“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.”
These words from mathematician, John Allen Paulos seem particularly on point these days. The truth is uncertainty has been part of the human condition since the dawn of time, and in some respects part of the adventure of life.
Alaskans are facing a great deal of uncertainty now more than ever. Between the plummeting price of oil and the long lasting effects of Corona Virus on our Tourism industry, our small businesses are bracing themselves psychologically and literally for what could be a tough slog ahead. It’s been tough and it could get tougher.
The irony is that often the LITERAL is the result of the psychological… so it may only get tougher if we LET IT. We hear phrases like consumer SENTIMENT to indicate market trends. Sentiment is nothing more than the manifestation of an emotional/psychological aspect of human behavior. Some is positive. Some is negative.
When distilled to its very essence, our decisions in business are often driven by F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real). Fear of going broke. Fear of missing out on an opportunity. Fear of making a mistake that will come back to haunt us. The list is endless.
But what this really says about the human mind is that when you are fearful of the unknown what you are really saying is that you are uncertain about YOUR ability to chart your course as you imagine it. Nothing could be truer in business.
This post COVID-19 world represents uncharted waters for Alaska. We don’t have a precise playbook to follow. Nobody does. This said, Alaskans are bold frontier seekers and explorers. We would not be here if weren’t. We are a resilient, independent bunch. We need to view this time in history as a new horizon to conquer. Our challenges do not define us, but overcoming these challenges often do define our capabilities.
Boldness tempered by strategic logic and thoughtfulness combined with sound execution usually lead to the results we seek.
So how does this apply to small businesses?
What is a practical application of this as it relates to the world we find ourselves in the shadow of this pandemic?
In the height of Covid-19’s peak many small to mid-sized businesses everywhere instinctively recoiled and expressed a natural human emotion about spending any money on marketing at all. It seemed like the world was imploding, many were faced with not only losing business, but letting go of employees. A hard reality for any small enterprise. But some instincts can often be the wrong reaction to the right problem. As Warren Buffet famously said about Berkshire Hathaway’s investment strategy: “We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.” I’m not a fan of the term GREEDY here, but there is some truth to what he’s saying.
The way I would put it is… TAKE COURAGE when everyone is AFRAID and BE CAUTIOUS when everyone feels SAFE. When everyone is in a psychological state of FEAR and retreat, that is the time to CHARGE and DOUBLE DOWN to gain market share, because sooner or later life will return back to normal… and those who were timid will be trounced by those who were bold. This does not mean throw caution to the wind and drive off a cliff (a la Thelma and Luise), it means be aggressive and stand above the general noise and hysteria… and your consumers will notice and REMEMBER YOU. Be a lone STABLE and CERTAIN beacon out there.
This is accomplished by not just spewing marketing clap trap about how you are THINKING of your customers… But actually DOING SOMETHING.
McDonalds donated 10 million FREE "Thank You Meals" to everyone on the frontline of the pandemic https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/mcdonalds-thank-you-meals-free-food-healthcare-workers A BOLD P.R. move to be sure… their target consumers (and maybe future ones) will REMEMBER this when it’s all over. They could have donated $10 million dollars… but that would have been LOST in the din. Offering 10 million FREE meals to the FRONT LINERS… that is a newsworthy marketing move and helps build brand loyalty. I know what you are saying… You run a small pizza parlor, you don’t have the resources to spend that sort of money giving away free pizzas. It’s all scalable. McDonalds is one of the largest companies in the world. There are many stories of small businesses that started feeding the homeless in New York, reataurants that had to lay off their entire staff and started collecting donations online to feed those at risk. How many stories did you read about tiny enterprises working out of their kitchens using 3D printers to make N95 masks or face shields.
I don’t doubt these folks were motivated by a generous spirit. These are special humans indeed, generous of soul and of pocket book, but I am also sure many, in the back of their minds, felt this was smart branding for the little shops.
But even if a grand gesture is not an option… a lot of small ones add incrementally to make a big one in the minds of your target consumer.
What you can we do to bring value to customer durring these times.
We counsel our clients here in Alaska to go after their market by reassuring their customer base that:
A) They were open for business and tirelessly there to satisfy their needs and requirements despite the crisis.
B) We advised that they offer services for FREE. Companies like Pollo Loco started offering FREE DELIVERY… indefinitely. Everyone jumped on the band wagon. It's scalable for a small business and we told our clients to bend over backwards to accommodate their customer base by offering them a means to buy what they needed safely and EASILY.
C) We also counsel them to offer FREE financing as well as not charge for services they ordinarily do. Say installation of products. Offering in home-delivery (with proper PPE) when everyone else was offering curbside. Concierge phone service or TELE-PLUMBING evaluations (think tele-med for plumbers)… all FREE. FREE EXTENDED WARRANTIES. FREE SERVICE AGREEMENTS that could become payable once the pandemic was over.
Your marketing needs to be sensitive and aware of the market realties in real time. These grand gestures were appropriate a few weeks ago. Now that the country is attempting to open up… what do you do now?
If there is ANY silver lining to this disaster is that it occurred at a time in history when the planet was more connected than ever. Modern age travel and technology help spread the virus like wildfire, but digital connectivity also helped us deal and manage it in ways inconceivable two decades ago. As recently as 2000, most of this would have been impossible.
In a viral pandemic where human to human proximity is not an option, thanks to high speed internet we have the means to market, sell, deliver, customer support and engage like NEVER BEFORE in the history of humanity.
Websites, SEO, content marketing and social media, are now the lifeline for many businesses and if you haven’t embraced the brave world of digital until now, this is the time to say goodbye to the old school way of doing things, no matter how small your shop is. Studies already show that because of COVID-19 whole new patterns of shopping to entertainment have been changed forever.
In our next article, we’ll discuss 10 PRACTICAL STEPS you can take to market your business in a post-pandemic economy.