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The Road Ahead: Navigating the Crisis Through Customer Experience



Thanks, everyone for taking some time with me today and learning about how customer experience can navigate a very uncertain time and create a stronger future. My name is Patrick King, I’m the founder of Imagine – a branding, advertising, and digital marketing agency in northern Virginia.

By this time, you’ve probably made your immediate triage decisions like telecommuting or limiting service. You’ve applied for help with the SBA and your thoughts are probably moving from immediate planning (“what I gonna do today?”) to more short-term planning (“how do I navigate the next 3-4 weeks?”). The short term’s where I’m going to focus. If you have any questions along the way, feel free to throw them into the chat.

I’ve packed a lot into this webinar. We’re gonna cover four main topics in this presentation: how your customer has changed and how businesses have successfully adapted to that change. I’ll spend the majority of the time going over what you can start doing today to help your business in the short and long term and wrap up with what we know is coming at the tail end of the pandemic.

State of Webinar Attendees

I wanna thank everyone that answered the question on the form that asks about how you’re doing with their businesses. To give you an idea of how others are doing, I’d like to show the breakdown of the responses that came in.

I’m glad to see that so many businesses are hanging in there through this. It’s important to note that strong disparities are clearly defined by the industry. Some are doing fine while to others, we’re in a nightmare. Actually, those that work in some of the better-off industries could be the ideal customers for businesses that aren’t doing so great. I talked a couple of weeks back about how to build personas.

I’m concerned about the businesses that are in dangerous territory. The hit to them has been dramatic and I truly want to help them any way I can. I hope this webinar helps. The methods I cover will be of use to everyone on this call, but my concern is really for those that fear for the future of their businesses.

Your Customer Has Changed

I’d like to focus on what matters most to all businesses – their customers. Their attitudes, perceptions, priorities, and preferences have changed significantly within a very short period of time.

You don’t need me to tell you this, but people are spending less overall. They’re more cautious, they’re overwhelmed with bad news with no real guidance. But they’re also paying more attention online than usual – naturally since they’re stuck at home and you can only play Scrabble so many times before someone gets hurt.

Not only are they online more, but they’re doing different things with their online time.

As you can see, their preferences have clearly changed. They’re taking far less deliberate action which may lead you to think they are also likely to purchase less. But check this out.

What this chart shows is the increase in conversion rates across the board for pay-per-click advertising. While people’s active behavior has changed, their passive behavior hasn’t. They’re still clicking on ads and buying things and with fewer advertisers on pay-per-click accounts, the competition – and pricing – make this a great time to develop an online advertising strategy. if you’re already running one, switch your search campaigns to display. The costs per click and conversion are always lower there anyway.

What’s Really Changed? The Customer Experience

All of this is to say that your customers are still out there and they’re still being customers. They’re just doing it differently. So, your approach to connecting with them has to change too.

For a lot of businesses, all of that’s great but if you don’t have something to sell, then why advertise? I argue that you still have something to sell – you just need to rethink how it’s packaged and presented. We’re undoubtedly on the cusp of a new economy. Business will no doubt be different as a result of what we’re going through, but the companies that are strong at the end of this will have been working now to pivot and adapt to the change we’re in.

How businesses have responded.

I’d like to give some examples of what businesses of different industries are doing so that maybe they can give you some ideas of what to do with your business.

Cuban Gypsy Pantry

First is my favorite – they’re a client of ours in Charleston, South Carolina, Cuban Gypsy Pantry. It’s a small Cuban restaurant run by a couple that started with a food truck, then moved to a brick-and-mortar downtown and now they’re in a huge space in North Charleston.

We had just helped them launch the big location maybe three weeks before this all hit. They hadn’t even had a chance to get regulars yet. They were starting to get traction and we were working the marketing plan, but all things changed when they had to shut down. They quickly developed a plan to sell bulk meals that can be refrigerated and last for a few days and that helped, but they came upon a product that surprisingly helped them turn the tide.

Enter the Tiburon. It’s basically a small Cuban party sub. It fits in a pizza box, and they’ve been selling like crazy. It seems unconventional enough and when people try it, they get hooked and want to try more of what the Pantry offers. It’s a simple but unique enough thing that piques interest, executes very well, and drives repeat business.

As you can see – a lot of repeat business. They’re even hiring drivers. A restaurant hiring delivery drivers right now. Insane.

American Marketing Association – DC Chapter

Another story is of a nonprofit that’s near and dear to me – the American Marketing Association. As with many nonprofits, their money comes from events – in their case, networkers and happy hours. With no restaurants or bars and no groups larger than 10, there goes that idea. Couple that with the trend that trade associations across the board were already seeing with dropping membership renewals and you have some serious cause for concern. We didn’t just mirror the in-person calendar to Zoom meetings.

We upped the programming, changed the content to things that marketers in a panic – and fearing unemployment – care about. Webinars to help unemployed marketers with building their personal brand to help with their job hunt, or to help them truly understand how their profession is changing.

We’ve also developed a partnership with every surrounding chapter to help promote each other’s events, blog articles, and other resources so that we’re giving as much value to our members as possible. They’re applying customer experience principles to members.

