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Deep breath, small business community. It’s now been a few weeks since the threat of COVID-19 got real in the United States, and about a week since sweeping restrictions abruptly changed the way we all live, socialize, and shop. Here in Michigan, a sweeping order today shuttered “non-essential” businesses, following in the steps of other states; more states are very likely to follow suit soon. If your business is still open at all, it’s probably seen a huge slowdown and gone through major operational changes. These changes are expected to last weeks, if not longer.

And what we’re hearing from many of you is, “What do we do NOW?”

These are unprecedented times, no doubt about it. Everyone is confused and a lot of people are scared.

But, here’s one thing I know for sure – no matter what kind of business you have, your customers need to hear from you.

And right now, when people (likely including you and your staff!) are stuck at home, looking for news, entertainment, and a connection to the outside world, that means creating content – thoughtful, helpful, relevant content.

Why? Here are three reasons content strategy should be top of mind for every business during the coronavirus crisis: 

Consumers’ habits are changing rapidly.

From restaurant closures and to workplace changes, to alterations in the very basics of the way we greet and interact as human beings, our society has gone through a massive change in a very short time. Science shows that new habits are most easily formed during times of novelty, when old routines are upended, giving people fewer anchors to connect activities. That means that your customers are likely rapidly forming new habits right now. Will connecting with your business be one of them?

Strong emotions are linked to lasting memories.

Do you remember where you were when the Challenger exploded, or on 9/11? Research shows that emotional experiences lead to greater retention of memories. Right now, people across the world are experiencing an intense range of emotions. Your thoughtful communication during this time stands to put you in the forefront of their memory as a positive, calming, comforting force. Confusing or off-base messaging could have the opposite effect, planting you in the memory negatively. 

Your customers need you – and they’re paying attention.

Right now your customers may be anxious, unsettled, looking for information, or just in need of a distraction. This is not the time to go silent – it’s time to lead! Whether you have 50 or 50000 Facebook followers, a highly-trafficked website or a handful of people on your email list doesn’t matter. Start where you are, with the audience you have, and ask yourself this:

How can I be of service to my customers? What kind of content can be produced simply in accordance with current restrictions, while still being helpful, relevant, and useful – not just white noise?

Some ideas:

  • If you own a crafting or sewing that has gone temporarily dark, maybe you can share ideas for simple projects customers can do at home with supplies they likely already have. 
  • If you’re an arts organization, you could put on a virtual event, like this Virtual Cabaret planned by The Ghostlight Theatre.
  • A winemaker or brewer could share a behind-the-scenes look at their processes and philosophies, and perhaps even offer a live experience like this Virtual Tasting from Hickory Creek Winery.
  • A nonprofit organization could start a podcast to keep in touch with donors and volunteers and tell the stories of the people and communities they’re helping through this crisis. 

A few other tips: 

  • Go where your customers are. If your people tend to be on Instagram, perhaps you’ll plan regular Instagram Live videos to say hello; if you have a robust email list, perhaps you can send out a project PDF they can download or simply reach out regularly to check in. 
  • That said, this is a great time to experiment! Your customers want to hear from you, and right now they’l be extremely forgiving of technical hiccups and the fact that you’re “learning as you go.” Right now, we’re all feeling our way day-to-day, so let them take a peek behind the curtain and watch as you try something new – even if that means you fumble a bit in the process. 
  • Lead with generosity, and look at the big picture. The point of creating content right now isn’t necessarily to drive short-term sales (though if you have an established e-commerce presence or are able to put one together quickly, it certainly can’t hurt!) and immediate ROI shouldn’t even be on your radar. Right now, you need to be a touchpoint for your customers so they’ll remember that you were there for them when we all come out the other side.

No doubt about it, COVID-19 has created incredible challenges for small and medium-sized businesses – but it’s also a time of unprecedented opportunity. It’s never been easier to be part of a conversation everyone is having, all at the same time – and all it takes is a smartphone or computer, and some creative ideas.

So start now! 

Want to stay in front of your customers during this unfolding event, but aren’t sure how to add value to their lives? We can help. Shoot an email to meagan@sunsetcoastmichigan.com or fill out an inquiry form – we’re offering free Strategy Sessions to a limited number of businesses, and are available for hire to help you craft a content strategy, set up an e-commerce presence, or plan for a big comeback when life gets back to normal. 

Meagan Francis