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Marketing During Covid-19: How to Communicate Your Brand in a Crisis

The CEO of an online educational platform and digital membership community shares her best marketing tips.

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Jessica Korthuis's career plans never included becoming an entrepreneur. "I was working in corporate America,” Korthuis says. “I was working in fashion PR and I was on a one-way ticket to work at this big global fashion brand. Then my role was completely eliminated across the entire company."

Korthuis went home, threw herself a party with wine and pasta, and got to work.

"My then boyfriend, now husband, and I decided that we would just start our own agency because entrepreneurship can't be that hard, right? Famous last words!"

Today, Korthuis is a marketing and branding expert and two-time entrepreneur. Since creating her first business with her husband, Korthuis has created her company Sohuis to educate and empower women to "build, brand, and market their dream businesses." Korthuis spoke with Jessica Abo and shared about her journey and how founders can market their brands during these challenging times.

Jessica Abo: Tell me about your career path.

Jessica Korthuis: I was let go on a Friday. And then by Monday morning, we were in business. We'd built our first website over the weekend. We created our business model. We just completely started from nothing and from absolute scratch. And we built our very own boutique branding and design agency. And we went from working with really small entrepreneurial, different projects in the community, all the way to working to brands like, working with friends like Red Bull, TEDxWomen, Girls Who Code. I've also done some work with the European Union and the US Department of State, working to bring entrepreneurs from overseas into the US. I've had a really wide breadth of experience and being forced into entrepreneurship was definitely the best thing that ever happened to me.

How does Sohuis support female founders? 

Korthuis: Sohuis is a natural evolution of my former agency. And so, Sohuis is an online educational platform and digital membership community that helps female founders learn how to brand and market their businesses. Marketing is reported as the second biggest challenge for female founders, with the first biggest challenge being access to capital. But oftentimes, it kind of comes into a chicken and the egg scenario, because most of the time you need to have your brand platform really on point, and you need to have your value proposition and all of these critical pieces of your business really in line before you can go out and seek capital. So, I would argue that branding and marketing is the first step to really understanding how to grow your business and how to figure out who the different stakeholders are in your company.

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What Sohuis does is, we create educational workshops, courses, guides, templates, resources, and everything is gated behind our Sohuis vault. And we've also created it in partnership with other brands and other educators, because we really want our community to be more than just my perspective and my point of view. We want it to be about the collective, and about the broad spectrum of marketing. So we have content in there from SEO to copywriting, to brand positioning, to design. It's just really intended to be an incredible platform that makes marketing accessible and actually makes it an empowering process for female founders, versus being a very debilitating and overwhelming process.

Walk us through some of the challenges you're seeing founders face right now.

Korthuis: Some of the biggest hurdles I see are knowing what to do first, having to prioritize which pieces of your marketing strategy are really important. Do you build a website first? Do you create a logo? Should you get early customers? All these types of things. And what's really important is to focus on lean strategies and it's really about leveraging data and technology. So you actually make data-driven decisions instead of just instinctual, what we think and what we feel good about type decisions. 

What advice do you have for people out there during this challenging time? 

Korthuis: The number one thing that I would suggest as founders think about how to pivot during COVID is to just lead with empathy. Zoom is one of many examples of brands who have led with empathy. So for example, they've lifted their 40-minute meeting limit for schools, so that schools can actually use their free platform for their educational purposes. Nike has donated their products, including pairs of their Nike Airs and Trainers and compression socks to people who are working on the frontlines. So there's just so many examples like that. Really leading with empathy is the number-one brand strategy that you should absolutely be doing. 

The second thing you can be doing during COVID, which dovetails into leading with empathy, is to follow the serve first, sell later formula. It's this formula: Give, give, give, ask. And so if you don't really understand your customer and you don't understand how to serve them, that's going to be the first place to start. So really understanding what your customers need from you, what they're struggling with, how can you serve, serve, serve first, and then ask, is going to be a big brand pivot for a lot of small businesses.

Focus on traction and action. So, vanity metrics is a term that we use a lot in the branding and marketing space, which is really about, like, “We have a million followers on Instagram, therefore our business must be successful.” And that's actually not the case. You could have only 200 followers on a certain platform but be doing really well because those followers are very, very, very engaged. And so the biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone who's thinking about pivoting or changing up their business model is to really focus on traction.

Focus on real numbers. Don't focus on vanity metrics that just look good on paper, but that don't actually need anything in your business.

So how many customers are you acquiring on a monthly, quarterly, yearly basis? 

What is your gross rate? 

What's your churn rate? 

How many repeat customers do you have? 

If you have someone that’s purchased one thing from you, are they coming back? 

So, what's your customer lifetime value? 

These are really solid traction metrics that are going to tell you if your business is really poised to weather this type of storm.

And the very last thing that you can do above all else is entertain. Right now people are looking for a laugh. Memes are going off the charts because of what's happening in COVID and even, like, the post-COVID era. It might just feel really silly to do something entertaining, but it actually shows a level of authenticity, and it shows a level of humanness with your brand. And again, it all goes back to your customer. So if you know how to lead with empathy, and serve first, sell later, gain traction, and then humor your audience in the meantime, you're going to be definitely set for success.

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