By Allison J. Koch
On Tuesday, November 10, 2020 Social Media Charlotte hosted members of the marketing community for a virtual conversation on adapting social media strategies as a result of COVID-19. Leading the conversation were panelists Michelle Buelow, Founder of Bella Tunno, and Nicole Copsis, Chief Storyteller at SHARE Charlotte. Keep reading to learn about their company’s experience during the 2020 pandemic and the creative solutions they took to stay connected with their customers and partners.
The implications of COVID-19 restrictions in March 2020 and the following economic and social consequences were felt across the country—including in our own backyard. While every person’s ordeal during the global pandemic was unique, many of our experiences related to marketing planning and execution were shared. As social media professionals experienced the uncertainty of the global pandemic, they had to be ready to adjust their strategies at a moment's notice to pivot and tackle new challenges. This was no different for Michelle and Nicole as they reflected on their company’s core values and planned their marketing strategies accordingly.
After enjoying years of growth and success, Bella Tunno saw a 90% decrease in sales in just two weeks as a result of COVID. If you were the owner of Bella Tunno, what would you do?
Bella Tunno is more than a modern Baby Products company. Much more. What started as Founder Michelle Buelow’s passion project in 2005, Bella Tunno has grown into a nationally recognized brand with multiple humanitarian campaigns like their Little Activist line and Buy One, Feed One partnership with Feeding America (which has led to over 5 million donated meals to children in need). Before we dive in, you can read more about Bella Tunno’s story on their website.
In March 2020, similar to many other business owners, Michelle Buelow had a difficult decision to make. What operational changes could be made to help alleviate the effect of COVID-19 on her business? In just two weeks, 2,500 of the retailers who sold Bella Tunno products closed. As a result, the company lost 90% of their sales—seemingly overnight.
Bella Tunno was firmly built on the foundation that every product gives back. However, when their bottom line was in jeopardy due COVID-19 and statewide stay-at-home orders, Michelle had to decide whether to continue Bella Tunno’s charitable giving during the pandemic. For many others in a similar position, “non-essential” donations were the first on the chopping block; but not for Michelle or Bella Tunno.
Bella Tunno’s Solution
When COVID-19 hit, Bella Tunno decided to uphold their mission to end child hunger in America and around the globe by continuing their Buy One, Give One charity initiative. Not only that, but Michelle decided to lean further into their charitable giving and donated an additional $10,000 to the CMS Foundation’s COVID-19 Relief Fund to help support local students. Bella Tunno’s team used this opportunity to reevaluate their marketing and customer relationships to generate new sales. As Michelle said, “when money is tight, do you sit back? Or go all in?”
Some of the marketing tactics Bella Tunno focused on during COVID-19 included:
Social media proved to be a big advantage for Bella Tunno during the pandemic. “Social media sites really reflect the brand in a good way,” said Michelle. The company’s established social media platforms allowed Michelle’s team to set up partnerships and giveaways, and keep positive news in front of customers. While Instagram is Bella Tunno’s most successful platform from a sales and customer standpoint, LinkedIn has been very valuable for their strategic partnerships and collaborations behind the scenes. Michelle added, “the response rate [for LinkedIn] is great when we're pursuing a B2B opportunity.”
Speaking of strategic partnerships, we wanted to know: How do brands find you? For the most part, Michelle said companies see what they do on social media and reach out through a warm introduction. Others, Bella Tunno contacted themselves. They identified and reached out to influencers with the same core values and developed partnerships mainly tied to donating meals.
Finally, in a time when businesses are going digital, Bella Tunno didn’t want to lose their personal touch. That’s why they decided to put pen to paper to write personalized thank you notes to their customers—letting people know their positive impact. Michelle also leveraged public relations to keep Bella Tunno’s message in front of the public, further cementing their strong brand reputation and dedication to community giving.
By making the decision to follow Bella Tunno’s strong core values during the pandemic, Bella Tunno followed their fundamental why, which is the guiding reason that people buy from companies. As a result, Bella Tunno increased their credibility, which gave the company the opportunity and privilege to partner with bigger brands.
When many of us think about the impact of COVID-19 in the U.S., we often draw a line between lost revenue and shuttered, local businesses. However, nonprofit organizations were some of the first organizations to feel the severe impact of the novel Coronavirus. Between decreased donations, an increased need for nonprofit services, and less volunteers to help, it took numerous months of learning, planning and growing to adjust to the “new normal.”
Did you know that there are over 400 nonprofits right here in Mecklenburg County?
SHARE Charlotte is one of the hidden gems here in our community. Their mission is to empower nonprofits (495 of them, to be exact), and help people invest in their communities. SHARE Charlotte offers simple ways for neighbors, nonprofits and businesses to come together and support their local community. Before we continue discussing their COVID-19 situation analysis, explore SHARE Charlotte’s story on their website.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, SHARE Charlotte’s mission did not waver. In fact, it became stronger and more crucial for their team to empower and support other nonprofits. In reference to some fledgling nonprofit partners, Chief Storyteller Nicole Copsis commented, “they're barely making it on the day to day and keeping their lights on, and then the pandemic hits and they no longer have volunteers coming in, they are no longer getting financial donations because people are hurting on their own.” So, how do you continue to support over 400 nonprofits during a global pandemic?
