How to get ratings and reviews

August 5, 2020

A couple summers ago, my daughter and I went on a three-week African adventure. As you can imagine, we stayed in many different hotels, resorts and safari lodges while we were there. We also enjoyed the company of several different tour guides, tour companies, restaurants, and venues.

Every one of those businesses survives and thrives on word of mouth recommendations, and in today’s world – rating and reviews from crucial sites like Trip Advisor, Yelp, and others.

What I found fascinating is the range of ways they did or didn’t ask for our feedback and/or reviews.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating – I don’t care what you sell or who you serve, there is power in capturing customer feedback. I’ve never known a business, no matter how amazing it is, that can’t benefit from candid input from a recent customer. Not only can you up your game by heeding their observations and unmet needs but you can earn their loyalty by responding and sharing how you are going to take their feedback into account.

Beyond that, research shows us time and time again that ratings and reviews play a significant role in influencing buying decisions. I think one of the most foolish misperceptions surrounding ratings and reviews is the idea that you shouldn’t ask for them, because you’ll get bad ones. Guess what – you’re going to get the bad ones, whether you ask or not.

People are much more inclined to share their bad experiences and frustration on review sites and social media channels. The only way to counter-balance that is to ask your best, happiest customers to leave a review too. It takes 10-12 good reviews to nullify the impact of a bad review, but the good news is – the more good reviews you earn by asking for them – the further down those bad reviews go.

How do you get ratings and reviews? There’s no one right answer but trying a mix of these tactics should net you some good results.

Be extraordinary: The easiest way to get positive reviews is to be worthy of them. This is not as easy as it sounds. I’m not talking about being satisfactory. I am talking about knocking their socks off with your service. This takes time, training, and a shared vision of what customer service looks like in your organization.

Have signage at the point of delivery: If you own a retail establishment, be sure you advertise that you’d welcome reviews and ratings in your store. If you run an online business, include a postcard with links to the review sites that mean the most to your business.

Share your reviews on your social channels: Let everyone know that you are actively monitoring and responding to reviews by sharing a few. Better yet – share one that is not a 5-star and talk about how you are going to evolve your business based on that feedback.

Follow up after the sale: Call, email, or send snail mail to your customer a few days after delivery. Genuinely ask about their experience and if the product/service is meeting their needs. Once you’ve engaged them in the conversation, invite them to leave a review.

Don’t forget your older sales: It’s definitely worth putting together a campaign aimed at people who have purchased from you, but maybe not in the last couple of months. You might score a twofer – a great review and trigger a repeat purchase!

Soliciting ratings and reviews should be part of every organization’s marketing plan. This is not a one tactic fits all situation, so experiment with several of these until you find the right combination. Don’t leave such an important aspect of how potential customers evaluate your business to chance.



Where are you listening?

July 22, 2020

Do you still have a customer service number that you promote on your product packaging, website, or collateral material? Do you get many snail mail letters from disgruntled customers? How about drop-ins, asking to speak to a supervisor.

That’s how people used to complain when a product or service didn’t live up to their expectations. Depending on your target audience, odds are, you’ve noticed a decline in these particular methods. But that does not mean people have stopped airing their grievances.

If anything, consumer complaints are on the rise. It’s not an if, it’s a where. My worry for businesses is that they’re not listening where their clients are venting their concerns.

A study done by Sprout Social shows that 46% of consumers have used social channels to call out a brand. 55% of consumers say that the reason they reach out to a brand on a social channel is that they want resolution or a response. What do you suppose their reaction is when they get silence in return?

Only 3% of the respondents said they didn’t want any sort of reaction or response from the brand. This is a key insight for us all. They are not complaining just to complain. They are complaining to get something in return.

What are they getting from you?

