How are businesses approaching marketing (under COVID-19 and social distancing)? Is it new ways of selling, a different message, a change in the mix of organic versus paid? Top entrepreneurs and business pros share their secrets to marketing in a downturn. Learn how the right message, content and approach can make a difference to your business. Plus, see examples of ads and posts from leading brands.
To sell or not to sell? How much? How little? Or not at all? COVID-19 has affected the online marketing industry in a big way. Businesses, brands, freelancers, solopreneurs, we’re all debating the ideal marketing message and content to share with the world.
There is no precedence in our memory and no easy answers. Yet, we are survivors and some of us are thrivers. Uncertainty also creates circumstances for creativity and new initiatives. The trick is to strategize the right one for our business.
Brands and businesses have a tremendous responsibility right now to help their community by leading with empathy, transparency, and authenticity.
We asked marketers and small business owners what’s working for them in this environment. How do they sell in a pandemic, when no ones’s buying? Combined with insights from our team, we hope this blog gives you a way to move forward.
Here are 18 Expert Tips for Small Business Marketing during tough times
(Plus, awesome examples on how to craft your message)
Start with empathy and a human-centered approach!
“How’re you doing?”
Jeff Neal of Capital Coating shares, “What we’re saying has definitely changed. First, we’re asking our clients how they’re doing? We want to know that they are safe and holding up well during this crisis. We have long term relationships with our clients, and we are more concerned about their well-being than securing a contract. Once we hear from them, we let them know what we can provide for the moment. Between these 2 marketing messages, we’ve managed to maintain a busy schedule during these very slow times.”
“How am I acting?”
Your language, your copy, your actions, and your energy, should be supportive, not self-serving!
Sam Williamson, owner of CBDiablo believes that people will emerge from this pandemic with a new understanding of how top-heavy the world is. They will have a newfound desire to support the smaller businesses that went the extra mile for their customers. “The best marketing you can do right now, as a small business owner, is to be as helpful as possible to everyone around you. You can support other businesses, give free samples to those that need it, go the extra mile with your customer service, etc.
People will not forget how you acted during this time – make sure you act how you want your business to be remembered.”
Example of Marketing with Goodwill
People are craving comfort and a brand can be creative and sensitive to their customers’ reality. From a ‘Loneliness Game Plan’ to ‘People to Check On During COVID’, The Every Girl is nailing it on Instagram (Image below) by thinking from a customer’s perspective and offering supportive solutions.
Balance your message and content
Kempten Taylor, Founder of Peach Roots PR suggests projecting calm! “Add value and don’t just push sales during this time. Convey that you care about your customers and their safety, and address the situation in a business context. Don’t show fear but don’t disregard it.”
Don’t be tone-deaf
Jon Torres, founder of Jontorres adds, “During this pandemic, the most important thing is to be ‘auditing messaging.’ Customers don’t want ads about travel or going out right now. When it comes to paid and organic advertising, be sensitive and show a more personal side of yourself and your business. This is the perfect time to introduce the people behind the brand, or to showcase what your company is doing to help.”
“What keeps them up at night?”
“You do need to know your audience, their worries and how you can be there for them,” says Feuza Reis of Get Found with Fuse. “Marketing during Covid19 has proven to be challenging. I think businesses, bloggers and brands have to be patient and sympathize with the current situation. Above all, this is the time to be a resource. I have personally decided not to do paid ads at this time as I need to keep costs down and my target audience is not purchasing much at this time. My hope is that by being a resource and providing value, they will remember me and refer me once things are back to normal.”
At Maroon Oak, we revised our content plan to list the top concerns of our audience. From how to help your small business during a pandemic to free courses you can do now to help your business, we are systematically addressing them.
Empathy front and center
Your home page, landing pages, social media, communication, etc should be updated with your response and initiatives during the pandemic.
Nikola Baldikov of Brosix says, “We’ve changed the whole message of our company – the headline and the description on our homepage to be related to working from home. We have also added a pop-on-exit intent which offers a 3-month free trial. There’s a solution page for remote work during the crisis. Plus, banner images with quotes on how experts manage their remote teams.”
These two examples below show how you can generate support and goodwill on channels other than your website.
Example of Marketing with Thoughtfulness
This simple post of acknowledgement by Brit Morin of Brit & Co, led to over 4 times more engagement on Instagram.
Example of Marketing with Goodwill
In their newsletter, Burberry detailed their community initiatives, thereby promoting brand goodwill and hope.
Nudge them right
Coach Maryna Shkvorets suggests a positive outreach for your customer. “My approach right now is a simple email or message asking if they’re using this time for professional development and learning? Do they need help in converting their sales pitch to a virtual audience?” It’s an effective nudge as well as a good sales pitch.
These examples below illustrate how your communication can help and work for business.
Example of Marketing with multiple objectives
One of the Daily Carnage’s marketing newsletters, serves the dual purpose of encouraging the customer to learn and fact-finding.
Example of Marketing with Philanthropy
In their Facebook Ad, Chicken Salad Chick is effectively combining philanthropy with selling. They are keeping their business alive and allowing customers to feel good by donating to a cause.
