Digital Marketing During COVID-19

Let’s focus on the impacts of COVID-19, but specifically looking at digital marketing and even looking at the things that are changing, the ways we’re doing business and changing the way we need to address customers, clients, and sales.

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Discussion Highlights


Communication Is Key

Since this working from home or working remotely is new to a lot of us, we want to talk through some of the things that we’ve done at Top Floor to help make sure that communication stays strong, and make sure that we’re still able to maintain our company culture and the processes here. One of the things that we did early and often here is making sure that we’re responsive in our communication with our clients. Making sure that they know that we’re still open for business, we’re still working on their projects, and that we’re available should they have anything come through. 

One of the biggest things we have been telling our team is that no request is too small or even too urgent. We’ve been getting a lot of people that are coming to us saying “I need this done ASAP” and we understand. Things are constantly changing. Every day we’re getting updates as to what’s going on, and our clients want to update their clients about what’s happening. We’ve been working with our team to let them know that we’re going to get to it as soon as humanly possible. We’ve got a lot of clients with a lot of requests, so let’s just make sure we be fair to our clients in letting them know exactly when we can get to projects, and just push forward and try to get the communication out as fast as possible. The biggest mistake we could make is not being open with our clients as to exactly what’s going on. Even when we decided that we were going fully remote, we wanted to make sure that the first thing we did was let our clients know “We’re still here. Yes, it will be interesting for a couple of weeks while we figure out our rhythm with working from home and how that operates, but we’re here if you need us and we’ll figure it out.”

Some of the changes are coming through is just making sure that your customers know that you are still open for business, whether that’s a notification banner or some kind of update to the homepage. As this ‘Safer From Home’ goes into effect across the U.S. there is going to be a lot of uncertainty. “Is this company shut down?” “Is it a lower output?” The more that you can do to communicate either proactively like in an email or something that you can put on your website that just says “Don’t worry we’re still open if you need something”. If you’re changing your contact process, like if you want phone calls vs. form submissions, just make sure you’re making that clear. 


eCommerce Solutions

Banners are one of the biggest things we’ve done, but we’re also seeing a lot of shifts in focus to put more of it to the e-commerce side of things as well. The less personal [face-to-face] interaction that needs to occur the better in this situation, so if you have e-commerce look for ways to improve that process. If there’s multiple steps in there look for a way to streamline it or make it as easy as possible to maintain that revenue stream and keep that coming in. Along with banners, a lot of our clients have been working with us on communication, whether it be posted out to LinkedIn or ongoing email campaigns that they have to take a step back to make those less salesy as they normally would be and being more human about it. “This is what we’re doing to cope with what’s going on, and we’re here if you need us.” 

On the eCommerce side, a lot of our clients are looking to add in some of the things previously mentioned to reduce the human interaction and the need to have sales people or customer service reps in the office answering phones. Some are pushing more aggressively now for different chat platforms and trying to get those set up quickly, so that if there are questions coming through, someone can answer those from home rather than having to be in the office answering phones.


Video Conferencing Adds Personal Touch

We’ve been lucky enough in digital marketing that a lot of what we can do can be done from anywhere with internet access, but even with that there are always some bumps along the way. One of the biggest changes we’ve seen is that a lot of meetings we would normally have, whether it’s a morning scrum or an all company heads up meeting, have been moved to remote, but we try to do video conferencing. That way there’s at least that personal touch of seeing another face that you’re talking to. It’s not the impersonal nature of a phone call where you don’t know if anybody is paying attention, you don’t know if they’re even there, or if you’ve been muted. This way you’re still looking people in the eye, you’re still making that one-to-one connection.

