The past few weeks have been a difficult time for many businesses and now the UK is in lockdown for the foreseeable future, businesses need to adapt to how they deliver their services, and to how their customers lives and habits have changed.
This article looks at some actionable marketing advice for businesses during this time and how you can manage these changes.
Keep your customers informed
Many businesses across many industries are now temporarily closed and have no way of serving their customers - e.g. bars, restaurants and hotels. While all of your customers certainly know this right now, it's worth posting an update to your social channels and website to let them know what the future holds. It's a difficult time, but many local businesses are important to their communities, often more so than the business realises. Some businesses have even dedicated their social channels to supporting other local businesses during this time.
For businesses who can continue to operate remotely or deliver their services online, it's important to let your customers know that you're still there. We've recently sent an update to our clients to reassure them we're all working remotely and progress is continuing on their projects and their hosted websites will continue uninterrupted. For many, the thought of those things probably wasn't high on their list of concerns right now, but a proactive reassurance was welcomed and it helped remove a back-of-the-mind concern.
There are a few ways you can go about keeping your customers informed:
If you maintain an email list, it's a relatively simple thing to email your customers and give them an update. You don't need to write an essay or go into too much depth about the situation - we're all in the same boat, so everyone understands. A simple email to inform them about any changes to how you will be delivering your product or service is all that's needed.
Depending on your business, your customers may frequent your website regularly, so having up to date information about your situation is useful. For example, for ecommerce sites, manufacturers or solicitors it's good to let potential customers know if you are still able to take on new work, and if there's any change to how or when the service will be delivered.
This is just about managing expectations. There's so much unknown right now, having a bit of clarity is really useful.
One example of this we've seen recently is a notification in Google Ads. It's just a simple message that says new ads may take a bit longer to get approved. Simple, entirely understandable and all that's needed. It means if we’re adding new ads and they don't get approved right away, we don't need to be concerned about it, and it also means no one will be inundating their support channels asking about it. The last thing any business needs with diminished capacity is an increase in workload!
For many businesses, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Linkedin can be the main channels that they have direct contact with customers, so they're really simple ways to keep people up to date.
Consider this - if you are still able to deliver your service, but there hasn't been a post on your Twitter feed for a while - what does that look like to a potential customer who checks there before putting an enquiry in?
Google My Business
Google My Business is where you manage your local listing on Google (the results that appear on maps and have reviews). There are a few changes to how this works that your should be aware of:
- Reviews are paused for the time being. Customers can't add new ones and you can't respond. So no need to spend time on this right now.
- The Q&A feature has also been removed.
- You can update your business hours and description. This should be used to update your customers with any operational changes.
- You can still add posts. Share your blog post announcement, but be aware some people are reporting delays in posts getting approved.
- There's a temporary change to naming policy. Businesses can now update their names to include "(Delivery Available)".
That last change is interesting. It's a quick policy change to allow restaurants and other retail businesses to indicate they can deliver. This is really useful as it means it will be displayed on your map listing. However, we've yet to see any listings showing this in live results, so it's possible it hasn't been adopted by businesses or rolled out yet.
What more can you do for your business?
It's difficult for business owners to think about the long term while the short to mid term is so uncertain. In the past week, the Government has offered some relief for businesses and we would hope the upcoming weeks will offer more certainty.
For businesses that are still able to deliver their service, and those that are reassessing how they do business and perhaps exploring more digital options, here are some tips about making digital opportunities work for you.
Assess your digital strategy
We would argue that many businesses, even those with a solid digital presence, could be doing more on that front. On a normal day, most would like to but can't find the time or allocate the resource to do so. But these aren't normal times, are they?
On one front, consumer behaviour has seen a seismic change in recent weeks - something that may evolve over time, but we believe we will see lasting changes to how people interact with businesses or how they search for products.
On the other front, many businesses are shifting their operations online - that's a range of new competitors entering the market or existing competitors changing their approach.
If you do business online at all right now, even if you change nothing it's possible that your market will shift around you. This is a good time to take stock of your approach and consider your route for the next 12 months.
Keep an eye out for grants and other opportunities from the tech platforms
Facebook are about to announce a $100 million cash grant program for businesses affected by Covid-19. We only noticed this at the start of this week and there are no details about who is eligible yet, but there is an email sign up form for more information.
