Summer is in full swing and, unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is still in full bloom.
Everyone is panicked, everyone is uncertain. Will schools reopen? Will businesses close down again? Will states go back on lock down? What does all this mean for the blood line of our industry? What is the future and how do we market to a customer base in a crisis such as this ... do we halt marketing or push on?
Regardless of the times, marketing requires two parallel tracks. Imagine two parallel train tracks. On the first track is your branding.
1) Consistent branding — keeping your name known and relevant in the marketplace. This can be done with truck wrapping, billboards, radio ads, door hangers, referrals, magnets…the list goes on. This marketing should represent who you are, why you are different, and why the world is better with you in it.
2) Flash Marketing — On the second track, we have what I call “flash marketing.” These are your coupons, promotions, and special deals, often used to “flash” new prospects, attract their attention, and potentially win
Your brand marketing is in it for the long haul, chugging through continuously and providing a steady message, while your flash marketing makes frequent stops along the way, maybe bringing some new people on board, but often dropping them off a few stops down the line, too.
I cheated on Chick-fil-A once. Let me explain. They are my go-to if I can’t decide what to eat or am in a hurry or just want a semi-nutritious lunch. They have healthy options, good food, and a consistently positive experience. Their consistent branding got me on the loyalty train a long time ago, and I’m unlikely to get off.
But then I got a coupon for Arby’s in the mail. It’s a block away from my office, they have a drive through, and there was something for free on the coupon. I almost never go to Arby’s, but that coupon won me that day. I hopped on the Arby’s train at one of the train stops. They won me in the short term. However, I got off just a couple of stops down the road since I’m more of a Chick-fil-A person. Sometimes flash marketing can win long-term customers, and sometimes it doesn’t.
But the true danger in flash marketing, is when your competitors do it. You can’t afford to lose your loyal customers to your competitors flash – which is why you must use flash too. Brand your customers, and flash your customers, simultaneously.
Once the novelty of the flash wears off, what is left is what determines if customers are going to stay or not.
You must inspire an emotional connection. And that brings me to my most updated point about dumbing down your marketing. On that branding track, we have to take it back to basic humanness, and we so often forget that; sometimes, it takes a global disaster for us to remember our humanness.
For our brand to inspire an emotional connection, we have to actually try to connect. We have to be human with true concerns for others. We have to show that we care for others, not just about ourselves. And then we inspire a connection. And then our marketing works.
Think about every company you love and why you love it. Chances are, you like more than just the product. Sure, TOMS shoes are cool looking as far as canvas slip-on shoes go, but I like the philanthropic work they do.
I love that the Honest Co. has great organic products for my kids, but I also love that they donate toys and raise money for a children’s hospital.
These companies have aligned with things I care about, so they get my business. And even if I get “flashed” by someone else, they only lose my business in the long run if the “flasher” connects with me more than they do.
As the times change, marketing has to change too. We must constantly evolve, constantly grow, and constantly mold to the people because we are only in business if we have people.
Dan Kennedy, the author of the “No B.S.” line of marketing, management and business leadership books says that how a customer feels is much more important than what they know or think – before, during and after a purchase.
Right now, all of us, our neighbors, our competitors, our friends, are all taking a huge hit financially. Calls are slowing and uncertainty is rising – so yes, we may have to invest in more freebies packaged into our marketing efforts but by showing the community that we care, we will surely win longer term business.
It’s okay to do something nice during a crisis. But it’s also okay to charge what you’re worth during a crisis. So, when flashing your specials and freebies, don’t be afraid to diversify and offer more expensive services than normal because your customers are inconvenienced and deserve the opportunity of choice right now, especially when it comes to the health and safety of their family.
When we sell just to sell and just to stay in business, we have lost our humanness.Marketing works by finding your niche and marketing to your target audience. But to truly market to someone, you have to understand them. Maybe you even have to be them. If we simply impose onto people what we think or say they need, we are marketing blindly (and at a high cost, might I add) at best and exploiting them at worst.
But if we all take a moment to understand our customers and market to their needs, then we become a solution to their needs instead of an exploitation of their money. When we remember that we are all humans and inspire a connection, then we have a symbiotic relationship in which they benefit from our company and we stay in business because we are fulfilling their needs.
Sometimes we get sloppy; we’re all guilty of it. We feel the intense pressure to stay relevant and market something today, so we don’t take the time to really focus on our message and think about who it is going to. It’s costly to do this, and if it isn’t the right message, it could be the time that your customer hits “unsubscribe,” which means they miss your next message that maybe was more tailored to them.
I developed a really cool marketing calendar last year (send me an email if you want one; I’ll send you a physically printed one for free), and it is helping me stay on track in my own business. But even though things are written on my calendar, I have had to be flexible and change with the times, too.
I had some really great pieces developed for my upcoming workshops and trainings, and you know what? Right now, people are quarantined and will not be attending onsite, and that’s just the harsh reality. While I had a plan, I have to change with the times. I have to resist the urge to market how I had planned; I know that today, people won’t spend money the same way, so it’s time to connect, offer to serve, and remind people that I am in business because I care about them.
I care about their families, their children, the elderly, and I care about humans.
Marketing has to have those double parallel tracks of loyalty branding and flash marketing to be effective, but if you forget to ask your passengers their destination, if you fail to understand what your customers really need and want, they’re not likely to get onto your train, or they might hop off before you want them to.
And just like trains use those railroad switches to switch tracks, we have to evolve with the times and switch tracks, or we might just crash and burn. Look for the humanity in your company; look for the humanity in your customers and prospects; look for the humanity in your marketing.
Danielle Putnam is president of The New Flat Rate and immediate past resident of Women in HVACR. The New Flat Rate, a home service menu-selling system designed to put profit directly into the hands of plumbing, electrical and HVAC contractors. Women in HVACR provides avenues for networking and educating while encouraging more women to enter the trades. For additional information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit womeninhvacr.org and thenewflatrate.com.