A concerned woman rests her head on her hands while she looks at her phone.

How to Engage and Support Customers in Uncertain Times

Posted on Mar 19, 2020 · 6 min read

The coronavirus pandemic is dramatically impacting every facet of our lives. We’re worried about what it means for ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities. After talking with many of our customers, I’ve seen that marketers are carrying the added stress of keeping their programs performing when people are:

  • Staying home—not shopping in stores, not attending concerts or events, 
  • Canceling travel, out of their own precaution or in response to government bans. 
  • Worrying about finances as they face potential job losses and less cash on hand.

In the wake of a world that’s been turned upside down, marketers are facing hard questions: How do I generate demand when customers are cash-strapped and tightening their budgets? How can I find new audiences? And what are the most cost-effective ways to reach them?

I’ve been thinking a lot about these questions and how marketers can answer them. These are the strategies and actions I believe will help.

Show Up Online for Your Customers

This crisis is affecting everyone on the planet. You can help by making sure your customers have easy and affordable access to all you offer, from everyday essentials to cost-effective forms of entertainment that help them feel safe and connected. 

Focus on Ecommerce  

Social distancing and the closing of businesses are driving people online. Demand for online food delivery has increased, and businesses like yoga studios are streaming their classes. People are flooding social media to discuss the virus and to connect with each other and the brands they like. A recent analysis by an influencer agency found a 76% increase in daily accumulated likes on Instagram #ad posts over the last two weeks.

Engage the Consumer Tribes Who Need You Most 

Create targeted promotions for the groups who are particularly impacted by the crisis:

  • Nurses, Doctors, and First Responders. These folks are on the front line, working tirelessly to keep us healthy and safe. Show your appreciation by rewarding them. It will encourage their loyalty and generate goodwill that will ripple through your communities.
  • Teachers. Schools are being shut down all over the world to help slow the spread of the disease. This significantly impacts teachers—a group worthy of our support even when there isn’t a crisis. Giving them a personalized offer underscores how much we need them, in good times and bad.
  • Students. Closing schools disrupts students’ lives. Many are already cash-strapped, and if they can’t get home, they’re isolated from support. Promotions that help them access the products and services they need can help them weather the crisis and feel connected.
Nurses and doctors walking in a hospital hallway.
  • Seniors. The coronavirus threatens older adults the most, and social distancing can quickly isolate them. Campaigns that deliver special discounts can provide critical support and help them remain engaged.
  • Small Businesses. The US has 30 million small businesses that form the backbone of our economy and are likely to be the hardest hit by the pandemic. Providing them with discounts can mean the difference between surviving this crisis and shuttering their doors for good. 
An elderly woman arranging flowers in her living room.

Streamline Your CAC

Minimizing the cost of customer acquisition is always important, but with budgets inevitably tightening, it’s critical. Double-down on programs that allow you to cost-effectively reach your audience. 

Invest in the Message and the Offer 

Now isn’t the time to look for new channels. Instead, continue to invest in the ones that are performing well. You’ll get more bang for your buck by refining your promotional strategy and how you present it. Make sure it’s pitch-perfect for the audience and well-suited for the time.

Leverage Word of Mouth 

In a crisis, communities come together and share what will help. This is even more true for consumer tribes, who are already deeply connected. When you give them a personalized offer they spread it throughout their networks, raising your ROI. Research has shown that 98% of students who receive a personalized offer share it with other college students. Moreover, 71% of teachers and 96% of the military will share a personalized offer with their respective communities.

Promote Responsibly

Now is the time to sharpen your promotional strategy, but not at the expense of your brand— or your revenue stream. Think long-term, and plug any unnecessary leaks in your marketing programs.

Don’t Devalue Your Brand

In hard times, it’s easy to panic and resort to big cuts for a short-term win. Don’t do it. Focus instead on providing value for specific consumer tribes. This will help build momentum that you can leverage after the downturn. 

Also, think about the promotions your audience likes. A time-limited offer may be more motivating, and stackable offers add extra value. Highlighting your free perks can provide a personal touch that helps you stand out. 

Protect Your Offers from Revenue Leakage 

Use digital verification to ensure that the customers redeeming your offer belong to the consumer tribes you’re targeting. This not only prevents discount abuse, it signals even deeper support by underscoring the sincerity of your offer. 

Be Part of the Solution

Let your customers know you’re looking out for their best interests and working on their behalf.

Support Efforts to Stem the Crisis

Understand the programs being implemented by local, state, and federal officials and get behind them. Share any information and act in ways that you know will help. 

Don’t Pander to the Pandemic

Many brands are giving their “take” on the coronavirus. Some are helpful and respectful, but those that exploit the pandemic to overtly sell their wares can be cringeworthy. Make sure the offers and messages you deliver are meaningful and authentic.

Two EMTs load a patient on a gurney into an ambulance.

We Will Rise to the Occasion

None of us know where this crisis will end, but I believe that turbulent times call for deepening our focus on what matters. We support the people we love by showing them we care. We support our customers the same way—by providing them with value when they need it most.

I welcome your thoughts on this important conversation. Email me directly at Jake@SheerID.com, or join the conversation with SheerID on LinkedIn.

Jake Weatherly by Jake Weatherly