2021: A Digital Marketing Odyssey
By Susan Doktor
You can’t open the digital version of your favourite newspaper without reading about the impact the global pandemic has had on small businesses. In terms of lost income, certain business categories have fared worse than others. The airline, hospitality, and auto industries took a huge hit, for example.
Among small businesses, restaurants and retail shops closed at higher rates than other establishments. But what characteristics do COVID-19 survivors have in common? How can you make sure your business is among them?
Nimbleness Correlates to Resilience
The ability to pivot—and in some cases reinvent a business entirely—was a key factor in many businesses’ power to withstand the ravages of the economic crisis that accompanied the pandemic. Even in the hardest-hit categories, the winners were those who were quick to make changes. Fine dining establishments that staked their reputations on gracious service and ambience turned to take-out to secure their income. They didn’t lower their prices: luxury was and continued to be a brand hallmark. Retail shops that had previously relied strictly on foot traffic invested, in some cases for the first time, in online shopping technology. Ironically, the strategy of following your customer, an elemental practice even in normal times, became essential when customers weren’t going anywhere. In the second quarter of 2020, e-commerce sales were up 31% over the previous quarter, even as total retail sales declined overall by 3.9%.
Doubling Down on Digital
Small businesses that invested significantly in digital infrastructure and executed comprehensive digital marketing strategies—and did so very quickly— were more likely to survive in the new normal than businesses that continued to rely on traditional marketing techniques. Perhaps the most visible example of this has been the dramatic shift businesses of all sizes have made to employ a remote workforce. That particular change required a significant financial commitment on the part of many businesses. They had to equip their workforce with laptops to replace onsite desktops, install VPNs on their workers’ computers, adopt stronger cybersecurity measures to protect company data transmitted via home internet connections, and more. But these expenses were balanced by the cost savings that operating remotely affords.
Other investments were pretty basic. Online shoppers have grown picky and won’t tolerate a less-than-stellar shopping experience. So employing the best web-hosting service, signing up with the fastest internet service provider, and updating to a high-performing shopping cart were among the most simple, affordable improvements small businesses made. If you’re still adjusting to operating online, these are relatively minor costs that can return major benefits.
90% of Business Life is Just Showing Up…In Search
On average, Google processes in the neighbourhood of 3.5 billion search queries a day. Improving the likelihood of your business appearing in relevant searches (search engine optimisation) is one hallmark of a successful digital marketing strategy. The coronavirus crisis has made this even more urgent for small businesses. Online sales continue to rise even as consumer spending falls.
SEO makes securing a place in your customers’ consideration set possible. SEO is both an art and a science. It’s also a mystery to many small business owners. Engaging a professional firm to provide SEO counsel is often a smart investment. With everything small business owners have on their plates, delegating this critical task is one way to ramp up your digital marketing program in short order. If your business is struggling under the weight of the pandemic, speedy execution of an improved digital marketing plan may be an advantage worth paying for. If you’re the DIY kind of CEO or marketing leader, there are also many free tutorials that offer fundamental SEO instruction.
Sharpening Your Brand Touch points
Many small business owners put a great deal of effort into naming their businesses and developing their logos. But that’s a very limited—and limiting—definition of a brand. A brand is more accurately defined as everything your customers know, feel, and think about your business, including what they experience using their five senses. Controlling all that may seem like a formidable undertaking. But the opportunity exceeds the size of the task. Great brands inspire irrational and irrepressible loyalty—the kind of loyalty that can see your business through all kinds of challenges.
The great news is that digital marketing affords you numerous chances to increase the power of your brand and solidify your relationship with your customers. Every time you make it easy for them to find the products they’re looking for on your site, every time your shopping cart works like a charm, and every time you send an order confirmation, it reflects on your brand. Beyond the confines of your own website and email outreach, social media offer business owners additional opportunities to reach out to their customers at a relatively low cost-per-touch. Customers today expect to be able to learn about you and converse with you through social media, so make sure your social media presence represents you well. Frequency and currency underpin successful social marketing plans. Post often to reap the greatest advantage. Again, professional assistance can be a boon to business owners who are strapped for time.
Technology and Marketing Trends Go Hand in Hand
A few years ago, optimising your website for mobile use emerged as the new necessity. In 2021, nearly half of all e-commerce sales are made via mobile. WordPress, a tool that made it easy for marketers to create and manage blogs, helped launch the “content is king” revolution in online marketing.
Being an early adopter of new technology—or at least the first adopter in your competitive set —can pay off. It’s important to stay up to date with new technology, this can set you apart from your competitors. Live chat is one such innovation. Customers grow more impatient all the time. If you’re the first clothing retailer able to answer a question about fabric content, you may be first to get the sweater sale. Can’t afford to pay a live person to chat with customers on your site? There’s a chatbot, powered by artificial intelligence, waiting in the wings for you. As a business owner, it’s important to stay on top of tech trends. Make reading a well-respected tech blog part of your weekly routine and you may well find an opportunity to market more effectively before it even becomes a trend.
One Day, This Will All Be Over. Right?
We’re talking about the global pandemic, of course. But the vast majority of economists and industry analysts—and you can pretty much name the industry—agree that some COVID-19- driven changes in the business landscape are here to stay like working from home and possibly, a four day work week. Psychologists note that it takes about two months to form a new habit. It’s a pretty fair bet that the investment you make in honing your digital marketing strategy now will pay off in the long-term.
Susan Doktor is a journalist and business strategist who hails from New York City. She writes on a wide variety of topics including marketing, technology, and finance. Follow her on Twitter @branddoktor.