Survival guide for emarketers – how to come out of a crisis stronger

April 1, 2020

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

  1. Part: Panic – what is it and how can you diffuse it?
  2. Part: Nurture your most valuable customers – why does focusing on this group predict your business’s future health?  How to second-guess their needs.
  3. Part: Which products protect your margins? Find proven ways to boost key metrics.
  4. Part: Launch rescue campaigns – ideas for online marketing campaigns that will keep your customers engaged with your brand even when they’re not buying,
  5. Part: Evaluate and improve – analyse which campaigns work best and keep working that upward spiral. Every day your business is getting stronger.

Part 1: Panic-buying – what is it and how to diffuse it?

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.

Source: Ethan Mees/Apex

First, let’s review the triggers.

Top triggers – media scare stories, fake news, Government warnings

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".

Why do people panic-buy?

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.  

The five stages of crisis – and what to do in each

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?

  • “Will it harm my family or me?”
  • How will I get food and what medications should I have to hand?
  • What can I do to boost my immunity / reduce spread of virus from others in my household?

2. Peak of the panic – it’s here  – what do we do now to confront it?

  • I’ll go mad stuck in the house for weeks on end
  • What are my kids doing at work while I”m at work?
  • Am I allowed to walk the dog?
  • What if my kids get sick? What should I do if I get symptoms?

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

Stage 1 – Offer support and reassurance to relieve sense of unease

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.

Stage 2 – Peak of panic  – stay supportive.

  1. If you are a pharmacy then you might sell handwashes, face masks and medications for people in quarantine – and guidance on using them. Gentle, calming words, shorter sentences and soothing pictures will help.

    Example In India, where COVID-19 rates are very low, online pharmacies are taking a more upfront approach. Consumer health platform has devoted a whole section of its website to: Prepare, don’t panic. This includes a highly shareable guide called: Coronavirus: no-panic helpguide
  2. What if you don’t sell anything of direct help? Still stay supportive of your existing customers and help them overcome difficult times. Make them more loyal and possibly more valuable.

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.

Stages 3  and 4 - become slightly optimistic

Keep in touch with your customers and adopt a gently upbeat tone about the future.

Stage 5 - Celebrate

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.

If you found Part 1 of the survival guide useful, sign up for the other 4 installments here:

How to get stronger in a crisis - 5-step survival guide for e-marketers

  • Discover how to transform crises into opportunities to connect with your customers
  • Use adversity to help your business get fitter and stronger
  • Turn loyal customers into brand advocates

Parts 2- 5 of this series include:

2. Delight your most valuable customers

3. What to sell to protect  margins in difficult times?

4. Launch rescue campaigns

5. Evaluate your actions and find what works best

About the author:

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.

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