With Covid-19 exploding in many states through the U.S., parents are desperately looking for safe activities for their families.

To help save the day, enter ... Walmart?

The world's largest retailer recently announced two initiatives to help provide families with entertainment this summer--and business owners can learn a lot from them.

The first is an online summer camp called "Camp by Walmart."

Produced and developed in a partnership with family experience company Camp, this program will be available for free via the Walmart app, and will feature famous "camp counselors" like LeBron James and Drew Barrymore. Counselors will lead kids through 250 family-friendly classes including various arts and crafts, fitness sessions, and other activities designed "to keep them active and entertained," according to a company statement.

The second program, "Walmart Drive-In," will transform 160 parking lots of Walmart stores across the country into "contact-free" drive-in movie theaters. (Hat tip to Inc. colleague Minda Zetlin, who first wrote about this news on Inc. last week.) The initiative is a combined effort with Tribeca Enterprises, the company behind the famous Tribeca film festival. 

Walmart says it will feature hit movies and will even deliver concessions directly to customer vehicles. Additionally, ahead of each screening, the company says it will "make it easy for families to fill their picnic baskets by ordering their drive-in essentials online for curbside pickup on the way to their movie." 

As my colleague Minda pointed out, this is a smart business move with potential to get revenue out of potentially empty parking spaces. 

But I think both Walmart Drive-In and Camp by Walmart are brilliant for another reason:

They use emotional intelligence to strengthen the relationship with Walmart's target customers.

Let's break down some lessons from Walmart's recent move--and see how you can apply these lessons to your own business.

Filling customers' needs

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions in order to achieve a specific goal. People often refer to it as "EQ" (like "IQ"), and highlight feel-good qualities such as empathy and compassion.

But here's the thing: While empathy and compassion are certainly admirable qualities to develop, they can also give your business a strategic advantage.

How so?

Because while good companies aim to satisfy customers, great companies want to connect with customers emotionally.

Just think of how loyal Starbucks customers will go out of their way to get their favorite coffee, or how Apple fans go from brand enthusiasts to brand evangelists. Starbucks and Apple are able to accomplish this because over the course of several years, they've cultivated the relationship with their customers.

Now, consider Walmart. 

Walmart is the world's largest retailer for a reason. For decades, it has focused relentlessly on building a brand that resonates with its target customer: budget-conscious families. Loyal customers know they can get almost anything they need from Walmart--from groceries, to clothes, even furniture--at the lowest price around.

Now, through these two moves, Walmart will attempt to push itself even further into its customers' lives.

With numerous states hitting record highs of Covid-19, Walmart quickly identified a need: Families are desperate for safe ways to keep their children entertained.

Walmart then worked to fill that need. Sure, families already had Netflix, YouTube, and Disney Plus. But Camp by Walmart aims to give parents something different, an option that is less passive and more active.

Similarly, Walmart Drive-In offers a unique opportunity. 

Yes, Covid-19 has all but closed most movie theaters across the country. But by partnering with Tribeca, Walmart is providing a safe way to have a night out, watch a film on the big screen, and even get popcorn, drinks, and candy--at a fraction of what it would cost a family in a typical movie theater.

How do you think these moves will affect Walmart's brand image in the eyes and hearts of those precious target customers?

That's emotional intelligence in action. 

Ideas for your business

Of course, if you're a small to midsize business, you're probably not in a position to host movies in your parking lot. 

But could you leverage your parking lot in another way, something that would win over your customers?

For example, if you're a retailer, you might consider giving some space to a local food truck or stand. That's right, forget about renting it out. Try out some local trucks and hold a taste test, and then offer free space to the winner in your parking lot. Not only will you help out a fellow business owner, but if you choose the right vendor, you give your customers another reason to shop with you--so they can get a tasty meal or snack at the same time.

What if you run an online business? Of course, if you can find a gap you can fill for your customers, do so. 

But there's one thing you can do that all customers will appreciate, and it doesn't take much: Ship every package with a handwritten thank-you note. Use unique stationery that expresses your (or your company's) personality, and write a personal message. (You can do this if your business offers services, too.)

One more idea: While other businesses are adding a corona surcharge to try to make up for weeks of shutdowns, you can offer a "corona discount," or throw in a little something extra as a bonus. This will make you stand out to your customers, and help build an emotional connection between your brand and them.

So, regardless of the size of your business, ask yourself:

  • How can I build on the relationship with my target customers?
  • How can I delight them?
  • What's a need I can fill, maybe due to a recent change in circumstances?
  • How can I use my resources to fill it?

Answer those questions right, and you'll be taking a lesson out of Walmart's playbook--by using emotional intelligence to strengthen your brand.