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Coronavirus economy is right time for small business owners to double down on marketing

Dustin Siggins

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The 2020 coronavirus economic crisis shows no signs of letting up. Unemployment may reach double digits for the first time in almost 90 years, customers are scared to spend money, and governments are directly putting many companies out of business.

These are dark days for businesses, employees, and customers alike. However, this is also a huge opportunity for companies to take a counter-intuitive approach to survival. What do I mean by this? This is also a good time to double down on marketing to gain market share, build brand credibility with customers and establish strong relationships with advertising and networking partners.

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First: Stop the bleeding

Desperation breeds creative problem-solving – and few businesses are as desperate as they have been in the last 45+ days. Even “essential” businesses are seeing clients and customers disappear due to uncertainty, sudden losses of funding, and fear of coronavirus infections.

It’s hard to see opportunity when customers are bailing, so stem the tide by proving greater value to current clients. This core of your business may not last, so earning more of their business is both a survival tactic and the best practice.

“Somewhere between 20% and 70% of new customers will decide to stop doing business with you in the first 100 days” of a contract, author and customer retention expert Joey Coleman told me last month.

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Reversing that trend by just five percent increases profits by 25 percent to 100 percent because “each dollar spent by an existing customer becomes more profitable, and there is no need to spend as much money on sales, marketing, and acquisition.”

In a time when customers are few and revenue is low, Coleman’s approach is the perfect tourniquet for small businesses.

Second: Maintain or increase your marketing budget

One of the little-mentioned industries which is being crushed by the economic crisis is advertising. America's auto industry is shut down, theaters and Disney theme parks are closed, and sporting events are non-existent. Companies large and small are pulling scarce dollars from newspapers, online, TV, and radio to survive.

This is the perfect opportunity for small businesses to go against the tide by investing in advertising.

Online marketing guru Neil Patel recently encouraged this approach because online ads are cheaper but getting more clicks. Statista specifically noted that Facebook's average cost-per-click in March was nine cents, compared to 11 cents in January. And my business partner is receiving 65 percent more radio ad space than normal -- for free! – with one of his companies solely because his firm is not pulling ads from the airwaves.

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What this means for small businesses is simple: The supply-and-demand graph is in your favor. Just maintaining your current marketing budget brings more value than ever; increasing your marketing when your competitors are doing the opposite could make you the go-to company when the economy opens up again.

Third: Stand out with your customers, staff, and network

When everyone else is abandoning marketing, just being present to current and potential buyers gives you a huge advantage. You are the one-eyed man (or woman) on the island of the blind.

Now, find a way to turn today’s marketing into unique long-term branding. Here are four options:

Take advantage of social distancing to establish deep personal relationships with customers – building a network instead of networking, if you will. Check in on people to find out how they are doing with their work, health, and families. Earn “know, like, and trust” now so that when the economy opens up, you are their first and only option.

Offer low-cost, high-value services or products. Roofers, electricians, and plumbers should market themselves as the emergency repair people – through which they keep revenue flowing, earn trust, and provide valuable recommendations about long-term home maintenance, improvements, and renovations.

Business consultants like financial advisors and PR professionals can provide tailored, COVID-specific strategies to get clients through the current crisis – and earn trust that turns into months or years-long consulting contracts.

Provide COVID-specific value to your community. Businesses large and small are doing exactly that, and getting significant publicity locally, statewide, and nationally. And whether your distillery is now producing hand sanitizer, you’re feeding medical personnel, or you’re giving savings back to customers, customers will notice.

Recommend best practices that clients can use until they hire your company. Landscapers can give hedge trimming tips; bookstores can recommend reading lists; and restaurants can provide recipes.One PR firm sent a white paper on the industry’s adjustment to the COVID-19 crisis; a law firm’s e-mail newsletter provides valuable analyses of the public policy response to the crisis; and one of my firm’s clients is helping its small business customers navigate the changing financial landscape.

Fourth: Survival requires thinking differently

Getting through the current crisis may require radically going against the tide. By investing in current buyers, increasing outreach to customers who will become buyers, and seeking to be unique in the marketplace, you’ll improve your odds of survival and create a strong foundation for long-term success.

This too shall pass. And, hopefully, you’ll be there when it does.

Dustin Siggins is CEO of Proven Media Solutions and a business columnist.

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