With 2020 almost behind us (insert sigh of relief), the phrase "unprecedented times" has pretty much become the year's tagline. But still, nearly nine months into the pandemic, that phrase hasn't lost its meaning.
Today, as consumers adjust to sheltering in place, working from home, and social distancing, small businesses also face many unknowns. How can we make sales when in-store shopping is discouraged? How can our brand's message be heard in a noisy news cycle? How does my business stay relevant when priorities have shifted?
With 2021 on the horizon, hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs are potentially facing yet another year where things are not business as usual. Still, despite the unknown, one thing is certain — customer engagement is just as critical today as it was before COVID-19.
The question for entrepreneurs now is, "How do we engage with today's at-home consumers?"
As lockdown begins to feel like the new "normal," it's vital for small business owners to stay connected to their audiences in a relatable and relevant way. Fortunately, the pandemic has shown the world one of the small business economy's best and strongest traits — its nimble entrepreneurs who are always ready to adapt.
Here are four ways small business owners can pivot their current marketing and sales strategies to stay connected with today's consumers — even when they're safely social distancing in the comfort of their homes.
Engage With Your Customers on Social More Than Ever Before
When you think about how most people are spending their free time these days, this is actually an excellent opportunity to build deeper connections with your customers. Because of stay-at-home restrictions and social distancing, your potential customers are spending a lot of time at home.
That means they're probably doing a lot of scrolling through social media. This creates ample opportunities to turn your social media platforms from a place where you sell your brand and your products to a place that entertains, educates, and inspires.
If your business had a low-key or moderate social media presence before the pandemic, now is the time to amplify those efforts. However, these efforts must go beyond the daily posts and updates to connect with people today.
Your customer needs to feel seen and heard in your content. They need to feel a connection. And they need to feel transported away from their day-to-day routine. Here are a few ways to do all of these things and engage with your at-home customer.
Create Expertly-Curated Lists
Let your brand's expertise, passion, and personality shine through with cultivated lists. Think about useful suggestions or tips that can help people try new things, enhance their routines, or solve a pain point. This can be everything from the best at-home skincare routines, 20 equipment-free workouts, or the easiest DIY home improvement projects.
Whatever you choose, make sure your list stays in line with your brand image. The main goal is to build engagement, encourage community outreach, and offer support — not push sales. So even if these lists don't include your product specifically, that's OK! At the end of the day, they'll help you build a relationship and loyalty with your customers so that one day they might show you that same care and support in return.
Use Live Streams
During the pandemic, live streams have offered a small sense of connectedness. They've been used to broadcast group workout classes from your favorite fitness instructors. Musicians use live streams to bring the concert experience to your living room. Chefs use them to spice up your kitchen with cooking classes.
The point is, as an entrepreneur, you can use live streaming to get your face and brand in front of consumers when they can't see you in-store.
Do you own a wine and cheese shop? Host a live cheese pairing class to educate viewers. Do you own a record store? Host a weekly series where you play snippets of a new record and encourage viewers to share their opinions.
The goal here is to be consistent (try shooting for once a week) and build your live streams around a recurring series that ties into your product.
Encourage engagement by incentivizing your followers to comment and tag friends for a chance to win one of your products. This tactic is more sales-driven than the others, but to your customers, it lets them know you care. It also gives them a break from aimless scrolling. Instead, they see an opportunity to engage — and to get their friends to engage, too.
Humanize Your Brand
Don't be afraid to take photos or videos of your new at-home situation. Let people know you're in this thing together. Share heart-warming stories about your customers. Share some of your challenges and methods for coping. Whatever you choose to share, do it with compassion: 70% of consumers would like brands to "offer a reassuring tone."
Don't Forget About Email Outreach
Online activity has soared during the pandemic, including email marketing. In fact, since March 9, 2020, the average weekly email subscription rate has increased by 34.9%. ECommerce purchases through emails have risen by 96.7%. But with dozens of emails hitting inboxes in a single day, how can you ensure your email is opened and actually read?
To avoid getting lost in the Internet's oblivion, only send emails that add immediate value to your customer. That means avoiding emails that solely focus on your products. Instead, focus on content that educates your customer, keeps them in the loop, or just makes them smile. Here are a few ways to do just that:
Set a Positive Tone
As best you can, try to avoid hyper-focused and heavy COVID-19 language here. Your customers are being bombarded with alarming news, and they're likely looking for an escape from reality. Instead, highlight something positive or lighthearted. This can be anything from sharing personal anecdotes to alerting them of upcoming virtual events.
Let Customers Know You're Listening
Send a simple survey asking what your customers need and how your business can help. Ask them what they're looking forward to once life goes back to normal. Or even ask them what they're doing and how they're coping. All of these responses not only help you refine your own brand but make for relevant content down the road.
Those curated lists you're creating for social make for engaging email content, too. You can also consider writing informational how-to blogs, product reviews, and more to add true value to your emails.
Create An In-Store Shopping Experience, Virtually
Online shopping isn't new. However, during COVID-19, it's gone from convenience to necessity.
Building your eCommerce store has never been easier thanks to websites like Squarespace, Wix, Shopify, and RocketBuildr. But that's just the beginning when it comes to letting your customers know you're still open for business.
Despite not being able to set foot in your store, customers still want to be able to envision your product in their own hands, in their closets, or on their shelves. Fortunately, platforms like Instagram have made the online shopping experience feel a little more immersive.
A couple of years ago, Instagram announced the launch of Instagram Shopping, making it easier to visually showcase your products in real-life scenarios through your carefully-curated feed. This feature lets you tag a product in your post, making it shoppable by connecting to your website.
The upshot is that this opens up new opportunities for how you display your product. You're no longer confined to flat studio product shots. Instead, you can use videos to show off your items, hire influencers to sport your goods, or even share content from satisfied customers. Customers can see your product in action — a vital component of in-store shopping.
Broadcast Your Own Business' Social Responsibility
Today's consumers are especially prone to reward a brand that they believe shares their values. A recent survey shows that most consumers want brands to reinforce solidarity and community in their outreach during the pandemic. In fact, 77% of consumers want advertisers to talk about how brands are helping out with everyday life.
Brands that take the time to understand their customers and align with their values will take the first step toward building long-term relationships (otherwise known as brand affinity).
So what does that mean for entrepreneurs? It starts with finding a cause that matters to you and your consumers and doing your part — however big or small — to better the lives of others. Here are a few ways companies are connecting with the rest of the world through social responsibility.
To reduce anxiety during COVID-19 and prioritize self-care, Lululemon offered free yoga, workout, and meditation classes through its online community #thesweatlife.
The Colorado-based footwear company launched the "A Free Pair for Healthcare" program, which gave a free pair of shoes to front-line medical workers. The brand committed to giving away 100,000 pairs of shoes to hospitals around the country.
You don't need to be a big company like Crocs to do your part. Our good friends at Trademark Engine, a Houston-based online trademark filing service, recently gave away $5,000 in grants to help small businesses during the pandemic. You can read more about their story and the deserving recipients here.
Your Customers Need Connections
As 2021 gets closer, the future is still uncertain for a lot of small business owners. However, one certain thing is your customer's need for connection — now more than ever. Following one or all of the tips above will help you foster customer relationships that'll stick with your business long after the pandemic ends.
As you continue adapting your business to today's new normal, the experts at Swyft Filings are always here to help with all of your paperwork needs and beyond. Read more business tips in our learning center today.