Marketing in Recession: What Can SMEs Do To Survive COVID-19 Disruption?

By Stephen Osomba – June 08, 2020

The COVID-19 has undoubtedly hit majority of businesses around the world hard. The supply chains have been thrown into disarray while demand is quickly plummeting for most industry sectors. According to Google data in March 2020, various retail categories experienced a reduction in search interest; Apparel (-29%), Beauty & Personal Care (-7%), Home & Garden (-12%) and Sports & Fitness had (-51%). This has been matched by a drop in shopper traffic to the stores mostly due to restriction of movement, store closures, job losses, and conservative spending as consumers take a wait and see stance. Currently, the Kenyan government has put in place cessation of movement orders in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Mandera counties for a period of thirty days, while 4 am to 9 pm curfew, has been declared throughout the country. Indeed, the ensuing disruption and resulting recession have left most businesses, especially small & medium enterprises (SMEs), in a seemingly impossible position to thrive. Survival of SMEs is a huge concern for the government given their tremendous role in creating employment in the country. However, all is not lost. As an SME, you can keep your business afloat during these challenging times by adopting these five marketing practices for recession.

Maintain your marketing at a bare minimum: Given the increased economic uncertainty, it may be tempting to cut back completely on marketing efforts in a bid to save money. However, in doing so, you will be inadvertently erasing your brand from the minds of the customer and making recovery when the economic situation improves will be an uphill task. Instead, we would advise that you assess all your previous marketing efforts to identify those that worked best and continue investing in them to build long term brand value. Ensure your brand is visible throughout the pandemic using bare minimum marketing tactics that incorporate warm emotional messaging.

Establish and maintain an online presence: The COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation for most SMEs that hadn’t previously considered going digital. Store closures and restriction of movement has necessitated consumers to move to online space for shopping, entertainment, connecting and learning. As a result, consumers are now spending more time than before browsing the internet and this provides an opportunity for you as an SME to promote your products or services. So step up your digital marketing efforts effectively. For those selling or providing essential products/services, the rewards can be immediate. For other sectors, the rewards will come in handy in the long term. The focus should be on creating long term connection with the consumers by actively engaging them so that when normalcy returns, you’ll be the first brand they think of or recommend to friends and family.

Prioritize customer experience: There’s no doubt that customer service remains a thorny issue pitting customers against businesses. While some SMEs have endeavoured to transform their customer experience into greatness, others remain very lousy despite today’s customers who have become more demanding. Additionally, the COVID-19 has caused some level of stress amongst many people and interactions with such customers can be a bit problematic. However, it is important for businesses to maintain their cool and respond to customers in the most courteous way possible. To survive the pandemic, you need to prioritize customer experience by focusing on small little things that would delight the customer, for instance, making timely deliveries, resolving complaints or addressing enquiries quickly among many others. Go extra mile. Let customers know how you are supporting them to overcome these times of uncertainty. The bottom line is to ensure that your customers are delighted throughout the pandemic and beyond.

Forge strategic partnerships: To successfully ride the COVID-19 wave, it is advisable for SMEs to seek out strategic partnerships that can improve value being delivered to the customers. This should involve evaluating the value chain to identify business anchor points that may well benefit from a synergy, for example, retailers who have closed physical stores may partner with logistics companies to ensure seamless product supply and delivery. Look out for those businesses in complementary sectors that can enhance your value at a reduced cost.

Monitor shifts in consumer trends: The pandemic has created both challenges and opportunities for business. However, for SMEs to remain resilient, there’s need to closely monitor ongoing consumer behaviour to identify new habits that have been formed and take early action to leverage those trends, consequently laying the foundation for a strong recovery. To this end, it is important than ever before to keep eyeballs on customer analytics to map out insights that may lead to untapped golden opportunities.

As Kenya gets sucked deeper into the COVID-19 pandemic, many SMEs are faced with stark choices; shutdown or continue to operate in the dark with demand and supply shocks. However, to survive, marketing during times of recession calls for exceptional approaches and tactics by capitalizing on low hanging fruits. Cognizant of difference in businesses, SMEs should quickly formulate a ‘marketing in recession playbook' that is responsive to its needs given that the pandemic has affected enterprises in varied ways. Therefore, tactical solutions must be curated for each SME. Even as the country eagerly awaits lifting of containment measures, we at SMD Consulting Associates believe that Kenyan SMEs must ready themselves for a new business environment as things won’t be the same again and that marketing strategies for SMEs will need to be altered a bit to fit the new emerging reality.