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Marketing strategies during the pandemic should be focused on building relationships

The coronavirus pandemic has noticeably devastated the U.S. economy, with consumers pulling back on spending as they encounter furloughs, layoffs, and additional economic uncertainty. The crisis is also coinciding with a period of social unrest, amid mass protests and calls for justice after George Floyd’s death in police custody.

This leaves the business community in a bit of a quandary as it sorts out how to market brands and products effectively while also being sensitive to the challenges people are facing right now.

This is something that can be achieved if businesses focus less on the bottom line, according to marketing experts David Meerman Scott and Dan Oshinsky. Instead of focusing on selling a specific product, businesses can benefit more from focusing on acts of kindness and generosity, as well as building relationships with customers, while also acknowledging what’s happening in the world without sounding forced.

“What I’ve noticed is a lot of people have been trying to jump onto these various bandwagons, and I think, in a way, that doesn’t work for a lot of them,” said Scott during a virtual Q&A hosted by Fortune, pointing to instances where companies set up sales or offer free shipping because of the pandemic or in an effort to mention the Black Lives Matter movement. “What we need to do is recognize what’s happening, but don’t try to sell things in sort of nefarious ways, given the pandemic that we have.”

He urged business owners to think about what they can offer without any expectation of something in return, which could also help “grow fans for your business.” He noted that some companies following this philosophy have pivoted to making masks, or in the case of battery maker Duracell, given away batteries to the first responders and health care workers that needed them.

As businesses increasingly rely on email to notify customers of reopening dates and sales, they should also consider taking their time to develop relationships with customers before simply talking shop, Oshinsky, who runs email consultancy Inbox Collective, said. This can involve anything from exchanging helpful tips or asking how someone is doing.

“When you’re thinking about email right now during this moment—first, before you send an email, make sure you’re asking yourself: ‘Is this something my fan, my reader, my customer actually needs to hear from me right now?’” Oshinsky said.

Connecting on a human level could ultimately result in stronger customer loyalty even when lower-cost or more convenient providers come along, because people end up feeling “recognized,” Scott said.

“That relationship that we have with our customers can be a lot more important than the products and services that we sell to them,” he said.

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