Old Town Strong: A Community Collaboration

Finally, an interesting concept that isn’t technically a business. Rather, it’s a group of businesses in and around Manassas, Virginia that all decided to get together and rally around the restaurants in Manassas’ Old Town district.

They’ve raised many thousands for bar employee relief and rent relief for restaurants through t-shirt sales, social media promotion, sales of pint glasses at the local brewery, and a ton of other campaigns. As I said before, not all industries are struggling. When they come together to support their neighborhood, wonderful things can happen.

All of these cases are where an opportunity was found within a challenge. Some are long-term, some are just designed to get through the next few months. It’s not always easy and if you’re having trouble with finding opportunities with your business, please reach out. We’d like to help.

Next, I’d like to go over some steps you can take now to ensure the survival – if not growth – of your business.

Marketing You Can Do Now To Protect Your Business

Adding Empathy to the Customer Experience

Adjust your marketing message to reflect a voice of empathy. Re-evaluate the messaging on your website, social media, email, and paid channels to focus more on building community during this time. It’s a time to connect more than convert. Share your enthusiasm to overcome this with your customers and use your social platform to give them a sense of belonging.

This is a great example, for a few reasons. First, it’s from the owner of the business. In this case, it’s Chris Sellers, the owner of CJ Finz. With each post, Chris is genuine, upbeat, and grateful – a perfect message. It’s food, so of course, the images are going to be a hit. But what helps make these posts super effective is that they don’t come from a company Facebook page. He sends them out of his personal account and tags all of the influencers in his personal network. As you can see, it works and it’s continued to work for well over a month.

Too often, I see the wrong approach taken with marketing during this crisis. I get at least a dozen sales emails a day that start with “During these uncertain times,…” or something similar. People are starving for empathy, optimism and a sense of normal. Leading with that kind of talk is just reminding them of what they already know.

Digital Transformation

It’s time for digital transformation. If this term is new to you, don’t be nervous. It’s just a fancy way of saying “take advantage of the internet”. We’re all doing it in one way or another but now is the time to make the most of it to develop strong customer experience.

Since this started about six weeks ago, we’ve helped a handful of businesses (restaurants, breweries, shops) move their operations online (either free or reduced cost) so that they can keep the lights on with on-brand customer experience.

Shops should check out the Google Merchant Center, which allows small businesses to quickly get products listed while getting a more sophisticated e-commerce platform up and running.

And check out financing companies like Affirm that allow customers to finance purchases – even $50 items, which could be the difference between buying now or waiting.

Add Video to Your Marketing Mix

If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to consider video content. Since the beginning of March, online activity has shifted dramatically. It doesn’t have to be a Hollywood production – even a simple one can work wonders. If you’re a consultant, use it to give tips. If you’re a venue and you rely on people to be on-site, bring the customer experience to them through footage and speaking the passion you have for your business.

I wanna show you an example of a really quick, simple video we did last week. We had a shoot where I asked four simple but commonly-searched questions about this attorney’s area of practice. Each question will be its own video and they’ll run about a minute. We turned the first one around in a day.

A More Intimate Customer Experience

Last week, I got a call from out of the blue by someone at our local chamber of commerce. She was simply checking in on us and seeing what we were up to. We talked for about 15 minutes on how the country may open back up, how we’re seeing other businesses change in response to the pandemic, small talk pretty much.

A fellow chamber member was reached out to by a different chamber employee. For her, it was just an email that said she could contact the chamber if she needed anything. She already knew she could do that. That was a wasted opportunity on the chamber’s part to craft a positive customer experience.

Email marketing is fine for broad outreach but don’t let it replace the sound of your voice. Your customers are uncertain and hearing a calm and understanding voice is what they could use right now. In fact, it could have a profound impact on how they get through their day.

You don’t need to have answers. You don’t need to have a reason to call other than to just see how they’re doing. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn from what they’re going through and how much insight you’re able to give them. It’ll also help you re-connect as people and remind your customers that you really do care about them as individuals.

Connecting with Your Employees

In the same spirit, make sure to keep connected with your employees and team members. They’re just as afraid as anyone else and with unemployment topping 20% when you factor the pre-existing unemployment rate with what’s happened over recent weeks, you know what’s keeping them up at night. At Imagine, we’re having Zoom calls every day, if only to tell a few jokes and ask a couple of questions.

Or order a llama. Yeah, a llama. There’s a farm that lets you order a farm animal to sit on your Zoom call for like ten minutes. Plan a virtual happy hour or even a team meeting and tell them there’ll be a live goat on the call? They’ll show up.

Exiting the Pandemic

This is undoubtedly an incredible business challenge we’re facing. It’s a challenge many businesses simply will not make it through. But we will exit this pandemic at some point and when we do, expect utter insanity. People are going to make up for the lost time. The hit on their personal finances may determine the length of the insanity, but restaurants and hospitality businesses should benefit the most from a welcome resurgence.

To prepare for that, companies need to spend less time and money on audience growth while investing more in boosting the customer experience, providing value to their target audience, and empathizing with clients and prospects that might be making incredibly difficult decisions.

When we start getting back to normal, your audience will remember the encounters they had with companies along the way. The customer experience you provide now will stick and your brand will be elevated as a result.


Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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