Last year, we published a Small Business Saturday article that provided an overview of the history of the event as well as the potential importance, offering a glimpse at some of the strategies that could be used by small businesses to link this celebration to their brand.
That was last year, which now seems like a decade ago!
Over 50 million confirmed Covid-19 global cases later, including over 10 million in the United States (see data), most small businesses have had to face incredible challenges as many countries closed down their economies in order to slow the progress of the pandemic.
While a truly unfortunate number of smaller operations have now permanently closed their doors, we need to take a moment this Small Business Saturday to celebrate the survivors . . . and support them in whatever means are available to us.
Expanded Internet activities. Free delivery. New products (maybe even including personal protective gear). Go Fund Me initiatives. Special Governmental programs. All of these strategies and so many more have been essential to the continued existence of the survivors.
While statistics clearly indicate that a second wave of the pandemic is upon us and caution that the upcoming holidays will require us to practice some self-restraint, we feel confident that small businesses will survive while still managing to practice governmental safety standards. Hopefully, by Small Business Saturday 2021 on November 27th, one or more vaccines will have been released and administered to a sufficiently large number of people to put this pandemic behind us for once and for all.
In the meantime, we will not use this article to do more than serve as a cheerleader for small businesses (including that of my blogging partner – Instant Invitation). Instead, we will invite you to reread our story from last year and to check out some other valuable repositories of information and strategies.
Nicolas Straut, a contributing writer at Fundera, has put together an overview of Small Business Saturday:
Nestled between Black Friday (a tradition which also appears to be undergoing transformations during this time of social distancing) and Cyber Monday, which continues to grow in size and significance, the role and importance of Small Business Saturday cannot be lost.
GUEST BLOG INTRODUCTION: Just as business was gradually opening up a bit, new Coronavirus cases have increased dramatically worldwide. Marketing advice for small businesses trying to navigate this unprecedented territory is extremely important. We thank our guest blogger, Kally Tay, for her insights. Having more than 20 years as a manager in various industries, she founded a career website to help others to thrive in their jobs. Featured on numerous platforms such as WordPress Editor’s Pick and AllWomensTalk, her website MiddleMe.net discusses difficult and sensitive issues like workplace abuse and discord among coworkers while providing practical advice on how to handle those situations. We encourage you to read more about her in her bio.
The coronavirus pandemic has definitely changed the way many businesses conduct their business. They are now forced to try out several strategies to help them keep afloat, especially now that people are not going out to shop due to the fear of the virus.
Small businesses have it rough most of all because they have limited options available to guide them through the pandemic. Fortunately, these options are enough for small businesses to create an effective marketing strategy for their business to remain afloat even during this crisis.
To help you out, here are some ways on how you can do it in the most efficient way:
Always Focus On Open Communication
Maintaining an open communication with clients has always been a major marketing strategy for businesses even before the pandemic. It is a way to show customers that they are open for business and can assist with their daily needs.
But, with the pandemic changing the way businesses do business, having an active and open communication can help customers know you are still available for clients. Keep your customers updated through social media, text and even through your website and let them know what services you have to offer. You can even post your contact details on Google’s My Business Directory so people can search you more easily if they need a certain product or services.
Show How You Can Help During This Pandemic
When you are showcasing your business to customers, they don’t look at the promises you offer them. They remember you with the services and products that you offer. Since they can’t see your products and services in person because of the pandemic, you can show that your services and products still matter during this time.
To do this, spotlight the products and services that can help improve customer lives during this pandemic. Be honest and sincere when doing your campaign and provide discounts for frontliners and anyone working in the field in your area.
Check Out Your Loyal Customers
Got loyal customers who always check your products and services? If you do, do they know that you are still in business despite the pandemic. If they don’t know you are open, how can you rake in sales and stop them from trying out other brands that offer the same stuff as you do?
Check out your loyal customer database and reach out to them through social media or email. Since the pandemic has closed down many businesses, competition is not very fierce and you can use this opportunity to ramp up your brand for new users. Use the time wisely and you can definitely rake in these clients easily to your midst.
