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How COVID-19 Changed Small Business Marketing

by Editor
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By now, I think it’s safe to say that we’re all sick of talking about the Pandemic. Most of us would gladly go back to a simpler time where there were no masks requirements, where businesses and restaurants were open for business as usual.   

But we still are living in crazy times and the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic has resulted in changes to advertising, marketing, and promotional campaigns for small businesses here in the US and around the globe.  

From brick-and-mortar, mom-and-pops to international brands, companies have needed to re-evaluate their approach to marketing to adapt to the ‘new normal’.  

Not to mention the minefield of policies that small businesses now face in the arena of paid promotion: the FTC, CFPB and FDA have all honed in on unfair and deceptive business practices to protect vulnerable consumers, monitor bold marketing campaigns, and terminate COVID-19 scams from online platforms.  

Impact of COVID-19 on Small Business Marketing 

Adapting to Change 

Small businesses should be up to the challenge: thinking about innovative marketing strategies and practices that don’t alienate their customers by appearing tone-deaf.   

Further, ensuring operations are seamless and campaign planning is flawless in a new commercial world of uncertainty and promoting products and services that meet your customer’s new needs & desires in a post-pandemic world. 

More crucially so, with the States condemned to a rollercoaster of opens and closes, advertising spend has decreased dramatically in 2021 as physical stores shut their doors and deliveries come to a halt.  

So what does marketing look like for a small business nowadays?  

Social Media: More Important than ever 

Your budget for marketing your small business should directly reflect the shift in the way customers shop and find you online. As restrictions were put in place across the US – public and print advertising came to a near-instantaneous halt. 

In the meantime, in-home media usage went up, including:  

  • TV viewership 
  • Streaming services 
  • Social platforms 

And per a study by GWI, 45 percent of global consumers are devoting more time to social media, and video streaming has increased by 25 percent. Why is this data crucial to the survival of small businesses? 

It’s critical that small businesses now seek to optimize their marketing practices to better reflect this rise in the online presence of their customers, digital transactions and entertainment choices. If you know your demographic has been using Facebook more during the pandemic, you know how your Q3 & 4 2021 marketing roadmap should look. Further, the number of consumers using online food delivery services and essential goods delivery solutions has risen dramatically. Customers are online, now more than ever – because it’s essential.  

Being Human has never mattered more 

Consumer demand for empathy on behalf of businesses and brands is at an all-time high during the COVID-19 pandemic. The small businesses that will continue to thrive in 2021 will be those that try their best to promote in a human manner and communicate with customers on an emotional level, understanding their pain points. 

Yes, if you’re like many, you may be growing tired of hearing about COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean your small business should ignore it. In a survey conducted by Kantar, 77% of consumers said they now want to see online content from businesses to show ‘how you’re helping people get used to the new everyday life.’ But how can we achieve this with our marketing? 

  • Seek to build long-term trust. 
  • Educate customers about your own struggles as a small business. 
  • Engage with your audience through more personal means than simple ads. 
  • Entertain your audience when they need it most! 

Email at the forefront  

If email does not currently form a part of your small business marketing strategy, now is the time to change that. If you’ve established a keen database of current/past/potential future customers, email marketing is an incredibly cost-effective, powerful tool to market your business during the pandemic. No leaving the house, no physical locations – just old-fashioned digital. Plus, email marketing historically provides some of the most asymmetrical positive returns in the business world. It’s too cheap and too effective. 

As we said, we can’t ignore COVID-19. But whilst updates are important, they should not be the only focus of your email content (especially if it’s sent to customers you want to sell to!) 

Here are some COVID-19-friendly email campaigns to add to your mix in 2021. 

  • Newsletters – Want a laid-back, friendly way of keeping your customers in the loop about your business? Newsletters are the way forward. Think: promotions, deals, one-time offers, discounts – and virtual/physical event dates to grow your business.  On top of that, you can tick the box of being ‘human’ by featuring local news stories, share social media updates and get customers involved in quizzes and prize surveys. 
  • Offer help to your customers – Depending on the nature of your business, you might be able to offer your help to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Do you have connections in the business space that can help your customer? Are you running a fundraising campaign for local equipment/vaccine centres? If you can provide any support to your audience, you’ll want to set up email campaigns to reflect these plans. 
  • Business as usual emails – Strike the balance between being COVID-friendly and Business-friendly emails! Remember: you’re running an operation here, and it’s probably your livelihood. Just be cautious of the language you use: people want empathy this year, and sympathy for their current circumstances (and they still want to be sold to!) 

What’s stayed the same? 

Yes, COVID-19 has caused a seismic shift in the way small businesses market. But there remain some consistencies to approach. Don’t just start over from scratch after this article! 

Your Customers Still Like Your Ads 

Earlier, we mentioned a study on sentiment done by Kantar. Per the same brand’s other COVID-19 Barometer survey, a tiny 8% of consumers believe that brands should stop advertising during the pandemic. As we said, it’s a minefield out there, and some businesses are concerned about offending their customers or community. But this data gives you the green light to go wild.  

This will also resonate well with the market because people want normalcy back. They want the ‘old’ way of life back pre-COVID-19, and that means ads. It means billboards, great TV ads, and physical shopping. 

Data is still King 

Data hasn’t changed. If your business isn’t paying attention to data to drive decisions and establish marketing strategies, you’re missing out on a great deal of money and growth. 

You can collect data in their CRMs to create better visions of your customer and create powerful marketing campaigns using social media content and ads. Using what information you generate with those campaigns, come back stronger with an even more resonant message. 

The customer is still at the heart 

How many emails have you received from small businesses, companies, or brands that start with ‘During these difficult times’ or something similar? It’s getting old. Business customers are blind to empty words like this and are finding it harder and harder to connect. 

You still need to put the customer first. The pandemic is no longer a shock or something to transition into: it’s reality. Deliver helpful, meaningful, and engaging content. Solve the customer’s issues by talking to them and finding out how you can help. 

Ultimately, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a majority of small businesses as having a little-to-no marketing strategy. If you’re one of them, that’s great – you won’t have to start fresh. If you’ve been shouting at the wind with no success, it’s time to build a pandemic-friendly marketing strategy that resonates with an audience that’s gotten to grips with a new world. Finally, there’s never been a greater opportunity for small businesses to reach and engage with customers at such an intimate level. 

 

Other articles in this issue;

5 Businesses Using AI to Get Ahead of the Curve
A Guide to setting up Online Ordering for your Small Business
How to Encourage Repeat Buyers… Again and Again!

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