Digital Marketing in the Time of COVID-19: 6 Tips for SMEs to Consider
You don’t need us to tell you that we’re living through a time of great crisis. With supply chain disruptions and citywide lockdowns, it’s like nothing we’ve lived through before. And, as if the fear of pandemic weren’t enough on its own, there are many big questions unanswered. For example:
- Will government grants be enough?
- When can we expect a new “normal”—and what will stability look like?
- Are we heading for economic depression?
Yet amid this uncertainty, one thing is clear: we must continue our digital marketing efforts. We can’t put our strategies on hold. SMEs should seek to safeguard their brands and communicate corporate values. But we should also be adapting to the times—offering reassurance, leadership, and creative advice to clients and others in our industries.
Here are some ways we can do that in an uncertain digital landscape.
First and foremost, we must keep communicating with our clients. This applies to both existing and potential customers, whatever the industry. We need to keep your digital channels alive.
In addition to your company website, it’s essential to keep GMB profiles up to date. This is one of the most effective ways to communicate new hours and policies.
Those who depend on your product or service will be looking for clarity and reassurance. So don’t leave them hanging. Directly address your clients’ concerns in a way that cuts through the noise. A Q&A email, for instance, can inspire your customers with confidence—not only in their own situation but also in you as a brand.
At least keep your homepage updated; even a generic notice of acknowledgement is better than none whatsoever.
Crucially, though, in allaying their fears be careful not to play down the crisis. Some of your clients may be dealing with loss, as well as confusion or panic. And we’re still weeks, even months away from the peak. Drawing on official guidelines from trusted sources (the WHO, NHS, etc.) can help, as can a sympathetic tone.
2. Social media
Social media lets us respond more directly to customer concerns. Whether publicly or privately, you can answer their questions in real-time as they arise—perhaps offsetting demand on your phone lines. It’ll also give you some valuable insights into how your customers are responding.
Be sure to follow best practices, though. If you’re inviting customers to send you direct messages, respond as fast as you can. Or set up an auto-response to explain expected delays. The keywords here are human connection and real-time reassurance—essential in a fast-moving crisis.
So provide updates whenever you can and think about a dedicated newsgroup. Some companies maintain Facebook and LinkedIn for announcements, discussions, and more. At the very least, they show you’re taking it seriously. We can also deploy paid media to engage a wide audience at this time.
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3. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
With traffic and conversions understandably down, there’s uncertainty about rankings short-term, says Neil Patel. But SEO has always been about the long game. Here are some ways to keep playing:
- SERPs: With search queries decreased for B2C and B2B markets, we can use this time to work on improving SERP features to secure your position in the future
- CRO: We can also look at optimising your site for short-term user experience, continuing to build trust even while conversions are shelved. This means analysing insights with the UX team, improving landing pages, and, for now, using a crowdsourced platform for A | B testing
- PR: Communicate facts “liberally and routinely”, says hotel-online.com But the same goes for any other industry. Industry-specific safety advice (without any jokes or memes!) demonstrates authority and relevance
SEO right now is all about optimising for trust. In other words, it’s about bringing the human aspects of digital marketing to the fore—not for short-term conversions but for the long-term resilience of your brand.
4. Advertising (PPC/Paid search)
What we’re seeing is a decrease in spending on anything but essentials—even online. And your advertising budget should reflect this. So we’ll need to review and suspend wherever appropriate.
Of course, many industries are in higher demand as a direct result of the crisis—so we can look into meeting that too. Or we can look at deprioritising ads for some of your products (e.g. events catering) in favour of some of your others (e.g. lunch deliveries).
Tech firms, like governments, are eager to keep SMEs afloat. Facebook, for example, has already announced its rollout of cash grants and ad credits to 30,000 small businesses using its platforms worldwide.
But whether increasing or decreasing your advertising budget, we also need to think about content—as well as timing. Ad copy should reflect the sensitive tone of your updates across other channels. And your call-to-action may need adapting to match your new hours and coverage. It’s no good, for example, telling clients to “get in touch” if you don’t actually have staff in the office.
As digital marketers, we see this time as a chance to get more creative. It’s also an opportunity to do some real good for our clients, as per this post from Aira.
5. Marketing strategies
Digital Marketing strategies are planned months in advance and generally don’t account for disasters. So we’re learning the hard way that we need more adaptable plans. But what can we do right now?
According to People Management, 39% of UK businesses have no contingency plan whatsoever. These companies and staff are at risk, and their marketing will likely be dropped.
This is a mistake.
Outreach is just as important as ever. Instead of giving up and cutting back, we need to be thinking long-term. Far from being superfluous, a solid contingency marketing plan may be the best hope SMEs have for reaching their revenue goals—not now but later based on good relations with customers.
Should companies start planning for post-COVID-19, even at this early stage?
We’ve kind of answered that question above. But what sense does it really make to plan for an uncertain future?
Well, one way or another, things will eventually stabilise. And when that time comes, some of us will be stabler than others.
Consider this: shrewd businesses in every industry are finding ways to thrive in the crisis. As mercenary as this may sound, if you’re not among them you’re liable to fall behind. And you’ll be kicking yourself later on.
Uncertainty about the future is no reason not to plan for it. In fact, the tougher the future looks the more prudent it is to plan. And for many SMEs, digital marketing will be key.