Example of Marketing with Emotion
This Etsy ad on Facebook, targets emotions by suggesting Mother’s Day activities and a show of support for small businesses (with a hashtag). It clicks through to gifts and crafts you can buy from them.
Christine Perkett of Mindfull Marketing says, “we are sticking to organic marketing at this time. People are more sensitive in crisis times to advertising. Brands need to remember this and instead conduct socially-minded marketing, where they are being a resource. Whether or not they can sell their products or services or open their stores, there is still an opportunity to engage and build long-term loyalty and customers”.
Example of Marketing with Support
In their ad, Honeybook is implementing socially minded marketing by encouraging their audience to support small businesses in myriad ways.
The power of Wit
We all could use more smiles. A witty phrase, a hidden pun, it’s a great way to delight the customer. From catchy post titles to social media descriptions or your newsletter content, the field is ripe for marketing your business in these tough days.
Example of Marketing with Humor
While Zappos mixed the pun and product in their advertising, illustrator Pink Art Machine on Instagram offered mini, affordable art commissions and a chance to pay for her root canal, that’s not covered by insurance.
The Newsette’s content delivery has always been fun to read. Even more today when it combines relevant news with witty headings, as is illustrated with their title ‘Eat your Cart out’ headline, elaborating on challenges with InstaCart’s service.
Go beyond your product
Look at all your content collaterals and use what can be useful for your customers now. They may not be buying but they are ready to be engaged.
Example of Marketing with Content over Product
Instead of promoting their product or service, Senrush is promoting content with their current ads, addressing the needs of millions of bloggers who are using this lull in business to grow their blogs.
Share your updates
Jeff Moriarty of Moriarty’s Gem Art says, “Our small jewelry business has updated all our paid ads to talk about the changes to our business. In the past, about 75% of our revenue was from foot traffic coming into our store. Off late, we have been pushing our online website and shipping directly to the customer. This technique has worked better than we expected. It hasn’t captured all the missing revenue from foot traffic in our store, but it has helped us cover labor costs and our monthly bills for the business.”
You can see their before and after COVID-19 ads here.
Carey Shook, SEO Analyst at Coalmarch is using the same strategy. “On the PPC side, we’ve updated our campaigns to include “pest control companies open during COVID” (and related), as well as adding text to the ads themselves. We’ve found great success in these campaigns.”
Reevaluate your keywords
Taylor recommends overhauling your keywords. “For wellness and therapy practices — my clients have been using paid ads for business development. We immediately shifted the search terms to focus on capturing the online therapy business.”
Baldikov agrees. “We are in the process of creating a search and dynamic ads campaign with keywords connected to remote working, as well as we plan to create banners with messages related to remote. It’s also worth mentioning that we are doing display advertising with banners for remote working call to actions.”
Need help with keywords? Ensure your Content works for SEO (and People who Read It)
Also read 20 Ways to promote your business organically, when no one’s buying.
Use Marketing resources
Shook says, “We’ve noticed that organic traffic has decreased for the majority of our clients, while paid ads are doing better than ever. As Google pledged $340 million in Google Ads credit for small and medium-sized businesses, the opportunity is present for a lot of our clients. We recommend that any eligible business apply for these credits as soon as possible.
On the SEO side, we’ve focused a lot on Google My Business. We’ve created posts for our clients to add to their listings. These include timings, what services they are (or are not) offering, and what precautions they’re taking. (We’ve also added this content to their websites.)
You can also read some more actionable do’s and don’ts for advertising strategy during COVID-19.
Get more ideas and resources to help your small business while social distancing impacts us all
Content with Context
Due to the speed of changes happening during a pandemic, it is challenging to plan your weekly content in advance. The best way to approach content is to keep the pain-points of your customer as your North Star. If they are shifting and adapting, then you do that too, and use your conversation to support them and stay top of mind. Pinterest Business Hub gives some great suggestions on what you can write about, based on what’s trending.
Stuck for ideas? How to generate awesome content and find a balance between your customer’s needs and your business objectives.
Our business has shifted to marketing almost exclusively organically during the COVID-19 crisis”, says Calloway Cook of Illuminate Labs.” Being in the health and wellness space, we are positioning our brand as a valuable resource for unbiased health information. This way, we can gain market share while cutting costs. We don’t make any posts about COVID-19 specifically, but we’ve been putting together content about various health topics. Many people are naturally trying to improve their health during this time, and we’re hoping to facilitate that with research-backed articles and social media posts.
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Focus on Organic Growth
Eulises Quintero, Content Manager at Titoma adds, “our marketing efforts are focused on Content Marketing and trying to get clients organically. With the current COVID19 situation and previous US sanctions on China, we noticed through Google Search Console, a surge in people looking for electronics manufacturing alternatives to China. Based on that data, we optimized our posts, pages, and even our slogan to match the keywords our customers are looking for.
Our click-through rates have improved, and we are getting more inquiries from companies looking to manufacture electronics outside China.”
