Posted: Thu 7th May 2020
Engagement with content has grown dramatically during the crisis. People are online more and want advice from the companies they rely on.
Not only do small businesses need to keep in touch with their customers, but there's an opportunity to support them and grow your audience.
Businesses have had to adapt their content marketing strategy to take the changing circumstances of their customers into account.
This article shares examples of marketing campaigns and advice on how to position your messaging and put together a plan.
Revisit your customer personas
Customer personas record characteristics of the customers you're targeting. Having one or two of these fictitious profiles for each of your main customer segments helps keep marketing on track.
Take a look at your personas and think about the impact the crisis would have had on them:
Are they likely to have suffered a financial loss?
How might their buying patterns changed?
What's their home situation like during the lockdown?
For example, parents might be scrambling for activities to keep their children occupied. If you're selling to corporates, your contacts' budgets and targets might have changed.
The answers will inform opportunities for helpful content, how you use your marketing channels and your go-to-market messaging.
Thinking about the different stages of the crisis
Look at how your customers are impacted during the different stages of the crisis. Here's a number of broad consumer trends that might impact your business and its marketing:
Pre-lockdown/ early lockdown: Customers stocked up on staples and started shopping online more.
Lockdown becomes the new normal: Online activity increased dramatically, with subscription services like Netflix recording record numbers. Consumers began making treat purchases online, such as make-up and nice alcohol.
Post lockdown: People look for social distancing-friendly activities, such as meeting in the park and bars with large outside areas.
Return to normality: The UK is likely already in a recession. Consumers may prioritise spending accordingly and the length of time it takes to close B2B sales is likely to increase.
Try writing a version for your audience. When brainstorming, consider both the immediate impacts (some businesses can no longer serve their customers) and the second order impacts (people might travel more in the UK).
If you haven't already, make sure your website explains any changes in the services you provide.
The Little Black and White Book Project sells books for young children. When the lockdown started, founder Ruth Bradford was unable to put her son in childcare and had to work on the business a lot less. However, content marketing ended up providing an opportunity to use the time she had effectively.
"When this kicked off, everyone went into panic mode about homeschooling kids.
During that first week of lockdown everyone was craving as much content as possible.
It felt like a natural fit," she said.
How the tone of communication changes
Consistency and credibility are key to effective communication. Companies need to talk about the crisis and the impact on their service and customers. However, messaging that doesn't fit within the existing relationship and style of communication can erode trust; be authentic.
"There has to be a good fit and content has to add value," said Ruth. "I've seen a lot of people spewing out stuff because they want to be part of the conversation. I am genuinely trying to help people out and it's a good fit for my business."
Facebook and Google are limiting the use of certain words relating to the crisis in advertising, although it's possible to get an exception. Social Treats founder Deasha Waddup suggested using related terms like "the current situation" and "what's happening in the world right now" to reference the crisis.
You may also need to think about using different images. Photos of people in groups or enjoying pre-lockdown life might work anymore. Think about doing your own photos at home or using stock images to replace them.
Be aware that there's an element of fatigue developing around certain types of reactionary content too. This comes back to thinking about what's appropriate in the different stages of the crisis.
Talk to your customers
Customer-led content strategies always perform better. You can shortcut the experimentation process, get better results and make people feel valued by asking them what would be helpful.
People want to support small businesses right now and will likely respond to your survey or a request to have a chat.
What channels will provide the most benefit?
Carry out a quick audit of the marketing channels you have and how you might be able to utilise them during the crisis.
Minal knew her marketing plan had to change when the lockdown started, but Facebook Live provided an accessible way to offer new content. She started with a session on how to keep marketing in March and now does half an hour every Tuesday.
"People told me they wanted videos and webinars of how to do something. I did one last year, the beginner's guide to Instagram Stories, so I thought I would go with that first because I had the content," she said.
The webinar was posted on Enterprise Nation. The response "went a bit crazy", with 300 people registering and over 150 taking part.
The good news is that some social media marketing has dropped in cost.
"Facebook ads are a lot more affordable at the moment. Businesses that have got money and marketing are having fantastic click through rates," said Deasha.
She added that communities are massive right now as people look online for more support. You could offer value by posting advice in existing communities as well as your own.
Developing a medium-term plan for content marketing
Once you have an understanding of how your customers are being impacted during the crisis you can start developing ideas.
Start with your overall output. How much time can you commit to marketing? While it's great to respond to the crisis, the level of time you commit needs to fit in with the other aspects of running your business.
Minal is getting to the end of her planned webinars and has only scheduled Facebook Lives until the end of the month. Then she'll take a break and think about what customers are looking for next - the frequency of your content should vary based on the stage of the crisis just like the topics you cover.
Set goals and track performance
As always, it's important to have clear goals for your marketing activity and track performance. It's great to want to create content just to support your community, but think about the level of engagement you want to get and what you want them to do next.
Ruth uses Bit.ly, a link shortener that provides a useful way to track clicks to .pdf, to see how many people have looked at the downloads. The existing and new content has now had over a thousand downloads since the crisis started and site traffic has doubled.
Minal uses the online events she runs to build her marketing list, which has doubled to 700 subscribers since the start of the crisis.
"I put together an automation for everyone that comes to a webinar. Everything is about value, value, value. The final email of the automation is 'if you're still struggling, book an hour with me and this is how you do it'," she said.
Minal also uses unique links to see what marketing channels drive the most event sign-ups and that data helps her decide what to focus on. For example, the last event got the most registrations from the previous attendees list, then Facebook.
"Whatever content you're planning, work out what you want to do with it. What's the reason for doing it?" Minal said.
Ruth agrees that it's important to provide value. "The big thing I believe in at the moment is being kind and generous and that it will leave everyone in good stead," she said.
The intangible benefit of this mentality is that people will remember the effort you put in to help them, whether you helped keep their kids busy for 20 minutes or provided a way to stay fit.
What are the next steps you can take?
Interested in developing your marketing strategy? Here are a number of resources that can help:
Watch a 30-minute video from Minal on how to use email marketing for your business
Deasha hosting events as part of She Means Business campaign and you can sign-up for free events here