How to Help Your Local Channel Partners Adapt During COVID-19

As the spread of COVID-19 continues across the country and the world at large, many dealerships, franchise owners, and local retailers are finding themselves unsure how to maintain business. Some, like Auto Dealers, are still open. Non-essential businesses have been temporarily shut down in adherence with local government mandates. Others, like restaurants,  have been forced to adapt to new operational policies like “Contactless Delivery.”

Amidst all of these changes, local business owners have an opportunity to adjust their marketing and business plans to weather the storm. Although many businesses react to a recession by cutting their marketing spend altogether, there’s evidence that businesses that invest in marketing during a downturn are better positioned for success when the market recovers. Our experience over the past decade, along with the quick responses we’ve seen from some of the local business owners and brands we work with, have inspired us to share some strategies we hope might benefit your business. Many do require investment from owners and franchisors today, but will pay dividends in the long-run when consumers finally leave their work-from-home sanctuaries.

If your business depends on local retail outlets, this time will be very disruptive as it is not business as usual. To minimize this disruption, here are our thoughts on what your local channel partners could do to make the best of a bad situation. Please feel free to share these with them to encourage action now, and set the stage for a faster recovery.

Time To Revisit Your Local Marketing Plans

Many businesses are unsure how to adjust their marketing and communications during the COVID-19 outbreak. As fewer people are making their daily commute to work right now, your billboard on the highway heading into town along with your complimentary radio commercials may not be working as hard as you would hope. Media consumption habits have dramatically shifted and people are spending more time on their phones, tablets and computers while sheltered at home than ever before. If your business is using minimal social or search marketing, now is the right time to increase your efforts in these areas.

1. Take a look at your current marketing budget and see which allocations may be better spent with Facebook, Instagram, and/or Google. Ads can be relatively inexpensive with budget caps set for each day.

2. Make sure any ads you do place are targeted specifically to your local customer. If you are a paper company in Scranton Pennsylvania, you probably don’t need to advertise to a Parks Department in Indiana (although it would be amusing to see these two worlds collide).

  • You can filter geographic targeting to reach only the specific zip codes near your business (Facebook Targeting, Google Targeting).
  • You can employ behavioral targeting to identify individuals who may be interested in your product/service based on other things they like and search for (Facebook Behavioral Targeting).

3. Don’t be concerned with seeing a low ROI at first.

Provide Regular Updates To Let Customers Know How You Can Help

During a crisis, many businesses choose to “submarine” or “go dark” as they attempt to ride out the storm. In light of the current unprecedented, government-mandated closures, this trend has undoubtedly amplified.

If you choose this course of action, it’s important to at least communicate that your business is closed or offering adjusted hours of operation, as well as alert customers to specifics about existing appointment rescheduling options and projected reopening dates. Organic social media likely offers the most effective and cost-efficient way to do this. 

Our strong recommendation however, is to keep planned communication going and alter the content to fit the current situation, which is anything but business as usual.

1. An update about your organization’s approach to maintaining sales and/or service during this time is critical. Be sure to tell customers the best ways to connect with your business. Use video if possible, as it is proven to better engage an audience in times like these. 

2. Strongly consider giving back by volunteering time, funds or service to your community. Your generosity will not go unnoticed today, nor unrewarded in the future. Consider  sharing how your customers can lend a hand, when appropriate. Now is the time to show your commitment to those who have made you successful.

3. If your company is temporarily closed, it doesn’t have to mean sales cease too. Direct your customers to existing opportunities where they can show their support by purchasing gift cards, etc.

Develop A New Service Offering

Right now, customers are being forced to change existing routines, and it’s dealing a devastating blow to many local businesses. For example, changing their traditional Saturday night dinner at a favorite neighborhood restaurant to delivery or curbside pick-up. It’s important to think about how you may still be able to provide value to your customers during this time. Don’t be afraid to get creative. A local Chicago magician started offering Magic By Telephone, to keep people entertained while at home. Here are some other thought-starters:

1. As an automotive/powersports dealership, would it be possible to offer free vehicle pick-up/delivery for maintenance appointments?

2. Can your team provide informational or entertaining video or written content that would interest your customers while they are home?

  • How-to videos and product reviews are great ways to provide something to customers who aren’t able to visit your location.

3. Can any products or services typically purchased in-store be set-up for online purchase and delivery?

If your business is slowing down, now may be a great opportunity to invest time in projects and offerings that were previously put on the back-burner. Invest “down-time” to ensure you come back stronger than ever when this is over.

Find Out What Your Customers Need

One thing is clear during this time – everyone has been forced to find new ways to work and conduct business. Some aspects of doing business will likely change permanently after the pandemic subsides. Now is the time to decide how you might best serve your customers in the future. Here are a few things to consider:

1. Reach out directly to your best customers to let them know you are thinking of them and see if there is anything you can do to help them during this time.

  • This personal touch will go a long way in maintaining relationships and encouraging purchases when they emerge from their homes.

2. Understand how the pandemic may create long-term changes in customer needs or wants, and prepare for those changes moving forward.

  • Online surveys can be a great way for customers to voice their changing needs, and feel they’re being heard in this time of isolation. There are numerous, easy-to-use technologies, like SurveyMonkey, that make conducting an online survey and assessing its results easy.

3. Share your local experiences and learnings with your national brand partners. It’s important they understand the specific conditions in your market so they can make any adjustments necessary on their end. 

If there is one key insight to take away from the current state of the business world, it’s this: businesses willing to adapt now will weather the storm. History has shown that companies who respond with action not only survive, but thrive when the world “returns” to a new normal. Local business owners and franchisors have a choice to make: let this pandemic bring you to a halt, or take action based on what you can control today.

Please keep in mind that this pandemic has created a dynamic situation that is ever evolving. It is more critical than ever to stay on top of how it’s reshaping your local marketplace. If your local social and business environment change, you must remain open to new ways of engaging with customers and keeping your business healthy.

We encourage you to share the above with your market-level channel partners as another way to let them know you are working to support them. Keep an eye out for our next post which will focus on approaches that brands, franchisors and OEMs can employ to bolster both their own and their local partners’ businesses.

Like most of you, Cooperate Marketing is adjusting to the new normal and working remotely to help flatten the curve. Though there’s physical distance between us, we’re minimizing it by staying connected and constantly thinking about how we might better serve our customers. If you have thoughts as to how we might be able to help you or your business, please contact Lora Dircz at 702-400-7037 or Stay safe everyone!

About The Author

Rick Ekelof is a Senior Account Executive at Cooperate Marketing. Rick has 7 years of Marketing and Advertising experience and holds a Marketing Degree from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business




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