Shortages, Scares and Small Business Marketing Ideas: What Not to Do When Your Customers are Panicked

Brainstorming marketing ideas for your small business is challenging all on its own. Throw in a global pandemic, gas shortage, cryptocurrency meltdown or any other panic-inducing scenario and it’s easy to watch your small business marketing strategy fly out the window. 

But what if you’re a small business owner and your livelihood relies on surviving catastrophe after catastrophe? How do you hang on and stay afloat when there’s a lingering sense of doom around every corner?

Well, you don’t throw up your hands in defeat and toss your marketing ideas in the trash. That’s the opposite of what to do. That much is true. Let’s take a look at five things you shouldn’t do in marketing when your customers are panicked, scared or searching for that elusive roll of toilet paper or tank of gas.

And because a whole list of “don’t do this!” isn’t exactly the most helpful when it comes to taking action, I’ll follow up each don’t with marketing ideas for small business that win. 

Ready to do this? Let’s go!

Don’t: Let Temporary Shortages Influence and Overwhelm Your Marketing Strategy

Supply and demand are a tale as old as time (even Belle and the Beast are jealous). It’s how we determine price points and projects in economics, and usually, they’re in sync. Or at least, there’s enough of a correlation that no one is panicking. But when supply chains break down, chaos ensues. That’s why there was a run on toilet paper last year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Demand skyrocketed because people were preparing to stay home, and supply plummeted because factories and distribution centers were suddenly coping with significant health risks for their workforce. 

Shortages will always be part of business because there are very few things that are infinite in supply. We’ll always need labor, raw materials and practical problem-solving. 

If your small business is facing a shortage in your industry or dealing with repercussions of a shortage that doesn’t have anything to do with you, the best defense is to stay calm and resist the urge to make knee-jerk decisions, especially when it comes to marketing strategy.

Staying the course with your marketing strategy doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with trends in content marketing. Remember, strategy is high-level and content is how you achieve that strategy. Your marketing strategy should inform your content and the channels you show up on but feel free to embrace cheeky, on-trend topics. For example, if your strategy includes a lengthy email marketing sequence that nurtures new leads, you can rewrite your emails to address a hot button situation that your audience is worried about (remember: we educate or entertain). But don’t forget to set a reminder to update your sequences as needed to stay relevant and on-trend.

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Don’t: Whip Your Customers into a Frenzy on Social Media

Put the phone down! Okay, you can wait until you’re done reading. But seriously, do not fall into the trap of whining, complaining and strong-arming your way to sales on social media. 

Desperation is not a sustainable marketing strategy. 

Addressing pain points and showing solidarity are excellent ways to serve your audience online, but if your posts are doing more damage than good, it may be time to reevaluate what your business is putting out on the interwebs. 

Do: Remind Your Email List, Subscribers and Followers How You Can Help

When there’s a lot going on in your community, the country or the world, your audience craves reassurance and stability. Instead of adding to the doomscroll on social, find ways to remind your audience and new customers how your product or service can help them. An easy way to do this is to take those prickly pain points that sound menacing and mean and flip them on their heads. Write about how you solve those problems, how you’re solving problems in the marketplace, and how much more enjoyable life is when your company is around.

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Don’t: Play the Blame Game with Other Local Businesses

At the risk of sharing another platitude, remember that a rising tide lifts all boats even in competition. When there’s an overwhelming feeling of panic in your corner of the internet or on your slice of Main Street, don’t blame other small business owners (even if they deserve it!). Your audience can spot a bully a mile away and passing blame around doesn’t help anybody. Even if your competitor made a misstep or public blunder, keep your sights on your customer. You went into business to serve them anyways, not arm wrestle the company next door.

Do: Reach Out to Small Business Owners with Low-Cost Collaborative Marketing Ideas 

One way to play nice in the sandbox is to offer ways to help your community and personal network of small business owners. Shortages, scares and panics affect everyone, even if they don’t show it publicly. If you feel yourself starting to get spinny because you don’t know what to do, reach out to another entrepreneur and ask how you can help. Set up a Voxer chat where people can share their ideas or fears. And don’t be afraid to stick your neck out with a collaborative marketing idea that can serve multiple overlapping audiences.

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Don’t: Pit Potential Customers Against Each Other

If the world is worried about running out of toilet paper, cash money or gasoline, the last thing they need is to worry about clamoring for your attention as a small business. While creating a sense of urgency is a legitimate small business marketing strategy, it may be worth it to take a second look at how you’re creating urgency. 

Are you putting out words and phrases that stir up anxiety and animosity? Are you planting seeds of doubt and jealousy? 

Take some time to put yourself in your potential customer’s shoes when the world feels upside down. It may help you reframe your messaging, and create pitch-perfect urgency that doesn’t leave your audience feeling like every man for himself.

Do: Reward Customer Loyalty and Word of Mouth Referrals 

You can rewrite creating urgency by rewarding customer loyalty and reminding current customers and clients that a word-of-mouth referral is the best way they can compliment you. Rewards programs don’t have to be fancy or directly impact your bottom line. If you don’t have one in place, some options for you to consider are affiliate marketing programs, offering a small commission of new client purchases, special discounts for joining a subscription service, and more.

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Don’t: Give Up on Small Business Marketing Ideas That You’re Excited About

It’s hard to feel excited when the world feels like it’s falling apart. But one unexpected perk of being a small business owner is that you quickly adjust to instability. In fact, resilience and adaptability are key factors in keeping the doors open, so you’re already a pro at pivoting. 

If you find yourself having to pivot month after month, don’t scrap the marketing ideas that you’re excited about altogether. Yes, they may have to be put on hold for a bit, but keep the research and plans you’ve drawn up. Great ideas generate other great ideas, and even if you have to pause an exciting marketing plan or expensive (but effective) marketing tool, it’s nice to have something to come back to instead of starting over from scratch when the world rights itself again.

Do: Reevaluate the Boundaries Set for Your Small Business 

As change and uncertainty settle in, take some time to review your small business boundaries and set new ones if needed. Just like your customers need guidance when they feel panicked, you might need to ask for help or to review what matters to your business at the end of the day. You are not meant to burn the candle at both ends and keep your business at the forefront of your mind every second of every day. That’s unsustainable (and not very fun for anyone involved). Build an hour into your week to review your boundaries, reflect on what’s working and what isn’t, plan for next steps, and take a few deep breaths so you can continue to show up for your customers and business.

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Ready to jot down some marketing ideas for your small business? Get a head start on your content marketing with my Content Marketing Mini Survival Kit! It’s a month’s worth of blog topics and writing prompts for your small business, so you can write value-added blogs and social media posts that serve your audience. You can grab it for free here.

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