How to Build a Crisis-Proof Brand

Weather the Coranavirus quarantine & future recessions

The Coronavirus quarantine has struck everyone pretty hard – corporations, small businesses, nonprofits, and freelancers. Unless you’re lucky enough to be in the right industry for this particular crisis (Zoom), you’re struggling.

Unfortunately, this crisis has also sifted through which businesses were ready for the crisis and which businesses were not. Those that prepared aren’t necessarily thriving – but they’re surviving enough to make it through alive. The ones that weren’t prepared are sadly going to end up shutting down or spend years trying to rebuild.

There will always be a crisis or recession that affects all industries. They are unpredictable and will affect different businesses in unforeseen ways. Though you can’t be completely immune to the impact of these events, you can strengthen your brand to better survive it and thrive when it’s over.

Expand and Deepen Your Online Presence

In any crisis, communication is key. You need to be able to tell your audience what is happening and what they can do in terms of interacting with your brand. That requires you to be on as many platforms as possible so you can reach your audience on all channels.

First, cover your bases with the essentials – a website and email list. A website is your central hub for displaying relevant information to your visitors. Many brands ignore email because they think it’s outdated, but it’s still the most effective way to communicate directly with your audience. Algorithms on social media will prevent the bulk of your followers from seeing your updates. If people aren’t thinking about your brand (which they probably aren’t), they won’t visit your social media page or website to see what’s happening. Email is a direct line to your audience – if you’ve been cultivating that group with a history of helpful emails.

Though you have a limited reach per audience ratio with social media, it’s still important to work towards building engagement. You will be able to reach your most loyal followers, and they can share your message with others. As time-consuming as it may be, it’s beneficial to be on as many platforms as possible. This allows you to reach the widest possible audience when you need to share important information, though you may put the majority of your efforts into just a few.

Video lets you speak to your audience in a very authentic and personal way. Though you might have more polished videos for marketing, a raw and minimally-edited video can really cut through in a time of crisis to communicate with your supporters.

Being able to reach your audience in a crisis is only one part of the solution. You have to know how to communicate with them at different stages. Socialbakers has a great article on the timing of marketing strategy during a recession.

Go Digital with Sales

In this particular crisis, online brands are naturally surviving better than offline brands. But among the brick-and-mortar stores, those that have already integrated digital components to their sales were already braced for impact. Just walking down the main street of restaurants in my city, the ones that are still getting customers are those who already had online ordering for pickup and delivery setup. Those that didn’t are unfortunately closed during this season.

Whatever you sell, it’s so important to have a way for people to pay online. They can get their products shipped, or pick them up if they’re local. There are much fewer barriers to purchase when someone is at home on the computer or phone, as opposed to having to physically be in your store to buy something.

For those brands and freelancers that offer services, finding ways to offer them digitally is necessary to maintain some level of income when you can’t meet in person. Anything that involves teaching, such as coaching, consulting, or counseling, can be done online through the multitude of video chat platforms available.

Make it easy for people to pay you online or offline by accepting as many forms of payment as you can. By default, you should accept credit cards. Secondary payment methods include Paypal, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Google Pay. Even offering less formal methods like Venmo and CashApp will make some customers appreciate you more.

One of the best ways to both maximize online sales and engagement is through a mobile app. The constant presence on someone’s device makes it one of the most personal ways to interact with your supporters and keep you top of mind for them. Notifications let you push relevant information to their attention. Mobile apps used to be extremely expensive to develop, but can now be easily built with drag-and-drop software for low monthly fees.

Recurring Subscriptions

It’s rare for any brand to have fairly steady revenue throughout the entire year. There are usually seasonal trends of highs and lows, and brands will take that into account for the year. But when crisis hits, whether it lasts a few weeks or a few months, it can take a major hit on revenue.

Monthly or annual revenue can help absorb some of that impact, both in the seasonal fluxes and in unpredictable events.

For nonprofits, monthly donations are essential to maintaining steady revenue and projecting what you can do. After a new donor gives for the first time, it’s so important to try to get them to give a second donation. Then at some point in your marketing (which should be automated and personalized), try to nurture them into being a monthly donor.

Service-based brands that usually do one-off services need to find ways to create recurring services. This not only helps with revenue, but reduces the effort needed to constantly find new clients. This often comes in the form of checkup or maintenance services for a monthly fee. It could also be a certain amount of open-ended work for a flat monthly rate.

For product-based businesses, creating a subscription based model adds a base revenue along with increasing brand loyalty from customers. This could be a monthly or annual fee for things like free shipping (Amazon) or extra discounts / lower prices (Costco). Some businesses send a package of products for a monthly cost, either customer selected or as a brand-curated set.

If you need some ideas for how your brand can implement a recurring subscription, Fit Small Business offers some creative examples from real brands.

Diversification of Products & Services

When an economic crisis hits, it’s hard to know exactly what sectors will be affected. This particular one with Coronavirus affects any business that relies on contact with people the most. Which means that digital services and products, though impacted by the recession, can still make it through. But we don’t know what the next crisis will bring. So by diversifying your services and products, you can ensure that you always have something to sell.

Here are a few basic categories of what a brand can sell. You most likely have 1 or 2 of these. They can still be your brand’s primary sales, but additional channels of revenue will help mitigate any financial hit.

If you don’t sell physical products, adding this channel doesn’t necessarily mean investing in developing and manufacturing your own. It can be as simple as putting your logo on print-on-demand products such as coffee mugs, shirts, and tote bags. There are several companies that print and ship for you, eliminating the need to even manage inventory.

Services can make a good compliment to a physical or digital product. This could involve assistance in setting up, using, or maintaining that product.

Whether you have a service or product, teaching or coaching is a very natural next step in sales. This can come in the form of one-on-one consulting or group classes, and can be done in-person or online. For products, you could teach people how to use it, how to excel in it, or activities involving that product. For services, it’s simply teaching people how to do it themselves, or how to maintain what you’ve already done for them. Similarly, pre-recorded digital classes are a great way to scale this revenue channel exponentially, as your sales wouldn’t be dependent on your time or inventory.

Finally, for brands that have a strong content marketing strategy as part of their business, advertising and affiliates is an easy and passive way to generate a steady flow of additional income. By promoting brands that don’t compete directly with you, but rather compliment you, you’ll be able to create deeper engagement with your content.

Experiment to Develop Flexibility

While everything listed previously are strategies that will work now and in the near future, they may not be effective a few years from now. The only true, lasting way to build a crisis-proof brand is to be flexible and able to adapt. Brands that survive adopt new marketing tactics quickly, adjust to the changing interests of their customers, and watch for trends that will effect the overall market.

But in order to be flexible and adaptable when change comes, you have to have it embedded in the culture and practice of your company. That comes from taking a mindset of experimentation.

Google has been known for their 20% rule (which is more of a loose idea than a hard management policy). Generally, employees are encouraged to spend some of their work time on personal projects they enjoy. Out of this idea came some of Google’s best products, including Gmail and Google Maps.

Encourage your team to experiment with new ideas for the company. Give them a space to develop and test their ideas. Don’t worry about the outcome or whether it will result in anything beneficial. The real goal is to create a culture where your company is able to quickly ideate and update – qualities that are critical in a crisis. Here’s a great article on how to build a culture of experimentation within your company.

Implementing these strategies will help your brand to weather the inevitable crises and recessions that will come in the future. But what about managing the recession we’re in right now?

Here’s another article I wrote on what to do during the quarantine to survive, and also thrive when the economy reopens.

Originally published on Medium

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