Reopening After COVID-19? How to Ensure a Successful Restart

As the easing of lockdown restrictions continues across the UK, many small to medium-sized businesses are once again getting back to business. Local lockdowns are taking a particularly heavy toll on smaller firms in some regions, but the economy as a whole is once again showing signs of life.

The COVID-19 crisis has had an impact on practically every British business, irrespective of location and sector. The extent of the impact varied significantly from one business to the next, but there were four main types of response to the crisis in general:

  • Businesses that stopped all operating activities in their entirety for the duration
  • Businesses that halted or suspended certain activities but continue to operate
  • Businesses that restarted operations recently only to be hit by new local lockdowns
  • Businesses that continued operating normally with few minor adjustments

In all instances, businesses affected by COVID-19 must now set their sights on a successful restart. Even where firms didn’t technically grind to a complete halt during lockdown, it’s only now that the economy is erring towards stability and strength once again.

Consumer confidence is creeping back towards normal levels, spending decisions are being taken off hold and consumerism as we once knew it is once again on the horizon. All of which makes now the time to carefully consider (or reconsider) your approach to relaunching operations, in post-COVID Britain. 

Marketing After the Coronavirus Crisis: Empathetic Communication

If you were communicating with your customers during lockdown, you’ll have been attempting to do so with a heightened level of empathy. This is something that needs to be continued indefinitely for the foreseeable future, given the way in which your customers may have had their lives turned upside down by the crisis. 

This (of course) means that this is not the time for the hard sell, nor should you be bombarding your customers with deals, discounts and so on. The key to success in post-pandemic Britain lies in giving your audience the impression that you care, that you’re sensitive to their situation and that you’re there to help them in some way. 

Reopening Physical Locations 

If you operate a physical location, it’s important to be aware of people’s new priorities and ensure they’re reflected in your policies. Social distancing is likely to play a big part in the public’s life for some time to come – as is the importance of stepping up everyday hygiene practices in general.

What’s crucial to remember at this stage is that just because your store is open for business doesn’t mean your audience is ready to pay you a visit. It’s therefore advisable to motivate and encourage them in a sensible and sensitive way, clearly providing such information as follows via any appropriate channels:

  • Your new or adjusted opening times
  • Social distancing policies
  • How many customers you allow in at the same time
  • Whether you provide hand sanitiser 
  • If you accept cash payments or contactless only
  • How you’ve stepped up your sanitary standards
  • Differences to expect with staff interactions
  • Where the customers can expect to wait in line

The long and short of it being to address as many potential questions and concerns as you can, without your customers having to ask you directly. All of the information above should be clearly conveyed and presented prominently, which means taking the following action:

  • Updating your website with the new information
  • Making updates to your Google Business profile
  • Conversing with customers on social media
  • Using emails to inform subscribers of the changes
  • Alterations to any physical/traditional media

Updates to Ecommerce Businesses 

Enterprises run exclusively online have been in no way immune to the Coronavirus crisis. From alterations to working hours to extended delivery times to issues with stock availability and so on, it’s been difficult for ecommerce business owners to cope with COVID-19. Not to mention, the fact that online shoppers simply weren’t spending nearly as much as they used to.

With the worst of the pandemic behind us, now’s the time to use social media, emails, website messages, push notifications and so on to address potential questions and queries such as:

  • Updated working or customer service hours
  • Potential delays in customer service response times
  • Any issues regarding deliveries or returns
  • Information on current order processing times
  • Stock outages and products back in stock
  • Services now available that were previously suspended

Keeping Up with New Online Audiences 

Many online business owners may find themselves looking at a unique opportunity to capitalise on new online audiences, in what’s expected to be the ‘new norm’. Lockdown forced consumers across all demographics to shift to online retail channels – many of whom had never before considered shopping online.

Older consumers in particular encountered difficulties adapting to online, though successfully negotiated a learning curve and shifted to web retail in enormous numbers. The question being whether online businesses now make the necessary efforts to keep up with their new audiences, making the kinds of adjustments necessary to cater to entirely new demographics.

The simplification of the online shopping experience in particular being important, along with ensuring older demographics are not excluded from marketing and general content considerations. It’s entirely possible that much younger demographics will remain your priority, but there’s much to be said for branching out to include older consumers in your strategy. 

Post-COVID Email Marketing

Email marketing has the potential to offer a real lifeline for small to medium-sized businesses right now. Along with being one of the most affordable of all marketing strategies, email provides the opportunity to communicate with customers on a more personal level than comparable mediums.

Particularly as you may need to communicate a fair amount of information with your customers (as outlined above), email could prove to be a more effective and efficient platform than say social media or website updates.

A few tips and guidelines for ensuring the effectiveness of your post-COVID email marketing strategy:

  1. Double-check your list of contacts and make sure that no fake addresses or spam traps have made their way into the mix while your business was suspended.
  2. Start taking segmentation seriously and take note of how the behaviour of your customers has changed since before the Coronavirus crisis. Use the data you collect to segment recipients and create more personalised email content.
  3. Adapting the frequency with which you send emails may also be necessary, as bombarding audiences with too much information and too many offers at such a sensitive juncture could have the opposite of the intended effect.
  4. Communicates information of importance to your customers, as outlined above. However, don’t make the mistake of sending the same information in multiple emails – one effective notification of each important piece of information is enough.
  5. Send an open letter thanking your customers for supporting your business during lockdown and effectively keeping you in business. Even if the recipient in question hasn’t gone near your business for months, it’s a good way of showing you care for and appreciate your audience.
  6. Demonstrate empathy and understanding with content your customers can relate to. For example, direct statements of how tough it’s been, insights into your own personal struggles (never overly financial) and your optimism for a brighter future ahead.
  7. Ask customers for their thoughts, their opinions and their suggestions.  Give them the opportunity to tell you what they would like to see from your business as the UK returns to some semblance of normality.
  8. Check details of your future plans and how you intend to enhance and improve everything you do, based on the lessons you’ve learned over the past few months. All geared towards the direct benefit of your target audience.

Communication holds the key to bringing back customers, though in all instances must emphasise your empathy with their difficulties and future concerns – not those of your business.

Promote Fear at Your Own Peril

Unsurprisingly, some of the more unscrupulous organisations that lack creativity or common sense are attempting to use fear and uncertainty to their advantage.  The problem being that most have no idea where to draw the line between creating a sense of urgency and instilling outright panic in their audience members.

This is where things become tantamount to forcing people to buy your products or services through emotional manipulation. Sometimes effective in the short-term, but by far one of the most counterproductive long-term strategies you’ll regret having considered.

Fear is a fundamentally terrible motivator to use in marketing – particularly at a time when people have had their fill of fear and panic for this particular decade.  Unless you want to inflict permanent damage on your brand’s image, avoid the temptation to promote fear at all costs.

If you’d like to discuss any of the above in more detail or have any questions on your own marketing activities in post-COVID Britain, we’d be delighted to hear from you. Contact Tait Pollack anytime for an obligation-free consultation.

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