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If you are not in businesses such as pharmaceuticals, grocery store supply chains or psychotherapy, you’re probably wondering how you’re supposed to market your business in the time of the COVID-19 crisis.
As a business consultant, I asked myself that very question. At first, I couldn't think of anything, but then someone reached out to me and said, “Didn't you teach entrepreneurship in high schools? Kids and schools are desperate for interesting content online right now. How long would it take for you to set up online entrepreneurship training for high school students?”
I told him it would take just a couple of days and be completely free of charge. It would be my contribution to the common good. And that’s when it hit me — that’s effective marketing in these turbulent times. Contribution marketing.
What is contribution marketing?
We’ve all heard of content marketing, relationship marketing, paid marketing, and on it goes. This is different. This is marketing in which you are contributing to the public good. Contribution marketing means offering a product or service that fills an immediate need.
And it’s the only type of marketing you should be focusing on right now. Why? Because building brand equity and goodwill is going to come back to you in spades. It’s called karma.
If you’re a brick-and-mortar business like a fitness studio, it means offering your services online. If you’re a home education platform, it means offering a sampling of your courses for free or at deeply discounted prices. If you’re a fashion business, perhaps you take off the restocking fees since no one can come to the store to try on clothes at the moment.
And don’t cheat by offering the same discounts and services that you normally do. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary marketing efforts. Your contribution marketing needs to be completely new and unprecedented.
We’ve already seen some small and large businesses engage in successful contribution marketing. For example, Loom, which offers video-recording software, removed its limits on file staring because it saw so many people were using it to communicate with their virtual teams. T-Mobile launched T-Mobile Connect, its lowest-priced smartphone plan ever, and educational software companies like Scholastic have opened up much of their platform free of charge.
Is contribution marketing right for you?
To find out if contribution marketing is the best path for your business, ask yourself a few questions:
- Do you offer something that fills an immediate public need?
- How can you contribute your time, money and effort in a constructive way?
- Where can you offer support?
In some cases, you may not have an answer. If you’re a travel company, for example, this just might not be your time to market discounts on summer vacations. That’s fine. It doesn’t mean you can’t tend to your business in other ways.
Just put a freeze on your marketing efforts for now. Don’t expend any energy on it.
Instead, buckle down and take care of your business from the inside. Get your taxes in early this year (despite the extended due date), organize that paperwork that you always avoid, sit with your team and start doing workflows. Take a little break. Let your business be quiet. Gear up for your next launch. My point is: If you've got nothing contributing to say, don't say it.
What not to do
Despite all the uncertainty and pressures all around you, do not respond to this crisis from a place of fear. Deep discounts and fire sales are not the answer.
Neither is preying on other people's fears by just sticking the words “COVID-19” or “coronavirus” on your latest campaign even though it’s completely unrelated. That’s clickbaiting, and it’s not only insensitive — it’s terrible for business.
What’s good for business? Contribution marketing. It's not about saving money. It's about how can you help people in real, tangible ways. And if you are wondering what the ROI is, you’re not thinking about it correctly. You are providing a service to the world. Even from a practical business standpoint, you're building goodwill and gaining free exposure.
Do you know what it would cost you to get the kind of viral publicity some people are getting now because of their free access offering? Remember these changes are temporary. This too shall pass. But right now the world is what it is, and your marketing needs to reflect that.