Author: Jonathan "Yoni" Frenkel, Content Marketing Strategist
COVID-19 has consumed the business news and has impacted every aspect of our communication; this is a global crisis that one cannot just will away or ignore. In some countries, the government’s response has taken on a clearly divisive political nature thus complicating many of the facts around the virus’s spread. In general, Israeli startups see no upside in attaching themselves to whatever political crisis is happening in Israel at the moment, but when dealing with COVID-19’s impact ignoring “the elephant in the room” can be deemed insensitive, or worse, detached from reality.
The good news is that many professionals and industries are interested in working their way through this global crisis and have proven to be quite resilient. If you are reading this, you’re most likely feeling the economic pressure brought to bear on you, and you cannot afford to “wait this out”, as the pandemic does not seem to be abating. Most entrepreneurs do not offer a solution in helping solve the worst pandemic of the last 100 years, so it is OK if your business is offering a solution that is not a vaccine. I will cover below digital-focused ways to promote and market your endeavor, whether that be a startup, agency, or even a service provider in authentic ways that take people’s sensitivities into consideration.
Produce content. Consistently
In my work with the US and Israeli tech and venture ecosystems there is one golden rule that I live by and advise my clients on: Produce. Content. Consistently. I would suggest you not worry about the “quality” of the content, if you are new to this game your content probably won’t be that amazing right out the gate, and the only way you’ll improve is by doing. Consistently producing content is so important that according to the Aberdeen Group “on average, conversion rates are six times higher for companies and brands using content marketing than those that aren’t, at 2.9% vs. 0.5%, respectively.”
To get ahead of any objections you may have, so many people just sit on whatever piece of content (in this case, blogs, and articles) editing and changing ad nauseam, as if the piece must be perfect. It will never be perfect; you need to press the publish button before you are ready. As Voltaire famously stated, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Being consistent is significantly more important than nailing every piece of content you produce. Another question I get often is what platform to use. You know your market, use whatever platform you feel reaches your audience, and hyper-focus on that platform as opposed to posting on every platform and wasting your energy.
Ping people without an ask in mind
This is a big one. In the early months of the pandemic it was in bad taste to send aggressive (and spammy) cold emails and messages. We really did not know what direction the world was heading in. These days it is a bit more permissible, but is cold outreach effective? Many times, when debating the best way to market our endeavor we ignore an audience we have been cultivating every day, namely our network, community, and those who already know and trust us.
I believe people want as much contact with the outside world during WFH days, and if that means hearing from a business acquaintance that is fine as well. I would suggest making it a plan to reach out to 5 people in your network you have not spoken to in some time for a phone call or Zoom meeting. When you are having your call, business will come up, people want to help these days, and sharing with them what you’re seeking in an authentic (and collaborative) manner is an effective way to make an Ask. Wharton professor and author of one of the most important works on building authentic relationships, Give and Take, Adam Grant believes that “being a giver is not good for a 100-yard dash, but it’s valuable in a marathon.” As we are learning the hard way, our recovery is indeed going to be a marathon.
Offer to speak on Zoom panels
Since speaking on panels and conferences does not seem to be happening any time soon, a way to build credibility while sitting at home is to offer to participate in a Zoom panel. Personally, I have only recently started engaging with Zoom to network but have been pleasantly surprised by the positive response I have received from total strangers on the other side of the world.
Like many things in life, if you cannot be invited to speak on or moderate a Zoom panel then create your own panel. It may be more work as you will have to create the content around the panel and market the event, but it sets you up to be in an even stronger position of thought leadership. You can promote your endeavor without having to make a hard pitch when you share your company’s story. Creating an event also gives you a reason to prospect; you reach out to your contacts with something of value.
Try out different emerging platforms
When the pandemic first broke, I planned on waiting it out, and continued with my usual content strategy of posting on LinkedIn, writing articles, and setting up catch-up calls with people in my network. When I realized that this was not ending, I started to explore different ways to meet and engage new people in an authentic way as sending mass cold emails and LinkedIn messages may have come across as insensitive during that time.
Two platforms I found to be good curated ways to connect with like-minded professionals are Lunchclub and Upstream. Lunchclub pairs you up for a Google Hangout with a random professional who shares the same interests. I have had several calls, and the conversations around business collaboration and opportunity flowed easily. Upstream is an example of “living room social” and is an app which offers WhatsApp style groups where professionals can network. The groups are based on making Asks to the community and the audience is curated in a manner which creates a supportive network. The app is still new enough that it is not as noisy as apps such as WhatsApp or Telegram so it is a good time to join now.
Offer free advice/expertise
While you may have to work harder than before to get the same results during the pandemic, something you should keep in mind is that you are going to have to offer lots of “freebies”. This can come in the form of an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session on Zoom or offering free “office hours” with a scheduling app like Calendly and promoting this on LinkedIn. This is how a brand builds trust to engage possible prospects in 2020, by showing that you have your community’s best interests in mind.
To give some context on how important building trust is during the pandemic “one survey showed that 81 percent of consumers said that they need to be able to trust the brand in order to buy from them (Edelman, 2019).” If you genuinely want to thrive during this period, focusing your marketing efforts on trust building and giving first will help endear your brand with your potential audience. This difficult period will end at some point, and the brands who used this opportunity to grow despite the obvious challenges could end up becoming category leaders.
It is looking like we are in this for the long haul, so setting up a strategy in which you think about how to promote your business on a daily basis is going to be key to your business’s longevity. We are truly living through a period where there is so much we cannot control so now is the time to be proactive and start marketing your business in an authentic way by utilizing the points covered above.
Jonathan 'Yoni' Frenkel has been involved in the New York-Israeli tech community for many years, mentoring startups on marketing, hosting events connecting investors with startups, and publishing on the topics of tech and venture regularly. Professionally, he heads a content marketing agency, YKC Media, and works with VCs, corporates, and startups in creating written content, social, and marketing strategy focused on engaging a US audience. He can be reached on LinkedIn here.