Move Forward with Precision and Power
Regardless of where your small business falls in the spectrum of disaster preparedness, you now have the opportunity to lay out your plan for the recovery phase. Unlike the confusion at the beginning of the crisis, you’ll have more information to work with. Sure, there are still uncertainties. But there are also plenty of resources available to give you the lay of the land and make informed decisions.
The time for reaction is largely over, and a proactive strategy must come into play if you want to succeed in the future. A major component of these efforts will be digital initiatives.
“In the coming months, businesses are going to become more reliant than ever on their digital strategy,” asserts a business strategy report from Forbes. “Without wanting to sound too alarmist, in many cases it will be the deciding factor in whether they make it through the tough times ahead. The unprecedented, almost-total disappearance of all channels related to live events and conferences, and the increasing barriers on face-to-face business, pose an enormous challenge. Key to resilience is the development of ongoing contingencies to mitigate against this loss.”
Online shopping was already building dominance before COVID-19 made it a necessity. About 80% of Americans shopped online last year, which amounts to 264 million people using digital tools to make purchases. And online shopping revenue is projected to hit $4.8 billion by next year.
If consumers are gravitating to digital commerce, smart business owners must do the same. One study revealed that the majority of small businesses have been investing in digital marketing and preferred it to old-school approaches like print, radio, or billboards.
“Traditional marketing has become less mainstream due to cost and delay,” explains the survey’s official report. “While digital marketing has the advantage of sending at the click of a button, traditional marketing takes time to create and distribute. […] Digital marketing allows more direct interaction with consumers, as customers click advertisements and emails when they want to. Customers voluntarily engage with an ad, which demonstrates an initial level of interest.”
Choosing Digital Initiatives for Your Business
Just as a disaster plan helps small businesses be more adaptable when times get tough, digital marketing can help you be more agile. With shorter contracts, you can test, iterate, and target on the fly. Tracking is a breeze, so you’ll know who is clicking and converting on your ads.
Don’t feel like you need to implement every digital resource or strategy, as that’s a sure-fire way to overwhelm yourself and dilute the impact. You just need to look for options that align with your goals, leverage your strengths, and complement your small business’s personality, and then choose the critical few digital marketing channels for your business.
Here are 4 factors to consider:
- Will it complement your other business initiatives?
- Will it connect with your customers?
- Will it provide a solid return on investment?
- Will it be sustainable?
Start by gathering your business’s core decision-makers. If your team is older in age, it’s wise to bring in younger individuals to get fresh ideas and a new perspective. Working together, examine the current landscape and list what has changed for your business. Think about what conditions will likely continue and what additional changes could arise.
This isn’t a time to rely on assumptions, so you’ll need to verify your ideas. Reach out to your customer base and get their insights.
“Don’t waste time and space asking for information that you don’t really need,” says a customer feedback guide from Forbes. “If it’s an anonymous survey, you don’t even need to ask the person’s name or any other personal information. If you’re interested in a particular product or behavior, stick to that, and save other questions for another survey. There are many ways to deliver customer surveys. You can use one or more of these methods and find out which works best for you. There’s no reason to limit yourself to a single channel for polling customers. It’s just important to track your results and understand the pros and cons of each method.”
The point is that your strategy must be guided and confirmed by the very people you’re hoping to reach. Let them highlight for you the value and solutions they seek.
Tools and Strategies for the Road Ahead
This is your chance to find the most powerful ways to sustain business momentum, as well as reverse any negative trends you’ve experienced during the pandemic. You’ll find that your team’s predictions and your customer insights will intersect at times. These intersections are your sweet spots, identifying areas where your inherent capabilities align most with what the end user wants.
The following suggestions can help you solidify your strategies.
Start Your Paid Media Engines
One of the first actions many small businesses took in the pandemic was hitting the pause button on their display ads, PPC ads, and branded content. This tactic was understandable, with budgets struggling as sales declined.
Use your time now to plot how best to resume these efforts. Many of your competitors will wait until the dust has completely settled before ramping up their paid media, so you can gain an edge by scraping together enough money to launch targeted campaigns.
Leverage the intel you received through your customer surveys to make these your most customized paid media efforts to date. You could use geotargeting to connect with a certain part of your customer base, filter by device preferences, or use some other mechanism.
Just be sure to avoid shotgun blasts in your advertising. Generic ads are never a good idea, but they’re absolutely killers in a crucial time like this.
Take It to the Local Level
Cookie-cutter approaches will be worthless in the post-COVID world. Not only do some regions of the country have varying pain points and priorities, but they won’t even be open in the same ways. Each state and county will be opened at unique cadences as determined by the state’s leaders. So you won’t be able to communicate with customers in Georgia the same way you would with those in New York.
“Different marketing strategies focus on different geographic reaches, including local communities, larger regions, entire countries, or an international scale,” says small business expert David Ingram. “Marketing degree programs teach a wide range of techniques useful for large, corporate businesses, but small business owners have to get creative to reach a smaller local or regional audience. Knowing how to market your product on a local and regional level can save you money while boosting your marketing effectiveness.”
To make each dollar count and reach the right people, identify the most impactful areas to market in, then use geotargeting and other targeting tools to get your message exactly where it needs to be.
