Marketing in the Time of COVID-19

April 27, 2020

Marketing in the Time of COVID-19

In our first episode of Growing With North Carolina Farms, we discuss marketing amidst COVID-19. We sat down with three of our marketing experts to get their take on what businesses can and should be doing during this time.

Some of the highlights include:

  • What is our philosophy of marketing?
  • What should you communicate to your customers to really win at business?
  • How have Millennials changed their shopping habits?
  • What do customers look for in an online shopping or delivery service?
  • How do you build your business’s trustworthiness using social media?
  • How do you get online reviews — and are they even important?
  • How can a busy business owner stay consistent with their social media content?
  • How important are the images and videos in your social media posts?
  • What free marketing tools do the North Carolina Farms team recommend?

Grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable. You’re about to listen in to a practical, actionable 30-minute conversation filled with marketing wisdom from:

Mick– One of our owners, and our Director of Business Strategy

Karen- Media Manager, North Carolina Farms

Annie Beth- Project and Brand Management, North Carolina Farms

If you aren’t able to listen, we’ve provided the full transcript below. 


A quality image is going to be brighter. It is going to be clean. It is going to show your audience that your life is going to be better because you have it. You show all of that in one image. You want the image to be able to speak for itself and to tell a story and then, of course, your text is going to boost the image from there.

Intro: Welcome to Growing with North Carolina Farms. Where we talk about people, processes, and plants because we are here to grow your business. 

Mick: Hey, welcome to the first episode of Growing with North Carolina Farms. In this episode we talked about marketing and social media with the objective of helping you to be better at marketing your garden center. 

We really want you to succeed and so we got together with our marketing team and had a frank discussion about some of the things that we are doing on the back end. We really hope it helps you to grow your business. Let’s jump right in and let Rachel interview the panel.

Philosophy of Marketing

Rachel: So, Mick, why don’t you give us the broad strokes of marketing. What is it and how has your philosophy of marketing changed in the face of COVID-19?

Mick: Any marketing strategy, really, is tied back to your main business strategy. And even if you didn’t write a business plan when you first started your business, you mentally went through this checklist. You saw a problem in the market. The world was broken in some way and you felt like you either had a skill or a product that could fill that need. So, for a lot of our customers, it is gardening, or plants that can beautify the yard or whatever. 

So you have a problem in the market and you’ve come up with a solution and now you market it. You take that information out so people can know about it. Then the business plan continues to unfold. After you’ve told people about it, you create a platform in which people can buy that product or service.And a lot of times that means a retail garden center for a lot of you. 

After that transaction is made, you want to retain that customer. You want them to come back. You even want to tap into their network and have their friends come visit you. 

In the midst of COVID-19 there are some definite nuances, but I think the philosophy is still the same. You look to the market and you say, what is the problem that needs to be fixed? It is still beautifying yards and gardens and helping people be better gardeners — with a huge caveat. They can’t come to your store either because of some kind of local law or maybe they are scared to be in public or whatever. 

So, you go back to that very first principle and you say, what is the problem? The same problem exists. I need to help them to be a good gardener, but now I have a different aspect to that problem — that they can’t come. So, when you do your marketing, you have to fix both of those problems at the same time. In marketing, now, we need to be focused on helping people understand how we are going to keep them safe. Are we going to do deliveries? Are you going to do curbside pickup? I think we will get into some of those details a little later on. 

Then the rest of it flows. Create a platform under the new market conditions where they can purchase and then, create a platform where you can retain that person and tap into their network as you continue to grow your business in a brand new way in the midst of COVID-19.

What Your Business Should Communicate

Rachel: So, what do you need to communicate to really win at business?

Mick: I think the biggest thing that you need to get out there is: how is it that your service solves your customers’ problems. So, if it is just plants and vegetables — great! But if there is a brand new problem, like we are facing now, in that they can’t come into your store for some reason, you need to articulate: How is it you are keeping them safe? What new things are you putting in place to solve this brand new problem? Shout it from the rooftop. Let everybody know how you are going about solving their problem.

