5 Ways COVID Changed Small Business Digital Marketing

In 2020 we published a post about how the pandemic was changing small business digital marketing in America.  Little did we realize then that, in many ways, we were still at the beginning of the pandemic… and the impact it would have on how we do business.

So, we felt this was a good time to take another look at what we’ve seen and what we’ve learned as we’ve all dealt with the changes COVID has brought, and how small businesses have had to evolve their digital marketing.

One event. Different challenges. Different results.

Not every business was challenged in the same way. Depending on your industry and location, COVID presented different challenges… or opportunities. 

According to a January 2022 survey, over 66% of US small businesses reported that COVID had a negative impact on their business. And while it’s not hard to believe that well over half the small businesses in the country felt a negative impact, the all-encompassing impact of the pandemic makes it more surprising that 25% say it had no impact on their business. And most surprising of all, almost 10% say it had a positive impact. 

Focusing strictly on the immense impact COVID had on small business, it makes sense to look at what COVID has taught us and what businesses did to minimize the impact or, better yet, thrive in the most challenging of times.

5 Ways COVID Changed Business in America

  1. Forced to be flexible – COVID showed us that every business must have a plan for “What If….” You need to be ready to change from business-as-usual to business-unusual. And you need to be ready to change gears fast. Part of your business plan must be a Crisis Contingency Plan. We saw during COVID that restaurants who added or expanded their take-out and delivery options stayed in business… and businesses that didn’t adapt often didn’t survive.

    Your digital marketing has to be set up in a way that you can change your marketing at a moment’s notice. Whether you have an in-house “webmaster” or work with a digital marketing partner (like Hibu), you need to make sure they have a process in place to quickly alter your marketing game plan. Yes, you need to make changes to your website and Google Profile information quickly (see below), but you need the digital support to make rapid big-picture changes. If you make a change on your website (hours, for example) but don’t make the same change on your Google Profile and social media, you could leave customers confused… and confused customers look to find other, clearer options.

  2. Every business needs an online presence that WORKS to grow your business – it’s not that the pandemic suddenly verified that every business needs to have an online presence. We knew that (or we certainly should have). But COVID showed us clearly that every business must have an effective digital presence that makes it easy for searchers and site visitors to become customers.

    The pandemic dramatically accelerated the adoption of the digital business model. Customers have come to expect a level of professionalism online – ease of use, contact choices, delivery options, and more. New research shows that Amazon, Meta (Facebook) and Alphabet (Google) could make up half the total ad market in 2025, thanks to acceleration from Covid-19.

  3. In a digital business environment, your website is your business – along with presenting the products and services you offer, your site must instantly assure visitors that they can trust you. Set up your site so it’s easy for visitors to find the information they want. Make it easy to contact you – phone, text, email. And include customer testimonials on the home page of your site to instill confidence. 

    Of course, your online presence is more than just your website. Many searchers never even get to your site. Your Google profile must be correct and up to date. Make sure your contact information is correct. If your hours have changed, it needs to be reflected there. And again, be sure your Google info includes customer ratings and reviews. 

    Same goes for your social media – it needs to be up to date. If your most recent post is from two years ago, or even two months ago, people will wonder if you’re still in business. Plus, social media is another great place to post reviews. Wherever people might be looking, that’s where you need to be… and you need to make a good impression.

  4. Continuously communicate with your customers – when COVID forced business to temporarily shut down, customers rushed to the internet to get updates. Are you open? What are your hours? What are you able to offer? Many businesses added a COVID-specific message to top of their home page – some very detailed, some as short as “We’re Open.” By clearly communicating whether you were open or closed, and the steps you were taking to keep customers and staff healthy, you accomplished the #1 most important function of a business – connect with your customers. 

    Your website and social media were always your quickest, easiest way to speak to your clientele. But COVID showed us just how priceless that up-to-date communication truly is when it comes to retaining your customer base. When anything changes about your business, you must immediately communicate it on your website. Nothing is more reassuring to a customer than a business that clearly sets expectations (and then actual delivers what’s promise).

    But your digital marketing has to be more than just an open communication line with your customers – it must work as hard as your best salesperson. You can’t make customers and prospects do all the work. If a customer comes into your store, you ask if they need help. If a prospect leaves you a phone message, you’ll call them back. If someone visits your website, you need to be just as attentive. Your digital marketing needs to stay with them with email and text marketing that follows up on a website visit, call, or purchase.

    Today’s digital marketing gives you the tools to have a continuous “marketing loop” that pulls prospects in, converts them to customers, requests reviews, and uses those reviews to attract new customers… and then stays in touch with those customers to make them repeat customers. That’s what your digital marketing needs to do today. A far cry from just having a website.

  5. Make it easy for customers to interact with you – your customers are presented with so many options online that if they encounter a speed bump of any kind, it’s easier for them to simply click away and try someone else. Today’s consumer is used to having choices, and that includes having a choice of ways to interact with your business. Some will want to call. Some will prefer sending an email or text. Others, especially a younger audience, may want to use apps they’re familiar with, like Facebook Messenger. So, your website needs to offer as many contact options as you can possibly provide.

    Of course, true communication is a two-way street and you need to hear back from your customers – you cannot underestimate the power of customer reviews.

    •  Trustpilot reports that almost 90% of consumers read reviews before buying a product.
    •  Recent studies show that at the height of the pandemic, the review interaction was up by 89% – and even now that the numbers have come down a little, customers read reviews 50% more since before the pandemic began.
    •  94% of customers have chosen not to use a business based on bad reviews.

    Let’s be clear about what that last statistic tells us… yes, it clearly shows just how important your online reputation has become. Communicating with your customers, requesting and sharing positive reviews, and constantly monitoring your reputation – all are crucial to growing your business today. But, it’s also easy to read that statistic and panic, thinking that every review has to be a 5-star rating. A recent study suggests that consumers are starting to lose faith in a business that has all 5-star reviews. Consumers today expect a range of reviews – they look at both positive and negative and are just as focused on how you handle negative reviews. It’s all part of honest, ongoing communication with your customers – in fact, 89% of consumers are ‘highly’ or ‘fairly’ likely to use a business that responds to all of its online reviews.

The only constant is change

Global events like the supply chain complications, coming right on the heels of COVID, are added proof that you have to be prepared to pivot when changes occur. Digital marketing is inherently flexible – just look at the number of industries that had to go almost entirely digital, very quickly, when the pandemic began. It’s easy to pivot online. You can change your messaging, change your offer, change the way you position your company almost instantaneously. 

Hibu Can Help

Remember that you don’t have to manage your digital marketing alone. Hibu specializes on giving small businesses a single, interconnected digital marketing solution. We make it easy for you to do the steps outlined above – and with everything working together, you get better results from your marketing. Call us at 877-237-6120 or request a no-obligation call to get started today.

Michael Shapiro
Michael Shapiro
Michael is Hibu’s Sr Mgr - Copy & Content. He specializes in creating digital marketing and content that speaks to the customer and inspires a response. Before coming to Hibu, he was Creative Director for Chase and Sr. Writer/Writer-Producer for HBO.

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