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How Innovation and Ads Can Save Your Business during COVID-19

by | Mar 31, 2020

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With each passing day, the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak is having a growing impact on the global economy. While some businesses are lucky enough to be getting a huge surge in sales, many are struggling to bring in revenue or must adhere to shelter-in-place orders requiring them to shut down production. 

In these situations, your first instinct will be to preserve all cash flow and stop all unnecessary spending. But is digital advertising unnecessary spend? I would argue it’s very necessary, even if at a reduced budget. 

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Ecommerce — in the sense of selling any service or product online — is critical right now for our entire economy. And with more than 66% of the U.S. population under stay-at-home orders, according to CNN, there are a lot of people sitting at home ready to buy. It might not be at the same volume that brands are accustomed to, but there is still plenty of opportunity, even if your production has stopped. 

Capturing that opportunity is more important than ever.

These six strategies could help you use your limited resources in the best way possible to innovate your business and use digital advertising to stay relevant and present online during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

1. Innovate to Offer Essential Products or Online Services

Time for a truth bomb. Some businesses have core products or services that just cannot be sold right now. Perhaps people just don’t want or need what you offer, given everything that is taking place. Or perhaps selling your services is not even an option if it involves groups, events, consultations, etc. I encourage these businesses to think outside the box. 

How can you stay relevant and necessary during this time? Can you use existing technology or expertise and change your offering? In many cases, you definitely can. 

Here are a couple examples.

  • Bring your events online. Host webinars, use Facebook Live, do phone consults, etc. to bring what you do best to the community virtually. This could apply to therapists, musicians, sports, educators, etc. There are also a lot of ways you can monetize this. Get people started with a free webinar or teaser event, but they can pay for private consultations, larger events, or bespoke educational materials. Yes, you will have to rework a lot of what you’re doing to shift focus, but people still need these services and you would be filling a void they cannot fill with traditional methods due to social distancing.
  • Start making personal protective equipment (PPE). You’ve probably already seen that a stream of fashion brands have started making masks and other PPEs. They are utilizing their existing technology and materials to offer an essential product. Not only does this serve the social good, but they are keeping their brand relevant and top of mind during this time. Perhaps your products use sanitizers that can be packaged in a new way. Perhaps you can make gowns or masks. 
  • Rethink how your products or services could be essential. This goes beyond PPE. There are many essential products, including food, healthcare, human services, security, work from home technology, hardware, critical trades supplies, distance learning, laundry, and more. Think really hard. You might have a way to pivot and offer something important that would also keep your brand afloat during these tumultuous times.

As you innovate your business, make sure to tell your customers why in your advertising. Are you implementing new delivery methods for their safety or for the safety of your staff? Are you shifting to provide a valuable service? Let your customers know in a few words that you’re doing your part.

2. Encourage Supporting Small Business

Perhaps you don’t have a product or service in high demand right now, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is an overwhelming need for people to contribute in some way to help the crisis we are all going through. 

If you run a small business, scream that fact from the rooftops. Use it in your ad copy and encourage people to support small or local business. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to spend their limited dollars even on nonessential items so that they can support small or local businesses.

3. Donate a Portion of Your Profits to COVID-19 Relief Efforts

Another way to do a lot of social good and encourage more purchases is to donate a portion of your profits to COVID-19 relief efforts. You don’t have to work for a huge brand that can commit a huge sum of money in a bulk donation. Even a small amount is a fantastic way to help people through this difficult time and help people feel better about where their dollars are going right now.

Consider advertising that a percentage of every sale will be donated to the relief effort. It makes customers feel even better about their purchase — like they’re part of the solution — and that positive feeling extends to your business for enabling it. 

4. Keep Selling, Even with Shipping Delays

Is production and distribution of your products not possible because you are under orders to cease operations at your facilities or are out of stock on items? 

I have seen businesses succeed by continuing to advertise and sell, with clear messaging that shipping will be delayed. 

Shutting down ad campaigns that are getting decent performance even as the pandemic spreads could be a huge mistake. Instead, try updating the messaging on your website to make it clear why there are delivery delays. You might be surprised at how many people continue to order, especially since even Amazon’s shipping is delayed.

5. Focus on Gifts, Gift Cards and Timely Discounts

Despite the ongoing pandemic, gifts are still top of mind for many people. Even now, people are still getting married, still having babies, still having birthdays. Gift shoppers want gifts they can ship directly to the recipient, or send digitally, while they honor their social distancing civic duty. 

Amazon’s lengthy 30-day delivery dates on nonessential items allows smaller ecommerce retailers a toe hold if they are able to provide faster, better options than Amazon. 

Even if you are under a shelter-in-place order, there are still ways to make this work. Give them an offer they wouldn’t be able to get at any other time. For example, offer $50 gift cards for $40, or offer sales and discounts that can be bought now and redeemed later. 

Consider shifting part of your ad budget to advertise gift cards instead of products. They can be bought the same day and delivered digitally to anyone. Since they don’t require extensive manufacturing and can be used anytime in the future, they’re an excellent option for both you and your customers. 

6. Continue to Remarket

Remarketing is one of the most cost-effective methods of advertising. If nothing else, keep it going at a limited budget. 

As with all of your ads, change your messaging to something that is more pertinent to the current social climate to ensure your brand stays top of mind. If you are doing something to help COVID-19 relief efforts, if you are a small business, if you’re a local business, tell your story in the ad copy to keep your most loyal customers engaged and ensure that site visitors will remember you when the pandemic has passed.

After COVID-19

When this is all over — and it will be! — people will remember the brands that were front and center. Whether these brands brought them comfort, provided them essentials, made their lives easier, or helped the social good, the brands that are present right now will be remembered and can persevere. 

Do your best not to make rash decisions. Think outside the box. There could be many options available to you to help you weather this storm.

As you innovate your business, use your digital advertising to speak to your customers. Tell them in just a few words how you’re working for them, how they can still get what they want and need, and why they should feel good about working with you.

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