Millennial Shopping Habits

Rachel: Well, Karen. Let’s jump off from there. So, how have you or even others from your generation, some of your friends, or people you know, how have you changed your shopping habits in light of this COVID crisis?

Karen: Well, I’m shopping online more than ever before. It has always been a great convenience, but now, it is what I try to rely on. I look for a delivery option wherever possible and pickup options, if I have to. A lot of grocery stores will load things into your car without you ever having to touch anything. But if I have to, I will go into stores.

 A lot of these places, the delivery places, are on social media. They are where I am already at. They are right in my face reminding me that they are there, they are open, and this is how they are able to do business during that time. We are looking for the essential items for sure, but we are also looking for other things. Things to do during the downtime of quarantine because everyone is stuck in their house now. 

I think it would be great if we saw some mystery boxes of plants and fun online parties where everyone would gather to learn how to plant a succulent planter — or something like that — because people are looking for something to do right now. 

Online Shopping and Delivery

Rachel: That is a really good point. Alright, so Annie Beth, I know you personally have used a lot of online services to do your shopping. What are some of the things that are attractive when you are looking for a service like that?

Annie Beth: I would say that the main thing is ease of ordering. How do they have their online platform set up or their phone-in service set up? For me to be able to order with as little hassle as possible. Does their platform — whether that’s a website or social media site — does it look professional? Do they have a payment system that I’m familiar with, like Stripe or PayPal? Maybe you just call in and give a real person your credit card number. 

Either way, I want to know that it is secure and maybe they will save my information, so that the next time I want to order, it will be easy to do. I won’t have to go through the hassle again of punching in all those numbers. But, I would say that the trustworthiness of the company would be one of the biggest factors. 

Trustworthiness as a Brand

Rachel: So, how does a company build trustworthiness on social media?

Annie Beth: As a business — and this is what we do and what a lot of larger companies focus on — you want to share your free advice, your expert advice. So, instead of always trying to sell, sell, sell to people. That’s a turn off. Nobody really wants to be sold to constantly. What they want to do is build a relationship with your company and your brand as if you were a person. So, be conversational. 

I am going to make the assumption that you are on social media because if you are not, you need to be there. Facebook. Instagram. Wherever your customers are, that is where you need to be. So, get on there. Share advice to your customers. Be conversational, just like a real live person. Post specials and items that you think people want to know about. that you want to highlight that your business has. 

Make sure that you are quick to answer their questions or comments on social media. I mean, even just something that says, “Oh, nice picture! I like that plant or that’s my favorite.” Get on there and say, “Yeah, we love this one too.” Don’t just let those go unnoticed. It is a conversation between you and your customers. 

Being consistent is actually key as well. Consistency is key is a saying in the marketing world. So, you don’t post something and then two months later post another thing. You want to be on there, honestly, every day if possible. At least every weekday. 

I am not saying you can’t post sales and you can’t post calls to action to buy your products, but a good rule of thumb is that for every ask that you make of your customer to purchase something, you want to have “given” three times. So give, give, give, and ask. That looks like: share information — share your expert advice three times — and then you might post a sales post or something. 

Then, finally, I think, getting reviews online is very important. Whether that is on Facebook, Google, or Trustpilot. That is the company we use to highlight our reviews. They are not just going to happen magically. You want to actually ask customers: Would you please review us? So that way you can have that trustworthiness that is front facing.

How to Get Reviews

Rachel: Alright, Mick, I know you deal with a lot of our technology on that side of things. What are some of the best ways companies can get reviews?

Mick: You’ve got some free platforms. Google and Facebook, Bing, I’m sure, has a platform as well. The biggest thing is that you’ve got to be intentional and consistent over a long period of time. You’ve got to figure out how you can automate that ask. There is probably some app where if you grab your customers email address or phone number, it will text them that review ask. That is key because, Annie Beth you can correct me here, our conversion rate on review asks is somewhere between 5-10%, is that right?  That is great from what I hear. 

Annie Beth: Correct. Yes.

