5 Growth Hacks for brands during COVID

It’s been an incredibly taxing few months for brands.  As a result of the COVID pandemic, many are fighting for both their survival and for their employees’ livelihoods.  Conference awards ceremonies and company retreats will be few and far between.

It’s time to do more with less.  With budgets frozen or slashes, brands need to find a way to grow that doesn’t involve huge spending.  Even for larger brands, it’s time to return to growth hacking.

But before I discuss some growth hacking techniques for navigating the new normal, I also want to acknowledge the amazing response many brands have had to the pandemic.  As so many digital marketers have recommended, hundreds of mid to large size brands have started acting like startups, and they’ve shown a level of agility that I hardly thought possible.  Some notable examples:

1. Brand marketing has shifted to an extremely empathetic tone, and a large majority of brands are now focused on their customers issues and supporting communities.  A few examples are Old Navy and Gymshark (more brands supporting COVID relief efforts and social justice / equality).

2. Brands have quickly added technologies to support a larger focus on eCommerce footprint. These include customer service tools (customers have less interaction with in-store associates), buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) solutions, fulfillment / return tools, and other digital marketing services.

3. Brands with brick and mortar locations have quickly figured out how to safely re-open stores, oftentimes with dozens of different policies and guidelines across different states.

4. Many have adjusted to a shift in product demand, focusing on products like face masks, scarves, and leisurewear.

And all of this has happened over a three month period.  Remarkable if you think about what brands used to think was possible in just three months.  However, we must now face as an industry, the high probability that this will not be a flash-crash in demand, and there will be long-term reverberations of the pandemic for years to come (and possibly forever).

To adjust to the new normal, it goes without saying that digital marketing, the customer’s digital journey will be more important than ever.  But how can brands invest in their digital experience, knowing that for many brands media budgets have been slashed and technology budgets have been frozen?

That’s the question we will answer today – how do you sell more, with almost no budgetary resources?  Here are five growth hacks to extend your reach with a limited budget.

1 – Focus Media Budgets

While most brand categories have experiences reduced demand, that doesn’t mean consumers have stopped purchasing altogether.  Digital consumers have adjusted their shopping patterns and in some cases, product preferences, and those who can respond the most effectively will win.

Evaluate the performance of your existing media budget across all relevant segments:

  • Platform (almost all digital platforms are seeing more usage)
  • Region
  • Demographic
  • Product
  • Content and branding

Just because something was working in February 2020 does not mean it will work in the new COVID reality, and vice versa.  There are significant opportunities to be found – for example many digital ads are extremely cheap.  Re-discover COVID product market fit by questioning your previous assumptions and finding channels and products that still convert.  And then pour as much of your budget as possible into channels that are still showing a strong ROAS.

2 – Sell through your customers

Once you’ve done all you can do with your limited media budget, it’s time to start utilizing free growth hacks to compensate for budget freezes.  The biggest growth hack available to brands (in terms of scale and efficacy) is selling through your customers.  You have a network of thousands of customers who love your brand, it’s time to refocus on putting them to work.

Many brands have affiliate and referral marketing programs already where customers get incentivized to refer other customers.  Those programs are great, but they offer limited scale (only so many of your customers will text out referral codes or post affiliate links) and tend to work best for technology companies.   

For fashion, beauty, fitness, and lifestyle brands… meet your customers where they are… on social media.  Ask your customers to start posting about the brand, measure the results, and use incentives to generate more content.  Every time one of your customers posts on social media, hundreds of people in their network see it and can be activated.

Tool-tip:  If your existing social media management tool gives you visibility into tags and mentions, use that to estimate how effective your customer activations are.  If you want to more efficiently measure the value of your customer content, who’s generating it, and how to get more of it, ask about a LoudCrowd trial.

3 – Make your employees advocates

The next largest group of individuals that can generate free awareness for your brand are your employees.  For brands with a large physical presence, you might be sitting on large benches of associates and managers and wondering how to utilize them.  Tell them to act like brand ambassadors and start creating content on social.  Hold them accountable and reward good behavior.

In-store content can be particularly helpful to remind your customers that you’re open for business and you’re facilitating a safe environment… and it will always be more powerful coming from your employees (rather than your main social accounts).  Just beware of being overly prescriptive… when you create the message and not your employee, their networks will notice and the message may lack authenticity.

For digital brands and smaller brands, your staff may be heavily utilized right now due to an influx in digital projects, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t utilize them.  Ask them to make contributions and highlight your most successful contributors.  A social post takes 5 minutes and can achieve wonders for the team.

Tool-tip: Employee advocacy tools will help you scale your message consistently to thousands of employees.  In many cases for large brands, these make a lot of sense (although beware distributing pre-made content).  In other cases, simply measurement tools will help you achieve visibility, accountability, and incentives into employee content.  LoudCrowd can help you achieve the latter.

4 – Get value out of excess product

It’s likely that you are going to be sitting on excessive inventory for some (or all) products given changes in consumer demand.  But rather than letting outdated products sit in your inventory, use them to activate customers and employees.

Social contests are a great way to give away excess inventory and activate your customer-base for UGC and referrals.  You can also reward top employees with free products via internal campaigns and achievement awards.

Ambassador programs and social rewards programs are also great ways to get value out of excess product.  If you’ve given your customers and advocates chances to distinguish themselves, over-indulge them and watch them reward you with increased brand loyalty.

Donations – brands have done a wonderful job putting their communities and customers first.  Double down by donating products (and not just cash) to people and programs in need.

5- Partner with other brands

Most brands are in the same boat right now.  We are all looking for creative ways to extend their limited / frozen budgets.  How about finding some brands with similar values and complimentary products to share your audiences?  Brands collaborating through social and email campaigns can effective double or triple the size of their networks.  Just make sure the partnership makes sense and feels organic.

During this unprecedented period, brands have been faced with more uncertainty and challenges than ever before.  No one knows what the rest of 2020 and 2021 will bring, but large and small brands alike must continue to stay nimble if they hope to survive and thrive in this new market.  Growth hacking and finding ways to deliver with reduced budgets is the only way to keep moving forward.

Interested in learning more about how LoudCrowd can help grow user-generated content?  Drop us a line at [email protected] or request a UGC consultation.

About LoudCrowd

We believe that the most effective way of marketing and selling your product is through word-of-mouth marketing.  Currently, the best (and most engaging way) for brands to scale word-of-mouth marketing is through User Generated Content (UGC) on social platforms like Instagram.  LoudCrowd helps you analyze your UGC and incentivize your customers to grow it.

About the Author

Gary Garofalo is a marketing focused technologist and the CEO of LoudCrowd. He’s spent his career focused on analytics, strategic consulting, and building technology companies.  When he’s not writing about social media, he spends his free time reading, lamenting over the risks of climate change and artificial intelligence, and playing pickleball with the LoudCrowd team.

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