Following global-wide announcements about the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have had to make big adjustments. Organizers are canceling conferences, panels, speaking engagements, product launches, meetings, fundraisers, trade shows and other events. Schools are shutting down for a few weeks. Even musicians are canceling entire tours and sports leagues are postponing games until further notice.
Given these cancellations, the demand for some promotional products is going down, at least for the time being. Businesses have to avoid travel and social distancing is in full effect. However, that doesn't mean their business goals cease to exist. They still need to generate leads, market products, and make connections with new clients to keep their businesses afloat.
The best thing to do is to stay proactive, do research, talk it through, and look for new opportunities
Dealing with this announcement is a challenge for people around the globe. We're in this together, so now is the time to support each others' businesses in new ways.
Below is a look at some common challenges we are seeing and some tips to work through them:
Navigating event cancelations
The goal behind any given event isn't likely to go away when organizers cancel the event, so now is the time to get creative and find alternatives to reach those goals. Here are some ideas to get started with:
- Put together creative direct mail packages with information that would have been delivered at the event
- Make your event virtual by using YouTube Live, Facebook Live, or Instagram Live stream and send out printed invitations rather than going 100% digital. This will help your business stand out from the rest.
- Create an event kit with branded swag such as pencils or notepads and deliver to those registered for the event
- If you have any event promotional products that have already been produced, suggest that clients send these to would-be attendees to say thank you for registering for the event
- Host a webinar instead of an in-person seminar
- If you're a promotional product distributor with returning clients that run events every year, go through your order history to see what was booked and when. Reach out to your clients about cancelations, share your condolences for what has been canceled, and offer to help them plan alternative promotions.
Dealing with supply chain disruptions
The promotional products industry has relied heavily on shipments from China and other locations overseas, so the industry is feeling a major strain. Even though many Chinese factories are back up and running, there may be delays as businesses recover. During this time of uncertainty, you may want to consider ordering from suppliers that are located in North America and manufacture in-house.
Be proactive and have an open dialogue with your suppliers to make sure you understand the full impact of the situation on their business. For example, they may be located in Canada but order supplies from China. Ask them who manufactures the products and where they are located.
Botanical PaperWorks sources local paper waste to make its seed paper products in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Alternatives to face-to-face meetings
Pitching, planning and putting together marketing material in face-to-face meetings isn't possible at this time. Luckily, we still have the internet and our digital devices.
- If you're a distributor, request more virtual spec samples from suppliers and/or pictures and product videos to show to your clients
- Schedule web calls with customers instead of meeting in person
- Do online presentations with clients through web-based applications such as Zoom and Google Hangouts for video chats
- Create digital business management systems if you don't already use them, such as Basecamp, Dubsado, or Slack. If you're a distributor, source and search using ESP, Sage, or Distributor Central, process orders with commonsku, and run accounting software with Quickbooks
- Send gifts to key partners and stakeholders who are experiencing a tough time during the outbreak
Finding new opportunities
Keep in mind that experts say the COVID-19 pandemic will end eventually. One way is the virus will slow down because we took proactive global measures to socially-isolate, wash our hands frequently, and take time off work. Another way is that we create a vaccine, which experts predict they will develop within 12 to 24 months. Either way, the dip in demand for promotional products is bound to go back up eventually. During the in-between phase, consider a few options.
- If you're a promotional product distributor, be proactive and send clients ideas for alternatives to their events
- Focus on branding updates or marketing material that may have been put off such as your business cards, packaging, or other customer touchpoints
- Ramp up your pitches for businesses that may be less affected such as food delivery service
- If you're a retailer, think of focusing more on your online sales rather than on in-store promotions and perhaps add some bonuses to shipments to encourage repeat business
- Retail businesses can also consider creating subscription boxes service to make it easier for customers to try products
- Many people are staying home for week-long stretches with their devices, so digital content marketing may be more effective
- Consider developing new products for healthcare and sanitization. For example, depending on what is available, send soap packaged in branded belly bands or logo-labeled tissue packs to organizations in need of donations. Be mindful of spreading misinformation about your products. Make sure your products are certified to prevent the spread of germs before making claims. The FDA and FTC are cracking down on false sanitation marketing claims.
- Focus on professional development and/or developing new strategies for when the lull has passed so your business can bounce back quickly
- Use e-blasts to reach out to your clients about future marketing plans
Changing attitudes and behaviors
The response to COVID-19 announcements varies from person to person. During a crisis like this, it's important to watch your messaging and stay sensitive in an environment of concern.
- Stay up-to-date with the news. Monitor social media. Be aware of behavioral and attitude shifts in your target audiences. For example, many people may be working from home for a few weeks and focusing on personal health.
- Use an appropriate tone of voice. When posting on social media, show compassion for those who may be dealing with anxiety because of the crisis. Lean toward community-building messaging. People need to feel connected now more than ever.
- Put the safety of your team, customers, partners, and clients first.
Now, more than ever, we need to support and bring joy to our families, friends, clients, partners, and employees. Look for ways around obstacles, help your peers around those obstacles too, and find ways to connect, even while seeing each other in person isn't possible.
Some of us will need to make bigger adjustments than others, but we're all in this together. Stay positive, stay strong, be kind, and we will all get through this.