One of the most important things when it comes to marketing and communications in times of crisis is to be proactive and transparent, says Kerstin Poehlmann, president of Pen & Petal, a marketing communications agency servicing the green industry. There is some confusion among companies about choosing the right marketing message during times like these, so we asked Poehlmann for some crisis-marketing advice.
Nursery Management: Is it OK to remain silent on the marketing front during times like these?
Kerstin Poehlmann: The worst thing one can do is to withhold information, or to “disappear.” If people don’t hear from a company about how the company is addressing and dealing with the situation, the customer will likely assume that the company either doesn’t have a plan or at least not a good one. Being prompt, clear and concise in one’s messaging is vital. People want to have reassurances during uncertain times. Knowing that their trusted supplier is something they can rely and depend on is important.
Another side effect of customers not hearing from a company is that they’ll also start wondering if the company is financially sound and can be relied upon for future orders. While this is true not only in times of crisis, it is magnified during times of crisis, because it adds another factor of uncertainty. So, in this case, no news is bad news.
NM: Since silence is a bad idea, what should businesses be saying?
KP: As you come out of the crisis and things start to return to normal — even if this may be a new/adjusted normal — think about who you want to target your messaging to. Of course, the first group that comes to mind is existing customers, as you’re looking forward to welcoming them back and they are looking forward to returning to their favorite, trusted supplier. So, a warm, heartfelt, “welcome back” message will be on target. But don’t neglect to reach out to potential new customers and target them in your messaging. Keep in mind that there are people out there whose previous supplier may not have dealt as well with the crisis and didn’t meet their needs. Or they don’t feel as confident with their previous supplier anymore because they’re not sure if they’re still financially stable, as we’ve already discussed. There might be a potential pool of new customers out there waiting to be tapped. Don’t be shy. Reach out!
Also, be positive and reassuring in your marketing message. And don’t say what everyone else is saying. Your customers don’t want to hear “in these difficult times.” Instead, create your own statement, including elements that you know are important to your customers.
NM: What’s the preferred method to send out a marketing message?
KP: Obviously, in today’s day and age it needs to go beyond a recorded phone message, because chances are a phone call is not a customer’s initial form of contact. It is common to check a company’s web site first for information, so make sure your web site is updated and addresses the current situation clearly on the home page. Equally as important is a company’s social media presence. Customers will likely look up your social media pages for information and may send a message through your social media pages. You must not only be active and posting frequently on social media, but don’t neglect to respond to direct messages and comments.
In case there is any doubt about how important a strong social media presence is today, keep this fact in mind: people are spending more time than ever on social media and using that medium to get a vast amount of content. This is, in part, due to them spending more time on social media simply because they had more time during stay-at-home orders, but also because there is so much going on in the world and they want to stay current. However, this doesn’t mean all they want to hear about is crisis related. Quite the contrary. At this point, people are starving for good news and positive content. Fortunately, our industry’s purpose is pretty much to beautify the world, so there should be no shortage of positive things to post. Try a Facebook Live event to show availability or introduce new varieties.
Direct email communications to your customers is another avenue that shouldn’t be ignored. Don’t be shy to think outside of your tried-and-true tool box and try something new, like videos, if you haven’t done any in the past. If people can’t come to your nursery or visit with you like they used to, they would welcome a video update from you. Try a mix of casual, off-the-cuff videos and invest in some simple video editing software for a more formal video presentation. Do you have a YouTube channel? If not, create one.
NM: What’s your final piece of advice?
KP: The uncertainty of the current situation creates anxiety in people, so knowing that some things are constant is important. Let your customers know that you’re there for them and that you are their constant.