How do businesses sell and market, when no one’s buying? With the volatility and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, business owners and marketers are struggling to pin-point clear online marketing strategies. At a time when every COVID Commercial is the same, what are some creative marketing ideas to promote your business online?
Sometimes a crisis presents a new lens – we just need to shift our focus.
In our previous article, we covered 18 Expert Tips for Small Business Marketing during tough times, with a focus on content. Marketers and small business owners are approaching marketing in a downturn in many different ways. Get marketing ideas for your small business to attract, engage, and convert when buyers are limiting purchases in a pandemic.
What are the best ways to market your business online during a pandemic?
During the pandemic and general downturn, when budgets are shrinking, it’s better to evaluate and strengthen your existing assets.
Here are 20 ways Business owners and marketing experts are modifying and adapting their online marketing strategies during a crisis. And you can too!
- Market solutions (or content) instead of products & services
- Explore the Multi-channel approach
- Ramp up Search Engine Marketing
- Take a customer-focused approach
- Use customer content
- Prioritize retention over new business
- Say bye to camera shy!
- Leverage that inbox access
- Get the right People
- Get Personal
- Realign business practices
- Show off your team and your values
- Message creatively
- Be agile and flexible.
- Change strategy, not vision
- Keep analytics front and center
- Offer free, irresistible value
- Future-focused value
- Collaborate through Partnerships
- Spend if you can
Market solutions (or content) instead of products & services
Stacy Caprio of Accelerated growth Marketing shares. “I am focusing on organic marketing during this time. Getting ahead on content and links will be a huge positive foundation for the websites’ futures. Paid ads are cheap right now. But people are worried about money and simply not converting at past rates for the majority of products and services.”
Pro Tip : Add new CTAs to evergreen content. Rephrase, re-frame, re-market.
Explore the Multi-channel approach
Sometimes, it’s good to try new things and fail fast!
When the normal rules of marketing are in a flux and things are changing rapidly, exploring multiple channels could be a way forward.
“Given what we’re all dealing with now, we’ve pivoted to focus on social media, content and digital acquisition,” says Lynn Power of Masami. “This means we are doing a combination of leveraging social engagement, leaning into podcasts (reviews, interviews), blog posts (we are doing 1-2 a week) and Facebook/Instagram ads. Our messaging is about self care, which seems to be striking the right note with our consumers who are not necessarily thinking about beauty, but want some indulgence and self-care while at home.”
Pro Tip : Assess which of your (and competitor) channels have better engagement rates. Monitor online conversations on Facebook groups to glean insights.
Ramp up Search Engine Marketing
Or in other words, make friends with Google
CoVID-19 has dramatically changed what and how people are searching and Google is responding with parallel algorithm updates. Recently Google introduced a way for sites to submit a COVID-19 announcement in Search Console as well as a guide to help businesses adapt their digital marketing strategies and prepare for what’s next.
“The current guidelines surrounding social distancing have forced marketers to adapt,” says Digital marketer Jason Scott of JCS Digital. This means that conversion rates on paid ads have plummeted. Personally, with clients, I’ve been reducing spend on paid ads and using this downtime to focus on organic growth. Improving your rankings on Google or increasing your following organically on social media will put you in a fantastic position when normal services resume.”
Pro Tip : Follow the Google Webmaster Central Blog for official news on Google indexing and update existing content with new keywords to ensure your content works for SEO and people who read it!
People ‘browse’ before they buy.
Don’t miss out on the organic traffic! Get the best Free SEO Courses & Guides shared by the pros…
Take a customer-focused approach
It puts you right in their shoes and drives your decisions accordingly.
What are people searching for? What are they doing? How are they feeling? How have their habits changed?
Alex Membrillo of Cardinal Digital Marketing agrees on driving content decisions based on the customer’s current habits. ”People are still plugged into their technology, and now have even more time to explore and engage with content. User time on page for our blog content has also increased by over 18% during the last 30 days.”
