April 01, 2020

8 Examples of How Business Owners and Marketing Leaders Can Respond to the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic


There’s that part in every movie.

It seems like the aliens/virus/rich kids’ sports team is going to win.

And then …

They begin to fight back.

Look, I’m not a doctor, or nurse, or N-95 surgical mask maker. I don’t have those skills.

But here’s what I can do — I can create helpful content for you.

What can you do as a marketer or business owner? What can your company do? To spark your thinking, here are eight examples of ways you can change your marketing and business.

Read on for examples from the worlds of business software, consumer medical devices, marriage therapy and more.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

coronavirus business help

(As seen in the MarketingSherpa newsletter. Click to get a free email subscription to the latest from MarketingSherpa.)

There is a popular meme going around on social media these days that says, “Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being called to sit on your couch. You can do this.”

As always, there is truth in humor. As difficult as our current time may feel, for most of us it isn’t nearly as hard as leaving your family, crossing an ocean and fighting an actual war.

However, I know that for most MarketingSherpa readers, they don’t have the luxury of simply riding this out by sitting on their couch. Because in addition to the health pandemic circling the world, there is an economic pandemic as well.

Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. Experienced B2B marketers, especially in technology industries, probably think of FUD when they see those three words, a B2B sales tactic meant to hurt competitors.

However, those three words could now be used to describe the background of almost every economic transaction the world over.

So marketers and business owners, your place is not on the couch. You must be in the arena. For this global economy to work, for your organizations to survive (and dare I say thrive?), your unique skillset is needed.

The job has not changed — you still must communicate to customers to help them perceive value and overcome anxiety — but the arena has shifted under our feet.

To help spark your thinking, here are ideas for how companies, business owners and marketers can respond to this massive shift.

Example #1: Get more return from the budget you already have

With the sudden change in economic conditions, marketers and business owners may find themselves having to get the same results, or even better results, with less of marketing investment.

Flint McGlaughlin, CEO and Managing Director, MECLABS Institute, recently taught how conversion optimization can lower cost per acquisition (CPA), produce results and widen margins in the lecture Marketers Stand Together: 3 powerful ways your marketing can combat coronavirus COVID-19’s impact (MECLABS Institute is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa).

McGlaughlin shared an example from a software provider, showing the amplified impact conversion optimization can drive when applied throughout a customer journey.

The MECLABS team worked with the software company to first optimize the PPC advertisement, helping to drive a 21% increase in clickthrough.

Creative Sample #1: Original ad and best-performing ad for software provider

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The MECLABS team also used conversion optimization to increase landing page clickthrough 54% and form completion 97%. These improvements built on each other, so the conversion ultimately increased 272% from initial impression to lead conversion.

This conversion improvement led to 268% more projected revenue and, when combined with the corresponding 66% reduction in cost-per-acquisition, the optimized path produced a 302% increase in monthly profit.  ​

To learn more from this example, you can watch a replay of the MarketingExperiments lecture below (MarketingExperiments is the sister publication of MarketingSherpa):


Example #2: Find the opportunity

It may seem like the world has stopped for your business. But there is still opportunity. That opportunity may have shifted significantly, and your business must shift with it.

For example, restaurant and hospitality technology solution OneDine is providing scan-to-order and scan-to-pay features for restaurants.

“Due to the tremendous amount of restaurant closures and social distancing, the leadership team ideated and created a way to turn parking lots into touch-free zones. They're now offering the technology for free to all restaurants and can have them up and running in 24 hours,” said Sarah Evans, Owner, Sevans Digital PR.

Creative Sample #2: Touch-free ordering for restaurants

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So far the company has signed up 350 Ruby Tuesday restaurants and 59 locations of two other brands. The team has also fielded more than 1,200 requests over the few days after the offering was launched.

“During times of crisis, a genuine approach to helping your family, friends, team members and customers goes a long way to establish you and your brand. Now is the time to invest in people, in ideas and in convictions and power through the hard time. One of my favorite quotes of all time [is from Benjamin Franklin], ‘Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing,’” advised Rom Krupp, founder, OneDine.

Example #3: Help customers in their own home

I am writing this from my house. And many of you are probably reading it from home as well. Public health advocacy for social distancing has led many people to stay in their homes — either by choice, mandate or because there is simply no place to go.