Put The Customer First
In business, the adage “the customer is always right” is a constant thing that must be followed religiously. During this time of pandemic, it opens up a great opportunity for your business to reach out to your customers and see how they are doing.
Since people are not allowed out, especially those who are vulnerable to the disease, they depend on businesses and other content creators to give them something to look forward to. They use the content to alleviate their fears and also pass the time because they exhausted everything they can do at home.
With this in mind, you can give your customers tips on how they can use their time wisely at home with the help of the products or services you have to offer. You can also offer advice on other things related to your business that your customers may not have realized before. For example, if you are offering your accountant services before, you can put in advice on your website regarding how they can save money even while at home.
Boost Your Social Media Presence
For several small businesses, it is no longer plausible for customers to visit you in your brick and mortar stores because of social distancing and other coronavirus prevention measures. If you want to keep people still checking out your offerings, you will need to find other ways to sell your product or services.
Social media is a great place to do this, especially now that people are looking online for everything they need. Customers can check your social media pages for what you offer and reach out if you need it. However, if your social media page isn’t up-to-date or your campaign strategy is all wrong, then it can be hard to get the conversion you need to make a profit. Look into how you update your social media and provide credible information that visitors need. If you stay consistent with your brand and offer relevant information, visitors will definitely check your brand often and peruse your products and services.
Use Your Creative Mind To Think Of New Ideas
With many people now stuck at home and running out of things to do, it is a great way for small businesses to offer solutions to this problem.
You can start selling things like coloring kits or startup planting kits for customers to use on their idle time or offer tutorials on how to photo edit or produce the next big viral hit. It doesn’t have to be related to your business. So long as it can help customers pass the time, it is a great way to get people to remember your business.
Stay Flexible And Learn To Adapt
If you want to market your small business during the coronavirus pandemic, it is important that you remain flexible. You can never tell what will happen next during this pandemic and you need to be on your toes for any changes that may affect your business. Learn how to adapt with these changes and be as flexible as you can for your customers who may need your services during this time.
It is unclear as to when things will go back to normal and for small businesses, this uncertainty can be disturbing. However, utilizing the best strategy available, like the ones above, can definitely make a difference and reduce the losses your business may be having due to the pandemic. See which of these tips above can help you and faithfully cultivate them because when you do, you will see things improve gradually.
Whether you are in the early stages of marketing, promoting, and advertising a new business or are about to reintroduce yourself to the world (a necessity that could be created by a variety of circumstances ranging from a great new product or service to a need to come back in a somewhat altered form from a national pandemic), a typical group of activities are usually considered:
Advertising via online and/or print publications
Press releases announcing your presence and/or highlighting a change
Direct mail/e-mail to existing and/or prospective customers
Social media postings to highlight important details and communicate news
To reach out to the largest possible audience in a coordinated way with a consistent message and visual component, basic branding practices are key. As you embark upon your campaign, we suggest you read the following blog entries . . . and keep checking back as we post new material on topics such as: building your own ads; properly preparing artwork for various print and online media outlets; understanding the role and use of paid search and ad words as an advertising tool; etc.
When read together, the articles shown below provide a branding tutorial relevant to marketing campaigns. (By the way, we are always interested in hearing from you and will carefully consider special requests to cover specific topics; either use the form at the bottom of this page to deliver your message or send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
BEFORE YOU BEGIN YOUR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING EFFORTS, take the time to create/review a style guide that puts into writing the most basic rules that must be observed to properly build the visual elements of your new campaign.
Note: Helpful downloadable tools/templates are included.
Your marketing/advertising campaign is almost certainly going to involve a variety of multi-media components – many of which are already included on our sample Branding Activity Calendar that could also be used to coordinate the various elements you’ve incorporated into your promotional campaign. (The template we’ve provided allows you to add the specific activities associated with your effort.)
Why does branding matter when your current focus is to launch your new sales campaign? Why get distracted by the time, effort, and resources needed to make sure your advertising and marketing efforts reflect your chosen branding? This article (as well as the one below) answers that question!
These pieces discuss the content and crafting of your direct mail message (including the document to be mailed/emailed) as well as the mechanics of obtaining your list and building your database of recipients.
