I have read offers from multiple businesses that were trying to capitalize on the coronavirus, and for the most part, I find it infuriating. In what follows below, I hope to keep you from making the same mistakes with your customers.
Imagine a continuum from awesome to scammy. You know awesome offers when you see them. They improve your life. You actually want what they’re offering. You see the value in the offer. As you read, consider which category your offer would fall into.
Let’s deal with the easiest categories first. In the middle of the continuum, we see useful and information. It’s useful to know your company’s policy on new procedures related to the coronavirus. It’s also useful to know what new policies affect you as a customer. For example, 7-Eleven sent out information about how some of their policies have changed. In the short term at least, customers can no longer bring their own cups. I’m not sure that I needed to know that, but some customers religiously bring in their own cups. To their credit, 7-Eleven will still honor the discount as if the customer brought in his own cup. If I regularly frequented 7-Eleven, this might be useful.
I love Chick-Fil-A, but Chick-Fil-A sent out a nearly worthless email telling their customers that they’re working to follow CDC rules as if we had some doubt about that. Chick-fil-A is not the only one repeating CDC guidelines, but if I want CDC guidelines, I would go to the CDC website. This kind of communication isn’t bad, but I have a hard time classifying it as good.
In the same vein, Budget Rent-A-Car sent out a message explaining that they are cleaning and sanitizing rental cars more effectively. This made me wonder what they were doing before.
I get it. These companies are worried that customers will use their products less than they have before, so they’re trying to take away these objections, but I’m not sure that their efforts are helpful.
Interesting communications are those that directly impact me. I read the note from my pastor because I want to know if church will be open or closed on Sunday. I read the text from my kids’ soccer coach telling us that games were suspended until further notice. My YMCA sent a message telling us they are still open and that they are taking extra precautions. That was interesting because I assumed it would be closed.
All of these examples contained information I need to know. It matters. I schedule my life around these things. If what you intend to say really matters to your customers like my church and kids’ soccer team, by all means, communicate with them.
On the other hand, if you’re just posting because everyone else is too, stop it. You are just creating noise in the signal, and we only have so much bandwidth. You’re contributing to the problem. It is not advertising; it’s aggravating. If you are just regurgitating what everyone else has written, stop plagiarizing. It is better for you to be out of mind than thought of negatively.
One organization that shall remain nameless really made me angry because they sent out a ridiculously self-promoting email in the name of “helping” during the crisis. Their offer could not really “help” anything other than their bottom line. In my estimation, they pantsed themselves in front of their entire customer base with a shameless attempt to capitalize on the crisis.
What does awesome look like? Some companies have stepped up, offering a silver lining to the dark cloud. I’m thinking of Zoom, Microsoft, Socrative, and others who have extended trial offers well beyond the standard time-frame.
Zoom offers video-conferencing software. Their president recently announced that they are providing their services free to all K-12 schools. This is a win-win because K-12 users will eventually grow up and they will be more comfortable with Zoom than its competitors when they are looking for video solutions (and this is great publicity).
Not to be outdone, “Microsoft is offering anyone its premium version of Teams for free for six months and it has lifted existing user limits on its free version.” Socrative provides educational software useful for distance learning. It is free through July 31 to all school districts and they received such an overwhelming response that it temporarily crashed their system.
These companies are awesome, not because they are giving free stuff, but because they gave potential customers a risk-free opportunity to see how these products could improve their lives. Moreover, they did it at a time when people needed help and they will be remembered positively for it.
Sinful human nature, being what it is, I’m not surprised that Coronavirus scammers have already emerged. According to Forbes, some websites related to COVID-19 have been found to contain malware and spyware. Phishing scams abound. Get your news from legitimate news sources (not Facebook links), and be careful where you click.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Should you put out a message to your customers during the crisis? That depends. Are you offering anything that will really help, or are you just trying to be noticed? If you have any doubts whether your offer is awesome or a scam, ask yourself if it really improves the lives of those who will receive it. Remember your goal during the coronavirus hasn’t changed from your goal before the coronavirus—it is to add value to your customers.