That means sales are down for many companies, and customers aren’t getting what they need. “Suddenly all the 100 million people with acute and chronic pain can't go to get a treatment,” said Amy Baxter, MD. “Being trapped at home with pain causes panic, depression and catastrophizing, and we have been studying for 10 years how to help.”

Dr. Baxter is the Founder &CEO of PainCareLabs, which makes drug-free pain solutions. To help people trapped at home, the medical device maker is providing more information with its products.

“Before, we were just making the device, but didn't have the additional information about how options and physical factors could be used together,” Dr. Baxter said. “With the units we're sending out from our own warehouse (and eventually from Amazon), we're including a printed ‘What Works for Pain’ as well as samples from companies making evidence-based options, so it's really comprehensive, not just a device.”

Dr. Baxter has also been hosting daily Facebook Live and Instagram sessions called “Coronavirus and Home Pain Survival Kit” in which she researches and answers homebound viewers’ questions. All of these sessions, along with additional information, have been pulled together into a webpage entitled Power Over Pain: 50+ Options for Pain Relief at Home.

Creative Sample #3: Information-based pain relief tips for homebound patients from medical device maker

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“Pain is about distraction and not feeling hopeless, so we'll be addressing those things as well,” she said.

Example #4: Free upgrades

This next example likely isn’t applicable to every type of company. Those who have very low additional marginal cost can do it most profitably (although any company can choose to sacrifice some profit to help customers during this time).

For example, most of the cost for software products is in the additional development of the software, and while there may be additional costs for bringing on new customers (additional servers, customer service reps, etc.), the additional cost tends to be very low.

So software (and similar companies with low marginal costs) companies are well-positioned to provide free or extremely low-cost products and upgrades to customers.

ShopKeep made paid features of its point-of-sale system, like online ordering and ecommerce, available free of charge to restaurant and retail customers for a limited time.

“Many of our customers are adopting online because they have had to close. We still have many merchants where COVID-19 hasn't limited their movement yet, but we anticipate that will be coming. Our customers in San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, etc., have had to close their doors and are shifting to ecommerce, which is why we're offering all our customers ecommerce for free for 3 months,” said Bernadette Libonate, Director of Brand Communications, ShopKeep.

ShopKeep has seen an immediate response with an 800% week-over-week increase in customers who have adopted online features, 340% increase in the number of customers who have received an order online, and 130% increase in the transaction dollar amount from customers.

“Our goal is to support our businesses during this unprecedented time, their survival is our business,” Libonate said.

Example #5: New freemium offer

While some companies might want to provide free upgrades, other companies might want to go in the opposite direction — provide a new entry-level offering using the freemium model so customers can get a downgraded but free functional product (not just a trial or demo) yet also have the ability to upgrade to a premium product at a later date.

For example, PandaDoc launched a Free eSign account that included unlimited document uploads, unlimited eSignatures and payment processing — a product that has value in its own right, yet with fewer features than its main paid offerings.

“The quick shift in workspace has found some remote workers at a disadvantage without their regular access to office supplies such as printers or scanners. In this fast-changing economy, the ability to e-sign without added expenses is going to help those new remote workers as well as small businesses that are already going to be severely impacted by this crisis,” said Sadie Peterson Hattan for PandaDoc.

Unlike a free upgrade (example #4) or some free product (example #6), this is a completely new, forever-free plan.

Since March 18th, the launch day of the Free eSign plan, PanadaDoc has been able to help hundreds of companies without cannibalizing paid products. The company has seen a 270% increase in sign-ups week over week.

“Many businesses have already felt the immediate impact of the current global crisis, and it’s clear the way people are conducting business has shifted and will continue to change moving forward,” said Mikita Midado, CEO, PandaDoc. “By putting people over profit, we took swift, decisive action to help businesses continue running during this time of uncertainty. We believe our free plan will pay back in the long term — the freemium model is a proven tactic.” 

Example #6: Free product(s)

Free upgrades can help current customers, freemiums can give customers a small taste of your product, but giving away some actual free product can reach new customers with the full customer experience.

