As the nation continues to be gripped by the coronavirus, many small businesses are beginning to feel the economic impact on their bottom lines more and more. Based on whether or not their business has been deemed “essential,” many business owners are scrambling to find a plan to make sure their dream isn’t squandered by COVID-19. During this uncertainty, there is one essential business function that shouldn’t be overlooked: marketing.
Those fond of the show Shark Tank may often hear startups claim with reverence that they’ve reached x-amount of sales with “zero marketing dollars spent.” While admirable that they were able to find such great success based off product alone, this common line tends to cast a negative tone over the idea of marketing and advertising. It gives the idea that marketing is non-essential and is a place to look towards to cut spending. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
Let’s put this into context with the coronavirus. Say there’s a small diner in your town run by a local family. Relying on serving breakfast during the week and the after-church crowd on Sundays, the diner is able to make a modest living for the owners who are living out their dream of owning a business. Then the pandemic hits, and all places of gathering (to include restaurants) must close for two weeks to reduce the spread of the virus. Two weeks turns into four, four to eight, eight to sixteen. With no takeout to offer (French toast and scrambled eggs don’t travel very well), the owners of the diner begin to worry as their cash reserves begin to dwindle. But good news! Food service can now reopen at a limited capacity, and outdoor dining is encouraged! Great – so what’s my point?
People aren’t going to simply flock back to the diner. They still may be working from home, they may be apprehensive to interact with the public, or they may have taken up cooking and would rather experiment with French toast themselves. They may not even know that the diner has opted to reopen. For a business to survive – or even thrive – during times like these, an effective marketing plan is essential. In the terms of my example, the diner must get the word out that they are open for business. Flyers, banners, flags, social media, and radio (if you can afford it) are all great options. They have to have promotions, events, something to get customers back through their doors. It has to be a coordinated effort. Simply posting “We’re open!” on Facebook isn’t going to cut it. Neither is only hanging an “open” banner on the building. While each of these tasks on their own may stream in a few people, a coordinated plan across multiple platforms is what will see the greatest results.
Even if we look to bigger businesses that have no chance of failing due to the coronavirus, we still see an increase in marketing. From fast food establishments like Chick-fil-A advertising how they are improving their drive-through experience to better serve customers, to Sunoco and Walmart letting us know about their enhanced cleaning procedures, it seems like every other commercial being shown is in relation to new practices brought on by COVID-19. Even these large businesses are making a greater push to get people to their business to make sure they are not adversely affected by this whole pandemic. Even Amazon, who stands to gain the most from everyone staying at home, is advertising the steps being taken to ensure their employees and your orders are safe and sanitary.
Be it an economic recession or a global virus, marketing is always going to be an essential role in business. Even as new or reinvigorated social issues arise, marketing will be essential in showing that your business is not only cognizant of the situation but in support of it. Marketing is the front line to your customers and can make or break a business, especially in times of uncertainty.