The same study revealed that consumers believe that social media increased the accountability of a brand by:

  • Uncovering unfair treatment (80% of respondents)
  • Gives the consumers power (75% of respondents)
  • Encourages transparency (70% of respondents)
  • Amplifies issues (65% of respondents)
  • Helps employees share experiences (55% of respondents)

When we don’t respond to their publicly aired grievance – how do you suppose that plays? I’d argue that at best, it makes us look out of touch and at worst like we have something to hide. None of those are going to win us any prizes in the customer service hall of fame.

Don’t be fooled by the suggestion that this is just a millennial behavior. Yes, they will shift to social faster than their older counterparts, but customers of all ages will use any tool at their disposal to get the attention they need. I’ve seen many 50+ consumers (myself included) use Facebook, Twitter, and other channels to get some action or reaction.

While the Sprout Social study focused on social channels, that’s just scratching the surface. Review sites for your industry, general review sites like,, the Better Business Bureau’s site, your website, and, of course, Google and Facebook reviews are all fair game.

How big is your risk in this area? Who monitors all of these sites and channels for your company? How quickly do you notice when one of your customers raises an issue or asks a question? Do you respond, and do you have a protocol for your responses?

It’s not like the internet is a new concept or that anyone thinks people are going to cut the cord anytime soon. So why wouldn’t a business recognize how critical it is to monitor and respond to what’s being said about and to you on social channels and other online locations? I understand that it’s daunting. But that doesn’t mean we have the luxury of ignoring our customers simply because we’d prefer they use another method of communication.

The good news? When you respond well to an online complaint, you can not only solve the issue but actually earn a reward. 45% of people will reinforce the positive outcome by posting about it on social, telling their circle of influence about the resolution. They’re also more likely to do business with you in the future.

Be sure you are actively listening where your customers are most likely to be talking. And talk back.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Marketing: How do you retain their business?

July 15, 2020

This will wrap up our look at how to successfully reopen your business to customers to make them feel safe and welcome. Previously, we’ve worked through how to properly prep your team and your location for client visits and what to do to make their actual visit as frictionless as possible.

All too often, people think that marketing stops once the transaction is complete. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The most important marketing you’ll ever do isn’t the effort to get the first dollar. It’s to get the second.

How we communicate with our clients who have made the conscious decision to break free of the pandemic’s paralysis just to do business with us is going to be where we win or lose the game. It doesn’t matter if that was a client you’ve had for a decade, or you’ve never met them before – we’re living through a dramatic reset, where we have to re-earn everything.

What does that post-visit or post-transaction marketing look like? It starts on the inside. In many cases, your employees are working in an agitated, artificial environment. Checking in with them to see how it went is your first step. Catch them doing things right and use those as teachable moments with your entire team. Do more postmortems than usual, identifying unique situations, and work together to define best practices for handling each scenario.

With your clients, in order to retain them, you first need to communicate your gratitude for the opportunity to serve them. This has to be done in a very authentic way, so it feels and sounds like you. Now, in particular, is not the time for canned, generic messaging. Ask for candid feedback on their experience and what you could have done to make it even better.

There are some danger areas where you may need to communicate with more frequency and depth. If they have a complaint about their experience, remember that people are on edge. That escalates their reaction to everything, so factor that in.

If you had to create some sort of workaround during the pandemic to facilitate sales, like curbside pickup or special financing that you are not going to keep offering, you will have to over-communicate not only the change but more important – why the change.

Why aren’t you still offering whatever accommodations you created during the shelter in place period? Don’t be too hasty to eliminate all of what you thought of as “during the crisis” changes you’ve made. Some of them may have won you new clients. But if you really believe you should eliminate some of the temporary stopgap measures, try to see the change from your customer’s perspective and explain it with that lens. Saying you aren’t going to do it anymore for self-serving reasons is not going to play well in this current environment.

As you communicate with both customers and your team members about what’s coming next, changes, new additions, or elements that may be going away, be very mindful of the words you choose.

Now is not the time for absolutes. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that change is inevitable. Do not make promises you may not be able to keep as we continue to work through the phases of recovery. We are definitely in a season of under-promising and over-delivering.