Mick: Yeah, so don’t feel like you can go ask five people and you are going to have four reviews. Again, ours is 5-10%. I think the other thing that social media does really well — what Annie Beth was talking about — is it humanizes you to your customer. You know, they drive by your greenhouse or your garden center all the time, but if you are on there everyday and you’re consistent and you are posting pictures of your employees and you and the things that are going on, it just humanizes that company. It helps people see the importance of doing business locally and that’s a huge push right now. 

Back to your question about reviews. The biggest thing is that you’ve got to automate that ask because your conversion rate is going to be low and then when you do get reviews — we talk about this in marketing all the time — if we create a piece of content, we want to repackage that piece of content as many ways as we can. Because the creation of the content is what takes so much energy. 

So, if you created a good piece of content, a good blog or something like that, repackage it. Put it into a video. Put it into a little snip-it. Break it down into bite size pieces and use it as your social media approach. It is the same thing with reviews. You get a good review. You’ve done the hard work. Repackage it. Put a testimonial on your website. Share it on social media. Places like TrustPilot actually have a little back end where you can put a nice background behind it. I think Canva would be a great option for that.

If they shared it publicly through Google or Facebook, it’s public domain at that point. You do not need the person’s permission to repackage that and then share it in a different way. I am sure there are ways to show your star rating. There is a little local business here in the Charlotte area that says #1 on Google. They just got 4.8 stars on Google or whatever it is, so they just want people to know that. So, as they come to your website or your Facebook page, whatever. As they come into contact with you, you’ve done the hard work of capturing the review. Now, make sure that everybody knows about it.

Consistency in Content

Rachel: Well, I’ve heard a couple of you mention consistency. Annie Beth, I know you do a lot of the content creation for us. How on earth, being so busy, do you do posts everyday? How are you consistent? 

Annie Beth: Well, I sit in front of my computer 24 hours a day. No!  So, that is a great question. A lot of folks think that social media is complicated because they are going to have to remember to post something everyday. They are going to have to sit at their computer and actually type something out at 3 pm and you know, hit post or whatever. 

But, the best way to handle being consistent with your content is to time block, first of all, a certain time to sit down and decide on what your content schedule will be. So, talk to the rest of the folks on your team, your employees, whomever, other customers even, that you want to get ideas from. Brainstorm with folks. Get some “buckets” that you want to make your main things that you post. 

For example, one bucket might be reviews that you’ve collected from customers. One bucket might be advice, greenhouse advice that you are giving your customers. One bucket might be an employee spotlight or maybe a really pretty picture of one of your plants. So you have your content buckets and then you plan it out where you say: Ok, On Mondays we are going to do an employee spotlight. On Tuesdays we are going to give some kind of advice. On Wednesdays, we are going to have a really nice feature photo of one of our plants. 

Then, you make the decision this week that these are the things we are going to post and then you sit down and you schedule them. You can do that once a week. If you think out far enough, you can do it once a month all in one big swoop. The biggest thing is blocking out one time to do it using those scheduling tools and getting it on the calendar or onto Facebook or… you can’t do it with Instagram so much. 

The Importance of Images and Videos

Rachel: OK, very cool. Alright, so Karen, she mentioned pictures and videos. Talk to me about, in your personal experience, both as a consumer and as a marketer, talk to me about the importance of images and videos in those posts. 

Karen: Oh yeah, absolutely. I would say images and videos are the most vital part of your post. They are what is going to catch most people’s attention. Now, videos, as we’ve seen, have caught way more attention than pictures. Simply because they are moving. But, a really decent quality picture is going to not only catch someone’s attention, but also draw them into what you are talking about.

A quality image is going to be brighter. It is going to be clean. It’s going to show your audience that this is a pleasing thing to have and your life is going to be better because you have it. You show all of that in one image. We’ve also seen that you don’t want to include a lot of text on your actual image. You want the image to be able to speak for itself and to tell a story and then, of course, your text is going to boost the image from there. 

Mick: Yeah, I’ll jump in here and add just one thing. I think a lot of people get stuck on this part because… Rachel didn’t introduce herself, but she is actually our photographer. She is a professional photographer who spends hours trying to set shots and you may not have that, but what that means is you just need to be a little more creative. 

