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What Brands Can Do for Small Businesses During COVID-19

Written byKristen King
May 5, 2020

As consumers turn to online shopping, countless brick-and-mortar storefronts are being forced to shut down indefinitely. How can brands support local businesses while prioritizing public safety?

As COVID-19 propels the world into a state of isolation, public life as we know it is being recast from the ground up. Social distancing has prompted the widespread retreat from in-person interactions, leaving consumers with the digital space as the only way to connect — from work meetings to happy hours to shopping. Though it’s too soon to predict the full impact of the global health crisis, certain new online behaviors, particularly on e-commerce platforms, are too dramatic to ignore.

In the US, e-commerce sales have spiked 40 percent year-over-year since President Trump declared a state of national emergency on March 13. The uptick in online shopping is all well and good for established e-commerce titans — those with the infrastructure and capital to support rapidly evolving markets and consumer needs — but for neighborhood mom-and-pop shops, it’s threatening their very survival.

If there was ever a time to champion small businesses, it’s now. Not only because your product distribution likely relies on them, but to foster a lasting legacy of supporting local communities. A recent Edelman survey of 12,000 people across 12 markets shows that consumers are more sensitive than ever to how brands are responding to the pandemic: one-third of respondents said they have convinced others to stop using a brand that they think is acting poorly, while over one-third confirmed they are already using a new brand because of its compassionate reaction. Brands that offer empathetic messaging and creative solutions to ameliorate problems stand to garner lasting customer trust. 

A growing number of brands are launching high-profile initiatives to bolster small businesses during the pandemic. Bacardi and Deliveroo Editions joined forces to provide over 120 bars in London and Manchester with a virtual platform to sell and deliver cocktails to local customers. eBay waived all seller fees through June 30 and pledged up to $100 million in support for small businesses. The software firm QuickBooks set up a small business relief fund and paused its pre-scheduled ad campaign to instead direct viewers to donate to the fund. FIG recently developed a campaign on behalf of one of our most beloved clients, Benjamin Moore, a company that was built on the shoulders of small businesses (independent retailers and contractors). Created to support contractors who are struggling to find work during quarantine, the campaign urges homeowners who are practicing social distancing to hire a painter to do work on the outside of their homes.

Benjamin Moore - Keep Hard Workers Working from FIG Agency on Vimeo.

This crisis is an opportunity for established brands to provide enduring value beyond selling goods. Here are just a few ways to support and uplift the small business community: 

  1. Provide e-commerce training.

A key challenge for many small businesses is building websites that communicate the expertise and personal investment that is so evident in-store. Often, customers can’t recall the specific name of their favorite product — they recognize it by the packaging or placement in the shop aisle. Owners and managers need help developing online platforms that are user-friendly, informative, and evoke the unique culture of their businesses. Brands can address this need by hosting training webinars on Squarespace, Shopify, or other e-commerce platforms for their valued vendors. 

2. Spotlight your small business partners on social media.

Consumers still want to hear from brands — the crucial difference between now and before the pandemic is that they are scrutinizing brand messages much more closely. According to market research by 4A’s, 56 percent of consumers are pleased to hear how brands are taking action to help their suppliers and employees. Right now, the most direct way to reach your community is via social media, so consider posting #SmallBusinessSpotlight stories about your retailer partners on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. 

3. Use your homepage as a launchpad for donations.

For businesses lacking the capital and technological groundwork to sell online, what they need most right now is monetary aid. Use your homepage as a launchpad to direct viewers to GoFundMe pages for independent storefronts; to go the extra mile, commit to matching donations pledged by your customers. 

4. Reach out to legislators.

Policymakers in Washington are swamped by stimulus proposals for businesses large and small. To ensure your suppliers’ voices are heard, join the conversation by advocating for small business relief. There are countless channels for engaging with legislators, from social media and email to phone calls and letters. You can also leverage your brand’s social reach by encouraging followers to advocate, too.

If there’s one silver lining of the pandemic, it’s that we are suddenly recognizing just how much social ties matter. As we retreat from the routines and comforts of public life, we are forced to expand the notion of community beyond friends, family, and neighbors. In this moment of social isolation, brands have a new responsibility to act as stewards of their communities — and, in doing so, connect with their customers on a whole new level. 

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