A Strong Comeback Is The Best Way To Help Your Employees, Community, And The Economy
10 Ways to Prepare for a Strong Comeback
By Maureen Hooley Bausch, Partner at Bold North Associates
Coronavirus is the new reality for every business leader. When will it end? When and how will we reopen the country? What can we do in the meantime? Once you’ve perfected your home office, cleaned your closets and cupboards, logged your daily 15,000 steps, and streamed TV until you just cannot any longer — what’s next? How can we as business development professionals help?
It’s time to think about life after COVID-19. Each company has a choice, you can crawl back into the race or race back to the top. If you come out of the gate hot, you might even jump ahead of where you were when so many businesses shut their doors.
Your ability to be proactive is critical for the welfare of your employees and related businesses — suppliers, services, and vendors. You can help everyone get back up to restore their lost income and savings. The best way to make that happen, is to plan now. How will you bring your business back to where it was just a few weeks ago?
I’ve spent my career in business development navigating booms and busts. I can attest to the fact that if we don’t shrink back in fear and frustration — if we bring our best marketing efforts — sales will actually increase.
During the Great Recession, I led a team at Mall of America as EVP of Business Development and was in lead marketing roles during 9/11, the Bird Flu, and SARS. The swift and creative actions we took were vital to maintaining the jobs of the more than 13,000 people who worked for Mall of America and its 500+ retailers, restaurants, and attractions.
The mall survived those terrible times and continued to grow. What I learned through each crisis was that we could come out stronger — if we made our marketing and business development efforts more creative, sensitive, and stronger than ever.
The usual marketing activities weren’t enough. We had to devise new ways to speak to our market.
During the Great Recession, Mall of America focused on three key tactics:
- We communicated with compassion and understanding. We knew most customers wouldn’t be spending on luxury items like diamond bracelets or leather jackets. We also knew people still wanted to shop — but for less costly items like a cup of coffee or sale apparel. To maintain and grow our business, we simply needed more customers. Growing our base required constant top-of-mind awareness. We didn’t want people to forget we were there. We spread the word that whether guests had on dollar or ten thousand dollars to spend, they were welcome at Mall of America. We were all in this together!
- Next, we worked hard to enhance the guest experience. We trained and empowered the approximately 1,500 employees who worked directly for the mall to “Make Someone Happy.” If guests looked stressed, our employees helped carry bags out to their cars. Or gave them free amusement ride tickets. Or mall gift cards. We created a “surprise and delight” program our employees would stroll up to pay for a guest’s purchases as they were waiting in line to pay. As you can imagine, guests were truly blown away by the kindness. We had plenty of free things to do inside the mall also, like author book signings, concerts, and celebrity appearances.
- Finally, we hunted for new markets of potential new customers. We had never engaged in sports sponsorships, but we understood the power and loyalty people felt for their favorite sports team franchises. We choose to collaborate with the Minnesota Vikings, who became phenomenal partners. We branded the stadium. Players appeared at the mall to celebrate wins and special events. We gave away tickets, and the team promoted us during games. We could see the rise in traffic for home games as out-of-town fans came to the mall.
In the end, the mall increased revenue by tens of millions during the Great Recession, just one of a handful of shopping centers in the country to achieve that. We were very fortunate to have the support of wonderful owners Triple Five, who allowed us to step up to the challenge.
Creative marketing clears the way for business and employees to be successful again.
At the moment, your business might be slowed or even shuttered. But leadership never pauses. It just requires fresh imagination and a will to survive these troubled times. We see ideas at work every day already.
There’s one thing we know for sure. The pandemic will end. Let’s be ready. Let’s come out of the gate hot—as soon as we can open our doors.
Here are just a few ideas:
1. Recast your vision. What do you want your business to look like six months from now? Imagine it flourishing with employees embracing their work and customers enjoying your goods and services. Your vision will make it happen. Whether you’re a restaurant, retailer, service, consultant, or B2B vendor, your business can be back even stronger if you use this time to strategize.
It begins with a vision of what you would like your business to be like by – let’s say Fall. What will re-opening day look like? What will your first ad say? What do you need to do to be ready?
Maybe there are construction projects or upgrades that could happen now when your doors are shut if you can financially make it work.
2. Plan your return. Planning will make your vision a reality. What will it take? Assume this new way of life will necessitate modifications to your business. These modifications most likely will be in place far beyond the peak of COVID-19. Just like after 9/11, some changes may be permanent. Opening may require a new operational plan. Think about how your business might need to be different for the next 18 months. What will your customers want and when? What will make them happy? What will make their life easier? You get the idea.