You also want to make sure your messages convey the emotional side of the equation. Because we’re all a little weary, it would be easy to take shortcuts with our communications. Guard against that. Communicate often, and remember: Brands that lead with their heart and genuinely and consistently demonstrate their concern and care for the team and their customers will win the day.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Marketing: Tribute to front-line workers

July 8, 2020

A while back, we began to explore how customer service is shifting as businesses reopen after an eight- to 10-week shutdown. In that piece, we talked a lot about the importance of preparation. This is a measure twice, cut once moment in time. With everyone’s emotions as raw as they are, you want to get this right. A mistake can cost you a loyal customer or a devoted employee.

Today, I’m going to assume you’ve prepped and are ready to go. Now we’re going to turn our attention to what we need to be thinking about once we are open. One of the most heartening trends coming out of COVID, according to a May 2020 study by Accenture, is that, as consumers, we’ve never been more motivated and excited about buying local.

That bodes well for us, whether we sell direct to consumers or to other businesses. At this stage, you’ve decided as the business owner or leader which rules you’re going to choose to enforce when it comes to masks, the number of people in your establishment at once, client face-to-face meetings, etc. You’ve met with your team and briefed them on the rules.

Hopefully, you’ve done some brainstorming and role-playing, so they are feeling prepared as well.

Now it’s time to open the doors. The work you’ve done with your team isn’t done yet. In this phase, they need you to:

  • Help them enforce the rules with lots of visual cues and specific language to use with your clients.
  • Model well. They’re nervous, so they will be watching how you respond to your customers. Let them know when they handle a situation well. Thank them for helping you enforce the “new normal.”
  • Show grace. No one will get this 100% right, so come to work with an abundance of grace and give it out generously.

Your employees aren’t the only ones who are going to be a little anxious. Your customers are too. They may have been out and about for some time, but for others, your business location may be one of the first they’ve entered since March. For many of us, it was the grocery store, pharmacy, home, and repeat for quite a while!

Here’s how you can make it easier for your clients to walk through your door for the first time since the quarantine.

  • Paint a clear picture of what to expect before they show up. Whether it’s how the chairs in the conference room will be arranged or what inventory you have in stock, eliminate as many surprises as possible. Take advantage of all of their senses. Have prominent, bold signage that points them in the right direction, floor markings if that makes sense, PA announcements, and more live help than you usually might have.
  • Stationing someone at the door to greet your customer and help them navigate through your space will ease their worries significantly.
  • Show your excitement and be genuinely happy to see them. Remember, if you’re wearing a mask, facial cues are lost, so speak up and welcome them with warmth.

In this phase, you’re going to need to be very attentive and observant. Watch for signs of anxiety, discomfort, or confusion and be quick to jump to that employee or customer’s needs. Don’t worry if they’re not ready to buy yet. Just getting them back into your location and engaged is a win.

Slow and steady is going to win this race. Our job as business owners and leaders right now is to reconnect with our team and our customers.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record as one of Drew’s weekly columns.



Overcommunicate Upfront

June 24, 2020

As businesses reopen and invite customers back into their establishments, it’s safe to say everyone is on edge.

Business owners are understandably concerned. Just because they’ve reopened or their employees are coming back, that doesn’t mean the clients will.

Employees are anxious too. They are worried about their physical safety, but they’re not sure if their jobs are secure or what they’re going to do with the kids this summer. They’re also wondering how the clients are going to react to the new restrictions and rules.

Your customers are also feeling uneasy. There are so many unknowns. Are you going to have new rules, new hours, or service delays? Should they be out and about at all? Will you be wearing masks? Do they need to wear masks?

There will be three critical stages of communication as we march our way back to post-COVID normal. We’re going to take a look at the pre-visit communications you need to have with your team and your customers.

