As Europe goes into lock-down over the coronavirus, retailers are bracing themselves for the worst as people stay at home and stop spending. In these hard times, what can you do to support your customers while keeping your business going? And how can you use adversity to make your business stronger?
In this 5-part survival guide for emarketers, I”ll be explaining
Emotions are contagious, and once fear takes over, logic walks out the door. But when does stocking up on toilet roll and canned goods escalate into donning a full hazmat suit with gasmask for the weekly shop – like this man photographed in his local Tesco last Friday? Meanwhile some pet owners have ignored their vets’ advice and ordered from China cute doggie face masks to “protect” their pooches during the outbreak.
First, let’s review the triggers.
In a wired world of media amplified by social media, fear can spread like wildfire across the planet. We no longer need to be in the same room as a gravely ill person to feel distressed and afraid. Messages, especially from people in authority, and when repeated often can escalate fear into panic. So when the government orders the public into quarantine – or passes an emergency Coronavirus law as they’ve done in Denmark – against our better nature we can end up popping like popcorn.
Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, a professor at Cardiff University, has spent the past decade studying the role of emotions in journalism. In a one-month period from January 12 up until February 13, she found almost 100 high-circulating, English-language newspapers from around the world collectively published 9,387 stories about the virus. And of those, 1,066 mentioned "fear" or related words, like "afraid".
When we are afraid we feel compelled to act. We feel restless, helpless. Having something to do, anything physical, can help the body to process some of that toxic adrenalin. People hoarding face masks or bottled water are reacting to this primeval urge. Such antisocial or illogical acts can be forgiven as temporary ways to these soothe unpleasant sensations of fear.
Every crisis has its own trajectory. Here I’ll be dividing the outbreak into five stages, and consider for each stage what customers may be thinking and what you can do to help as marketers.
1. Uncertainty / unease – it may be coming, but when and where?
2. Peak of the panic – it’s here – what do we do now to confront it?
3. Awareness / sanity – it is not as bad as I was expecting
4. Solution – feeling great
5. Joy – thank God that’s over. Now let’s get back to normal
Before the crisis breaks near you, offer support and reassurance, not products. Help people to stay healthy. For example, instead of supporting the fear with graphics or scary words, offer a solution to the main fear trigger.
If you have a “cure” for the main crisis trigger, try to acquire as many new customers as possible. Obviously, for online grocers and chemists, a medical crisis where people fear contagion, is a huge opportunity to win new customers. In this case, launch display campaigns and start telling stories about how to cure the crisis with your solution. Spread the message. But be careful that you are being responsible. Otherwise you may be criticised and lose trust. Check your facts first.
A great example is the soap shop Lush – it has introduced free handwashing facilities across its stores with NHS advice on how to wash your hands properly. This is in response to customers' concerns about hygiene. Their Australian website says this:
“To minimise the spread of germs and help with good hygiene when you’re out and about, feel free to head into your local Lush store for a hand wash at our sinks. All Are Welcome. Always.”
Note how gently this is done – no mention of the C-word.
Some fears are not about the main crisis, but about the fallout from it. In some countries children have been kept home from school, while their parents are at work. Schools are taking time to set up home schooling activities.. So the screen video and recording app Loom has emailed its customers offering free use of the app for all teachers and schools who need to offer some emergency homeschooling.
Example Taxi firms are offering to get provisions for people stuck in quarantine.
Example Online grocers are offering special deliveries to existing customers stuck in quarantine. Their messaging emphasises that payment must be done online rather than at the door. This supports everyone’s health – both the courier and the customer, which puts minds at ease.
The first person in the US state of Tennessee to be diagnosed with the virus has described the overwhelming public reaction – ranging from fear and paranoia, to extreme kindness. Well wishers have sent the Baumgartner family meals, groceries, get-well cards and books while they are in quarantine: “Something incredible happens when fear and anxiety are replaced with acts of kindness and compassion …” said Mr Baumgartner in a Facebook post.
Keep in touch with your customers and adopt a gently upbeat tone about the future.
There’s evidence that having close friendships helps you build your resilience during times of adversity. You might well argue that the same goes for close business relationships. So celebrate the end of the crisis with your customers, and perhaps reward your most loyal customers with a special gift or celebration.
Parts 2- 5 of this series include:
3. What to sell to protect margins in difficult times?
4. Launch rescue campaigns
5. Evaluate your actions and find what works best
David Vyskočil is CEO of marketing platform Samba.AI, which is the simplest, fastest way to go omnichannel. He is an expert in business strategy and how companies can harness the power of advanced analytics to gain a competitive advantage and sustain it over the long haul. Samba is trusted by 1,120 companies including Office Depot, global advertising agency Dentsu, and furniture giant IKEA. The company also works with fast-growing medium-sized clients including pet store chain Superzoo, various online pharmacies and supermarkets. Samba’s platform, smooth onboarding and ongoing business consultancy enable brands to quickly get closer to their clients. This consistently leads to higher sales (often 25% more), reduces cost of acquisition (often by a third), and improves conversions (often by 30%) – all by creating a seamless customer experience across channels.