Rewrite your business plan with this new consumer in mind. For example, people will be fearful of going to large places for some time so we can expect the small home parties typical in the 1950s and 60s to make a comeback. If you’re in home décor, a cooking store, or gift businesses, for example, there will be an opportunity to market yourself as entertaining specialists. You can position yourself as “Idea Central” for home gatherings. This new positioning can be marketed through your website, newsletter, blog, etc.
It could happen that the less vulnerable will be back first. What will they need and want, not only for themselves but for those still in their homes? “Buy one, get one” offers might be of interest for those who are out and about helping others.
3. Stay connected. Your business might be closed, but don’t lose contact with your customers. Use all available vehicles to reach them. This doesn’t mean sending advertisements daily, although that may if appropriate if you can sell online. Let your base know you’re thinking about them and that you care. Send ideas as they relate to your line of business. Change your marketing strategy from promotional to more content driven.
If you don’t have contact information, use Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and other social media platforms to build a following with great ideas for the current condition.
You might be able to assist customers virtually. People are cleaning their houses like never before, and for clothing retailers, that creates a fun opportunity for wardrobing. Or you can make the most of curbside pick-up. If you sell products that require pick up, surprise your customers with something extra. You can’t have an extended conversation as drivers pull up and away, but you can include a small gift and note. Those extra touches go a long way in building loyal customers.
4. Be transparent. Tell your customers what your company is doing to ensure their health and safety. It might be the new employee policies you are implementing, deep cleaning your facility, installing new air filters, or other things, but it’s crucial you communicate those facts so customers will feel more secure returning once you’re open.
Explain too what you’re doing to help others during this time. Whether it’s donating time, money, or resources to those in need, find a way to share those moments. People want to feel good about spending their money at businesses that care.
5. Surprise and delight homebound customers. More time at home likely means more time to read or consume content. In our new normal of limiting person-to-person contact, how can you provide a human touchpoint and make customers’ lives a little better? What information or classes can you offer online? What tangible offerings can you distribute?
Attractions particularly can help ease the burden of parents with children home all day. Create virtual scavenger hunts and trivia contests to win discounted or free admission once you are open again. These provide fun breaks for both parents and children.
Think of things, for example, that parents can use to keep their children engaged and moving. Zoos and aquariums are hosting animal field trips throughout their facilities proving new content and social opportunities for their animals. Museums have virtual tours and amusement parks are offering virtual ride experiences.
6. Prepare for pent up demand. Most people love to shop or experience new things. Whether it is browsing for a new item, having coffee with a friend or visiting an art museum, we are social people who want to be out and about. People will soon again enjoy the experience of hunting for goods and services. Freshen up your look. Be ready for their return!
If you operate a service such as a salon, optical or speech therapy center, or restaurant, think of ways to make their return special. Do something that people will share with friends the next day. There are a million little things that will rebuild loyalty.
7. Tap new markets. Now is the time to explore potential new markets. Understanding the consumer mindset will be key. Altered consumer behaviors can provide an opportunity to develop new markets.
Most likely, the younger demographics will venture out first. After spending many weeks in their homes, what will they be looking for? Which services will they need most? Things like pet grooming and exercise classes will be in high demand. Can you provide welcome back events or experiences that combine your business with these services? Parents and children will have been at home for an extended time. How can you make sure they choose your business for a fun first outing?
Consider what people will need and want to do first. How can understanding these new behaviors stimulate your business?
For example, after spending 30 days on FaceTime or in Zoom meetings, people may just want to change their look with a new pair of glasses – this is an opportunity to gain new customers.
8. Plan promotions. Reach out and thank people with offers, events, entertainment, and special pricing. Help people return to their routine habits with the least amount of stress and in an economical way. It will endear your business to customers for a very long time. Plan now how your creative messaging will encourage them to consider your establishment first.
9. Improve guest experience. Welcome customers back with open arms. This is not new news…people visit and spend their hard-earned money at places where they feel good. Training or retraining your team to show kindness and compassion will be vital to your continued success. Empower your employees to make people happy with whatever you have to offer.
Super Bowl LII was played in Minnesota during February. There were ten thousand wildly enthusiastic volunteers who made the experience special. Even though the day was the coldest Super Bowl ever played, 83% of guests said they would return to Minnesota. Why? The tremendous attitude of volunteers serving guests generated warmth and made people feel special.
10. Show gratitude. Most importantly, do everything you can to let your guests and customers know how much you appreciate their business. Make sure your employees know how much you value them and their efforts. Show your heart. It’s the secret to success.
As marketers and business development leaders, it’s time to put our skill and experience to the test. The time is right, this is the moment to do what you do best: create a plan for a phenomenally successful comeback. It’s the best way we can help our colleagues, customers, and communities.
Let’s do it!