Your employees know it’s going to be their job to help you manage all of the changes that come with your post-COVID reentry. The more you can prepare them, the more comfortable they’ll feel, and in turn, the more they can put your customers at ease.

Here are some things to cover with your team:

  • You own your company’s rules. Be very clear about what you want and what you are willing to accept.
  • Your staff needs to have a high level of clarity and permission to enforce the rules. Remember, they typically have more client contact than you do.
  • Role-playing and scenario discussions can be very helpful in this phase. No one has done this before, so nerves are high and confidence is low.
  • Help them imagine all of the special requests and brainstorm possible responses.
  • Define your protection of them, so they aren’t afraid to take action. Make sure they know you have their back.
  • Remember, they’re feeling a lot of emotions too. Show them that you care about those emotions.
  • Check-in with them personally. Ask about their families and what’s going on in their personal life. Remember that COVID has affected every aspect of people’s lives, and that can influence how they show up at work.
  • Ask about their worries, excitement, etc. as you go back. Get them to open up by sharing how you’re feeling. You’re also going to want to level up your communications with your customers so they can picture in their heads exactly what to expect. The more they have a sense of what their experience is going to be like, the quicker they’ll come back.
  • Describe the experience, so they know what to expect. Help them understand what is and isn’t changing.
  • Use visuals whenever possible. Help them literally see how you’ve reconfigured things, what they’ll see when they walk in the door, and all the ways you’ve made it easy for them.
  • Posting FAQs on your website or your Facebook page will be helpful. Every time you get asked a new question, update the FAQs.
  • Be clear about suggestions versus rules. Help them honor your rules and avoid being chastised or embarrassed when they walk in the door.
  • If masks are optional, be very clear about that. If you’re going to turn them away if they show up without a mask, you don’t want that to be a surprise.

What this is really about is you demonstrating your compassion for your employees and your customers by reducing their anxieties about reengaging. Next time, we’ll look at how to communicate while everyone is actually in your place of business.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Marketing: Have you met your new customers?

June 17, 2020

As Iowa reopens, we are being greeted by brand-new customers. Even if they look like our old customers, they’ve been changed. Two+ months of isolation, deprivation, and raw emotions can alter anyone’s perspective.

We have to remember that we’re not to the new normal yet. We’re in the temporary, abnormal phase of reentry. What complicates this phase is that no two people are reacting to the idea of our state’s reopening in the same way.

That makes the decisions you need to make as you invite your clients back to your location a little less black and white. Please do not make the mistake of assuming your customers will behave the way they did pre-COVID. Typically people don’t change much in 60 days. But there’s not all that much that is normal right now.

The discomfort and nerves are showing up in a wide range of reactions. Between COVID and the protests, it’s no wonder that most people are a confused cocktail of emotional responses. You’re going to interact with customers who are exhibiting a mix of fear, frustration, anger, and delight at being able to leave their homes. These emotions are distorting people’s perspectives and expectations. Some will be so happy to be interacting with you in person, they won’t notice much else.

Others will be so anxious that they’ll notice everything.

How do you meet their expectations? It starts with understanding what they are. If there were ever a good time for a customer survey, June 2020 is it. A recent study done by Accenture identifies five new consumers that we’re all going to encounter.

Twenty-one percent of consumers are worriers. They are typically 56- to 69-year-olds who have some underlying conditions that make them take the stance that they’re not willing to take any chances.

Twenty-two percent of them are what Accenture called the individualists. They’re more frustrated by people acting stupid by hoarding toilet paper than they are about being exposed to the virus. They tend to fall in the 18- to 24-year-old range.

Thirty-nine percent of consumers would be considered rationalists. They are not concerned and believe that all they can do is to keep things clean and hope others do the same. They tend to fall into the 25 to 31-year-old age group.

The activist subgroup is about 8% of the population. They believe it is their social responsibility to socially distance. They also tend to be in the 25 to 31-year-old age group.

