advertising messages as part of their crisis marketing if necessary. For example, foreground products or services that help customers in times of crisis and convey positive feelings. Strengthening customer loyalty is more important than ever. Act as a prudent and reliable partner. This can be implemented with appropriate content on your own website or across your social media channels and through positive reviews and testimonials. Special and test offers lower the inhibition threshold to shop or to commission your services.
Online and offline tactics to beat a crisis
Crisis marketing offers various tactics that are useful for local SMBs as well as digital service providers.
A slogan like “Stingy is cool” or using the value of luxury as part of your brand identity can seem inappropriate during times of economic hardship. In a crisis, customers set different priorities and change their needs. Instead, choose responsible messaging that focuses on security and reliability. The hip base jumper may no longer be the appropriate face for an outdoor clothing brand. If the sales crisis is based on a change in clientele, a new image can help. Diversity branding focuses on an increasingly diverse society. Check your marketing for clichés and prejudices and consider new concepts if necessary.
Advertising to suit a crisis
Besides the right marketing message, crisis marketing also relies on the right choice of target audience and advertising channels. This depends on the type of crisis and how it has affected your business. A radical decrease in your advertising budget is only recommended if you could avert a serious liquidity crisis or bankruptcy with the funds released. With small budgets, the most promising thing to do is to keep in touch with existing customers. This can be done via regular Instagram posts and newsletters or brochures.
Campaigns and actions
Campaigns like “Friends refer friends” or trial offers can boost customer retention and attract new customers. Vouchers are also a great way to encourage existing and new customers to shop. They lower the barrier to testing unknown products. As a rule, voucher holders purchase a product that goes beyond the value of the coupon and then often enjoy related products. Therefore, vouchers are also a good way to get sales issues under control. Restaurants, hair salons and handymen can offer vouchers for their services just as much as online shops, digital start-ups or independent graphic designers.
Using the right channels
It’s better to rely on a few select channels during crisis marketing in order to react promptly. However, a website alone is not enough for a digital company. Both local businesses and digital companies should consider the following: social media marketing can reach lots of people in real-time, but it doesn’t run itself. Facebook, Instagram and other channels demand much time and maintenance and can quickly get out of hand. A good alternative to a social media news feed is a newsletter. They’re cheap, simple and easy to control thanks to automated email solutions. It’s important that you offer your customers a value exchange. Even the smallest hairdressing salon can make good use of a newsletter. Useful content on deals or hair care tips get the attention of potential new customers, especially if you use well thought out subject lines in your newsletter. Digital service providers can use advertorials or free whitepapers to generate leads and convey expertise and reliability.
For this type of crisis marketing, the following tip is useful: a good core message can restore your business’s image and even improve it. Rely on your values and strengths. Identify core audiences that may seem skeptical at first. Ask yourself how you can reach them and measure the results of your communication. It’s useful to create an FAQ for your online shop to answer potential questions consumers may have. That’s vital when you’re selling products that require explanation such as insurance or software. You can discuss more extensive topics in blog posts. But ensure that blog posts always maintain trustworthiness and competence.
Based on the feedback from customer service and the number of transactions, you can find out whether your tactics are working. As a local business, evaluate the reviews and ratings on platforms such as Google Reviews or Yelp in order to derive further measures.
Great reviews build customer trust and are integrated into search engine rankings. This can be as effective as recommendations from friends or acquaintances. This type of crisis marketing ensures your customers will return, especially during difficult times. Of course, reviews are always a tricky thing because it is dissatisfied customers that are active on these portals. Always respond to any criticism - no matter how unjustified it may seem. Refute them in a factual tone, be constructive and offer a solution. As a retailer, you should also target regular customers and ask them to rate your business. You can gain reviews using a corresponding sign during checkout. Online shops, in turn, can reward reviewers by offering discounts. In that case, it makes sense to integrate a function for star ratings into the shop system. This makes it easier for customers to give feedback.
In addition, seals of approval and buyer protection can work wonders for online shops. You can also list your company in business directories – digitally or offline. Google often rates online entries as a quality factor. At the same time, your company will be easier to find. Some online directories also allow customer ratings. However, business owners should look for reputable industry listings.
