Marketing during COVID-19: A guide for business owners

Dhiraj Nallapaneni

9 min read Last Updated May 26, 2021

In just a few weeks, COVID-19 has changed all of American life. Businesses all over the country have had to make changes in operations. But remember: Every crisis ends eventually. Those of you who remember the 2008 recession know that though times like these seem like they last forever when you’re in them, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.  Let’s talk about how marketing during the COVID-19 pandemic can help your business come out stronger than ever.

What businesses are facing 

Lots of businesses are hurting right now. The data from China, a country that already went through the peak of the crisis shows that COVID-19 had a significant impact on the economy, with retail sales falling by 20.5%. With all the people staying indoors, it seems like we too are now facing a slowdown in consumer spending. 

But remember, we will get through this. While Goldman Sachs is expecting America’s GDP to contract in the next coming months, it’s expecting that the economy will bounce back in the second half.  So while it’s important to prepare for the oncoming recession, it’s also important to think about what you can do to make sure that you’re on solid footing when all of this is over.

Should I be marketing during COVID-19? 

During hard times, the natural human tendency is to want to cut down on anything you think is unnecessary. By all means, if you have any spending that you think isn’t making a difference for your business, try to reduce it. But remember this: Marketing spending is essential. It’s even more important during a recession. Here’s why.

  • Your Competitors are Pulling Back 

Chances are that some of your competitors will pull back their ad spend during the recession. That means there’s an opportunity for you to gain market share. Studies have repeatedly shown that businesses that put more money into marketing during recessions do better than businesses that don’t. 

  • An Opportunity to Build Close Relationships with Customers 

Recession or not, loyal customers are key to business success. Marketing helps you engage with your existing loyal customers and bring in new ones. Times like these are a great opportunity to build trust and create stronger relationships. (We’ll go into more detail about this later.)

But before we talk about how you can market your business during this time, here’s one thing that you absolutely should not do. 

Do not sell based on fear 

Don’t try to use anxieties and fears around COVID-19 to sell your business. This kind of “ambulance chasing” will only backfire and make it look like you were trying to profit off a tragedy, even if that wasn’t the intention. 

Instead of trying to sell based on fear, companies like McDonald’s and Nike are using their marketing to promote social distancing. This kind of marketing not only promotes social good but helps to promote better long-term relationships with these brands. 

Other brands are providing tips to customers on how they can pass time during social distancing. Check out this example from Nature’s Bakery. 

Segment your customers 

Not every customer will respond to the recession the same way. It’s important to think about how your potential customers will react to the downturn and tweak your marketing accordingly. The Harvard Business Review recommends that you segment your customers into 4 categories. 

Slam-on-the-brake customers– These customers are not hopeful for the short-term or the long-term. These customers want to cut spending in all areas as soon as possible. 

Pained-but-patient customers-  While these customers feel optimistic about long-term prospects for recovery, they might not be feeling as optimistic about the short term. These customers are more hopeful about future prospects, but still want to cut costs. 

Comfortably well-off customers–  These customers are more confident about their ability to ride out the recession. While they may still be looking to cut costs in some areas, they will be more cautious. 

Live-for-today customers– These are the customers who feel optimistic about the short-term and the long-term. These customers are less concerned about overall savings and maintain a similar level of spending, recession or not. 

Get an idea of how your customers are feeling. Once you have an idea of how your own customer base is segmented, you’ll have a good idea of how to best promote your business. If you have a majority of your customers in the “slam-on-the-brake” segment, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re finished. It just means that you need to emphasize why your products and services are essential during this time. 

Why you need more customer reviews 

There’s one step that you can take in order to attract more customers in the midst of a recession: collect social proof. Customers in three of the four categories that we discussed are looking to make sure that they’re getting a bang for their buck. Since they’re focused on conserving spending, they want to make sure that the businesses they’re using are providing the best customer experience possible. 

So how can you show your potential customers that you’re dedicated to providing quality services?  Request reviews from your current customers. When potential customers see glowing reviews on listing sites, they’ll be assured that they are making the right choice going with your business. 