Eleven percent of the population is indifferent. They think the situation has been seriously blown out of proportion. This attitude is most prevalent in 40- to 55-year-olds.

As you build out your survey, be sure you ask your customers how they feel about some of the changes you’ve had to make during COVID. What may surprise you is that they fully expect you to keep the modifications they personally like. Whether it’s to-go margaritas or private shopping by appointment, you may be planning to abolish something you thought of as a temporary fix, and they saw it as a valuable enhancement.

Another insight you’ll need to probe to identify is exactly what will make your clients feel like it’s safe to come back to your location. They may be ready to be out and about but are they ready to come back specifically to your establishment? This is a dangerous place where many assumptions live. Some consumers will absolutely feel safer if you require everyone to wear a mask. Others will choose to avoid any business that has that policy.

It’s always been smart marketing to have a deep understanding of what your customers are thinking and feeling. Right now, as we navigate these completely uncharted waters, it’s essential.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Now what?

June 3, 2020

Most business owners, leaders, and entrepreneurs appreciate having a plan and things going according to plan. If we’re seasoned – we know it’s not all going to go according to plan, but it helps to have confidence that we’re at least heading in the right direction.

We rely on past experiences, external cues, advice from advisors, and our own entrepreneurial instincts to guide our efforts. Nine times out of ten, we end up pretty close to where we were trying to land.

Which is one of the reasons this whole pandemic has us so uneasy. We have no direct past experience. The external cues are changing hourly, and there’s little consistency among all of the voices. Our advisors are as in the dark as we are, and it’s scary to trust your instincts.

As Iowa opens up, this uncertainty gets more pronounced, rather than less so. If we open up, will our customers come back? If we make our dining rooms available, will we have patrons? If we plan on heading back to the office, how will the employees react?

In some ways, being locked down was easier. It was very clear what our customers and we could and couldn’t do. But as Iowans ease back into life outside their own homes, everything seems more tenuous.

I believe that many people saw the state’s reopening as the end of this. But really, for most of us, it’s the beginning. We have to navigate doing business in an environment of fear, worry, financial challenges, and as always, it seems political polarization.

Assumptions have always been dangerous when it comes to marketing. It’s so easy to apply our own bias to any situation and get it very wrong. That’s even more true when it’s an emotional issue, and C19 has escalated everyone’s emotions.

Now is not the time for you to guess. The stakes are too high. An empty store or dining room can cost more than being closed. Silent but disgruntled employees can impact your ability to serve customers or recruit additional help.

I am always a fan of knowing more. Knowledge and insights are rarely wasted assets. As you venture back towards pre-COVID normal, now would be an excellent time for you to have candid conversations with your customers and team members.

I know there’s discomfort that comes with hearing reactions, worries, or sentiments that you do not want to hear. But if there was ever a time for not stepping out in complete darkness, now is that time.

Ask questions. Listen with unbiased ears to the answer. If you can’t remove your own bias, hire an outsider to listen on your behalf, and help you interpret the data.

Previously, I outlined the kinds of communication and information that clients want from you right now. Marketing should never be a monologue anymore. We don’t have to revert back to that. But if there was ever a time for dialogue, that time is now. Rich, compassionate, deep dialogue that will help you anticipate what the next month or two will bring.

No one is going to fault you for caring enough to ask, listen, and then act based on what you heard. You can also use that effort to explain to your audiences why you are making the choices you’ve made. Let them know they played a role in helping you set the course for the next phase of this moment in time.

Push aside your fears about what you will hear, and let’s answer the “now what” question with as much insight as we can garner in these early days of reopening the state.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Are you ready to pivot?

May 20, 2020

Iowa is readying itself to reopen for business, and some parts of the state have already done so. But just because people can dine out, stroll through mall stores, or start holding face-to-face sales meetings does not mean that they will.

If the behavior of consumers and business buyers in other countries and states that are ahead of us is any indication, our return to what we define as normal will be slow at best.