“Since everyone is practically at home and online, this is a great time to get back to blogging and SEO”, says Fueza. “One tip is to look up some keywords in Google Trends and Pinterest Trends so you can see what keywords are popular right now. Then see how your business can tie into any of these topics.”
Carmine Mastropierro, founder of a marketing agency Mastro Commerce adds, “My clients and I are making a bigger shift towards publishing organic content as it achieves a couple of key goals. It’s more lean, and doesn’t require as much spend as PPC which is important when budgets are contracting.
Want to grow your organic leads for free? Here are 15 content tactics
Go Video Go
People are home. People are scrolling, watching and sharing. Working from home challenges, behind the scenes or even short videos addressing your community show your brand’s human side.
For us, content creation has meant creating instructional videos and related video content to engage our current club members”, says Sam White of Del Mar Jiu-Jitsu Club. This original content has bulked up our online presence and helped introduce us to new audiences. With current social distancing guidelines, searchers will be spending more time online. So the awareness and consideration phases of the sales funnel will be more important as purchasing goes down.
James Canzanella Owner of Isolated Marketing Nights says, “the most successful aspect of my organic marketing has come from creating blog posts that target long-tail keywords and videos about the topic too. This has allowed me to show up for these keywords on both Google and YouTube, netting me much more traffic. I also embed the video within the related post for those who want to watch it. This specific strategy has helped keep visitors on my blog posts much longer (which is always a good thing).
Example of Marketing with Video
Maroon Oak, we recently converted our popular blog on how to start a virtual business into a video for Youtube. ]
Another marketing channel to consider is TikTok, the video app hot with Gen Z that is now catching on with Millennials and Gen X alike. Some of the trending topics like #workdistractons #indoorworkouts etc. can be turned to your businesses’ advantage with some strategic thinking. If you want ideas on how to market your business in creative ways on Tik-Tok, see how creators are showing off their #sidehustle
Take a long-term view
Matt Seltzer, Market Research & Strategy Consultant, S2 Research says, “I do a lot of content creation in my marketing approach, and I’ve really stepped up that game now. I’ve written new articles on my blog with marketing ideas in the intra and post-Corona world. I’m using social media, email, PPC, etc. to generate brand awareness and engagement with those new content pieces. I’m focusing much more on building a presence and a bigger audience, and banking on that new brand affinity to transfer over once we figure out how the world is going to move on.”
Stan Tan from Selby’s agrees. “In this environment, we are sticking to our content marketing strategy because we know that it takes time to execute. Creating content takes much longer than people expect and the results take weeks or months to play out after you hit publish.”
White elaborates, “what this means for us is investing in the long-term health of your business through Content SEO. One thing that is great about SEO is that hard costs are very low. Time and effort are the currency here. Efforts include improving user experience, site speed, mobile-friendliness and other areas of on-page, off-page, and technical SEO. These efforts have resulted in an increase in brand awareness and more qualified customers or leads coming to the website.”
Get more clarity on how to Write Website Content That Generates Organic Traffic
Double down and help out
“In this down economy, one of the things I’m taking advantage of at the moment is content creation”, says Kevin Miller of The Word Counter. “I’m doubling my typical monthly content budget during this time because many others are slowing down. It helps me plan out the entire year’s worth of content and get it at a cheaper rate. Additionally, It feels great to give work to people who are really in need right now and allows me to feed money back into the freelance writing economy. We are publishing one new post per day and will continue to do so in perpetuity!”
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As a brand and business our proactive approach will keep us top of mind in times to come. A small business owners need to read the trend on marketing in tough times – ask what matters to our customers right now! The ideal messaging and marketing during tough times should be solution-focused and led with empathy, humanity & compassion.
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.
Wow, once again Aditi your blog is very informative. I love that “empathy, humanity & compassion” it is truly what we need in these times, not just to survive our business but also to show these to our clients and to understand what they are also going through.
I love these suggestions from industry experts. Knowing your audience and what they need during this time is so important.
Thank you.great this informations… yours ideas help
These are all great and helpful tips we need to consider. My daughter is looking for a small business that perfect this time of crisis.
Thank you very much for the article..It’s very important to make good marketing strategies during these days..otherwise wise there is high risk in falling of your business
Wow, really useful information on how to market effectively during these times. I really like the examples you provided as they are very clear to understand!
These are great tips for business in such times.
The business has gone through a difficult time this pandemic and they are turning around different strategies. Each company has its own and they are doing Trial and Error.
These are very helpful tips. Thanks for sharing.
I was just having a conversation about this with a coworker the other day. This is perfect on how to handle the current situation without losing business. Thank you!
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These are such great tips! I am saving this to come back to over and over.
I love this. It makes so much sense. So many small businesses are hurting right now and may never recover.
It is such a helpful post, especially at this time. A lot of people are looking for ways to make business successful during changed circumstances. Very well researched.
I heard things will change during these times but I never thought that marketing would change too. What an insightful post on how to market towards clients during these times.
Very much useful and real time post for guiding who are looking for new business or managing the business in this pandemic situation. Love to read and understand the tips…
Thank you. Glad the ideas help!