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Small Business Survival during COVID-19: Marketing Adaptation

Updated: Jun 26

My intent in writing this open letter is to help educate small local businesses on how to lay out some basic digital groundwork - some vital steps that will certainly help you to adapt to the new world in which the Coronavirus forced us into.


You probably hear this statement multiple times a day already, but yes, we are in the midst of some troubling times. Times of fear, uncertainty and change. We are doing our best to all find a way to go back to some semblance of regular everyday life. What about work? Well, local businesses throughout our communities face the very same threats; just in different ways. For both aspects, it’s hard to know how to proceed. How do we take that first step?

4 Key Steps to Take as a Small Business During COVID-19

  1. Get your Business Online & Stay Connected

  2. Over-Communicate with your Customers

  3. Evolve your Thinking….and even your Offering

  4. Be Honest and Empathetic with your Customers

There are no easy answers. Every small business has a different path to win back customers and survive. The state of business drastically differs by state and really, is a moving target - one with extremely important details. It’s gotten to the point where these details are assumed to be known fully by both business and consumer on a daily basis. To say that this causes marketplace confusion, is a major understatement. From here, you can see a snowball effect of negativity and inaccuracy. Education is key and it’s up to you on how & when to educate your customer base -assume you need to start from scratch and not rely on previously known loyalty. The clock is ticking and the clock we all now have, is a very competitive and cutthroat one - one that won’t tick for very long. 83.5% of American businesses saw a negative effect from COVID-19’s shut downs. Further, over 25% of business owners said any federal relief will not really help them.


Get Your Business Online & Stay Connected


Ok, so most of the states are within their respective re-opening phases. Great right? For business owners, yes. Unfortunately, we have no idea how long this will last. The phases could go backwards or forwards at any time. Industry by industry relegated to local government switch-flipping. Well, are you open for business? Does anyone know? Do you assume the public will stay on top of the daily changes to our economy? Did you tell anyone and if so, whom? Did you tell your most important customer, Google? You should.

Here are some helpful tips to get online and stay connected:

  • Create/Update your website ASAP - whether it’s a new website or a pop-up notice

  • Create/Update a Google My Business Account

  • Take advantage of free offerings (Google is offering free Google Map ads for all, through September)

  • Update social channels with vital business info

Google is a business’ best friend. Google just needs some basic info to get you fully set-up and ready for customer updates. Google isn’t the only stop on this train of survival. But, it’s a simple and terribly vital one. For instance, when the pandemic started to be fully addressed here in the U.S., store visitation was down -90%. If you’re a brick & mortar store and you’re either not yet set up with e-commerce or aren’t able to, it is critical to get your business online. Now what does that mean exactly? It means you need to cater to the online community right away. Getting your business online means you need to have a website? Have one already? Great...but when was it last updated? Does it speak to how you’re handling COVID-19? Do you send emails to your customer base? Are you communicating with them regarding your changes? Creating or updating Google My Business is important since Google is the primary destination for almost all purchase decisions.


Over-Communicate with your Customers


From “where can I buy__?” to “are restaurants safe to eat at?” Google can help guide people to the most accurate information about your business in real time. You just need to tell them. Another example how consumers rely on Google to find information, is the search “will stores be open tomorrow?.” This simple term is pretty generic, yet it saw a +3,550% increase once the shut down started. You see, Search is a tool that caters to human intent and we, as humans, have changed the dynamic of our everyday lives, adopting this with open arms. On the promotional side of this, Google ad traffic saw a decline when COVID-19 hit us. Their paid ad traffic went down -20%. Why? Store closures and the (brief) acceptance of staying home was the culprit. Home-based environments like YouTube, saw a +21% spike in ad performance. I mention this to show how volatile and fast-changing our consumer world has become. Our habits, consumption and everyday lives are on a swivel - it’s up to us and only us as business owners, to educate and adapt.

Here’s a few ways to communicate with your existing and prospective customers:

  • Email, post, share any and all updates

  • Consider paid media advertising to help promote your business ahead of the competition

  • Learn about people’s opinions on COVID-19, small businesses, your industry, the competition, etc. Consider a small survey either given out with orders, or posted online

  • Consider non-competing partnerships

  • Explore tiered discounting

Evolve your Thinking...and even your Offering


Consider paid advertising, or if you’re already dabbling, consider a revision in your strategy. There’s a chain of gastro-pub restaurants near me in Connecticut (probably my favorite local restaurant). Once the shut down hit us, they didn’t simply switch to online ordering, update a title on their website and pray for the best. They went 5 steps further than that and answered two major public needs - offering their food safely while remaining closed, as well as tapping into their distributor’s inventory, to sell produce and staple grocery items on their menu. Think of ordering a burger, salad, a roll of toilet paper and let’s say some fresh organic produce. They evolved. They adapted. The customers noticed. More importantly, they appreciate it greatly.


We know Marketing budgets had to be slashed at first. But the silver lining here is that with marketing dollars dropping, the competition in the digital marketing world also saw a decline. With this, pay-per-click advertising, such as Social and Google Search have become, well...cheaper. You can’t abandon Marketing spend completely. We just need to re-think our strategies. With some cheaper options out there to promote your business and jump ahead of the competition, you should know that these same digital environments are having an even bigger boom than pre-COVID. With less spend and more daily users, there’s a much higher chance for increased ROI, or ROAS. Sticking with this example, companies’ ROI/ROAS has seen a shift from ~30% to 50% before & after COVID-19 respectively. That’s a +70% increase in paid advertising to promote their business during the pandemic.


As both the news and virus itself keep spreading, we as consumers are learning about it in real time. Be honest with the public and yes, show empathy. For the first time ever, if you’re a brick & mortar business, consider actually admitting in your corporate communications that your business is slow. Well, maybe don’t use the word slow. Say you’re keeping below capacity in order to accommodate their safety. If you have an online arm to your business, or operate fully online, consider running unique and personalized promotions….and offer them frequently. If you’re not set up to sell online but can, consider making the switch now. You’d be shocked how easy and affordable it is. Not all businesses can or need to get set up for e-commerce obviously, but you shouldn’t dismiss the real point here, which is getting your business online and communicating to the public that you are making changes and catering to their current needs. Fun fact: search volume for “buy online” rose by +80% in the days following the shut down. If you can’t sell products or services online, consider offering virtual tours in order to showcase what they’d see in person. Whether it’s an individual appointment with a customer or posting a video on your website/social channels/advertising, this is one small update that customers will appreciate.


Be Honest & Empathetic with your Customers


In closing, I want to reiterate that getting your business online and communicating frequently, is a critical step in this adjustment. From here, consider paid advertising as an effective and efficient way to spread the word and help you gain market share over the competition. Lastly; don’t forget to show empathy along the way. Do unto others….you get it. We as a society are stepping up and working together to not just survive, but better ourselves - why not your business too? Adapt to an on-demand world and you will see results.


Michael Lux, Lux Media Solutions, LLC.


Sources:

U.S. Census, 2020

Zen Business, 2020

Trending Insights, 2020

Influencer Marketing Hub 2020

Google Insights, 2020

#covidmarketing

#smallbusinessmarketing

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