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Takeaways from Businesses Doing It Right During COVID-19

Takeaways from Businesses Doing It Right During COVID-19

June 6, 2020 | By Sara Willard

Since the beginning of COVID-19 back in March, we have covered best practices in marketing research and key insights during a crisis over a three-part series. Our first series was focused around marketing through a crisis, with higher emphasis on communication and messaging. In part two, we walked through a recovery plan on how to further prep for the next phase of the pandemic. Our final webinar series, hosted on May 28, allowed us to introduce our viewers to three special guests we believe are prime examples of how to navigate through a pandemic as a business.

It’s safe to say that this is the biggest crisis most of us, if not all, have faced in our lives and throughout our careers. Not only have our communities been shut down, but we have all had to shift our sails and adapt to a new reality one way or another. Businesses have altered their priorities around taking care of employees, keeping a safe and healthy environment, applying for funding, receiving PPE and reassuring customers that they are here to help and to serve.

As we enter this new reassurance phase, putting health and safety first for businesses, employees and customers is crucial in order to further prepare for the future impact. The big question remains, now that we have shifted and adapted new business models and systems: How do we take these learnings into the future with us?

From our community leaders driving change, here is their advice:

Mark Canlis, from Canlis

  1. Pivot Quickly – As one of, if not the most, difficult times the restaurant industry has had to face, this is the time to move quickly and adapt. Get together as a team and talk through all that needs to be understood regarding the pandemic, phases, economic shutdowns, health and hazard regulations, and figure out how it all works and affects the business. Ask yourself, “What do we have at our disposal that can act as resources to us?” From there, let your inner drive spill out. Brainstorm with your employees, be creative, and answer the question, “How do we keep all of our employees employed at a time when no one may need or can use our business?” All ideas generated by Canlis have been from the brainstorming and cultivation of all 150+ employees as a team. This is an opportunity to influence a wider circle and change what you may not have changed prior.
  2. Lean into Quirkiness – Now is the time when businesses and communities can get creative and “lean into quirkiness.” Whether it’s Zoom-ing from home in your PJs or creating a livestream Bingo Night, it’s time to do things you never would have thought to do as a company. Prior to COVID-19, Canlis employees played bingo as a team after their nightly dinners. An employee mentioned an idea to bring the weekly Bingo Night into homes by providing bingo cards in their home delivery packages and hosting a livestream of the game every Friday. Beyond the weekly Bingo Night, Canlis also hosts a livestream of live music featuring special guests from time to time, hosted in their dining room every evening. Adapting new business models should not be focused around doing it perfectly or profitably, but what you should be asking and focusing on is “can you do it?” and keep pushing the needle.
  3. Bring the Experience to the Customer – If you are a business providing delivered goods because your physical location is shut down, consider what you can include in the delivery that can also provide an experience beyond the order. For instance, with every delivered dinner, Canlis also throws in a bingo card, flowers and a candle, inviting the consumer to the Friday bingo livestream and allowing the customer to enjoy an experience beyond their meal in the comfort of their own home. As a change from what is normally a very formal dining experience, Canlis also developed “No Dress Code” sweatpants to encourage their consumers to be comfortable at home while also donating all proceeds to charity.

Evie Merrill, from Bartell Drugs

  1. Develop the Right Message – Together as a team, figure out how to respond and let the customers know that you are here to help and are ready to serve. In the middle of 130-year anniversary planning, Bartell Drugs strategically decided that this is not the time to celebrate a birthday; rather, this is the time to shift the message and let the community know that they are here through the good and the bad and have been here for 130 years as a partner in health and to their customers.
  2. Different Channels Serve Different Purposes – Messaging in print doesn’t always translate the same into social media. It’s important to know what message you are trying to serve, who your readers are and which platform is best for the message. For instance, Bartell Drugs uses Twitter for responding to customer questions and concerns. They use Instagram to focus on a visual message that embraces the community with strong and powerful imagery that conveys thanks, hope and support to their followers. Through the phases of the crisis, messaging also needs to adapt. At first, Bartell Drugs pushed messaging that was focused around information and guided resources. Then they shifted into more of an “in-home” approach that showcased fun and heartfelt tones, encouraging customers about what they can do at home.
  3. Commit to the Local Community – Evaluate what your business pillars are and what your part in the local community is. Bartell Drugs has integrated partnerships and promotions into their monthly marketing strategy as a top initiative. Recently they partnered with Aegis Living to produce and support a local supply drive where donations were made to help seniors in the community. In addition, they also launched “Locals Supporting Locals,” a coupon book that gives local businesses the opportunity to be included in a special advertising section that they may not have otherwise been able to afford. On top of both of those, they have also partnered with Girl Scouts of Washington to help them sell cookies since their cookie drive was cut short. There is a big desire to help in communities which also brings an ease into forming these types of partnerships.

Mike Livingston, from Puetz Golf

  1. Double Down on E-Commerce – It’s time to evaluate what other revenue streams you have for your business that don’t heavily rely on in-store traffic. Websites are essentially the online storefront of a business. Is there a way that you can produce and provide product to your customer online that doesn’t require them to purchase in-store? How are you driving new business to it? Puetz Golf went all-in online by cultivating a strong and strategic e-commerce shopping model. By increasing their Google search, shopping and dynamic social media efforts, a company that has been known to be a four-location bricks-and-mortar with a driving range transformed into a nationally recognized online retailer. E-commerce strategy allows businesses to expand their customer reach and create an additional revenue stream.
  2. Take Advantage of Communication Channels – Puetz Golf created a video message that demonstrates and communicates the best practices and actions they are doing for their customers. After production, they chose to push this video through social media, email blasts and online channels. From this, they learned that there are multiple ways a business can communicate to their customers about the changes they have made in regard to operations (hours, curbside pickup, shipping). These channels include social media, website, search results and directories, YouTube, email blasts and more. During a crisis, there’s no such thing as overcommunication. Update your crisis operations and spread the word … everywhere.
  3. Provide an Easy-to-Use Consumer Purchase Plan – “ Pay. Pick Up.” It’s a three-step process that Puetz Golf has embraced. This messaging and curbside plan have been threaded throughout their social channels, on their website, when they pick up the phone, and all other customer touch points. A simple-to-use system provides customers an easy purchase path and helps alleviate any stress on the buyer during an ever-changing time.

We’ll leave you with this:

“We will never operate the same. The use of tech will be so paramount, same with the shift in behavior and cleanliness standards. It will never be the same; it will be better,” said Chef Eric Rivera of Addo. If your business is facing challenges and in need of some creative thinking during these times, the collaborative Seattle Times Media Solutions team can help develop solutions that are customized for your business and fit within your budget. Click here to view the recorded lunch and learn.

Sara Willard is a senior agency consultant for Seattle Times Media Solutions, representing The Seattle Times, seattletimes.com and Seattle Times Media Solutions, our in-house digital agency. She can be contacted at swillard@seattletimes.com

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