So you’ve got places like Pixabay and Pexels. Those are two free websites where you can go get images. Anytime where you go to get royalty free images, if you search on Google “royalty free images” make absolutely sure that the license allows commercial use. If not, you’ll be in trouble. So commercial use images on Pixabay and Pexels. We actually buy some images especially for catalogue work on iStock photo. So, you don’t have to always go to create that image, but you do need a quality image. Absolutely. I totally agree with Karen. 

Annie Beth: Yeah, so another site that offers free images, like Pixabay, is called Unsplash. And some of the pictures they have on Unsplash you will also find on the free version of Canva. So Canva, a lot of times, uses Unsplash’s photos. 

I think Mick actually mentioned Canva earlier. Canva is one of our favorite tools to use to make images and graphics for Facebook, Instagram, some of the graphics for our WeVideo, and YouTube videos. We used to use the free version and we ended up upgrading to the paid version because it was such a good deal. You get way more photos that way that you have access to and there are some other features. You can save your company’s specific brand colors in their thing. So, I think that has been one of our best investments, actually. 

Online Marketing Tools

Rachel: Nice. Good to know. Mick, do you have any more suggestions of some free or reasonable priced tools that people can use? 

Mick: Yeah, so if you are doing website design WordPress is the easiest way to get something going. It’s free and lots of lots of themes that you can just plug your content into. If you don’t have a good website that is…When I say good website, what I mean is, a website that lets people know, number one, what your product is. So your greenhouse website is not your personal family’s newsletter. It needs to have your product and your call to action. Your call to action needs to be in the top right hand corner of your website. People need to be able to very quickly figure out how to purchase a product. 

So, WordPress is a pretty good free website. If you are looking, we haven’t really talked a ton about this part of the COVID problem. If you think about: what is a problem we are trying to solve? Karen mentioned, she looks first for people who can deliver to her. So, if you are looking to add that feature, there is a website. I had it up earlier because I wanted to make sure I mentioned it, called Setmore.com. It is made for scheduling appointments and so the great thing about Setmore is that for the use we are going to use it for, it’s free. It integrates with WordPress, Gmail, Facebook and Google calendar. You can actually take payment right on their platform. So, that’s a great tool to know about. You could throw out on Facebook: Hey, we are going to deliver to all seniors free on Wednesday to help you avoid exposure and then you send them to your Setmore scheduler. They sign up and then your van shows up with whatever product they’ve ordered. 

When you are looking at trying to close deals online, Facebook has a free backend called Facebook Marketplace where people can pay. You can go as simple as sending someone a PayPal invoice through PayPal. You go to PayPal and if you have an account there, you just click invoice, and then you write up the invoice just like you would if they were standing in your store. They can pay digitally that way. You could do something as easy as post an item on Ebay for local delivery only and then send people from Facebook to Ebay to actually close that deal. 

Remember when you are looking at all these free platforms — like Square is another one. Annie Beth mentioned Stripe earlier. You want to reduce the friction for your customer as much as possible. So, don’t have them click a button, then click another button and then click another button to figure out where to go. I think Annie Beth was talking about that earlier. It needs to be a very simple interface where you send them directly to the invoice, directly to the product page and… we’ve listed a lot of stuff there. We’ll put some links there in the show note because we’ve just listed about 15 items throughout this conversation.

Annie Beth: I was going to throw in there that what we are using right now is… You can have it as a free platform. We actually have the paid version as well for business purposes, but Zoom is a free platform you can use and — like you were talking about, the COVID adaptations that people have made — one of our greenhouses that is one of our customers, they were doing live hours on Zoom where they were showing customers their plants and products. 

Another customer was doing a webinar format, like we are doing, except it was demonstrating how to make a certain type of planter and how to use planter kits. So, that is something that you can do now in the time of COVID and you can do even later using this free platform Zoom and you can post Zoom videos. You can either do them live as a webinar format or you can do Facebook Live even — if you don’t want to mess with Zoom, you could do Facebook Live — so that is a really great free tool to use as well. 