And even if your customers come flocking back in droves on day one, how they come back, how many come back at once, and how you interact are all going to require, at the very least, a temporary change or pivot.

Many B2C and B2B consumers are saying that they’re not ready to go back out into the world as before. They’re going to continue to either stay at home or only go out or have contact with others when it feels essential.

Are you ready? Depending on what you sell, you may have to look at adopting and adapting to some of the shifts that we’ve watched other businesses make as they worked to continue to serve their customer base through the pandemic.

E-delivery: Are you used to sitting at a conference room table with your prospects and clients? Is that face-to-face contact how you sell or how you deliver your products or services? Many businesses that believed face-to-face was the only option have been forced to admit that there is another way. It may not be the ideal way to deliver what you do – but it may be more convenient for your customers, and they may not be excited to go back to the old way, at least for a bit.

Reaching the end-users: Many brands who have worked through distribution channels in the past have used COVID-19 as an incentive to connect directly with their end-users. If you typically sell through a dealer network or some other intermediary, you may want to consider augmenting your marketing and brand activation to include those end-users who are looking for brands to believe in.

Contactless delivery/concierge offerings: This is one of the business pivots that I suspect will last long after C-19 is gone for good. We have all gotten very used to everything being delivered to our front door. For some businesses, like Pizza Hut or Amazon, this has been their model from their inception, but now just about everyone is delivering or modifying their product or service so you can take advantage of it without ever leaving the convenience of your home or office.

Now would be a brilliant time to survey your customers to ask them what elements of how you’ve worked together for the last two months will still be appealing once we open back up. Odds are, you’ve bent over backward to be accommodating during the crisis. It’s highly unlikely that your clients are going to be excited if you go backward and are less accommodating as we work our way back to a post-COVID reality. Why not allow them to help you shape the future of what you sell, how you sell it, and how you deliver it?

There are two irrefutable truths to this moment in time. The first is: It will pass. The second is: It will change us in many ways forever, including the work we do, who we do it for, and how we do it.

Now is the exact right time to be having these exploratory conversations with your team and your customers. Who knows? Maybe the new normal will make you even more valuable and more essential to the people you serve.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


I can’t hear you

April 15, 2020

If you have children or an obstinate dog, you know what it feels like to be speaking perfectly clear and simple English, and yet it’s like you are alone in the room. The dog is engrossed in a bone or chasing the cat. Your kid is watching their favorite TV show or has their nose in their iPad or computer game.

You could be offering them a million dollars (or a million bones), and they’re just not on the same frequency. They might not even notice that you’re talking because you’re on the wrong wavelength.

That’s the reality of the marketplace right now. There is no special pricing, no coupon, no financing option that you can offer right now that is going to draw your prospect’s attention away from where they’re focused.

Right now, they’re worried about their job security, if their business will survive the COVID-19 shutdown, homeschooling, finding toilet paper, and fashioning a mask for their next grocery store outing.

Previously we discussed that until they’ve answered these very basic needs, they’re just not going to be receptive to any sales message unless what you happen to sell helps them solve one of the problems they’re focused on right now.

If you’ve been watching TV or been online, you’ve started to notice a shift in advertising messaging. It has moved away from selling, and most of the more prominent national brands are simply saluting everyday heroes like doctors, nurses, and first responders. Or they’ve modified something in their delivery model to better serve their audience during this shelter-in-place economy.

They are speaking to their audience in a way that they can be heard because they’re talking about the same topics that are already occupying the minds of their constituency.  They’re finding the frequency that the audience is tuned into and showing up there.

What frequency should you be broadcasting from? Right now, it’s the community outreach frequency.