“I love [my family] to death but it’s always nice to see other people and interact with them, and not have to do that via chat or text or anything like that and actually be able to see them face to face.” -Justin

“Not to downplay the seriousness of what’s going on, but it almost adds a little bit of fun to our meetings. I’ve got a two year old running around here, my wife is working from home, and we’ve got two dogs. So you never know if I’m on a call, my daughter’s head might pop up on the side just to look and say hi. We’re all in this together. Just let people know, it’s okay if your dog barks or something happens in a meeting. We’re all trying to do this together, push forward, and get stuff done.” -Chad

Pro tip: Yesterday, we had the first nice day in a while, so we made the decision to encourage our team to get up and go outside at 3:00. Do your social distancing and stay apart from people, but just walk around and get out of your house because we know that weighs on a lot of people. 

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If you’re talking to someone face to face you can tell if they’re getting what you’re saying, but if you’re using a chat function (we use Slack for internal communication) or even via email sometimes the way you communicate gets lost in translation and how it gets interpreted can be lost or misinterpreted, and that can lead to some unnecessary stress on yourself. The importance of video chat is that you can get that immediate response and recognition that they’re acknowledging what you’re saying and understanding what you’re doing. 

With what the circumstances have brought us to, it almost makes it a little bit more human. With our internal meetings we could go a couple of days without seeing everyone in the office because we have all of our chat communication. It’s easy to sit in your office and just send a chat to someone from your desk when they’re really just ten feet away, but this has almost forced us to look people in the eye and have that face to face communication. 


Maintaining Company Culture

One of the first things you might worry about when you move to a fully distributed team is “How are we going to still feel like a team when we’re all on our own?” 

Some of the ideas that came from our team:

  • Showing pictures of our lunch and showing what we’re up to
  • A new Slack channel for surviving working from home 
  • Showing pictures of them doing puzzles
  • New “coworkers” that are at home with them bugging them, whether it’s a dog on someone’s lap or a cat on a monitor

On Fridays in the afternoon, we typically at Top Floor have a beer club which is essentially a time to play some games and all get together at the end of the day on Fridays. We’ve rolled that back to start a little bit earlier now, and we’ve randomly assigned groups of 4-6 people to all get into a video chat together. Then we give them 5-6 topics that don’t have anything to do with work, but are just general topics for people to engage with others that they normally wouldn’t talk to throughout the day. Once this thing is all over and we get through it, we will probably continue to do this because it’s fun to learn from different departments. You might not work with people all the time throughout the day, but when you can get together you can learn a little bit about other people and what they’re going through. This might even help you cope and come up with strategies to deal with this. 


Continuing Business & Marketing

Are you sending emails to your customers now? Is this emergency communication the first time they’ve heard from you in a while? How are you approaching this and how are you currently trying to reach out to your customers? The biggest takeaway is just to communicate what’s happening with your business, how it’s been impacted, and that you’re still there for them. 


Using Social Media

This is new to us (usually we do webinars via GoToWebinar) but we wanted to get the message out there and start interacting with people quickly – sooner rather than later. We’ve challenged our marketing team to adjust the way we go to market and focus on our culture and how we’re going to get through this. Adding that human element, not pushing a new service or new product, but rather showing that while we’re sitting at home trying to distance ourselves from work and life, we can still see that other people are doing that as well and that helps connect with them a little bit more. 


Pull Back on the Sales Message

The biggest mistake you can make right now is try to be salesly and push different products on people.  Everyone is going through a tough time. A lot of our clients are doing business as usual but at the same time, everyone’s nervous and worried. Making big financial investments is probably not on the top of everyone’s mind right now. So, just be human about it and reach out to your clients and ask them ”Hey, what’s going on? How are you guys deal with this? Are you good? Do you need anything at all?” Even if it’s just ideas as to how to help internally. 

One of the things we’ve been working on is intranets for clients so that they can post communication internally. Most of the projects that we’ve uncovered during this time has just been by asking “How can we help you deal with this?” rather than us pushing out our normal messaging. 

Leave them with the question “Hey, how’s it going?” rather than ask specifically if they are making any changes to their marketing plan or budgets. Try asking them what challenges they are facing. You might not have the solution or something to “sell them” but if you can let them know that you’re having the same issue or how you’re addressing that, it helps create that connection.  Remember to make sure that it doesn’t sound like an automated email that you sent to every single client. It should be something that’s specific to them, that can also help set you up for success in the long run. Build that trust now, and once things turn around you can get in front of them again.