The ad systems run by Facebook and the other tech giants like Google, Bing, Pinterest and Twitter are ready-made to offer some free cash to businesses. We're not certain if they will all go down this route, but it's possible where one leads, the rest will follow.
Google in particular already has this functionality available via their charity ad grants program (which is also a great opportunity for charities - check it out if you haven't already).
Consider this - ad spend on these platforms is big money, but surely their spend is diminished right now? It costs next to nothing for them to offer millions in free ad spend.
If some free ad spend does become available, then it's worth using - if not to generate sales, then to get a message out to potential customers.
Updated 7th April
Since we posted this blog post, there have been further grants and schemes devised by tech platforms to help businesses in the wake of Covid-19. We wanted to share these with you so here is an updated list of grants and opportunities are available for businesses.
Of the $800+ million that Google has set aside to help businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic, $340 million of it is being put towards making Google Ads credits available to all SMBs with active accounts over the past year. As mentioned earlier, free ad spend is a great way to help you generate sales or get a message out to potential customers.
Credit notifications will appear in their Google Ads accounts and can be used at any point until the end of 2020 across our advertising platforms. They hope that it will help to alleviate some of the cost of staying in touch with your customers. More information about the Ad Credits can be found here. here.
The social networking app Bumble has is offering 150 grants of up to £5,000 to small businesses as part of its global initiative: The Bumble Community Grant. Small businesses can apply for the grant through one of their apps, needing to ‘match’ with the Bumble Community grant profile and submitting a nomination.
Grants will be awarded across the world, including the UK. Users of the Bumble app can also nominate a local business in need. For more information, check out Bumble's Twitter posts.
From now until the end of May, Moz are offering courses in their 'Moz Academy' free to all. There are courses covering all aspects of SEO, including:
- SEO Fundamentals
- Local SEO Fundamentals
- Keyword Research
- Page Optimization
- Backlink Basics
- Reporting on SEO
Moz hopes businesses and individuals "can use this resource to level up your skills, learn a new discipline, or simply channel your energy into a productive distraction".
In order to take advantage of this great offer, log in to your moz.com account (or sign up for free if you don’t have one) and use the code “wegotthis” at checkout to redeem your training.
Last year, the Government unveiled the NHSX initiative, created to lead the digital transformation of public healthcare services across the UK.
In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, they have unveiled their latest project, TechForce19; a new £500,000 funding pot for 'innovators' to find new ways to fight the effects of social distancing and working from home.
If you are a UK tech business and are developing such tools and solutions that could help those in need, you can apply to receive funding of up to £25,000. To find out more about TechForce19, click here.
Float, a Scottish company who provide cash flow forecasting software are offering an extended trial until June for small businesses affected by Covid-19. The software is designed to help small businesses using Xero, Quickbooks Online or FreeAgent, better understand their cash flow position during the coronavirus crisis.
Engage with your social channels
Social channels are a bit of a mixed bag - their use is really situational, so it depends on your type of business whether it's worth focusing on the channel. But if your customers do engage with social channels (either yours or your competitors), then spending a bit more time than you could normally engaging with people can be a great thing for a business to do.
It may even be the people you are engaging with are competitors and colleagues rather than customers, but that can be positive too.
Plan all the things
You know as well as we do there's a bunch of stuff you've had in the back of your mind but never really had the chance to properly move on.
This could be a good time to get your team together (figuratively speaking) and brainstorm things that may have previously been put on the back burner. For example:
- Content ideas - what more could you be doing on your website?
- Brand identity - what does your brand mean to you and your team?
- Audit your services - what could you be doing differently?
- Community support - what can your business do to support your local community?
- Review your analytics - gain a better insight into how people interact with your digital properties.
There are loads of free or low cost resources out there that could add value to your team and your business.
- Google Garage - free training and certification for Google products and general marketing skills.
- Udemy - lots of low cost courses relating to marketing (and other things).
- Business Gateway - their workshops have been converted into free webinars due to Covid-19.
- Digital Skills Scotland - free training courses for individuals and businesses.
- Free Courses in Scotland - more free digital courses with topics ranging from mental health to teamwork.
- OpenLearn Scotland - a range of free courses from the Open University.
- Digital Business Academy - free business and personal development courses.
And of course, there's you and your staff. Your business already has a huge amount of specialist knowledge within it, but how often do you take the time to share it? You may even find that team members take to evolving roles and bring previously untapped skills and knowledge to the table.
Let us know on Twitter about how your business adapting to these changing times.