Lionbridge is offering businesses up to $5,000 in free localization into a single target language — whether they’re a Lionbridge client or not — to help companies communicate with foreign employees in their native language. Translation is available for more than 350 languages

“This is a global pandemic: international companies have an ethical responsibility to remove the language barrier,” said Terena Bell, Head of Global PR, Lionbridge.

Bell said the free localization services can be used for continuity or disaster recovery plans, e-learning modules or videos, telephone interpreting, intranet forums, internal chat strings —whatever companies need right now to communicate with their teams.

I asked Bell about whether this is technology or people-powered and the associated marginal cost.

“We provide human-powered and machine-based translation, but even machine translation must be checked by a person to make sure it’s accurate before use — especially in instances like these where a translation error can be life- or business-altering on the deepest of levels,” Bell said. “There is very much a cost to us as we still have to pay our expert translators. But we’re happy to face those costs internally because of the moral and ethical obligation Lionbridge has as a thriving business to make sure the people and businesses facing this global pandemic understand.”

Example #7: Help people connect

Social distancing has made it hard to connect with other people physically.

So more than ever, people seek to connect over social media platforms.

You may think, what role can you play? Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., already exist.

While it would probably be hard for the average business to compete by creating a new social network, there are plenty of ways to leverage the platforms that currently exist to tap into the current pain points your customers are facing.

For example, here in Jacksonville, Florida, the beach has been closed. The beach. In Jacksonville. Closed. As is so much else here and in the rest of the world — meaning — even if you aren’t on lockdown and wanted to get out of the house, where are you going to go?

Social distancing (from the rest of the world) has also caused social claustrophobia (with the ones we love most).

Or as Teresa Burns Parkhurst put it in a recent cartoon in The New Yorker, “O.K., let's find out if we like each other.”

So when I saw this example from Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin and his wife Rivka, I thought they did a great job of tapping into a very pressing and urgent customer pain.

Creative Sample #4: Facebook Group started by marriage therapists

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The group is called Marriage Under Quarantine and the header image has text reading “My marriage will survive corona virus [sic].”

Rabbi Slatkin is a licensed clinical professional counselor and a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist, and the Slatkins offer private and group marriage counseling retreats, and have an online marriage school through The Marriage Restoration Project.

“This pandemic has forced businesses to be even more focused on what we can give to others, as opposed to what we get in return. As we provide sincere value and support people through this time, the fruits of our efforts undoubtedly will come back to us manifold,” Rabbi Slatkin said.

Example #8: Relevant, helpful customer-first content

A content approach has always been a great approach to help customers deal with the unique challenges facing an industry while generating attention and interest for your company. And in these heady days, you may have a lot of helpful information you can share that is getting overlooked by the general media — especially leveraging your company’s specific skillset or addressing specific niches.

But COVID-19 isn’t just any other topic. If you are perceived as crassly taking advantage of the situation for personal gain, the backlash may be harsh.

In that respect, this shouldn’t necessarily be different than any content you’ve produced before. You should have always acted this way. Content should always help potential customers, whether they buy from you or not. Your content should have its own value proposition.

Stay on that path with any coronavirus-related content or marketing. If anything, lean even harder into a customer-first marketing approach with your content than you normally do.

If you’re unsure if a piece of content or a lead approach is a little too crass or not of-the-moment, ask this fundamental question — will people be helped by this content, whether they buy from me or not?

And this should be the order: Help people first, and then, where it makes sense, guide potential customers to how you can help them further in exchange for information, payment, etc.

As for a good example, well, hopefully the article you’re reading right now is one. 😊

We usually produce evergreen content with fundamental principles that can help improve your marketing in two days or two years. We usually don’t chase the news of the marketing industry — there are plenty of other websites and print publications where you can find that information.

But the current times call for a real-time response to help marketers, and so we will continue to cover topics helping you react to the fallout from time-to-time as the situation dictates (interspersed with MarketingSherpa’s regular evergreen articles).

Related Resources

41 Work-From-Home Tips for Marketing Departments and Advertising Agencies

Marketers Stand Together: 3 powerful ways your marketing can combat coronavirus COVID-19’s impact

Use Your Value Prop to Pivot: LIVE conversion optimization to help with marketing amid coronavirus

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