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Marketing in a Crisis: What to Do and How to Strike the Right Tone

Reading Time: 7 minutes

COVID-19, or commonly called “coronavirus,” has changed daily life for nearly every person across the globe. Confined to our homes, whether willingly or out of necessity, customers across 77 countries are practicing self-isolation and social distancing in an effort to reduce the spread of this pandemic.

Like many sectors, the retail world is feeling the effect. While, not surprisingly, some industries like protective products against COVID-19 have surged, they are more of the exception rather than the rule. According to a survey by Digital Commerce 360, nearly half of online retailers are expecting some downside revenue implications. Retailers have reported issues with supply chain fulfillment, delays in deliveries, and those who are uniquely brick-and-mortar are scrambling to get online.

Overall, as customers avoid going out to shops, online shopping has become the first choice for necessities. But for marketers, knowing how to respectfully market comes with a lot of uncertainty.

As an ecommerce marketer, it’s imperative you respond appropriately. What you do now will determine how your brand is perceived in the future.

Today, we’re going to explore the right way to approach your customers during a crisis in your ecommerce marketing, whether it’s COVID-19 or another future catastrophe, and how you can add value to your customers while trying to maintain your needs as a business.

How to Adjust Your Marketing in a Time of Crisis

It’s not so much what you say, it’s how you say it.

This is a sensitive time for your customers, even the best cases are likely stressed and glued to the news. Right now, you need to be as human as possible, and you need to be sensitive to what they need.

Here are a few ways you can adjust your tone to better suit the current situation:

  • Use a supportive tone: Just like we suggest in your cart abandonment messages, adopt a supportive tone in lieu of a promotional one. Customers aren’t in the mood to be sold to, so instead, use your tone to offer help.
  • Be human: Some people are worse-off than others. This is your time to do things for your customers that add value to their lives. How can you help them get through this crisis? What can you do to show that you care? For example, offering your customers a list of resources, free shipping, or even removing minimum free shipping thresholds might be a good way to show your customers you value them.
  • Acknowledge that things aren’t normal right now: There are two ways to go about this. You can either directly acknowledge the situation and offer the support that you can, or you can indirectly address the situation in a lighter tone. For example, you could choose to be direct and say “In light of the current situation with COVID-19, we’ve decided to offer our films digitally while you wait for it to ship.” Alternatively, if you sell things for entertainment, you can choose a more indirect way and go with something like “Bored at home? We’re offering free rush shipping.” Choose the way that best fits your brand voice.
  • Be transparent: If you’re experiencing delivery delays and fulfillment issues, be 100% transparent with your customers about it. Now is not the time to destroy your customer’s trust in your brand. So if something is out of stock, make sure your site reflects that. If there is a delay in shipping, make sure your customer knows before they purchase. A customer that elects to purchase later rather than now is so much better than an angry customer who purchases now.

How you treat this crisis is going to set the stage for how your business does when all of this has passed. In the meantime, focus on maintaining the connection that you currently have with your customers.

5 Ways to Add Value: How to Maintain Your Connection with Your Customers

Good marketing has always been about creating and adding value to your customers’ lives.

Now, more than ever, your message to them needs to be relevant. Here are a few tips on how you can do that:

1. Adjust Your Message

Earlier I mentioned that it’s important to acknowledge what’s happening in your customers’ lives. It’s crucial to not pretend like everything is normal because that won’t resonate with your customers, whose lives have been upended.

Not every message has to be about COVID-19, however, you should think of the way you approach your customers. Are you addressing the fact that peoples’ work lives have completely upended, or that many have been tasked with becoming teachers on top of their normal professions? Are you recognizing that they’re stuck at home?

For example, it would be poor form for an airline to promote the latest hot deals on flights while people are under quarantine. The key here is to not be tone-deaf and to read the room appropriately.

Also, if you’re doing something to help your local community through this crisis, make sure your customers know about it. Invite them to join you in your efforts: doing so will help them feel like they’re doing something useful in the face of feeling helpless.

2. Promote Useful At-Home and Digital Products

Do you sell products that help pass the time at home? Are your products good for DIY projects?

Think about using your products to add value to your customers. Right now, your customers are likely inundated with news around COVID-19, and some are looking for escapism. Can you take your customers’ minds off this stressful situation?