Malte Scholz, co-founder of Airfocus elaborates. “We are focusing on organic marketing only since paid is not giving us the results that we want. Put simply, people are not buying right now, they are reading.“
Pro Tip : Use free search tools like Pinterest, BuzzSumo or Ubersuggest to find out the top shared content plus check out these 15 content tactics to grow your organic leads for free.
Use customer-generated content
There has never been a better time to encourage your audience to be your spokesperson. Not only are people receptive to real stories, but they are also open to raw, unfiltered, at-home videos. Maroon Oak’s Mother’s Day Campaign is a great example of a feel-good brand video, composed with real member stories.
Pro Tip : Check out Adweek’s Ad of the Day to see examples of creative advertising by brands.
Prioritize retention over new business
Communicate your updates proactively to your customers and use free tools like Google Hangouts, Skype or Zoom to offer your services remotely.
Scholz adds, “moreover, you should focus the bulk of your efforts on retaining your existing customers. We’ve been working remotely for a few years now and I believe we have some valuable lessons about remote work and productivity that our customers will hopefully appreciate. Of course, we always find ways to plug in our product somewhere in this type of content. This is what people want to read right now. People want to be advised, not sold to, at least until this crisis blows over – which hopefully won’t last too long.”
Pro Tip : Go Virtual, but never be impersonal! Try these proven tips from business owners and executives to engage clients in online meetings.
Say bye to camera shy!
Attorney Renata Castro of Castro Legal Group agrees. “I am doing two to three live sessions – IG, Facebook, Youtube, or guest appearances on other people’s platforms, and this has given us the maximum result. We are also pushing for more Whatsapp Messages, using free art that I create myself on Canva.”
Pro Tip : Record your video sessions. It’s content that can be repurposed in multiple ways.
Leverage that inbox access
While less might be more when sending emails in COVID times, you still have the most direct access to your customer via their inbox.
Membrillo says, “We’re continuing to market through organic and paid ads, including remarketing campaigns. We’ve also expanded our email marketing efforts. Since mid-March, we’ve found that our subscriber open rates for email marketing have increased by approximately 20%. Engagement is up over 50%.”
From How to Write a Killer Email to Analytics Essentials for Automated Emails, get the best FREE tools for your business, straight from the pros.
Pro Tip : Whether you send COVID related emails or not, make your emails easy to skim and concise. Aim for content that feels like a breath of fresh air!
Get the right People
Sometimes the best way to help your small business is simply getting the right person for the job. Working with PPC, SEO etc requires a strategic, data-driven approach for maximum results and it is not every business owner’s core competency.
Lawyer Darryl Smith of Florida Car Accident Lawyer recommends hiring an expert for achieving relevant results fast. “We have transitioned to organic marketing, and have hired an SEO consultant to grow business while our physical location is closed. We have utilized this time to gain traffic to our website, in hopes that we can keep a strong enough client base to maintain our growth. despite the current situation, and establish loyal clients for the future. Our firm has been adding a significant amount of new content to the site, and we are already starting to see the results of SEO pay off.”
Pro Tip : For highly skill-based work, look at platforms where you can find motivated professionals. You can hire, collaborate, or seek usable tips.
Authentic, personal stories work in the best of times. In times of uncertainty, they are an even stronger tool to forge deeper connections.
“Surprisingly, the best strategy has been to share (on Instagram), my personal struggles with quarantining. Everything from eating too much, not having a routine, having to homeschool, etc.,” says Castro. “Clients feel that a relatable attorney is someone who will understand their struggles, and as a result, fight harder for their case.”
Realign business practices (for long term loyalty)
Aleya Harris of Flourish Marketing has one goal- to be a good friend in times of trouble. “I am a marketer who serves the wedding, catering, and event industry, which has been hit hard by COVID-19. Right now, I am not focused on the hard sell. Instead, I am building relationships and growing my email list. I have postponed product launches for high-ticket items and am offering extended payment plans.
I have also offered free video series for Navigating through a Crisis as well as free social media templates to help business owners know what to say during the pandemic.”
