The spread of COVID-19 has caused a seismic shift in business, education, entertainment, travel, communication and practically every other aspect of daily life. The impact of COVID-19 has also significantly affected marketing plans, forcing companies to rethink their approach on how to best reach their target audience and attract new customers.
We talked to five business owners to get their best tips on small business marketing in a post-COVID world. Learn how they are navigating through the current climate to improve their marketing tactics for this new era.
Recognize Shifting Customer Needs In a Pandemic
According to Maria Tudor, the brand and communications manager at ROLZO, a chauffeur services provider, “Small businesses need to ground their marketing strategies in the shifting consumer behavior that the pandemic has stimulated.” One of these shifts has been to online sales. Ecommerce is growing exponentially. In 2019, worldwide online sales totaled $3.53 trillion and they are projected to nearly double by 2023.
Maria notes that “customers increasingly buy online, but access to services has been digitized as well. This increasing interest in e-services creates new opportunities to connect with potential and existing customers.” One way Maria's company has put this into action is through the launch of a downloadable business app that allows customers to book services on the go and in real time.
She continues, "As increasingly more enterprises are suffering financial losses as a result of the pandemic, those companies that will survive and even thrive are the ones that best respond to changing customer needs."
Step Up Your SEO Game
It's important that potential customers looking for your products and services are able to find you. SEO is an invaluable tool to lead customers to your site.
Ryan Fitzgerald, owner of two North Carolina-based real estate companies, Raleigh Realty and uphomes, extols the benefits of using the right keywords and has taken advantage of SEO to increase his business. Fitzgerald offers the same advice to other small business owners. “Small businesses should market themselves with SEO (search engine optimization) by creating inbound leads through web traffic they generate from Google.” By taking this approach, he has generated "over 250,000 sessions per month and results in 500+ new leads each month.”
If you've simply been targeting any keyword in the hopes of gaining traffic to your site, it's time to put in the research to learn what your potential customers are searching for and how you can create valuable content that targets those keywords.
As Fitzgerald says, "Do you want to trade your time and effort chasing after leads, or do you want to spend your time and effort compounding on your inbound marketing efforts? The answer is simple. The best way to invest in a COVID world is on your online inbound marketing strategy."
Establish Trust with Customers
With job loss and an uncertain economic outlook, customers may be more reticent to spend their money. When they do, they're often doing a lot of research beforehand to ensure they are making the best choice possible. In order to capture your target audience, you need to market your company with honesty and truth.
Maria Tudor from ROLZO offers this tip for small business marketing: "Strengthening trust has also become more important than ever, and marketers need to reinforce transparency, safety, flexibility and convenience at every touchpoint in order to consolidate existing customer relationships and create new ones."
Offer a Loyalty Program
Whether it’s through flash sales, new customer discounts or holiday specials, customers want to know that they are not only benefiting from a product or service, but they are also getting it at a good deal. Smart shoppers also want to maximize the benefits offered through promos and special offers, as well as feel appreciated. One way to market your business and show customer appreciation is to offer a customer loyalty program.
Brianna Parks, who operates an elopement photography business Brianna Parks Photography, follows this idea of offering a customer reward program. “In a post-COVID world, small businesses should be rewarding loyalty by setting up loyalty programs. I personally offer all clients a discount on the next session they book with me. I've found that it increases my retention, and therefore, gives me more referrals.”
Provide Discounts or Freebies
Small business owners are not the only sector of society having a tough time as a result of the pandemic. Similar to the previous point of having a loyalty program, offering discounts and freebies can benefit your customers who may have been hit hard during the year.
Kevin Groh, owner of Cachi Life, a travel company based in Nashville, understands the hardships and issues his customers are likely to encounter. “In this difficult economy, it is important to shift your marketing in a way that shows goodwill towards people. I think one of the best ways to do this is to provide or increase some of the services that you provide for free.”
One way Groh achieved this is through his cultural tours in Peru. “For example, in order to drive up tourism to the region, Machu Picchu entrance will be free for the immediate future, whereas in the past, there was an entrance permit with a fee. This will help increase the number of people interested in your product through word-of-mouth.”
Cut Out Expensive Marketing Strategies
In a time when small companies are struggling to stay afloat, watching the bottom line is critical. Costly marketing strategies are being replaced by cheaper options that may ultimately prove to be more effective in reaching out to target groups.
Jonathan Bass is the CEO and owner of Whom Home and PTM Images, a manufacturer of home décor in North America. Since the pandemic, Bass has shifted his marketing strategy to popular social media sites and sees this pivot as integral to maintaining a social presence but at a lower cost.
“Due to the global pandemic and the current state of our country, which will most likely continue well into 2021, I see businesses moving away from expensive social media marketing strategies they were using previously, such as influencer marketing. ... All business owners need to be more conscious of their spending right now, and typically, marketing budgets are the first to be revised. At Whom Home, I have shifted most of the marketing budget to ads on Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram and SEO. My marketing strategy has shifted since the start of the pandemic and will continue to adjust as the world climate changes throughout the next year.”
Whether it’s new technologies used or a shift in customer needs, the way you do business has changed as a result of COVID-19. The sooner you shift your marketing strategy and adjust to better function in a post-COVID world, the better shape you’ll be in to meet the challenges that lay ahead.
Peter Mavrikis is an author and editor with over 25 years of experience in publishing. He has worked as the Editorial Director for Barron’s Educational Series, as well as Kaplan Test Prep, where he ran the test prep, foreign language, and study guide divisions. Peter has also written several books on history, exploration, science, and technology.