Some companies are going a step further to encourage their customers to act responsibly and stay home. For example, Discord, a popular messaging and voice chat app has increased the limit for group streaming and screen share to help their customers maintain a social atmosphere while stuck at home.

This is a classic example of Discord understanding exactly what customers use their product for, and how to add value to them during a crisis.

Kaylin Marcotte, entrepreneur of Jiggy, a DTC brand that sells puzzles of independent art, shared her thoughts in a recent article on Modern Retail:

With everyone socially distancing at home, it’s been a good time for the puzzle business. The activity helps pass the time and keep the brain consumed, which we’re hoping to communicate to more customers. There is an appetite for anything that’s not just the actual coverage of coronavirus, and the feedback we’re getting shows that puzzles have been a welcome reprieve from the news cycle.

She continues in the article, explaining that her strategy has moved to adapt her communication to customers who are looking for at-home activities that maintain a more positive note than the doom and gloom her customers are feeling.

This is a great example of using your product to provide a welcome distraction from the current situation. Ask yourself how your customers need you to address this, and ask yourself how you can make their lives easier, or at the very least, relieve a bit of the stress they’re feeling.

3. Encourage Social Sharing Amidst Social Isolation

If your sector is even slightly creative, now’s the time to encourage social sharing with your customers. Maintaining that connection with your customers through social media will also help suppress any unfavorable news cycles that might arouse with the crisis.

You might want to consider holding an online competition or giveaway. Ask your customers to share their creations using a certain hashtag to create a sense of community throughout your customer base. If there are creative ways to use your products to adapt to the new environment ask your customers to share those on social media — and get them started with some of your own. For example, can the box your shoes arrived in be used as a school supply holder?

Not only will this take their minds off the current situation, but it will help fortify the link you’ve already established with your customers.

4. Give Your Customers a Sense of Normalcy

Life might be moving a little more slowly at the moment, but it is still moving. If you sell things related to hygiene, beauty, or home maintenance, you can approach your customers in a way that helps them maintain some semblance of normalcy.

If you are a fashion retailer, it might be a tough time to sell going-out outfits. Maybe you could adopt a friendly tone and introduce outfits for a stay-at-home date night, and even provide some recipe links or date ideas to encourage an at-home escape?

However, tread with caution. It’s okay to help your customers maintain that sense of normalcy, but don’t ignore the issue at hand. It might come off as insensitive.

Max Benz, founder of RemoteCanteen, adds:

“Your customers want to feel this sense of normalcy but it’s also a good idea to help them master the new normalcy. For example, you could create guides that are useful for your customers and support them in getting used to the current situation. Of course, these assets have to add value.”

5. Ease the Pressure Your Customers Feel with Pricing

Not every ecommerce merchant is going to be able to offer large discounts and commercial gestures. It’s understandable, this is affecting you too.

But if there’s something you can do to incentivize shopping with you, your customers will certainly appreciate it. Many retailers are using free shipping as a means to promote online shopping. However, there are other ways to do this too.

If you can, consider offering payment plans if your products are higher-end, or perhaps even deferred payments if possible.

It’s a tough time for all of us, and while discounting isn’t necessarily a long-term solution, it can definitely help in times of crisis.

How Omnisend Is Adding Value

Amid these difficult times, Omnisend is standing with you. We understand what you might be going through.

We, too, have moved all-remote, and our colleagues are dealing with the same challenges of working from home and practicing self-isolation.

Company-wide, we believe we have a social responsibility to give back locally which is why Omnisend has joined multiple local initiatives supporting health workers and others.

At present, we’re currently looking for ways to purchase respirators to donate them to hospitals as well.

As a reminder to those who need to get their brick-and-mortar stores online as quickly as possible, Omnisend offers a free plan to those who need basic email marketing. This can help you get started a little quicker.

The most important thing to remember is to be empathetic to your customers and their needs at this time. Marketing during a crisis is difficult and needs a very human approach. The best thing you can do is to think about how you can add value to your customers, and help them get through this situation as smoothly as possible.

If you have any additional questions, or we can help in any way, please let us know. While this may be a temporary situation, we’re all in this together, and we’ll all get through it together.

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Article by
Whitney Blankenship

Sr. Content Marketing Manager for Omnisend. When not writing awesome content, Whitney is reading up on the latest in digital marketing, ecommerce, and social media trends. Obsessed with pop culture, art, and metal. Powered by coffee. Fastest Googler in the West.