Keep Your Efforts Agile
Even if your research indicates a specific message will resonate with customers in a certain state or county, you can’t launch the ads and then rest on your laurels. This pandemic has highlighted just how volatile everything is. You’ll need to stay tuned in to current events and tweak your message whenever necessary so that it jibes with the latest events and public mood.
“Marketing plans are just that, plans,” insists a marketing report from Forbes. “Once put into practice, you will quickly know what is not working. It is important to be flexible in your approach. Don’t be afraid to shift as needed. It is imperative to A/B test, see what works, and lean into those successes. More often than not, what we think will be our core strategy is adjusted by the response we get from the consumer.”
Responsiveness is key. Choose digital marketing technology that allows you to track in real-time and make rapid updates. This data is always critical to marketing success, but when our country is scarred and divided from the trauma of the pandemic, you especially need to make sure your message resonates and doesn’t alienate.
Keep Your Digital Content Fresh
If you’re hoping for customers to engage with your business going forward, invest in quality, relevant content. People have been sitting in their homes for weeks on end, consuming unprecedented amounts of content from their favorite blogs, websites, and social channels. What can you offer them?
Go back to your customer feedback and surveys to identify topics that will be most applicable and sought after. Use site metrics to identify which posts and features draw attention. Then learn from what made each piece of content successful so you can continue providing value to your customers.
The goal here is to show how much you value your customers by actually providing content of value. Not only will it bring them back for more, but the fresh content boosts your performance in search engines. You’ll receive the benefits of a one-two punch of audience engagement and search engine performance.
Keep Your SEO Goals in Sight
As mentioned above, search engine performance can be extremely impactful for your business. Don’t put yourself at the mercy of the search engines. Use deliberate strategies to boost your searchability and improve rankings.
If you aren’t sure how important it is for your business to get high placement in Google results, consider the fact that most consumers don’t go past the first page of search results. If you’re on page two, few will ever see it listed except for you and your employees.
The world of SEO can get overwhelming, so strategically look for 2–3 ways you can channel your energies and get a solid return on investment. If you don’t get the results you’re seeking, reconsider your strategy and try again. Even if you do get impressive results, you should still reconsider your strategy and try again.
“SEO has proven to be fruitful because it isn’t a one-off investment,” says a business report from The Manifest. “The results are cumulative, so we are still getting an ROI from work that was done years ago. The main KPIs we track are traffic to the site each month and our keyword rankings in search engines such as Google and Bing.”
While all digital strategies can be fluid, this approach is one of the most so. Never rest on your laurels with SEO. Look for relevant learnings and then keep testing and iterating to ensure sustained success.
Go All-In on Video
This digital strategy is one of the most impactful in your arsenal. It’s estimated that 85% of the people in America watch videos online daily. And the pandemic has likely increased those figures, given the high number of people who have been homebound and looking for online entertainment.
With such high usage rates, video provides an amazing way to share what’s different about your small business’s products or services. You can feature competitive advantages, tell customer stories, introduce new product and service lines, and share whatever else meets your strategic objectives.
“Video’s popularity has exploded in recent years,” says a video marketing analysis from Forbes. “Now, more than 250 million hours of videos are watched each day on YouTube, and it has become the new format of choice for younger Americans. According to a survey conducted by the nonprofit Common Sense Media, the next generation of teen and tween consumers have doubled the amount of time they spend watching online videos every day since 2015 […] Now, it’s up to marketers to make sure they’re creating video content in a way that keeps their audiences coming back for more.”
Given the reach and power of video, you should consider using it with all marketing initiatives. Start by incorporating it into your landing pages, as it can boost conversions by as much as 80%.
Build Conversations with Your Followers
The pandemic has been one of the most unpredictable and volatile periods of this generation. Small businesses that reach out to their customers to address concerns, provide updates, and offer encouragement have fared better than those that have dialed back their communications.
Your customer base requires consistent and relevant communication. Keep the dialogue going so you won’t experience substantial falloff during the recovery period. It definitely shouldn’t be a time that you’re forced to rebuild your customer base from scratch.
Use your blog, website, social channels, emails, surveys, and contests to start and sustain dialogue. Your content should be timely and beneficial. Make it easy for customers to join your email list, engage in conversation, share feedback, and feel valued.
You can tailor these strategies based on your research and budget. Your budget will likely be strained during the post-COVID recovery, making each dollar crucial. You can adjust the spend on your digital communications on the fly, finding where your money gets the best results.
“Digital marketing offers versatility and the freedom to experiment,” says The Manifest. “There are tons of different channels like search [and] social media. Small businesses can spend a bit of money on each and quickly figure out which one works best for them.”
Serve Your Customers
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed during a recovery like this. Your time and resources will be pulled in a million directions. Let your customers’ perspective be your ultimate guide so you don’t waste a single hour on something that won’t connect with them—you should seek their feedback early and often.
As we move beyond the shock of the COVID-19 crisis, this time will be the dawning of a new era. Don’t let old assumptions cloud the mix. By combining customer feedback with fresh strategy, you can chart a winning strategy for the coming year.