The following articles cover various aspects of building a social media presence – from creating profiles on platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest to strategies used to identify appropriate content. As an added bonus, we provide tools helpful in promoting your social media accounts, including templates. (Last but not least, we address tools for requesting customer reviews so you won’t forget the importance of that aspect of social media.)
Branding involves far more than just creating a few recognizable visual elements. Customer Service is always at the heart of your brand. Taking a close look at this time helps identify those branding qualities that will resonate with your audience and are, therefore, worth promoting. Then, be sure to take all of the necessary steps to ensure that your customer service systems are properly tuned to support the front end of your sales efforts. Once you are successful, remember the value of repeat customers by immediately thanking them for their business.
During the pandemic, has anyone not heard the expression . . .
For family . . . to stay in touch with members during this time of enforced isolation.
For entertainment . . . as celebrities find new ways to reach out to their audiences. (Everyone catch the cast of Hamilton performing a number with each member in a different remote location?)
What does ZOOMING have to do with brand building? Well, the app is another tool (a particularly useful one right now) for communicating with employees and customers – either singly or in groups. Much can be accomplished via video conferencing.
While the term and app ZOOM might be relatively new, various forms of desktop videoconferencing have existed for many years.
About a decade ago, I started supervising several employees who worked remotely from home – in fact, mostly from different states. Daily meetings using this kind of technology enabled us to keep in touch in a very immediate way – going over current projects, brainstorming, and planning for future tasks. The application we used (though not ZOOM) featured desktop screen sharing—allowing us to share files and make changes interactively, which eliminated one key obstacle that needed to be overcome for remote activity to be as effective as local.
Similarly, my daughter studied abroad back in the early 2000’s. Weekly Skype video calls made this period much more tolerable for us.
ZOOM has already made a huge impact upon the off-premises workplace . . . so I suspect every business owner should become somewhat familiar with the powerful potential of this tool and be able to participate in meetings as well as initiate them. By the way, getting started with ZOOM is free.
Note: While ZOOM is the app I’ve heard most commonly mentioned during these days of isolation and mandatory business closures, be aware that other programs with similar features are available. Skype, WebEx, GoToMeeting, and Microsoft Teams are just a few.
This brief article is not intended be an in depth ZOOM instructional guide . . . but is designed to provide just enough information to pique your curiosity and perhaps give you enough tips to approach your first experience without trepidation.
If you are being invited to participate in a scheduled ZOOM meeting, you will get an e-mail that includes a link to click to join the meeting. Upon doing so, a page will be displayed that informs you that a download is about to begin. When prompted, click “Run”; you will enter a meeting that has been assigned a several digit meeting name.
Note: If you have already installed a free copy of ZOOM (as explained in the next section below), you will be able to bypass this download by launching ZOOM and “Joining” an existing meeting by entering the multi-digit name.
Follow the installation instructions, creating a user name and password. Once your free account has been created, you will be able to access the screen below.
From this point, you can “Join” a meeting by entering the name provided by the organizer, or you can “Schedule” a new session yourself. The process is quick and easy and accomplished by completing this form:
If you have coordinated ZOOM with your calendar, you can generate invitations directly. Otherwise, you can copy the meeting details (including the needed link) into the clipboard and paste the contents into an e-mail to send to the recipients.
When the meeting is due to begin, you’ll be prompted with a selection to start the meeting. As everyone you invited tries to access the meeting, you will want to select the “Manage” option, which will allow you to admit the requestees into the session.
By the way, ZOOM traditionally limited free account holders to 40-minute meetings. However, the creators have recognized the growing need for videoconferencing of all kinds during the pandemic and have generously waived the time limit.
And – Once Again – How Does ZOOM Relate to Your Branding Efforts?
During this time of business closures and regulated isolation (a process that seems likely to continue for some time as businesses are gradually allowed to reopen), videoconferencing plays a key role in maintaining lines of communication with your employees (assuming you have some), customers (to provide a means of face-to-face contact when such opportunities are scarce), and third-party business meetings. As we have seen in recent weeks as whole music concerts and television shows have been orchestrated this way, the uses of ZOOM are limited only by our imaginations.