Show off your team and your values
Ashley Sterling of The Loop Marketing recommends a behind the scenes approach. “We’re focusing on showcasing our team and what makes them great — who is behind content, website design, graphic creation, etc. We are aiming to display our personability and humility during this time. Our primary focus has been on genuine approaches (i.e. an open-letter-formatted blog from our founder, Elijah Litscher, about what it’s like to work with two small children at home, a wife who is also juggling an outstanding career, and managing our team remotely). We pride ourselves on our customer service and personal approach — now, more than ever, we feel it’s important to connect using authenticity.”
Sell with empathy, re-frame your message, and lots more…
Wondering how to market your business? Try these proven tips to share your message during a crisis!
“We’re finding most of our marketing success right now in using relatable posts and ads instead of taking COVID-19 marketing too literally,” adds Anastasia Iliou, Marketing Manager at Rain. “For example, we started by running a B2B ad about helping your employees through COVID-19 by using our services. That didn’t work very well. What’s working best now is an ad about giving your employees some good news. When it comes to online marketing for our small business, we’re putting a positive spin on everything. We’re offering useful content that does not take advantage of the current situation in a negative way, but doesn’t ignore it, either. We’re running these ads on LinkedIn right now.”
Pro Tip : Use humor as an online marketing strategy. A witty phrase, a hidden pun – these are great ways to delight the customer.
Be agile and flexible
In other words, be prepared to shift gears. Here are some ideas.
Alexandra Marin, Co-founder & Director of Design at CodeCrew LLC recommends looking for alternative strategic solutions to boost visibility for your business. “Our long-term client was getting ready to launch a new travel product this year when the crisis struck. They pivoted fast and started work on another revolutionary product, which fortunately saw overnight Kickstarter success.”
“Gift cards are another perfect way to keep profits coming in, while still being able to serve your customers once the pandemic is over,” adds Marin. “Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays still exist, pandemic or not. Gain cash flows during this downtime and keep your customers happily engaged.”
“If you don’t have a loyalty email program, I can’t think of a better time to develop one,” recommends Marin. “There are at least 50 – if not more – different things you can do to build a loyalty program.”
With their predictable recurring revenue, you can also consider offering or initiating a subscription business model. It takes more energy for a customer to make an active decision to buy than to decide to stop paying for a product or service that has become habitual.
Change strategy, not vision
Tim Grinsdale of eCommerce company TOAD Diaries recommends using the ‘Soft Sell‘ and ‘Pivoting Products’ approach. ”There was a significant dip in our sales after the first round of Borris Johnson’s announcements on restrictions of movement in the UK. In response, we sent out a ‘Things To Do At Home For Kids’ E-marketing campaign that included two origami tutorials instead of our usual, more generic, offers. Using more of a ‘soft sell’ approach seems to have worked well because this has been our most successful campaign to date.
We also immediately pivoted our products towards people who would be spending lots of time at home (introducing artist notebooks for example and promoting gridded and blank notebooks instead of our main product line). We felt these products would be more useful to our customers than our diaries at this point in time with so much uncertainty about the future. This is now an uplift in sales compared to last year.”
Shifting focus from short-term marketing initiatives to long term marketing goals has been the strategy of Amber Henie of In The Lights. “We see this as an opportunity to tackle things that often get pushed to the back burner during times of normal operations. Growing your audience is a good reason to keep doing appropriate social content and newsletters.”
Keep analytics front and center
“Currently we are focusing on data, and expanding our strategy into 2020 based on what we find,” says Sterling. “For example, we have structured our content marketing to answer the questions that site visitors are looking for. When reviewing analytics, you can see who is coming to your site, where they’re coming from, how long they’re staying, and when they’re leaving. This allows us to take the time to look at the data in black-and-white and structure the foundation to build a stronger business presence and SEO Strategy.”
Offer free, irresistible value
Almost any business can offer some free expertise virtually and the focus of any good virtual product is to provide tangible value, quickly and easily. Plus, this is a great way to market and add online visibility to your business.
