Businesses need to adapt to Coronavirus, but do it sensitively
The COVID-19 epidemic has obviously been horrific for many small businesses. However, there are opportunities to recapture some lost revenue. Many smart entrepreneurs are pivoting to goods and services that can be offered during times of social distancing or even during lockdown. Whether it’s curbside wine pickup or fashionable masks, there are a lot of new consumer needs that can be taken care of.
However, there’s one potential issue: you might seem like a jerk. If you pivot, you could be seen either as a responsive business taking care of the needs of its customers, or as opportunists trying to make a quick buck off an international tragedy.
Obviously, it’s impossible to predict the public’s reaction. But here are a few considerations.
Being too pious is a bad thing
Here’s a fun coronavirus drinking game you can play if you want to get massively intoxicated: take a shot every time you hear the phrase “in this difficult time.” Let’s face it: by now, everyone knows that it’s a difficult time. Everyone is telling everyone else to stay safe. If your company does this, at this point, you’ll just come off as falsely pious. And, while you probably do genuinely care about the victims of coronavirus, if you tell someone that their elderly relatives are in your thoughts and prayers while you’re trying to sell them something, that won’t necessarily help you.
This even goes to charitable giving. If your business set aside some funds to donate to first responders, that’s fantastic. However, if your website now features a giant splash page that advertises your charitable deeds, it’ll probably just seem like advertising cloaked in virtuousness.
That being said, there is a way to do it. Fashion brand Aplat is selling a lot of masks, and they’re also doing a great job of letting people know that they’ve been charitable. How? By being minimal. Aplat has donated 10,000 masks to frontline workers, but they save that information for the bottom half of their homepage, rather than doing it upfront. Also, their homepage currently reads “don’t forget Mother’s Day is May 10th.” This is great, because it doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence by telling us why we might have forgotten. If they said “in this difficult time, we might forget about Mother’s Day,” it would come off quite differently.
So is being too upbeat
On the other hand, you can’t totally ignore the emotional tone of the situation. Reportedly, solar products company GoSun sent out an email blast with the subject line “Is There a Bright Side to Coronavirus?” The answer is: well, maybe, but probably don’t lead with that when people are scared for their lives or just cranky about being kept indoors.
People are sad, angry, and confused. Marketing to sad, angry, and confused people isn’t easy. But there are some good examples. Unsurprisingly, the highly-paid people who do McDonald’s advertising nailed it. Their slogan “we’ll be here” is warm and reassuring but acknowledges the gravity of the situation.
Although they’re not a pivoting business, it’s worth studying Oregon’s PSAs, which bear the slogan “don’t accidentally kill someone.” It’s a stern but slightly irreverent slogan that acknowledges the seriousness of the situation, but doesn’t belabor the point.
It’s a fine line to walk, but executing this correctly could be crucial.
Address real needs
Bottom line: your business is going to seem silly and tone-deaf if you come out with a coronavirus promotion that has nothing to do with the real needs of your customers. It’s probably not the time to come out with airplane pillows or new meetup apps, unless you want to repurpose your app to help the CDC with contact tracing.
Which invites the question: do people need to weather this storm? The obvious answers are: masks and hand sanitizer. But, at this point, the mask market is probably saturated, with major fashion lines, Etsy stores, and random neighborhood kids pumping them out. Hand sanitizer probably isn’t worth it unless you have a distillery.
Some ingenuity will reveal that there are still unmet needs. For example, hair company Essations realized that people couldn’t let their personal grooming go completely unaddressed—not when they have Zoom meetings to show up to. So, they had their stylists produce videos about home hair care, and then concluded the videos with coupon codes, encouraging customers to execute the provided instructions with their products. Thus, they met a real need, and found a way to turn it into a sales pipeline.