How local businesses should proceed in a crisis
There are some crisis marketing tips that are particularly suitable for local businesses that do not yet have an established website. This may include bars, hair salons, fashion boutiques and other retail stores as well as SMBs or small craft businesses.
Company homepage and online shop
A digital strategy can help local businesses weather a crisis. A website allows you to retain customers and stand out from the competition, especially during a lockdown. A digital sales platform is worthwhile when your products are suitable for online sales. This allows you to reach buyers located outside of your local range and especially those who prefer to shop online. Retailers are by no means dependent on the expertise of external advertising agencies. There are plenty of simple shop solutions for setting up your own e-commerce platform using a website builder. Payment processing is often considered tricky. But there are also several payment options that can be easily integrated into a shop system.
In some cases, digital transactions can be worth it for local service providers. For example, special online platforms can be helpful to make booking appointments easier for your customers.
Similar systems can be used to book tables or reserve takeout from restaurants. Small eateries where seats are limited can increase sales by offering to-go options. Travel agencies, insurance sellers and opticians can also take service orders online. This eases the process of making an appointment and minimizes waiting times.
You could also work with QR codes, for example by displaying them in your storefront or on flyers. This ensures that customers can easily find you online if they own a smartphone.
For complex merchandise systems and stores a little more know-how is required. A series of free or state-funded advisory services and workshops may be provided by state authorities and business associations. For example, Digital.gov by the US government provides guidance on driving digitalization in business. E-commerce platforms like Amazon or eBay are also a good choice for selling products but note that there’ll be plenty of competitors selling similar items.
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When adjusting for search engine optimization (SEO),focus on your local environment. Integrate matching keywords into your advertising texts as a SEO basis that potential customers could be searching for when looking for products like the ones you offer. This increases your chances of being listed by Google under relevant search matches. Companies that are listed among the top five search results on Google perform best because people rarely make the effort of scrolling to the bottom of a search page. A hair stylist could use keywords such as “hair stylist” or “getting a haircut”. However, this would be far too broad for a local hair salon. By restricting your keywords to a local search, you’ll reach nearby clients. If your salon specializes in certain hair styles or extensions, keyword combinations like “hair extensions Brooklyn” could be useful.
Many customers will be searching for local services on Google. When on the go, Google Maps even shows closest matches of search queries. So make sure your company is listed here. Another simple but similarly effective option is a business entry on Google MyBusiness. Getting listed is easy: simply provide your address and business hours. Customers can also leave reviews on Google. Pictures are an important part of this. A profile picture will make your company look more attractive. Bars, yoga studios or fitness clubs should advertise their premises, equipment and teams using photos. This lends your entries a personal touch and potential customers get a better image of your business and your services. Google also provides a news function that integrates the latest updates such as discounts or offers.
Paid Google ads can also be useful to entice customers to visit your website. But to use Google ads, your business will need to have a budget available for crisis marketing. One useful tip is to place an ad for a limited time on Google Adwords. This means you only pay when someone clicks on your ad. Ads are useful alongside search engine optimization, since they ensure that a company will still appear in a prominent place in the search results in the form of an ad. SEA (Search Engine Advertising) is worthwhile in connection with competitions or discount campaigns, for example. And since even smaller amounts can have an effect, Google advertising works with limited financial resources. Because you can set costs and runtime and pause or stop ads, you retain full control over your ad budget.
Another advantage of SEA is that you can reach more people that form part of your target group. This can generate higher sales because the ads are targeted according to parameters that you define.
As a retailer, you should focus on providing a good service and excellent customer service, especially when it comes to crisis marketing. You’ll score plenty of points with customers this way. Personal contact can increase purchase decisions. Customers who feel that they are in good hands are more inclined to return to a retailer. An evaluation of online customer ratings or a survey of sellers or customers can be very informative. This allows you to spot areas where there may still be problems. By the way, studies have shown that most consumers are willing to pay more for good service.
Simple things like small talk or gift wrapping have a positive effect. Much can also be done at the after-sales stage. A furniture retailer that not only organizes delivery of a washing machine or antique piece of furniture, but also provides options for assembly, will score higher with customers. Customers are happy to pay more for these services. People who have less money at their disposal during an economic crisis might not want to replace their broken washing machine straight away, but have it repaired. The offer of a repair service or spare parts can thus constitute an additional source of income in times of crisis.
