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  • Sara Tiefenbrun

How to engage customers in a crisis

Updated: May 4

The business climate now is strange and unfamiliar. You might be worried about your business and wondering how to go about selling at this time.


If you’re running your own retail or wholesale business, that’s fundamentally a courageous and optimistic thing to do. If you plan to keep going, you’re going to have to dig deeper into that optimism and courage to continue.


I’m here to help you think about your message and positioning, to avoid sounding tone-deaf. The goal is to connect with your customers in a way that’s relevant now.


And I’ll be sharing a few stories that might inspire you with ideas for how you can communicate for your business.


Review your positioning:


  • Review your mission and values in light of the current crisis, make sure that any new moves you make are in line with your mission and values.

  • Review what your customers need and want now. What is the outcome or transformation that you offer for your customers? The world has changed so the value you offer has changed, even if it’s a slight repositioning. e.g. Tiger Tribe messaging about home/ yard, keeping kids busy - previously you might have found those kits useful on a journey.

  • Re-think your marketing in line with your new positioning. (I unpack this later)

  • Create a highly relevant offer that meets customer needs right now. Adapt, pivot or partner with others to provide value.

  • Reward loyalty: help your loyal customers with an offer that looks to the future. Communicate directly with your loyal customers (email/ social even on the phone). Your regular customers want to buy from you and help to keep you in business. I’m more likely to buy exercise leggings from a brand I already know and trust fit me, I’m doing virtual training with the guy I want to make sure is still teaching when this is all over.

  • Focus on creating goodwill, enriching people’s lives & engaging your customers in relationships for the longer term. Avoid pushing sales too hard and also avoid losing out to those who adapt faster and better.


Some examples from retail that might inspire you:


  • New Balance has started making masks and have told us all about it in their tweet “Made shoes yesterday. Making masks today.” This could strike be seen as self-promoting, but it does create goodwill.

  • Burger King in France created an advert about how to make your own whopper at home. This builds relationships for the future without selling directly.

  • Coca-cola - changed logo in Time square to encourage social distancing.

  • West Elm providing virtual backgrounds for zoom calls

  • Lego offering resources to support homeschooling. Mentions of Lego’s #LetsBuildTogether increased 1500% in the last week of March

  • Early settler selling online and by appointment only

  • Homewares company Penelope Hope offering ‘make at home’ textiles kit for parents and kids to do together

  • Mixtapes have been popular drawing on audience ideas

  • Companies drawing on their local support, offering contactless delivery or collection: local cafes, restaurants, markets, florists and more.


Audit your marketing:


Action points


  • Use language that speaks to your customers’ pain points now

  • Review your homepage copy

  • Make a simple banner on your homepage that addresses your COVID-19 response.

  • Or, use your email signature to update people about your response to the crisis.

  • Or create a blog on your homepage about your response to the crisis.

  • Review your lead nurturing email system to see if the messaging is still appropriate.

  • Turn off your social media scheduler and be responsive to the situation

  • Review the timing of your content on social media to see the new optimal times for posting

  • Review paid ads to check the language/ tone/ images and potentially pause them

  • Review SEO keywords - are people searching for the same things?

  • Look at your call to actions, consider toning back the language.


What type of content is right to share at the moment?


A crisis is a good time to be more open, more transparent, more human and even a bit messy. Things don’t have to be perfect or glossy.


The goal is to demonstrate humanity and engage your customers.


Behind-the-scenes content is more relevant than ever.


  • Use video to introduce your new delivery driver

  • Show us the chef at your restaurant making meals following safety standards

  • Show us how you’ve pivoted to ‘make at home’ kits.

  • If you’re keeping a bunch of freelancers in work, introduce them on your social channels, show who benefits if you stay in work

  • If you’re servicing equipment show us how you pick up and drop off


User-generated content is a great way to tap into the current mood and lift people’s spirits. There are opportunities in:


  • People getting dressed up at home for zoom parties or work drinks

  • Ask people to show your product in their home

  • You’re offering home delivery cocktails - ask customers to take a photo.


Content curation tips


  • Consider acting as a content curator, sharing content that fits with your brand values.

  • Focus on content that boosts morale and enriches people’s lives or give them an escape.

  • If sharing factual information only use reliable sources.

  • Don’t create crisis only content. People will be fatigued with the situation - you can have other conversations too.


This blog contains notes put together for a live chat on Facebook hosted by Talkshop Retail Private Group. Join the free private group and watch the 2 x 10-minute videos for more tips and ideas.


Leave me a message below to let me know if this article has been useful and what else you'd like to discuss. Good luck!



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© 2020 Sara Tiefenbrun.