Pay attention to shifting trends 

It’s important to pay attention to how consumer trends have been shifting in response to the pandemic. Check out this graph from SEO guru Neil Patel showing differences in organic traffic across different industries. 

COVID-19 search trends

Are you currently posting on your company Facebook page and/or running Facebook Ads? While people are spending more time than ever on Facebook, the company warned investors that earnings were likely down since businesses are spending less money on advertising. 

Facebook isn’t the only tech giant that’s getting hit hard by COVID-19. Google is projected to lose more than $44 billion in advertising revenue. 

So what does this mean for your business? It does mean that there’s an opportunity. When the Great Depression hit, there were two major players in the cereal market: Post and Kellogg. Post cut spending while Kellogg doubled down. The strategy paid off. Kellogg is still a household name, while Post has been forgotten by history. 

There’s a lesson here: While it’s not possible for every business, consider taking advantage of a buyer’s market in the online advertising game. 

Build trust with your customer base 

In times like these, it’s important to think about how you can build trust with your customers.  Some companies do this by giving away products and services to those in need. While the crisis will pass eventually, the goodwill that comes with moves like these lasts for a long time. 

Companies like Atlassian and Calendly have made their products free for businesses in need during this time. It’s an awesome way to show for these companies to show that they genuinely care about their customers. 

Find alternatives to live events 

If your marketing strategy typically relies on live events, you’re going to have to do some rethinking. At Birdeye, we’ve been experiencing this first-hand. Typically, we reach practices in the dental market by going to relevant trade shows. With the outbreak of COVID-19, all of them have been canceled. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve given up on trying to reach dental practices. Instead, we hosted a virtual conference for dentists on April 2. 

So, consider moving your live events online. If you had a killer keynote speech coming up at an upcoming conference, consider making it into a video instead. 

Communicate with your customers 

Chances are that you’ve had to change your business operations one way or another because of COVID-19. Maybe you’ve shut down your physical location altogether. In this case, it’s important to update your customers on what’s happening with your business so that when this is all over, they’ll be happy to get back in touch with you. 

  • Update Your Listings- Be sure to update your business information on listing sites so that your customers can know your new hours of operation. You can also put a new business description which can contain some of the measures you’re taking to contain COVID-19. Remember, sites like Google My Business are facing delays in service because of a lack of support staff, so act early. 
  • Email Your Customers- Send an email to your customers explaining what’s going on with your business and what steps you’re taking in order to deal with the spread of COVID-19. 
  • Make it Easy to Reach Out- It’s a confusing time with businesses and customers alike, so it’s best to make it easy for customers with questions and customers to reach you. We recommend finding a chat solution so that you can message them easily and effectively. 
  • Create an FAQ Page- Chances are that you’re hearing a few common questions from customers (“When are you guys opening again?”) Consider putting an FAQ page on your website. 

What about businesses in less-exposed industries? 

There are some industries that are more exposed to the negative effects of the pandemic than others. Businesses that are in the travel or the restaurant space will be hit especially hard. But there are industries that are doing well. Here are a few examples. 

  • Mortgage companies

Rock-bottom interest rates mean that it’s a good time to refinance a mortgage. As a result, we’ve seen mortgage companies get contacted by more and more homeowners. 

  • Home services businesses 

The more people stay at home, the more they realize that there are things that they’ve been needing to fix. We’ve seen that contractor businesses are getting more web traffic during this time. 

  • Work-from-home businesses 

Since so many office workers across the country are now working from home, companies that help to facilitate communication are doing great. Companies like Zoom have seen their stock grow while most of the market is down. 

If your business is in one of these categories, you might not be feeling the pinch in the way other businesses are. Still, it is an uncertain time for most people, so it’s important that you’re doing things like communicating with your customers and building relationships. 

How you can rev up your marketing today 

The start of the recession doesn’t have to mean that you cut every part of your business to the bone. Investing in marketing during the COVID-19 pandemic could mean that you end in a stronger position when this pandemic comes to pass. 

If you’re looking to up your marketing spend, check out Birdeye to customers. Birdeye allows you to collect and manage reviews on 150+ sites, fix your listings on 50+ sites, and send and manage text messages to your customers.