For those of us who are responsible for communicating on behalf of a local business, it is a challenging time.
So I’m here to share—nobody expects you to have this all figured out. I find myself saying to business owners every single day—you are doing the best that you can.
I was heartbroken when I first heard the story of an ice cream parlor, which had to close down a day after reopening. I was even more sad when I heard about the impact it had on one of his 17-year-old employees.
I won’t share the name of their business, in our house, we have a firm rule of never kicking a person when they’re down.
As I heard the business owner tell the story on the news, I couldn’t help but notice that all of the pre-planning he described focused only on his SYSTEMS. He had spent a lot of time answering questions like, how will customers park? How will they pay? How will they get their ice cream without contact?
I noticed that in all of that pre-planning he described on camera, he never once mentioned any preparations of his PEOPLE or his MARKETING.
And then, I went to his Facebook page. His page has about 9,000 followers, many of whom have left glowing positive reviews over the years. It’s easy to presume that the folks in the little town where he lives love him and his store. And boy, do they love his ice cream.
From what I gather by looking at it, I can see that his business appears to have a pretty straightforward model…folks drive past, and when he’s open, they pull into the parking lot, walk into the shop, step up and order a cone—pretty simple stuff.
All of that had stopped, of course, when the coronavirus caused shutdowns. The business had, therefore, been shuttered for some time.
According to the news, they reopened on May 9th. And it went horribly. The owner describes people pulling up, not understanding why they couldn’t come in, failing to follow the rules, not respecting the order of customers who’d placed their order by phone ahead of them, and so on.
He goes on to describe the way that customers turned ugly, yelling curse words, and were particularly hurtful to a young employee who finished her shift and later texted him to say she wouldn’t be returning to her job.
And my heart hurt. Not just for this business owner, but the employee and her family.
But I cannot help but question how much of this could’ve been avoided altogether had this business only had a little better understanding of the tools and tactics of marketing.
Consider this: Prior to reopening, he had no information about business continuation on his Facebook page nor his website.
On May 6th, the Wednesday before his reopening, he posted stuff to his Facebook page that was fun trivia about ice cream. No mention of the weekend’s reopening. No instructions. No rules for people to follow.
For lack of that, it’s easy to see why people who were driving past on Saturday might pull in—”Oh yay, the ice cream stand is open!”.
Then on Saturday evening, around 7pm, there’s a post to their Facebook page: “STOP CALLING.”
Later that same evening, he shares his story. It’s harrowing to imagine, after all of the stress and worry that he’s already been through as a small business owner concerned about reopening, to have everything go so wrong and result in losing one of his best employees.
In the end, the story was upsetting enough that it was picked up by local and then later national and international news. Now, a GoFundMe account has been established for the young lady who left her job as a result. Now, his website and Facebook page have posts saying that he’s closed until further notice.
But I can’t help but wonder—could any of this have been avoided had the problem been solved before it even happened?
There’s no question that it’s inexcusable for customers to scream and cursing at an employee. Still, it’s also easy to understand how customers were confused and frustrated. Our collective nerves are frayed. We are a traumatized society.
So, what if it had never happened?
What if, on Thursday night, he’d taken the time to post instructions for business continuation on his Facebook page and website? In that scenario, people who pulled up and were confused could quickly access the instructions and then fall into line according to the rules he’d established.
What if, on Friday, he’d filmed a quick video walking folks through the plan?
What if he’d had signs up ahead of time for passing traffic that said “Reopening this weekend! Check our Facebook page for details!” or “Are you on our email list? Check your inbox for info about this weekend’s reopening!“
Clearly, he understands that Facebook is a tool for communication with its customers. Otherwise, he’d never have posted “STOP CALLING” as he was in the midst of the mayhem.
It’s easy to cast judgment at the customers who behaved so terribly. And it would be easy to judge the business owner, but my focus isn’t so much on judgment as it is on trying to derive a lesson.
If your business has been impacted by this disruption, and it likely has, then you need to understand that your customers don’t just magically know how to continue doing business with you. They cannot respect your rules unless you make them aware of them.
You are not responsible for the global pandemic that’s impacting your business. But you ARE responsible for its recovery. And that requires a better response than making it up as you go.
We’re all confused, and nobody understands this weird new world. But your business deserves more than an on-the-fly approach.
If your business counts on you to manage the marketing and messaging for your brand, then you’re one of us. We are the Marketing Idea Exchange, a community of small business owners and leaders who cut through the noise and focus on marketing that simply works. You can join us for a fraction of the cost of an ad agency and tap in to our courses, templates and resources, and more!
It might just save you from a heartbreaking situation.
You owe it to yourself to tell yourself, “I am doing the best that I can” and then work to fulfill that promise.
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