Slowly but surely, many businesses are inching their way back to a normal workday.
Dozens of states are now letting restaurants, bars, houses of worship, offices and retail stores operate at 50% capacity.
Depending on your industry and your market, that could be a huge development or mean very little for your day-to-day operations.
Either way, it’s crucial to have a strategy for how to approach the next few months – especially as it pertains to communication with your employees, customers and potential customers.
There is no one-size-fits-all playbook for how to interact with your audiences as businesses gradually reopen, but we’ve compiled a list of our own priorities for the coming months that you can use as a possible template for your own path forward:
1. Prioritize safety and comply with local restrictions
It goes without saying that as businesses reopen, the health and safety of employees and customers must be priority No. 1.
In particular, companies that will have face-to-face interactions with customers will need to maintain clear policies around coronavirus-related employee absences, and develop plans for how to respond to any members of their workforce who have been exposed to COVID-19 while on the job.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has issued guidance for businesses that includes current restrictions by state, protocols to help companies reopen safely and contingency plans in the event of exposure to the virus.
In cases where workers have the option of working remotely – such as Brafton – it’s important to be sensitive to employees’ level of comfort with returning to the office. Issuing hard deadlines where none are needed could create a completely avoidable source of friction.
2. Update employees and partners on a regular basis
If you haven’t already done so, make sure your workforce and any business partners have a clear understanding of what the next few months will look like operationally.
That means updating them on:
- Work-from-home policies.
- Any and all safety protocols.
- In-person meeting policies.
- Travel policies.
- Conferencing protocols.
- Other operational updates.
At Brafton, we use Workplace for internal company updates. Within the past two weeks, our CEO has provided updates about our work-from-home policy and laid out new protocols for communicating with clients over conferencing software at this time. In your case, you can achieve the same goal through your intranet, or through email.
What’s important is that you continue to clearly communicate expectations, even on seemingly small matters, such as whether to keep cameras on during conference calls and how to practice proper etiquette in those meetings.
3. Inform – and remind – customers about any and all new business developments
Change will be one of the only constants for organizations over the next few months, and it’s important that any developments that could affect clients are clearly communicated ahead of time.
For example, if you have made temporary concessions – by allowing free cancellations, alternative payment plans and discounts – don’t just let them expire without a reminder.
Telling your customers that you are lifting concessions is not an easy thing to do, but blindsiding your audience is a much worse alternative. People have a lot on their minds right now, and a gentle reminder of your company’s plan, punctuated by encouragement to reach out and discuss options going forward, is far preferable to turning up the heat without warning.
4. Continue to empathize with your community
If there is one thing that every marketer – and every professional – hopefully takes away from COVID-19 and the general zeitgeist of 2020, it will be a greater appreciation for the role that understanding and empathy have in business.
Even though some industries are finally having their chance to come up for air, many others are still barely keeping their heads above water.
Some businesses have also had their operations disrupted by the state of civil unrest in the U.S.
Continue to be highly sensitive to your customers, your employees, your partners and your audience at large. That means doing what you can to resolve issues empathetically. It also means being very mindful of the type of content you’re posting to your marketing channels, including:
- Social media.
- Your blog.
For the next few months, continue to segment your email marketing lists carefully, making sure to avoid sending sales emails to companies in hospitality and travel. If you intend to market to retailers and restaurants, do so with utmost delicacy. Avoid direct sales language, and make it clear that you’re there to help them on their journey to recovery.
5. Assess – and reassess – content creation priorities
If you’ve been following our blog, you’ve likely noticed that we have been dedicating most of its real estate to helping our audience navigate the pitfalls of marketing during a global crisis.
In the coming weeks, you may also notice a slight shift in the balance between our COVID-19 content and our usual instructive marketing pieces (e.g., this technical SEO checklist), leaning more heavily toward the latter without nixing the former.
This new balance is based on a few factors. Quantitatively, we can see from Google Analytics that our audience’s appetite for SEO and content marketing best practices is slightly increasing.
Qualitatively, though, we know through conversations with customers and leads that they still need some guidance in the months ahead.
This is hardly a perfect science, but the conclusion is to keep your ear to the ground and use what data you have available to you to guide your content creation efforts. And, when in doubt, rely on what you know about your target audience.
6. Clean up your email lists
The sad reality is that some 40 million Americans have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. If email is an important part of your marketing strategy, you may have already noticed an increase in your number of auto-responses.
We definitely have. Consequently, auditing our email list is part of our reopening playbook.
And it isn’t just about pruning away inactive or paused email accounts. As businesses slowly and safely reopen, new opportunities will hopefully become available to unemployed Americans, and you may win back some of your old leads.
Having an up-to-date email list will improve your deliverability rates and make assigning new leads much, much easier.
A word to the wise: Buying email lists is risky business right now. Even with economies reopening, you’ll probably have better luck doubling down on your organic lead generation efforts. In good times, purchased email lists have an average degradation rate of 2.1% per month (22% per year). In uncertain times rife with turnover, that figure is almost certainly higher.
7. Start building agility into your marketing workflows
Doris Day said it best: “The future’s not ours to see.”
No one knows what the next few months have in store, and that can be anxiety-inducing for those of us who like to plan ahead.
But it’s also an opportunity to become more comfortable with agile marketing.
These days, the Brafton Blog plans its content calendar two weeks out with the expectation that things will most likely change at some point along the way – and they almost always do.
We’ve also made a concerted effort to be nimble as possible for our clients with the understanding that agility in marketing is critical for seizing the opportunities that trickle in. That entails sniffing out timely opportunities and reallocating resources toward the most immediate priorities.
And while that may create some constraints, it will ultimately help you cut out all the fluff and really think hard about what qualifies as “essential.”
For now, at least, agile marketing is a necessity. But outside the scope of a pandemic, agility is also a competitive advantage. The time, effort and money you put into being an agile marketer now will help you endure uncertain times, and emerge from them in a better position to succeed.