One of the most widely-experienced challenges of any business or organization impacted by COVID-19 was the shift to working from home. As many have experienced, organizational processes and creativity often suffer when you’re not able to collaborate in the same space. For SHARE Charlotte and Nicole Copsis, this meant in-person connections with community members and nonprofit leaders were put on hold—and I think we can all agree, operating through a computer screen can be a challenge.
Additionally, Nicole added that much of what they do as an organization takes foresight and preparation. Hosting community-wide events and campaigns that encourage giving, require planning and strategy. As one can surmise, this becomes difficult and sometimes impossible to do when “everything is such a question mark.” After planning much of her organization’s social content for the year, Nicole was forced to scrap her calendar and replan content—never wanting to be tone deaf or not timely with the information they were sending to the public.
Nicole shared an example of this COVID-19 disturbance with SHARE Charlotte’s annual “Do Good Week.” Every April, SHARE Charlotte encourages the community to get hands on with volunteering. In the early onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, the organization had to cancel the in-person event, which was planned over a year ahead of time, and rework or remove every marketing asset that had been created. Instead of canceling the event all together, however, Nicole and her team shifted to virtual experience with #ShareFromHome.
Marketing efforts, such as the situation shared above, were a common occurrence for businesses and organizations across industries. In light of an uncertain future, SHARE Charlotte decided to be proactive and create solutions for themselves, which directly benefited their nonprofit partners. Some of the social media and marketing tactics they explored during this time included:
With many of our in-person meetings turning virtual, we can find comfort in the fact that there is a silver lining. Nicole shared a success story of her experience pivoting from an in-person networking event into an ongoing virtual get-together. As a result of turning SHARE Charlotte’s monthly coffee and conversation into a video conference, coined “Share a Latte,” they saw a better turnout than any previous in-person gathering.
Another big event that was celebrated digitally in May was #GivingTuesdayNow, an extension of the well-known Giving Tuesday. This year, Giving Tuesday will fall on December 1, 2020. “It presents a great entry point for new donors,” said Nicole, and “we want to optimize the reach and impact of our nonprofit partners.” That’s why Nicole and her team created a Social Media Toolkit for nonprofits with sample messaging and graphics to help them be prepared for a successful Giving Tuesday.
Wondering how you can support your community during Giving Tuesday? SHARE Charlotte has created a Community Partner Toolkit for anyone who wants to post to social media to help spread the word. And don’t forget to use the hashtag #GivingTuesdayCLT when you post on social media!
From a social growth and brand-awareness perspective, Nicole pursued new social media campaigns and tested new platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. She shared that SHARE Charlotte found the most success with an influencer outreach campaign where they partnered nonprofits with local artists who aligned with their mission. Additionally, Nicoled said Instagram is the main platform they’ve used to reach new audiences during COVID-19, namely young professionals.
Even though there was a dip in charitable giving during March and April 2020, there has been an increase in year-to-date charitable giving. In total, Nicole reported a 205% increase in charitable giving over the same time last year. Much of this success is thanks to the tireless dedication and hardwork of nonprofits and their partners. As for the future? Nicole looks forward to growing SHARE Charlotte and connecting with the community in different ways (like with Social Media Charlotte!) going into 2021.
Eric wasn't able to serve on the panel, but provided his experiences from 2020.
On March 4 in Las Vegas, while attending the largest Indoor/Outdoor Event called Con. Expo, Eric received a call: “please take down our $350,000 Exhibit that we spent 6 months building as our Company has decided not to attend the show.” The exhibit was already installed, and the show was experiencing this across all exhibitors. The fear of COVID-19 began to shut down a thriving live event industry that was having its best year and start in 2019. Apple Rock produced over 1,000 environments a year all over the world and is a Top 40 Exhibit Builder in the Country, just announced by 2020 Exhibitor Magazine.
Eric and his Apple Rock team quickly shifted gears. After hearing the call from our Governor and Emergency Management that the state needed isolation gowns, Eric and his staff stepped into action. They engaged their sewing team, sourced the right material for the gowns, found a universally accepted pattern, and offered to the state that they could deliver 100,000 gowns in 10 weeks. They hired more sewing personnel, set up cutting tables, procured commercial machines and began making gowns, safety plex barriers, face masks, and face shields. Apple Rock was keeping our community and customers safe.
New Business Opportunity: Sweet Cheeks Face Masks
The Apple Rock team's talents came through in their ability to print on fabric and brand the face masks, a capability most mask manufacturers do not have, as well as creating engineered plex barriers for offices that were more complex and customized than one could find online. Sweet Cheeks was born out of the deep understanding that face masks for people would become an accessory, like a tie, purse, or belt. They embrace the mentality that the face mask could become a fashion statement or voice the brand of your company. The secret to Sweet Cheeks is the FITZ pattern, which gives your lips room to move and breath and fits gently on your cheeks. Hence the name--Sweet Cheeks.
Face Masks will be around for a long time, especially for those in risk categories or those who choose not to vaccinate. The plan for Sweet Cheeks is to expand into offering apparel items for kids and teenagers to ensure customers and their families have PPE for their everyday lives, not just travel or shopping.
Social Media Strategies
Social Media was vital to get the word out about our PPE, PPA and Sweet Cheeks message. They are now registered with the FDA and will be launching their complete line on www.sweetcheeksfacemasks.com
Adds Eric, "Yes, this year was a Pivot. And yes, in 2021, the next pivot will be virtual events and meetings as well as welcoming live events back early next year. Social media is our driver to the energy and keeping our customers and prospects informed on all the fluid changes.
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