Then for writing and the website — like what Mick was talking about earlier — Yost is something that can help you optimize what you put on your website — like the blog posts or the pages — to be found more easily in a search. So, that is called search engine optimization, and Yost is a little free add-on that will read your page and tell you how you can change it to make you more visible to people who are searching online. 

Then, Grammarly is something you can use to check your grammar, because that is something that is really, really important. You don’t want to make posts or put things on your webpage that are spelled incorrectly or have poor grammar. 

Then, to keep track of all of those things you are doing, I personally recommend for project management using Google Drive — which we do, as well, as a company — and then, also, I use Asana as a task manager for myself because it sends me all the tasks that I need to do each day.

Rachel: Nice.

Mick: Yeah, something Annie Beth was just touching on that I think is really important. In business, we call it pivoting. You see a new problem and just like in basketball, you have to pivot around on one foot to make the shot. You pivot in business and so, a lot of the things that we are going to pivot this year we are going to do in a different way — in an innovative way. Harness that energy going into the next season. 

If delivery takes off and it just blows up and everybody loves it, don’t think it is a short term solution, think about it as the silver lining in the midst of a very grey COVID cloud. That I got to see weakness in my business and I was able to come out of it stronger than when I went in. 

Probably the number one free thing that you have in your business is your mind. You can work the problem over and over and over and I know I’m preaching to the choir when I talk to business owners. We lay down at night and you are still processing. You are still trying to fix the problem and it usually is a problem in your business, a problem in the marketplace, a problem with the product, whatever. 

So, if you’re a small business guy or girl, this is what you do. You fix problems all day long. So, take that energy and the expertise that you already have and just apply it in a new way. I think our businesses are going to be greater than they ever were as we come out of this.

Rachel: So Karen, I want to make sure we touch with you. Do you have any suggestions of additional free resources that people can use?

Karen: Yeah, I mean they have touched on the major ones that I use, but I also use WeVideo. It’s a great free platform that is super user friendly. Because I am really not tech savvy, but I can edit videos through this platform and I have never edited videos before. 

I recommend using it for short videos. A short little commercial for your business to let people know that you are open and know their options, because like we said, videos catch more attention than photos do. Also, if you are doing a long video, like we are doing right now, or you’re doing a YouTube video and you want to add an intro. WeVideo makes it possible there too. Like Canva, we were using the free version and we upgraded because it was (I meant to check this price) about $15 for the most expensive package and we didn’t even get that one. We got the $10 package and we have unlimited videos. It is definitely worth checking.

Closing Thoughts

Rachel: Very good. Do any of you have last thoughts before we close out our time today?

Mick: Yeah, I would say again to encourage people, when you manage through a crisis, what it does is it pushes you back to your core values, your core principles, and it helps you push those into the world in a new way. 

So, be very introspective. We, as business owners, are going to have to make hundreds of decisions a day and they are not all going to be right and that’s OK. It is important to analyze the problem, create some kind of solution, execute that solution and then go back to the top. Analyze the problem. Did that solution fix the problem? No. Execute a brand new solution. 

I just want to be an encouraging voice in the midst of chaos right now that small business will survive. The sun will come up tomorrow and the big thing right now is innovate and learn so we will be better off after it is all over.

Annie Beth: I’ll throw in one thing, before it’s all over. If anyone saw that little elbow come into my screen — that was my teenager. One of the best groups to go to for ideas for social media and the next upcoming thing are your teenagers. So talk to them and find out where they are gathering, because they are going to know better than you, probably.

Rachel: Alright guys. I think we are out of time for today. Thank you Karen, Annie Beth, and Mick for sharing your expertise with us today and I hope this has been helpful for all of our listeners. Thank you for tuning in to Growing with North Carolina Farms. We are here to grow your business.

Outro: We hope you have enjoyed the show today. If you find this content helpful please let us know. We want to create the content you need. Visit our website at ncfarmsinc.com. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram or email us at ncfarmsinc.com

We are here to grow your business.