10 ways to market your business as lockdown lifts

I’m Brody Sweeney, the founder of Camile Thai Kitchen, an award winning home delivery franchise.  This blog is not about my business, but rather some advice for if you’re thinking about franchising, or indeed already involved in it – and want to learn more.

With most consumers having spent the last year or more locked up in their homes, having adopted lots of new habits, it will be challenging for many businesses to get back to being top of mind and encourage consumers to resume old purchasing habits.

At Camile, we were fortunate to have stayed open during the lockdown. Naturally, we had to adapt how we reach our customers, as traditional mediums were no longer relevant.

I have set out some thoughts about kickstarting your business as COVID restrictions lift. While many tips will be relevant to a retail or hospitality business, the ideas are relevant for every business looking to win customers back. Like most things to do with business, good marketing is mostly about common sense.

Digital First.

It’s no surprise that marketing through digital channels continues to be the most cost effective and relevant way to market your business. In particular, digital’s ability to be hyper targeted by location and demographic means that your advertising money can be well spent.

In Camile, most of our customers come from a 3 mile radius around our restaurant. This also happens to be the best area for us to deliver to. If a customer lives 4 or more miles away, we can’t deliver to them efficiently. We also have a good idea that our core customers are young professionals.

Coming up with good content for your online marketing efforts can include staff stories, product features and relevant offers. If you have a particular expertise in an area, recording a podcast, or typing a blog like this – can help someone with your knowledge – and promote your business by extension.

But don’t forget offline marketing, too

In the rush to digital marketing, we can sometimes overlook the continuing role for offline marketing to back-up what you can do online. When it’s cheap and effective, it deserves a place in your plans.

Knowing where your customers come from geographically means you can target your offline efforts too.

Leaflet drops in a 3 mile catchment still have a place, but you need to do this multiple times to get traction – same or different leaflets into the same house. But post-COVID, what about other ideas like demonstrations, or talks in your premises? Is it appropriate to offer samples outside your location, or drop door to door? A new banner over the door saying you’re open again – flags and balloons draw attention to your building.

Guerilla marketing, like stringing a banner on a bridge over a main road near your home or standing at traffic lights with a sign on a pole bring immediate and relevant attention to your business. Maybe try this at the weekends when the council workers are off!

Say Thank You

Two simple words have such a big effect.

When you welcome customers back to your business, a sincere thank you for the business that they are bringing to you always goes down well. It’s surprising how many forget to do it.

The thank yous shouldn’t stop with your customers – your staff also appreciate the recognition. Appreciated staff give better service.

One of the things we noticed early in the pandemic was that our drivers were no longer getting tips (a practical way of saying thank you) as customers shied away from cash and physical contacts. We discovered a fantastic startup called STRIKE, who enable customers to give tips on their phone by scanning a QR code that comes with their delivery. Keep innovating and finding new ways to show your appreciation.

Encourage trial and re-trial

Your customers have gotten used to living life under lockdown, getting products and services in an entirely new way – and some of these new ways are pretty good. It may require a great deal of effort to get people to change back to the way they were purchasing before.

Getting people to try and re-try your business is key. Try to change their habits by offering a really decent incentive to try you. It does need to be decent. 10% off is no longer considered a decent incentive. 25% off, yes. Two for one, yes. Added product or service for free, yes.

Make service your differentiator.

It’s true a lot of personal services cannot be purchased online (think hairdresser or beautician) – but many goods like clothing or furniture have moved online in a big way. It’s these types of business that can differentiate through great service.

Playing to your strengths – being able to touch clothing and try it on – is something you can’t do easily online. Getting an expert’s opinion, speaking to a human, giving a personal thank you, and making someone laugh are all things that can’t be done online.

Treat your customers like royalty when they come back and experience with you, one to one human interactions again with a business.

Innovate ways to package what you’re already selling.

This is a great opportunity to review old methods of delivery. For many restaurants, reluctantly getting into takeaway and delivery has now resulted a profitable new channel. Packaging may have been thrown together hastily to solve a problem, but if you stood back and looked at it – could it be done better? With our sustainability point below – reducing the quantity of packaging and making it re-usable or re-cyclable will impress your customers. Anyone who has been slightly sickened at the amount of cardboard and polystyrene delivered with a meal kit knows what I’m talking about.

Do market research.

There is no excuse for even the smallest business not to find time to listen to where customers are at – it’s common sense in action.

We listen all the time in Camile, but probably our cheapest and most valuable research is what we call “In Home Research.” We give customers a free meal, and in return we get to quiz them for half an hour about their habits around food. It costs almost nothing, and we always learn something useful.

Finding out how your customers are thinking and feeling about lockdowns lifting can help you adapt your business to the new reality. Customers have gotten into hew habits, whether it’s shopping online, or entertaining themselves at home.

Some simple research – say, 10 relevant questions to both a group of former, current, or non customers – may wake you up to the new commercial world around us.

Make a plan.

Even though we know that plans almost never quite work out, its an indisputable fact that you’re better off with one than without.

For many businesses, lockdown lifting will not mean an instant return to pre-pandemic business levels, where business returns gradually as confidence grows and people get out and about more.

You should start with an initial reboot marketing plan, which you can adjust as reality unfolds.

Some changes from the pandemic are likely to stick – like the acceleration away from cash to mobile payments. What does this mean for your business? Is there an opportunity to reset?

What about price changes you would like to make, or changes to the style of service, or shutting down some parts which you believe will no longer be profitable, or developing new business opportunities? All this is related to how you will market your business into the future.

This is an ideal time to make changes that perhaps you had been putting off, as all rules are off and big changes accepted as part of post pandemic restructuring. Go for it!

Think sustainably.

The pandemic was a huge distraction to the inevitability of climate change (what a sentence!) As lockdowns lift, consumers are growing ever more mindful of a business’ stance on sustainability, which creates a great opportunity to differentiate yourself from your opposition who might not be as progressive as you.

Review your supply chain and operational practices. Perhaps you could move away from single use containers, more plant based foods, saving water, re-purposed clothing etc. – all these things contribute to doing the right thing for the planet, while also ticking boxes many customers now expect.

No matter your venture, reducing, recycling and re-using can all be applied to every business.

Sell local

Consumers are clamouring to support local businesses which have been having a tough time in the last year. Supporting local jobs, reducing carbon footprints, and doing the right thing are some of the reasons consumers feel like this. If this is relevant for you, you should promote this for all its worth.

For those lucky ones amongst us whose business returns quickly and profitably – fair play to you. For the rest of us – the future is still uncertain. Common sense ways of getting back to customers attention is what this blog is about. Planning your marketing carefully and sensibly will give you the best chance at success.

Good luck and stay safe.

Read more about Brody’s franchise model

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Camile Thai Picture Conor McCabe Photography.