Develop Your Content

We’re being asked regularly “What do we do? What changes do we need to make right now?” Every industry is different and every business is different, right now you can assess what kind of content you’re developing and how you can make that helpful for potential future customers. It’s not that business has halted or stopped completely for a lot of industries, but the decisions may be delayed a little bit. So, what can you put out there that’s going to inform people why they should work with you. Even if it’s just your own product, why should they pick one product versus another? Start to think through some of those past interactions you had with people (whether it’s in a sales environment or on the marketing side of things) and the commonalities from the questions that get asked. Start to think about content strategy and focus on that to position you for the long run. 


What’s on Your Back Burner?

There’s always a silver lining. We’re finding that a lot of our clients that started projects before this are giving back some time to actually work on them. A lot of our website projects are bigger projects that were slow-paced have really picked up speed. We’re able to push forward on those and the clients now have time because there’s no other requests and customer service items coming through. See the silver lining in this, and push forward on things that’s been on your back burner. We’ve had some internal projects that we haven’t been able to get to, but now we’re able to check some of those things off of the list and move forward.


Absolutely, there is going to be a danger in that. When we were sending out our original communication to our clients to let them know about our transition to be fully remote, we couldn’t help but make a joke and say “Just go in your inbox, look at the emails that everyone else is sending out. Pull out the common messages and make it more personable”. 


How Do We Stand Out? 

One of the conversations in regards to even just inviting people to this video was that we didn’t want to subject line to say “Come in and let’s talk about COVID-19”, but more of  “Come talk to Chad and Justin, we’re going to touch on some of these topics and how are we going to get through it”. The last thing we need is another email from a bank or someone telling us to wash our hands. We know that now, that message has been out there. The more that you can personalize it to either your customers’ concerns and questions, or to yourself and how this is impacting you and what you’re doing about it, the better you can separate yourself.

Put your marketing hat on. See what else is out there and what other people are doing, but then look at how you differentiate yourself. It could be as simple as changing that subject line and the email header or to put out a video on social media rather than just a general update post. Do something that’s going to help separate you from the noise of everything else that’s happening. 

It’s important to put the initial communication out there (the standard one), but you need to be innovative with that. When you look at CCPA or GDPR, it became a meme instantly because every company was sending out an email about updating your cookie policy or your privacy policy. Initially getting something out there is standard, you want to let people know you’re open for business and that you’re understanding, but some of the best content we’ve seen is about the culture. What’s the human element to it and how is your company dealing with it, and how are you helping? 


Giving Back

What are you doing in the community to help? Even if it’s something small or you think it’s trivial, what are you doing to help everyone get forward? This will pass and eventually we’ll all be back to normal. The companies that are going to stand out are the ones that were either helping with what they could, remained in that positive attitude, or shared tips and tricks as to what they were doing that was working for them. That’s the best content you can put out there right now. 

Around 3.3 million people filed for unemployment. If there’s things that you’re doing to help your team stay employed or to assist them through this. One company just recently posted that there’s obviously additional stressors and they are fully staffed, but the owner told his staff that if they’ve got family members or anything else that’s hurting at this time that he was offering some additional funds on their next paycheck. That post shows that he’s not selling services, but is just putting out there that he’s there for his employees and is trying to help them through this. Again, that human element of it, that’s what’s going to stand out. This is a company that clearly cares about their people. 


Adjusting Your Budget

Take a look at your data. We’d advise against making any sudden reactions. Obviously there are going to be things that are changing and constantly evolving. If something happens that legitimately shuts down part of your business or a segment of your audience, absolutely make those changes quickly, but right now we’re in a “wait-and-see” mode. Even with things that are related to point-of-purchase, like a paid search campaign. If you’re still seeing conversions, form submissions, or phone calls come through we’d urge you to not just look at these as expenses, but ask yourself if you are still getting a return or a return that you weren’t originally seeing. 

