Amidst the craziness of 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak and the mass panic which is ensuing, we seem to be losing sight of how to market to our customer base in the right way. Small businesses will be the hardest hit by the knock to the economy and you can tell that many business owners are feeling desperate!

Even before the Corona Virus outbreak, over the past few months, I have watched countless small businesses walk on a hair-thin line of marketing their business in a way that is insensitive, ignorant or just a tad on the unethical side and this is something that has been bothering me. Since it’s been a while since I have published a blog post, and in light of current events, I have put together a list of Do’s and Don’ts to help you navigate as a small business owner.

Let’s tackle the list of small business marketing faux pas first:

1. DO NOT use imagery that you don’t have rights to, that’s not public domain or that belongs to another brand, business, or social media account without credit.

I cannot stress this one enough! This is a sure-fire way to get your business sued. Many business owners take the chance because they think “Oh, but everyone else does this, it will be fine” Nope! There are plenty of stock websites which provide free to use images or just require you to credit the source.

This image is clearly watermarked and should not be used for posting on social media.

How do you know an image is copyrighted? Well, the most obvious way is if it is watermarked, you need the rights to use this image. You can buy a license or a membership to a stock photography site and use these images which will then be provided to you without the watermark. Other than the fact of it being someone else’s work which they would like to get paid for, if you promote your products or services with watermarked pictures – it looks really cheap and unprofessional and you could lose potential customers.

Also, if you share something on social media, whether it be a quote or a picture, make sure that you credit the account you posted it from. Nobody likes plagiarism and while I do agree that there is nothing new under the sun, you don’t need to steal other people’s content just to stand out.

2. Be sensitive about how your post can be taken out of context.

Even if you have well-meaning intentions, sometimes a post can come off as racially or culturally insensitive.

Like this post for a bridal boutique which leads with the headline
“when white is just right”.

Don’t try to capitalize off of tragedy or negative events. This is a hot button right now. There are many companies jumping on the #CoronaVirus as a way to market their product to people, whether they are in the health, sanitation or even some completely unrelated industry that they managed to correlate with a link that it is tenuous at best. This just comes across as tacky and in poor taste, since this is something that is affecting the world in a very real way and it makes your brand seem out of touch and insensitive.

This is a post from a group that doesn’t allow advertising, yet this business owner is trying to sneak advertising for her product by piggybacking off of another business’s post to try and assist people during the COVID19 Social Distancing situation.

3. Don’t try to appeal to a community that you are not familiar with.

This is a tricky one as, as a social media manager, my advice should be getting on as many social media platforms as possible and get the word out there.

The problem is, each social media platform has its own identity, user demographic and community. And just like a ballet dancer showing up at a monster truck event, you look hella out of place if you are not familiar with the community and it shows.

The goal of social media is to create a relationship with your consumers and create trust. When you show up to a platform, don’t know the lingo, or how to interact with that community or if it is just not an on-brand platform for you, it doesn’t create a meaningful presence. It just makes you seem out of your depth, insincere and are just there to sell. I know that this is a hard truth, but this is why social media managers exist – to help you with your presence on platforms that you are not sure of. There are also lots of amazing digital marketing agencies that provide training on social media platforms that can help you get started. At the very least, you should spend time on a platform in your personal capacity first to learn more about the people on there.

This is a little awkward – as we know, you cannot post photos in the comments of Instagram posts.

Ok so now let’s talk about how you can market your business and stay on brand.

Perhaps the biggest thing that you can keep first and foremost in your strategy is that your marketing should ALWAYS aim to SOLVE A PROBLEM for your customer. If you look at your marketing from this perspective, you will find it easier to identify your ideal customer and how to sell to them.

Start off by asking the following questions:

  • What age group and gender are you appealing to?
  • What do they do for a living and income bracket?
  • Where are they based? Is your business limited to your surroundings or do you sell an online digital product or service?
  • What are their interests and biggest concerns?
  • What unique value does your business offer?

It is something I hear time and time again, people saying – “Well, my product is for anybody and everybody. I don’t want to limit my sales.” The reality is when you market your services to everyone, you market to no one, as people don’t relate to something that is generalized. They tend to overlook it.

So let’s take a look at one of our examples from above. The bridal boutique. Marketing to everyone, unless you are a bride to be, you are probably not going to be interested in their products. Let’s answer the questions above:

  • 20-40-year-old women.
  • Middle and upper classes – people who have money to spend on luxury items. Probably have tertiary educations or higher tier jobs.
  • People in a 100km radius of the boutique, who would be able to fit the dress and collect in person
  • Weddings and wedding planning! Bridal Expos, wedding venues, honeymoon locations, wellness programs, spas and beauty treatments. They might have concerns about looking their best on their wedding day, fitting dresses, finding a flattering dress, expenses, stresses related to wedding planning.
  • This is up to you to decide. You might offer dresses for curvier body types, or dresses that are custom made. You could offer a luxury experience – e.g. private fittings with champagne or offer after hour appointments for busy brides.

How to use this information to market your business

Instead of supplying silly, tone-deaf statements, you can write a carefully worded caption to your picture on Instagram or Facebook that might sound something like this:

“If you are looking for a beautiful, custom made wedding dress which will fit your body type and your budget, book an appointment with us today! We will help you find your perfect dress and we offer private fittings that will make you feel like a princess. Can’t get off work or have a crazy schedule? No problem! We have after-hour availability to suit your needs. You can contact us on xxx or pop into our boutique at x place.”

This way you can provide all the necessary information for them to know what you are about and of course a call to action which is so important for all social media posts.

Final thought – always provide value!

During these uncertain times, it is tempting to try and push your business or services on people – especially if you are worried about losing revenue over the next while. DON’T! It leaves people with a bad taste in their mouths and it can taint your brand for months to come. I have seen a lot of talk over the past few days of people taking note of how businesses are handling this pandemic and are going to go out of their way to either support or avoid them in the future based on their actions right now.

Continue to keep your focus on solving customers’ problems and providing value for them. So in the case of the bridal boutique, instead of pedaling expensive dresses in a time where all weddings are being postponed, maybe share a blog post of how couples can communicate with their wedding suppliers to navigate this crisis. Or share some heartwarming content that is still wedding related but can serve as a distraction and/or a reminder of what is really important right now.

And that is staying safe, keeping indoors, practicing kindness and self-care. I know that this was a bit of a long one, so if you made it to the end – I hope you are able to use the info to enrich your brand. Stay indoors and stay strong!

Let’s get through this together!

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