You could:

  • Host a drive-through food bank drop off at your location (car dealerships)
  • Create downloadable posters with positive messages that kids could color and their families could hang on their front door (any business that works with kids)
  • Curate easy to cook dinner recipes from within your community of customers (local restaurant)
  • Offer simple mask making instructions along with a how-to YouTube video (fabric store or security company)
  • Collect donations to provide food and shelter for all of the animals being abandoned at this time (vet clinic or pet supply store)
  • Offer your products or services for free for first responders, medical professionals or delivery drivers (just about anyone)
  • Offer free counsel to business owners (attorneys, CPA, etc.)

The key to this act of service is that it needs to be tied to what you do. If you’re a medical supply company, the mask pattern makes sense.

It doesn’t make sense if you’re an HVAC company. But all of us can and should do something. It’s the only frequency our audience can hear right now.

Then, use your advertising dollars, social channels, customer groups, and any other communications vehicles to invite your customers, prospects, and the community to join with you to help. Or, use those same outlets to celebrate and thank our local heroes.

For example, Big Al’s BBQ & Catering is offering free meals to long haul truck drivers since their food options are pretty limited right now. They can’t go into a restaurant, and you can’t take a big rig through a drive-thru. Big Al’s is promoting their generosity on their Facebook page and inviting their customers to help.

How about you – what could you be saying that your audience is ready to hear?

Originally published in The Des Moines Business Record as part of Drew’s weekly column series.


The first stage – marketing during a community outbreak

April 8, 2020

There are so many unknowns that we are dealing with today in relation to COVID-19. But there is one certainty. This will pass, and we will move into a new normal. We aren’t going to just pick up where we left off before COVID-19. The truth is – like any other event of significance, this moment in time will change the way we do business. The way we interact will change, in some way, each of us.

But there will be a time, just like after 9/11 and the’ 07-’08 recession when it will feel okay again, and we will go back to business with the same vengeance as before the pandemic.

There are three distinct stages we’ll experience on our way to a new normal, and in each phase, we must think about marketing a little differently.

We are in the first stage, community outbreak. As we’ve all experienced in the last couple of weeks, we have moved into a homebound economy. For most people, they’re still experiencing a mix of disbelief and fear related to the virus. Some have cocooned in their homes, taking social distancing to an extreme. Others, on the opposite side of the spectrum, may be working from home, but they’re still socializing with neighbors on their driveway, going out shopping, and trying to cling to a pre-COVID-19 normal.

As your audiences grapple with accepting this situation, they are not particularly open or in a position to buy anything beyond essentials. Like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, they’re focused on covering their basics. If you sell to consumers, they’re spending on food and supplies to keep their family safe and entertained. If you sell to businesses, they’re scrambling to figure out how to function with a 100% remote workforce and are worried about their own revenue challenges.

Both groups are hoarding cash out of fear because there are so many unknowns. Even if you offered them the best deal on the planet – they can’t hear you right now.

During this phase, there are two major marketing mistakes you can make. The first and most offensive is to keep selling. At best, you look tone-deaf to the situation, and at the worst, you look greedy and uncaring. The second major mistake is if you go silent. Coming up, I’ll show you data on what happens to organizations that disappear from the marketplace during a financial downtown like the one that followed 9/11.

What we can and should do right now is move from selling to serving our community in any way we can. A great example of that here in Des Moines is RE/MAX Precision. They’re distributing activity packets for four different grades (pre-K to 3rd) free of charge, and the 200+ families who have received the packets have been, as you can imagine, very thankful.

An ad agency in Bangor Maine, Sutherland Weston, created a free guide of all the places and special times that seniors and people with compromised immune systems can shop in their town. Both are excellent examples of how you genuinely help and build your brand at the same time. There’s nothing wrong with doing both.

Beyond serving the needs of the community, which should be our first priority, businesses can and should still be communicating. Instead of selling, shift to educating, and informing. Your audience isn’t in a position to buy right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help them today. For now, you can stay relevant and valuable to them by sharing with you know in a way that serves them right now.

Be of genuine service today. It’s the right thing to do. But it will also the right way to market right now.

Originally published in The Des Moines Business Record as part of Drew’s weekly column series.