Meg Casebolt of Love at First Search is in agreement. “I am an SEO strategist who helps women-owned businesses get found on Google. I know many of my potential clients are home & have time to work on their websites, but might not have the capital to invest in done-for-you services. So I created a campaign called GenerouSEO to offer free trainings (broadcasting live weekly to Facebook & YouTube) & discounts on online courses.”
Your website is your best employee!
Shel Horowitz, Director of Accurate Writing has made two of his resume-related services free. “As a professional resume writer, I’m offering resume critiques at no charge to make my services more accessible and affordable. If hired, the first cover letter is also at no charge. Additionally, after pioneering the while-you-wait resume decades ago, I am now offering them virtually, via Zoom.”
Kempten Taylor, Founder of Peach Roots PR has implemented a complimentary online therapy consult. “We have found that a lot of people are not accustomed to online therapy or are not sure if it is for them. This gives the practice an opportunity to show clients how online therapy will work and set a level of comfort with the whole thing.”
Aleya Harris of Flourish Marketing has pivoted her marketing to focus on the top and middle of the marketing funnel. “That means I have been providing relevant, timely, and helpful, free information. I am relying on organic traffic and also promoting ads to relevant lead magnets. I find quizzes to be the highest converting.”
Sometimes the right words add even more meaning to a free gift. The Wing, for example, offers a virtual goody bag with their newsletter subscription.
Future-focused value (post-pandemic)
Christine Perkett of Mindfull Marketing believes that marketing will come back full force once the pandemic settles down. “Our focus now is to build loyalty and credibility to gain those customers when they’re ready and able to return to a regular level of digital marketing, communications and PR. We’ve offered free one-hour consults to businesses, where we will deliver at least three tactful marketing ideas that they can execute now, as well as advice for ongoing marketing during this time (socially-minded marketing) and an analysis for how to recover post-pandemic.”
Collaborate through Partnerships
Make your business more visible by exploring avenues to work with other businesses.
“Another tactic we are utilizing is forming community partnerships with other businesses in mutually beneficial areas or where we share similar clientele,” says Taylor. “ To help increase brand credibility and recognition for a client in a relatively new wellness practice, we partnered with like-minded and more established medical practices and yoga studios in the area. We have put together webinars and virtual panel discussions that are available for free for the community to answer questions about dealing with COVID from a mental, health, and wellness standpoint.”
Carey Shook, SEO Analyst at Coalmarch elaborates. “With Google Ads and Google My Business offering delayed support and services, we’ve created a resource for our clients. This resource is also available for those who attend our weekly webinars related to COVID-19, hosted in partnership by two industry leaders.”
“We’ve all begun focusing more on establishing partnerships through influencer marketing and guest postings,” says Carmine Mastropierro of Mastro Commerce. “This is another low-cost but effective marketing strategy that also helps us empower other businesses who may have been impacted by COVID-19.”
Spend if you can (and when it seems necessary)
Ryan Anderson of Bead the Change is focusing on paid. “We are bringing in business by using paid advertising on a wide variety of platforms, and have seen our revenue almost double during this time. We have increased our Google Ads budget significantly, and have started to advertise on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Facebook Ads was a great discovery. The ad targeting parameters are extremely user friendly, and we are reaching customers that are already interested in our industry. We have specifically had great results using video ads, where customers can see how the product looks on people in real life.”
Companies big and small are looking for smart and productive marketing initiatives as they navigate COVID-19. The best way forward is to continue conversations that educate and inform and help build authentic relationships during this period of crisis. Technological connectivity is the silver lining here.
You can’t use up creativity. The more you create, the more you have.
A Designer and Entrepreneur, Aditi graduated from a top design school and subsequently started her own design and merchandising business. Co-founder at Maroon Oak, she has over 17 years of business experience with Two Dotts, her design consulting company and an Etsy store which serves as an outlet for her gifts and patented product designs.
A mother to a teen and a tween, she enjoys running, dancing and raising her newest baby, a Bichon named Miltie.