You’ve been forced to close your shop, retail warehouse or restaurant, or stop delivering your services, and had to furlough or layoff many of your employees. It’s a very challenging and unsettling time. We’re all trying to adjust to the Coronavirus Crisis as quickly as we can.
You may have already reviewed all your marketing activity and switched off unnecessary marketing spend to reduce the cash drain. This could involve stopping planned advertising in print publications, halting Google Ads campaigns, cancelling events and shows, and turning off other communications channels across the board.
But, some businesses may react too quickly. They stop doing most of their marketing and that can be a serious mistake; analysis from previous crises and severe downturns in 1992, 2002 and 2008 shows that companies who continue to market during a serious recession are more likely to survive, build their brands and grow their profits much faster when the economy recovers and more likely to survive.
When life has settled down a bit and you have the space to think clearly, there’s a surprising amount that you can continue to do to market your business without spending much marketing budget at all. You need to have a plan for your marketing and it will involve some pivoting, perhaps some significant changes to your current strategy. You have to shift to the new normal or your business may not survive.
Remember, the aim of marketing is to buy life-time customers that provide repeat business, recurring revenues. A lot of your profits come from repeat business.
If you own an East Lothian small business (SME), you may well qualify for up to 3 days of Free Expert Help Marketing Support delivered by me through Real Marketing. See the positive feedback from 18 companies that have already benefited from the programme and apply. All businesses taking part have said that ‘they would definitely recommend this marketing support’.
Please use the headings below as a checklist to help you create your own practical Zero Budget Marketing Plan with concrete actions that could help your business survive and thrive. [Please note that this blog has been split into 2 parts of 10 sections each because of its length – if you’re seriously interested, please request the full article].
1. Product Strategy
Your products are one of the key ‘Ps’* in the marketing mix that influence demand from your customers. Assess which of your products and services are worth promoting in the short term: some may have a long lead time which means that the product or service can be delivered post-lockdown; and some may be more in demand. You may even be able to create and launch new products. Be flexible and open-minded. *[Price and Promotion are 2 more of the marketing Ps.]
For products with shorter lead times, you still need to fill your order book for after lockdown. So, pre-book as much business as you can, even if customer appointments or delivery needs to be re-confirmed nearer the time.
Providing excellent customer service is more important than ever. Do the ‘critical non-essentials’, the little touches that will be remembered. Create special offers for your advocates and raving fans so that they can help you through these challenging times.
2. Selling Messages, USP & Brands
Review your unique selling proposition (USP) and selling messages, and adjust them for the current stressed environment. Your messages probably have to evolve. Be empathetic, sympathetic, supportive, kind, compassionate, positive and optimistic.
Taking the right steps will also have a positive impact on your brand: according to recent studies in Asia, brands that ‘deliver purpose in an ethical way’ during the crisis will grow twice as much as average brands.
What problems are you fixing for your customers? What are the benefits that they buy from you (not just the features)? Who are your ideal customers? What are their profiles (personas) and where are they concentrated?
As well as repeat customers with high lifetime values, you need customers that refer you. Customers who refer you are better at selling your products than you are! So, how can you encourage referrals?
I recommend… finding ways to adapt your message to help those in crisis. Avoid any messaging that would make it appear that you’re exploiting the crisis rather than providing value. …At some point, people will become tired of talking about the crisis, and you’ll be able to go back to business as usual. (AJ Wilcox, host of The LinkedIn Ads Show)
3. Your Website is your Digital Hub
Review your website thoroughly. It should run as the hub of your digital marketing strategy. Most websites can be improved. Was your website working well before the crisis? You need to dive in and fix it because we’re heading into a recession and your website needs to be better than ever. Start with your home page, the most valuable real estate on your website. Does it reflect your USP and how you need to adjust it for the crisis?
Does your website use ‘You’ and focus on benefits? Are there sections missing or ones that need to be updated? Are your services packaged up well? Is your website integrated effectively with your social media platforms? Are the calls to action clear? Should you add more videos? See Websites & Digital Marketing.
Do some split testing, A/B testing, to see what works best. You’ll uncover the approaches with the highest return and doing this will cost you nothing except the time involved.
4. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Review your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) because your propects have to be able to find your website. It’s your online shop front and it has to be in a prime location on the virtual high street. Start with your onsite SEO, then review your local SEO and off-site SEO. Is content marketing generating valuable backlinks (more below)? Do you know the top 30 keywords that you want your website to be found for?
Review how you sell your products or services. Can you sell more of your products or services online? Is now the time to get into eCommerce?
Is ecommerce a real opportunity for your business to create a valuable new revenue stream, a good long term, strategic investment? The next few weeks could be the right time to consider selling online.
The good news is that getting eCommerce set up and running is probably easier and less expensive than you think – some ecommerce solutions are surprisingly good value. See my section on how to ‘Generate Online Sales Fast with a Best Value eCommerce Solution‘.
6. Digital Disruption
Most of us need to make our businesses more virtual. Review your business processes to see which elements can be distributed digitally or remotely. Are there innovative competitors who are already disrupting your market by taking processes online? See what they’re up to and consider adapting their ideas. Is now the time to inject some digital disruption into your own business model to automate and take more of your business processes online?
7. Pricing Strategy
Pricing is a one of the key ‘Ps’ in the marketing mix and it directly influences demand for your products. Clearly you need to protect your margins and don’t want to undermine your position in the market, but do you need to review your pricing? Can you use time-limited offers to creat ‘urgency’ and close sales? Consider generous pricing models, deferred payment plans, or pay-what-you-can-afford options.
Many SMEs under charge which reduces their margins. For the longer term, if you’re approach is cost-plus pricing, can you move away from it to value-based pricing?
8. Selling & Using the Phone
Generating sales is essential for business survival so don’t stop selling. You need to adjust your tone but keep selling, gently. Use a soft, questioning, permission-based, solutions and relationship-based approach to selling. Focus on your customers. Listen carefully and make notes. Know your selling messages by heart. Can you increase the average value of each sale? Can you introduce some urgency to close sales? Follow up on the phone. Don’t rely on email too much. Replace face-to-face sales meetings with video calls using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Facetime… Follow up. Follow up.
Phone up your customers to keep in touch, nurture your relationships and provide support. How could you help them? You’ll stand out because few people are calling just now.
You could focus on ‘up-selling’ or ‘cross-selling’ to existing clients. Up-selling tends to generate high margins so is worth considering.
Get your mindset right before you do your selling. Perhaps go for a run or walk before you start. Put more effort into reviewing your prospects. Do two or three blocks of an hour of sales prospecting per day. Speak to your colleagues to share your frustrations and keep you positive.
Referrals are the best free marketing technique. Create a structured process, a referral system and proactively ask your customers for who they can refer to you.
10. Conversion Rates
Measure your conversion rates for your leads and do what you can to improve them, as far as possible. If your sales process is captured well in a flow diagram, you can measure each step. Just measuring your conversion rates tends to improve them. Be prepared to follow up every enquiry more thoroughly than ever, by email, phone or video call.
Now is not the time to focus on vanity metrics (views, likes, reactions, comments, shares, impressions, etc.). They’re very alluring but you need sales! Sales are the lifeblood of your business. The brands that don’t maintain sales in these tough times will likely struggle to survive. (Daniel Harmon, Harmon Brothers)
Free Communication Channels
We’re lucky enough to have access to several free (or very low cost) communication channels. Social media channels are some of the best examples. Clearly, they take time and efffort but perhaps you have more time now to take advantage of them. Now’s the time to get them really working for you.
Are you an East Lothian small business (SME)? You may well qualify for up to 3 days of Free Expert Help Marketing Support delivered by me through Real Marketing. Learn more and see the positive feedback from 18 companies that have already benefited from the programme.
This blog has been split into 2 parts of 10 sections each because of its length and so if you’re seriously interested, you can request the full article ’20 Ways to Continue Marketing With No Budget’ by completing the short form below. The full article will be emailed to you.
I wish you all the best and hope your business copes during the lockdown and thrives when we get through this crisis. Please request a video chat with me, Christopher Lamotte, if you want to have an informal discussion over a (virtual) coffee. I’d love to see if I can help you survive and thrive. Good luck!