Many businesses poised for huge gains at the start of this year are fighting to stay alive. Stable, longstanding enterprises are questioning their greater visions. Waves of layoffs and shuttered doors have — quite understandably — induced fear and uncertainty across the Valley, where small businesses serve as the backbone of the community. The need for a true pivot has never been stronger for businesses that have been upended operationally, financially and culturally. But, what does that even mean?
In too many instances, so-called pivoting has led to inertia. Some businesses are paralyzed by fear and poor financial outlooks, while others are unsure how to move forward in a volatile climate while remaining sensitive to a pandemic that literally rocked the world. Choices here are not easy, and the line between right and wrong is blurry. Even so, businesses must find a path to communicate with their target audiences if they want to remain open and fulfill their missions.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Pivoting requires a strategic and proactive approach to marketing and communication. This is probably not the same approach that was sketched out the last time a company updated its marketing plan. Businesses likely need to implement new tactics to reach customers with vastly different needs and desires from what they had just a few months ago. An appropriate starting point, then, is to define those new needs and desires. Consider the following questions ahead of constructing a new strategy:
- What do customers want now?
- Does the customer have different pain points?
- What can the business do to address these pain points?
- Is the business positioned to address these pain points?
- What operational changes need to be made to meet a different customer demand?
- How can the business communicate new directions and offerings to this evolved customer?
A reassessment enables frozen businesses to thaw, sparking creative and profitable avenues. As a prime example, distilleries here in Arizona and across the nation quickly shifted gears from producing liquor to satisfying the exponential demand for hand sanitizer. This move not only enhanced longevity but thrust these manufacturers into the public spotlight for doing good during a tough time. In one fell swoop, distillers adjusted their offerings, met a new customer demand, invigorated brand value, reinforced their commitment to the community and remained profitable.
Choose Your Words Wisely
Words are powerful. Too often, leaders negate or overlook this power.
When businesses lack clearly defined message points that all stakeholders can rally behind, they allow anyone with a social media account to control their narrative — in any climate, pandemic or not. A sturdy messaging framework unifies disparate teams and helps customers and prospects understand how they benefit from what the company offers. This framework should define who the company is, what it does, how it helps, who would benefit, and why.
In times such as this, messaging should be evaluated and potentially adapted to fit within the current business climate. Do the company’s main selling points resonate with what’s important to today’s customer? Have operational shifts required new messaging altogether? Failure to emerge with sensitivity and grace can backfire, and it may be difficult to recover. Moreover, consumers respect transparency, especially in unpredictable environments. External expertise may be needed to develop messaging that walks these fine lines, as executives who are too close to a subject and eager to ramp up operations could fail to see myriad viewpoints.
Hooray for the Internet
Who would have thought the typical family gathering would be held with video conference technology? Talk about a sign of the times. As businesses phase into their “normal” operations, digital communication channels will play an even greater role in viability.
For starters, many meetings and events have become webinars. A boots-on-the-ground approach may have transitioned to an email drip campaign. And, for better or worse, businesses understand that more people are glued to their social feeds as they remain homebound.
There’s an abundance of digital tools and tactics available to businesses of all types and sizes at various price points. The precise route one should take varies according to goals and audience habits, but there tends to be one big consistency: These campaigns drive traffic to a singular website or landing page.
With refreshed message points in hand, companies need to reassess their web presence. Creative and thoughtful digital campaigns that drive traffic to an outdated website with poor functionality or usability will fall flat. Is the user flow clear? Has the site been optimized for search engines? Are forms broken? Is messaging mixed? Cracks in the foundation must be addressed in order to maximize the chances for success.
There’s something else these digital opportunities have in common: They require quality content to capture the right attention from search engines and crowded social feeds. Options may include blogs, case studies, whitepapers, photos, videos, infographics, renderings, podcasts or webinars. Think about what customers need, how they want to receive it and which method meets budgetary restrictions. This may also be an opportune time to breathe new life into archived content.
Don’t Forget Employees
The tenets guiding external communications — such as transparency and sensitivity — should be applied internally as well. Like customers, employees need to be kept abreast of the state of business. Silence or false pretenses will fuel a low morale and shatter a once-positive culture. An email update is a great start, but it’s not enough long-term. Regular town halls in person or via video conferencing will provide a workforce with reassurance if executed with openness and honesty. A comprehensive internal newsletter focused on “what this means for me” will help keep reservations at bay. After all, employees are a company’s greatest ambassadors. Their attitudes and outlooks shape a company’s public image.
Take Bite-Sized Chunks
Pivoting shouldn’t be associated with moving backward. Prolonged inactivity silently damages brands.
A phased approach helps companies retain sensitivity while remaining top-of-mind and helping to build community. While no one has a crystal ball, businesses can consider various scenarios and make educated predictions about their role in clients’ lives. A tiered plan focusing on the next month, three months, six months and beyond can help a company maintain momentum, keep pace with advertising and public relations lead times, and successfully shift messaging without abrupt starts and stops that can startle a network.
While a pandemic is unfamiliar territory, a turbulent economy and adversity in other senses are not. Small businesses in Arizona are industrious, creative and nimble — three keys to weathering a storm. By reassessing market opportunities, revisiting messaging, seizing digital opportunities and taking a phased approach, businesses can successfully pivot, fulfilling new demands without offending their customers. Freezing efforts, on the other hand, is a surefire way to fall off their radar.
Andrea Aker is president/CEO of Aker Ink, a full-service PR and marketing firm that helps companies increase brand awareness, enhance thought leadership and generate leads. The agency works with businesses of all sizes, from startups through large, multi-national enterprises, guiding them through transitional phases to achieve long-term business development goals such as exponential growth, acquisition or a resurgence in the marketplace.