Unless you’re an essential business, you’re likely seeing sales slow down during these crazy times. However, that doesn’t mean your business has to slow down as well.

Choose to see this period as an opportunity to strengthen your customer relationships and grow your brand’s presence. With the right marketing and communication strategy, you’ll be able to craft compelling messages  and position yourself as a go-to brand when consumers’ morale and the economy are back on track.

Let’s look at some of the things you can do today that will enable you to build stronger relationships for tomorrow.

1. Keep constant communication with your customers

Communication is the bedrock of any strong relationship. This is true pretty much all year round, but it becomes doubly important during times of crisis.

As Donald Miller, the CEO of Storybrand, said in a recent episode of the Tony Robbins podcast, it’s better for businesses to over-communicate with customers during this time.

This doesn’t necessarily mean emailing them every day, but you should at least update your social accounts daily.

“You need to be communicating with your customers via social media more than ever,” says Miller.

“There’s a reason that in times of worry and stress and anxiety, the president has a press conference every single day. Even if nothing new or much new has happened, you got to pull some things together because you standing there, and being empathetic and being in control actually calms people. So leaders need to over-communicate during this time.”

For a small business, this can mean creating a customer communications calendar that maps out the posts and messages you send to your audience. Ideally, you should be updating your social media accounts daily, and engaging in email marketing on a weekly basis.

There’s no shortage of tools and software that can help you do this. Hootsuite and Buffer are two of the most popular tools for mapping out your social media efforts. Or if you want a more sophisticated platform, you can use something like CoSchedule, which can bring all your marketing communications (email, blog, socials) in one place.

And if you’re looking for a free resource to start with, Hootsuite has a basic Social Media Content Calendar that uses Google Sheets.

2. Incorporate a variety of posts and themes

As for what to talk about, we recommend having a healthy mix of different content types and topics. The right combination depends on your business and audience, but here are some suggestions:

Publish company announcements and updates

Things are evolving rapidly, and if there are any changes that are affecting your business and customers, you need to inform them ASAP. For example, if your city or state is planning to ease up on its lockdown restrictions, then you should update your customers if, when, and how you’re planning to open back up.

For example, when the state of California started allowing retail businesses to open up for curbside pickup, the independent bookstore Vroman’s immediately published a post on social media, detailing the store's hours of operation and the specific steps people need to take to make a purchase.

Embed: https://www.instagram.com/p/B_8LE1xBUku/

Post content encouraging people to take care of themselves

With people struggling financially, mentally, and emotionally, self-care is more important than ever. If it makes sense for your brand, use your platform to share content that encourages people to look after themselves.

This could mean giving tips on how to cope with stress. Or you could shoot workout videos to get people moving.

Determine what works best for your audience and go from there.

The following illustration from Sam Jayne Design is a wonderful example of this tip in action. Sam Jayne has been posting content designed to empower women even before the pandemic, so her post about self-love feels completely authentic, timely, and on-brand.

Embed: https://www.instagram.com/p/B_QJwT0ncTN/

Share creative ideas to do at home

Unless your niche is focused on people with essential jobs, chances are most of your customers are spending more time at home.

Keep your brand relevant by sharing work-from-home or DIY-centric content that your audience can put to action.

From recipes and ideas to beat boredom to productivity and home improvement tips, there are tons of home-centric topics to explore.

This is something that we recently did here at noissue. With a lot of you working from home, we know that staying productive can be a challenge. So, we put together an article on creating a productive WFH experience. We even added photos for inspiration!

Promotional content

Not everything you share has to be COVID-related. While you should certainly acknowledge the tough situation that the world is going through, these recent events shouldn’t put your sales and marketing efforts to a complete halt.

You still need to sell and put your products out there, so keep up with your marketing initiatives.

Promotional activities — when implemented properly — can drive much-needed traffic and revenues.

Take a look at this email from KiwiCo, a company that sells STEM, STEAM, and science kits for kids. To promote its DIY projects for Mother’s Day, KiwiCo sent a promotional email that reads, in part:

“Moms are working extra hard this year. Have your kids show their love for your household hero.”

It’s a well-written email that manages to be promotional while still being relevant and sensitive to the current landscape.

3. Engage in active (online) listening

Talking to your customers is great, but remember that communication is a two-way street. To do it effectively, you also need to actively listen to what they have to say.

You can do this by:

Monitoring the responses you get from your audience. This includes email replies and comments on your social media posts.

Using social listening tools. Apps like Brand24 and Sprout Social allow you to efficiently track brand mentions and audience sentiment, which can give you insights into how your audience is doing and how they perceive your company.

“Listening” to web searches. It also helps to use tools that allow you to track web searches. Google Trends is a popular one, and more recently, the search company launched Rising Retail Categories, a tool that surfaces retail searches that are surging in popularity.

The interactive tool helps you understand fast-rising retail categories in Google Search, the locations where they’re growing, and the queries associated with them.

Paying attention to what’s trending in your space. What are people talking about? Are there any topics, events, or pop culture references that are constantly popping up in your feed?

Taking the steps above will help you get to know what’s valuable to your audience during these times. You’ll gain awareness into what’s important to them, and that information can feed into your decision-making on what topics to discuss or even what products or services to offer going forward.

4. Find ways to support your customers and community in general

One thing you can do today to ensure even stronger customer relationships after the pandemic is to support people who need it the most.

If you know of customers or community members who are down or struggling, do what you can to make their lives a little easier during these times.

Your support doesn’t always have to be monetary (e.g., freebies or discounts). You can lift up your community — and your business in the process — through actions like giving shout-outs and encouraging your audience to support others.

Here’s a cool example from the homeware and accessories retailer Poppie Snow. In a recent Instagram story, Poppie Snow used IG’s “SupportSmall” sticker to highlight and recommend other businesses and accounts to check out.

As a bonus, spotlighting other buisnesses will encourage them to reshare your posts, so you’ll likely get some social love in the process.

Another way to give back? Freely share your knowledge. Take questions, offer advice, and provide value when you can. Instagram, once again, makes this really simple. The app’s live video capabilities and Q&A sticker allow you to easily interface with your audience.

Check out this example from the designer Ella Lama, who recently invited her followers to submit questions.

Finally, if you have the means, you could consider donating products to those in need.

That’s what the protein snack company think! did to support front-line workers amidst the coronavirus pandemic. To show healthcare and community workers how much they're appreciated, think! donated its protein bars to select medical centers and non-profit organizations in Los Angeles, where the company is based.

5. Live and demonstrate your values

It’s easy to live your values when things are going well, but the real test comes when times are tough.

Don’t let this pandemic prod you into letting go of the values that are core to your brand. Make it a point to continue living your mission and vision even if it’s inconvenient to do so.

Make no mistake: consumers care a lot about brand values and ethics, so the things you do today will be remembered by your customers when all of this is over.

Everlane, a company that prides itself in producing transparently-priced and ethically-made clothing, offers an excellent example of a brand that sticks to its values through turbulent times.

Even as the world continues to adjust the current situation, Everlane carried on with its initiative to transition to certified organic cotton. Everlane launched its Certified Organic Tee Collection during the lockdown, and at the time of writing this, some of its styles only had limited quantities left.

Wrapping up

It may seem like the world has slowed down, but there are still plenty of opportunities for growth — specifically when it comes to your customer base. Even if you can’t fully operate right now, you can double down on your branding and customer communications efforts to ensure that you have a solid base when things pick up.