If you have any questions or comments on this topic, we’d love to hear from you. Scroll down to the comments section at the bottom of this page.
Be safe. Be well.
Observe the guidelines implemented for our collective good!!
As Bob Dylan wrote, “The Times They Are A-Changin’ . . . ” and will likely never be the same. Society cannot go through the kind of dislocations experienced during the current pandemic without being fundamentally altered, though in ways that may ultimately turn out to be good. (For example: During the global quarantine, scientific studies showed that the amount of pollution – especially in hotspots – decreased significantly.)
Hopefully, we have learned many positive lessons during this international “time-out” and developed a new openness to change.
During this period of quarantine, perhaps (1) your business had to be closed; (2) you remained open but strictly as an Internet/Takeout-Delivery operation; or (3) you were designated as essential to survival and kept going as best you could under adverse circumstances. Regardless of the category that applies to you, your business will have changed during this time.
Once the crisis has ended, business owners will be faced with deciding whether some of the changes should become permanent ones. (For example, you learned that a segment of your operations could be conducted on-line. Do you try to revert to old ways . . . OR do you capitalize on what you learned and maintain or grow your Internet activities – recognizing an opportunity for immediate profit as well as a hedge against a future need to run your business in a state of emergency?)
With changes of the kind we are discussing comes a need for you to consider whether you must also now REBRAND.
Over the years, I’ve probably been involved in a half dozen or more different rebranding exercises. Some were very necessary AND major, including top to bottom name, logo, byline, etc. adjustments while others were more minor and amounted to some after-the-fact tweaking of branding elements rather than new names and identities.
How do you know when the time has come? You certainly know when:
Your product and/or service is no longer clearly or accurately represented by the brand.
Your branding no longer resonates with your customers. (You may learn of this need by asking via a formal survey or focus group . . . or you may recognize that a problem exists because your customers no longer remember or relate to your name, logo, or product.)
A change of ownership occurs. (Perhaps your old name is no longer applicable or perhaps your new owner has a well-known name you want to promote. For instance . . . when Berkshire Hathaway purchased my employer in 2012, we wanted to make the name of our parent part of our own name so their branding qualities also became ours. While various permissions and legal ramifications must be addressed first, the results justify the effort.)
A new product or service has been added that you want to promote or a secondary activity has now become primary and dominant.
Sales suggest your current brand just is not working well enough.
So . . . how extensive a rebrand is required? For instance:
Is a name change required? If yes, do you want the new name to reflect the old name . . . or be entirely new. (For example, many years ago, the company that employed me was known as “The GUARD Network.” That name was chosen with the expectation of developing a diverse list of products that served many different industries. When that did not happen and the organization dealt strictly with insurance, the name became a bit of a handicap because people couldn’t tell what the company did. The decision was made to add the word insurance, but all parties believed the word GUARD communicated the right branding qualities of security and protection. As a result, the company became GUARD Insurance Group.
Is a new or modified logo needed? When a name changes in a significant way, a new logo is probably required. However, a logo might be changed or tweaked independent of the name. At that same prior employer, our logo was finetuned multiple times across a five-year period – always including a GUARD icon so the benefit of past branding could be maintained . . . but gradually simplifying that image, which became broader and a bit more abstract over time. For an interesting look at the evolution of some famous logos over time (as well as information on debranding), check out Debranding: The Future of Branding.
By-line? A change of by-line is another way to communicate an important adjustment without necessarily scrapping the investment made over time to your logo. (For Example, a restaurant that had started to feature delivery and take-out might start including that information as part of a new by-line – “Take out/eat in.”
Sometimes, the need for a rebrand is obvious . . . and I suspect that will often be the case post-pandemic. If you are not sure about the necessity, take the time to do some research with current and potential customers. In addition to evaluating the necessity, you might learn some useful tips about the correct measures needed to rebrand successfully.
Make No Mistake . . . Rebranding Comes at a Cost
Some of the expenses associated with a rebrand are obvious:
The cost of performing research (surveys, focus groups, etc.)
