Customer pays for product during COVID-19 pandemic.
Trust is essential to a customer-brand relationship. That means communicating any pandemic-related changes to your business, like the installment of contactless payment terminals.. — filadendron/Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many small businesses to significantly change their operations and offerings to adapt to stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines. However, it's important for brands to stay true to their mission and values, no matter how much they need to pivot.

"Now more than ever, consumers expect to see leadership from brands," said Kelly Chase, director of content marketing at Fracture. "This is an opportunity to … proactively and authentically serve your customers in a way that aligns with your company values."

Follow these tips to help you maintain your core brand throughout the pandemic and beyond.

Revisit your mission

During difficult times, it's easy to lose focus of mission-critical tasks and deviate from your core values. Chase emphasizes the importance of putting your brand's mission first.

"It can be tempting to throw your 'why' out the window and focus instead of driving as much revenue as possible in the near-term," she said. "However, in doing so, you are likely to alienate the customer base that has helped you get where you are."

To help you recenter your mission, consider how you can uniquely serve your customers right now, even if it doesn't generate revenue in the short term.

"If you make yourself valuable, the money will follow," Chase said.

[Related: COVID-19 Reopening Challenges and Solutions for Your Business]

Talk to your employees

Your employees have valuable insight into the day-to-day operations of your business and the needs of your customers. While you're developing a plan for your brand, be sure to include them in the conversation.

"A company should also ask their employees how they think a company can stick to what they uphold," said Finn Cardiff, founder of Beachgoer. "More ideas are better than a few."

Cardiff also recommends taking your customers' feedback into account. Hearing their needs can help your brand determine the best next steps to take.

Think through your customers' needs

According to Chase, the biggest mistake most brands make is centering their marketing around themselves, rather than their customers.

"Each person is the hero of their own story, and they are making buying decisions in their lives based on who they think is best equipped to help them reach their goals," Chase said. "In your brand narrative, you should be Yoda, not Luke Skywalker."

By shifting your focus to the customer's needs, you can position yourself as uniquely suited to solve their problems. Keep in mind that these needs are likely to shift and change, especially amid a pandemic, so be ready to adjust your strategy accordingly.

[Related: How to Communicate With Customers During Coronavirus]

By working with employees to adapt in the face of change, you're expanding your ideas and bolstering the strength of your brand.

Build trust

Trust is a vital component of the customer-brand relationship. Right now, this means communicating to customers any changes you're making to adapt to the pandemic, such as offering remote or flexible work, or sharing the health and safety precautions you're taking.

"Building a brand is all about trust," said Dave Nevogt, co-founder at Hubstaff. "Show the world [you] are a dynamic brand that can adapt to changing times. [This] will resonate with [the consumer], given what everyone has been through with the pandemic."

Ask for help

The pandemic has been an ongoing challenge for many businesses, but you don't have to face it alone.

"There's no 'I' in team in situations like these," said Erin Amadeo, vice president of marketing at Walk-On's. "Ask for support, check in with your team often and be open to change, as it's up to business leaders to influence this mindset from the top down."

Building a resilient brand begins with establishing a resilient culture. Amadeo recommends leading by example by keeping lines of communication open and encouraging feedback. By working with your employees to adapt in the face of change and new challenges, you're expanding your pool of ideas and bolstering the strength of your brand.

While you're asking for help, don't forget to help those around you if you're able. Amadeo encourages businesses to "actively seek out ways to help communities around you." In addition to the potential for brand visibility and building mutually beneficial relationships, your customers will also appreciate your kindness and humanity.

[Related: 5 Social Media Tactics to Attract Customers After COVID-19]

Stay true to who you are

While you want to help your customers as best as possible, you need to do so in a way that makes sense for your brand. Jumping on trends, adopting a radically new brand voice or trying to be everything to everything can ring false for your customers.

"You don't need to solve all of your customers' problems," Chase said. "Your job is just to show up with solutions for the problems they have where you can genuinely and authentically provide guidance, support and expertise."

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published July 22, 2020