Maybe those leads are at the top of the funnel and it’s going to be a longer sales cycle this time, but they’re still leads coming in. Make sure that you’re evaluating those different services before you start making broad sweeping changes because it can have long-standing impacts. If you have a 3 or 6 months sale cycle and you shut off that funnel, you might not have any issues now because you still have sales rolling in from previous campaigns, but 3-6 months down the road you’re going to have a gap where there’s no additional leads, conversations or sales that are ready to close. Look in analytics and take a look at those campaigns. Overall the account might be doing well, but are there particular campaigns that are doing better than others? Do you need to shift the budget away from those and back towards the ones that are doing well? 

Now’s the time to be analytical. Now’s the time to really rely heavily on the data. If you’re working with a partner, challenge them and ask them what are they seeing? We’re getting a lot of those questions coming through and it’s pushing us to make sure that we’re being extremely responsive.

Again, it’s the perfect time to take care of some of those things that have been on the back burner for a while. You may not have the budget or approval to move forward on larger projects, but really use this time to prioritize what’s most important. Think about it from a campaign standpoint – What campaigns are the most profitable? Where should you be putting your money? From a project standpoint, take this time to think about how you can prepare for the next time something similar happens or the next time business dries up. What can you be doing to help prepare for that?


A lot of the trade shows and different events that were planned for this year are cancelled through at least April, if not May. We’re even starting to see some in September and October being postponed. If you’re normally in those trade shows, look at the money that you normally invest there and look for other opportunities in channels that are working right now.

As you’re planning and thinking about when we do get out of this and get things a little bit back to normal, think about what you can do now to lay the groundwork for that day, so that when it comes you can hit the ground running and you’re not trying to play catch-up. If you have a backlog of projects that you couldn’t get to and those things are now off your plate, like trade shows and event planning, use that time to plan those campaigns and content development that you wanted to do.


Door dash and some of those other services out there can get you set up really quickly. There’s a number of different services. A lot of them right now are promoting that company culture and what they’re doing to help, like waiving fees. A lot of small businesses and restaurants are hesitant to do some of those online delivery and menu services because of the fees, but in this time it’s something to try. 

One of the things we’ve seen being organized is an event where local breweries are getting together and putting on a drive thru brewery sale. You can go through in your car, pick up a six pack of your favorite local brew that’s normally not available in a store. People are coming together and coming up with unique ideas to get by and stay open. In general, humans want to help out and want to be good people. Just get the message out there that you’re open for business, and posting things in different neighborhood groups helps to. When it comes to building an eCommerce website it can be a little bit difficult (nothing in development is ever fast) but some of these platforms that have been around for a while have it figured out and can on-board you pretty quickly. 


There really is no set date out there that this is going to start turning around. For your busy months right now the best thing that you can do is plan for normal, but then start to think of some contingency plans. Is there something that you can do towards the end of summer and into fall? If summer is your busy time and that’s when people typically buy things from you, their buying cycle is also getting pushed back. Plan as though summer is going to be normal but definitely have a back-up plan and start to think about how you can adjust things. Take it one month at a time. 


Key Takeaways

The key takeaways are communication, the human side of things, and making sure that you’re letting people know what you’re doing and try not to be salesy. It seems those kinds of emails have picked up and those are the ones that are just being deleted, no one has time for that right now. 

The content that we’re reading is how companies are helping out, whether it be people in the medical industry or just doing their small part by sewing masks. Whatever they can do to help out, whether it’s small and trivial or something bigger, that’s the kind of content people are looking for. We want to know how other people are dealing with this and maybe there’s something we can learn. We’re all humans, we just want to know that everyone’s in the same thing that we’re dealing with and we’re not the only ones out there that are going through this.

Date & Time

March 27, 2020

11:30AM - 12:00PM CST


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