Cost of reprinting materials with the new logo
Signage changes to reflect the new name
Programming expense associated with changes to the branding elements in the computer system
Cost of promoting the new name via advertising, mailings, and promotional giveaways
Etc., etc., etc. (The list can keep going on and on.)
However, the less obvious costs must also be considered. For example:
Lost labor. Staff time associated with name change activities as opposed to normal duties is an expense.
Lost investment in the old branding. If you succeed in cleverly linking the past and present, perhaps some of that investment will be salvaged. If not – if a total break from the past seems advisable for some extreme reason – your effort in accumulated time and money will be totally lost.
Right now, we are still in the middle of a global health and financial crisis . . . so post-pandemic thoughts may seem somewhat premature. Still, we wanted to introduce this kind of thinking now so you can subconsciously collect information as you go along that might prove useful in the future. When that day comes, we have a number of blog postings that may be very helpful to you. Be sure to revisit “Building Blocks: The Beginning.”
Good luck. Stay safe.
If you have any questions or comments on this topic, we’d love to hear from you. Scroll down to the comments section at the bottom of this page.
Today, my goal was to come up with a meaningful article about branding that offered some concrete tips useful in the midst of a pandemic.
Nothing was coming to me. In search of inspiration, I went to google and typed “branding and the pandemic.”
In case you are wondering about the likelihood of those two terms together yielding any meaningful insight, I suggest you search the headline of this article yourself. Ten full pages of results were returned. (BTW—I stopped looking through the pages at that point because I grew tired of the exercise, not because the results stopped matching my request.) The illustration below from page 1 shows some of the many different variations on the theme.
See the bottom of this page for our Special Offer.
Skimming through the headlines as well as a few of the articles, you’ll find that every imaginable subject has been addressed – the good, the bad, and the ugly. While the amount of information is overwhelming, one fact becomes abundantly clear – branding is important during these difficult times and deserving of every bit of attention you can spare, even though no time and opportunity may seem to be available and the subject of branding may be the furthest from your mind and fairly low on your current list of priorities.
Many of these articles are good ones, and we suggest you use some of your many hours of isolation to acquaint yourselves with the range of insight and good advice being made available.
That said, let me ease your mind – we don’t plan to use this article to reinvent any of those wheels. Instead, we will remind you to read our earlier pieces on Crisis Management and building some strategic plans for “Weathering the Storm” and identifying parts of your business that you might be able to re-engineer to function in a mostly online environment.
Assuming you’ve already acquainted yourselves with these bits of advice, today’s suggestion is one that might be deceptively difficult to execute: spend some time on meaningful self-reflection.
Who do you think you are as a company?
What can you and your company do to ease the burden of the pandemic? (ex: make personal protective equipment; serve meals to first responders; deliver products to the elderly)
What impression do you want your customers to take away when linking your company name and the pandemic? Will you be considered a valued member of the community contributing to the greater good? Will you be thought of as being one of those organizations with so much talent and expertise that you were able to adapt your operations and offer a valuable product and/or service to others while existing under pandemic restrictions?
Once you arrive at an honest answer to these questions through this period of self-examination, what measures can you take to make that happen? Consider:
Who you have been (and whether that is who you want to be)
The steps you can take to be perceived in the desired way
The kinds of plans you can put into place to better equip yourself to deal with crises of this kind in the future.
Once you have a clear vision and understand your brand aspirations, we can help identify useful strategies to implement the results of your self-reflection.
Our Offer to You:
Feel like you need a little assist to make this self-reflection a meaningful and useful exercise? If so, we’re happy to help other business owners identify opportunities to adapt their resources and skillset to aid their communities (just one of the ways we can do our part during these hard times). We’ll also work with you on a plan for reinforcing your brand in a positive way while being of service to others. Just let us know a little about your situation in the comments below . . . describe your business and expertise, and we’ll start brainstorming with you.
Be careful. Be safe. Embrace this opportunity to understand yourself and your brand better. When the pandemic does finally end, you’ll be in a better position to resume more normal activities.