Adjust your offering and services
If there is any sign of declining sales, it is advisable to take a good long look at your offering. The following questions are helpful:
- Are the goods and services offered up to date?
- Is the quality still good?
- Do customers currently prefer other products?
- Will another product line attract more people to the business?
- Would it make sense to adjust the range seasonally?
For example, a grocery store should replace foods that have become unpopular following a wider food safety scandal or poor health record. Values and buying behaviors tend to change. Perhaps organic, fair trade or vegan food will be more popular with your customers. Fewer people now tend to sign up for dance or language classes that continue over several months. In that case, you can adjust your services to provide shorter weekend retreats or evening classes. A growing number of people now also use online training. Blended learning offers or complete online courses make learning more flexible. Restaurants may offset declining visitor numbers with catering services for weddings or company parties. A newsstand or bookstore can attract more customers in the morning by offering coffee to go.
Improve the product experience
Make your unique selling proposition stand out and show that your products aren’t run-of-the-mill. A more holistic store concept improves the shopping experience and prevents retailers from losing customers to Amazon. Skilled shop decorations and an attractive interior design attract guests to a restaurant or store. A specialty shop for high-quality espresso machines could present the machines in a homey atmosphere with a touch of Bella Italia and offer for customers to test the machine and taste it. Offering workshops with a professional barista and other special events encourage sales and embed the product as part of an experience.
Tips for online companies
Crisis marketing for online shops and digital service providers corresponds in some areas to that of local companies. But there are often differences in approach and focus.
Have you lost orders? Or maybe costly YouTube ads and classified ads in trade magazines aren’t having the desired effect? For crisis marketing it is important to put existing channels to the test. Perhaps your target group now prefers to use TikTok. Switching to TikTok advertising could be a worthwhile swap. On the other hand, Xing, LinkedIn and press portals are suitable for addressing industry-specific target groups and B2B customers when you have a smaller advertising budget. Unlike locally based companies, digital companies should rely on multiple channels. You can assume that many customers are web savvy and use different platforms.
To reengage your existing customers, email marketing campaigns can be useful.
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Start-ups can make a name for themselves by working with influencers. YouTubers and bloggers strengthen a brand. SMBs shouldn’t skimp on customer references. You can generate more testimonials and recommendations by offering products or services on a trial basis or free of charge.
Companies that already had a presence on various social media platforms before the crisis should maintain them. When a scandal hits your company, you should bundle human resources for these channels. Users usually expect businesses to be available around the clock and to react promptly to posts.
In the event of falling sales, it is important to gain targeted followers and to question previous tactics. Often companies simply post the same post on different channels without considering the unique environment of each channel. A personal note is better on Facebook and a factual news post works much better on LinkedIn. Sophisticated visual storytelling is a great strategy on Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr. With a social buy button you can also sell online products outside of your website.
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Online marketing and eCommerce
For companies that operate predominantly digitally, search engine optimization and paid ads are vital. Often, smaller companies don’t use extensive monitoring to readjust their measures when it becomes necessary. There are tools that significantly reduce the effort needed for optimization. An example is the rankingCoach tool, which is suitable for both SEO and SEA activities.
Make sure you also check the technical SEO aspects of your advertising offering. If your brand-new online shop does not generate the desired turnover, this could be due to the technical structure of your website. Perhaps the loading times are too long, the design is not responsive enough, usability is unsatisfactory – these issues scare away mobile users. Sometimes the problem lies in the payment or goods system that fails to record when products are out of stock.
Optimize offers and prices
Products and service offers are an important component of crisis marketing for digital companies as well. For example, digital education providers could stagger their course offering. Multi-level trainings create suitable options for beginners and advanced users alike. A deep dive course keeps customers engaged. Differentiating prices through premium and subscription models or free trial courses helps to extend the range. In general, it is worthwhile to put together service packages or to offer additional support following successful orders.
You can lower the inhibition threshold for contacting your company by using chats, WhatsApp messages and Skype calls. Not all customers will like options such as email or Skype. Calls are still a viable means to contact a business. Potential customers also appreciate good content with added value, which presents your offer in detail and brings out the USPs or simply provides free tutorials or useful information related to the topic.
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