Balancing Sensitivity With Business Strategy In Times Of Crisis

Utilizing your existing data in the right way, you can support organic revenue growth without appearing tone deaf.

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown the entire world into a crisis, not only changing the way we shop, socialize and work, but also sending the U.S. economy into a virtual tailspin. While the health and safety of our population is the top priority right now, it’s also a reality that businesses need to generate revenue and growth to survive this unprecedented situation and continue providing vital services and much-needed jobs for Americans.

So how do companies avoid seeming insensitive or exploitative during this crisis while continuing to exist — which, bottom line, means continuing to grow revenue?

The key is understanding who your best customers are and what they need from you right now, and then tailoring your messaging and approach accordingly. Here’s how:

1. Get to know your customers better

It all starts with utilizing customer data that you probably already have (or have access to) right at this moment to identify and understand your most high-value customers. Sources such as historical sales data, customer relationship management (CRM) data, email marketing and social media marketing data, or even publicly available data such as the U.S. census or ArcGIS, are ideal sources of information.

Use this information to group customers into segments based on characteristics such as purchase history (frequency of purchases, last purchase, monetary value, etc.), geographical region, demographics and possibly even psychographics (interests, values and lifestyle) based on your desired outcomes.

I recommend a process called “k-means clustering” to find desired segments of customers within your data, and then performing an exploratory analysis to pinpoint those customers who are the most loyal and bring the most value to your business. Who are they? Where do they live? What are their purchase habits? Based on what you discover, what could be their most pressing needs and concerns right now? This is where common sense and empathy combines with data to make magic happen.

2. Adjust your messaging

Once you’ve taken the time to understand your best customers and remain apprised of the most current developments in relation to Covid-19, use this knowledge to anticipate changes in customer behavior and communicate in the most empathetic, transparent and helpful way possible. Be mindful of your tone as well as the type of content you’re sharing.

Many brands have been sending emails informing customers of what changes they can expect or offering words of support, but not all messaging will apply to all businesses. Think about the particular niche in your customer base and what they want to hear right now. For example, perhaps a predominant number of your customers are in the medical field or retail grocery industry and cannot work from home — they probably don’t need yet another email about tips for working remotely or how to stay sane in self-quarantine. In this scenario, any communication to that effect would only come across as insensitive and tone-deaf.

To avoid turning off customers with a flood of unnecessary coronavirus-related communications, utilize your data to know when to communicate, how to change your messaging appropriately and how to generate less obvious pieces of content that will be of greater value to your customer base. Examples of brands sharing meaningful, empathetic communications vs. simply opportunistic promotions include Indeed.com, which compiled a comprehensive job resources guide for those impacted by COVID-19, as well as Guinness, which delivered a unifying advertisement for St. Patrick’s Day, which ended with a pledge to commit $500,000 to “help the communities where we live, work and celebrate” impacted by the pandemic.

3. Pivot your approach

So, you’ve adjusted your communications, but what about your products and services? For many companies right now, the widespread move toward social distancing and even quarantines has posed a major roadblock to delivering their products and services — to put it mildly. Brick-and-mortar businesses like restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, salons, as well as professional services and many retailers, have temporarily closed their doors. But when you understand your customers, you’ll be in a better position to effectively pivot your approach if possible to maintain relevance and revenue during this challenging time.

An obvious example of this has been the dine-in restaurant industry, which has largely shifted to call-ahead and online ordering for curb-side pickup and  no-contact delivery. For companies offering sales and marketing, finance, creative or other professional services, now is the time to consider a shift in approach to protect both your short-term and future earning potential as well. Based on your data, how can you best serve your clients during this time? This could be something as major as moving from in-person to all-virtual services or as nuanced as shifting your focus from helping clients increase their revenue to simply maintaining cash flow until the pandemic subsides. Marketers in particular, who on average spend 21% of their budget on events to drive demand, would be wise to remain nimble and innovative with digital content marketing efforts such as webinars, guides, live chats, online hangouts and videos.

While it’s simply not practical to intentionally slow down your sales and marketing strategies, it is reasonable to adjust your approach. Common decency and humanity should be at the forefront of every communication and action you take, with data as your guide. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Realize when you should communicate, when to offer help and when to give it a rest. Things may not go back to “business as usual” for a long while, but by utilizing existing data in the right way, companies can balance sensitivity to people’s needs with strategies that support organic revenue growth during this time of crisis.

Rob Ristagno
Ristagno is the founder and CEO of Sterling Woods Group and a keynote speaker focused on sharing new ways to use data to drive business results. Ristagno combines his expertise in data science with proven sales and marketing strategies to help established middle-market companies quickly generate new revenue by improving the way they gather and utilize data.