Essential marketing practices for small businesses
Three Critical Marketing Practices to Boost Small Businesses During (and after) the Pandemic
Marketing is typically the first to get cut in an economic downturn. For experienced marketers, this isn’t our first rodeo whether 9/11, H1N1, or the ’08 financial crisis. COVID-19 and the heartbreaking strife within our communities are much more devastating, but marketing’s principles still remain the same – getting customers and keeping them satisfied. But with budgets slashed, marketing must do more with less, while continuing to deliver and even exceed performance expectations.
This is quite burdensome for small businesses that simply don’t have the people and resources to invest in marketing, especially when they’re worried about keeping the doors open. Yet, that doesn’t mean business owners shouldn’t have the same access to support and tools that large companies do to achieve their marketing goals. In fact, there are free and cost-effective strategies they can implement now.
Are you scared, even paralyzed on what to do with your marketing, given your budgets have been slashed, customers aren’t calling, and our global and local worlds keep changing by the minute?
Essential Marketing Practice #1
Double down on customer satisfaction.
Don’t give customers a reason to choose a competitor.
Of course, duh, we all know we need to stay close to customers. But we’re in a weird “three little bears time.” Are we reaching out too much? Too little? How do we figure out what is “just right?”
If you have Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) measures, but stopped during the pandemic, find a way to keep doing it.
Implement customer surveys
You can do a free Net Promoter Score (NPS) with Survey Monkey asking three questions:
1. How likely are you to recommend us? 2. What can we do better? 3. What do we do well?
Do this immediately with new customers, when you are most at risk of losing them due to “buyer’s remorse”, and at least once a year. Then before you know it, you’ll have quantitative data on how you’re performing over time versus “gee, I think we’re doing ok.” (FYI, NPS, is a proven research method that predicts customer loyalty and future buying behavior)
Keep a pulse on customer sentiment
Have every person in the company connect with customers. The lights are on because of customers, and everybody in the company plays a role to serve customers even if they aren’t client-facing. Everyone can learn from customers and be a better vendor for them. In my W2 employment days, I made my staff call customers. They hated it, because they were nervous and afraid of hearing negative feedback:
“Hey, Aliyah, you’ve been an XYZ customer for a really long time. How have we been doing lately?”
“Hey, thanks for asking, now that you mention it, it really bugs me that I hear about new things in a newsletter. You’ve gotten so big with your automated marketing responses that you’ve lost that personal touch.”
“Got it. We will do better!”
Complete an analysis of every deal you won or lost. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t do this more often as a W2 marketing leader. This can be hard to make time for because you’re so busy, feeling disconnected from clients, and hesitant to reach out to prospects who didn’t choose your business, especially during the early days of the pandemic. Additionally, you have to be open and vulnerable as to why you weren’t picked. People? Product? Market forces? Reputation? Arrogance? I’ve had department heads tell me not to spend money or staff time on win/loss because they knew the answers explaining “I know my customers really well!” But do you?! Isn’t this an opportunity to be a better vendor? It’s a ideal opportunity to compare results pre- and post-pandemic.
Send care packages to customers
The other CSAT activity I recommend is sending customer care packages. We all are experiencing bona fide email and virtual conference call fatigue. Email boxes are simply overflowing with messages and webinar invitations, preventing folks from effectively connecting digitally with their customers.
Further, despite states lifting pandemic restrictions, many B2B organizations will continue to have remote working and travel restrictions. Yet, people are craving connections! Nowadays a trip to the mailbox to receive letters and care packages is a delight. I use a service that sends personalized cards and gifts to show them I care. You can even automate it and digitize your own handwriting, just as you would with any digital marketing platform. It’s called www.SendOutCards.com. Give it a try!
Essential Marketing Practice #2
It’s laborious and tedious, but necessary to avoid negatively impacting your brand.
For those digital technical wizards, I know this tip is preaching to the choir, one that many of you know inside and out. However, perhaps you have found it difficult to convince the bosses to spend resources on this. Getting your digital house in order is not sexy, even laborious and tedious. But if you don’t do this, it can negatively or even permanently damage your brand.
Complete a technical audit of your website and other e-platforms
Are your website meta descriptions up-to-date? Website speed lickety-split fast? Forgotten 404s? Drip campaign auto-response messaging appropriate? One of our Minnesota clients sent an email to their newsletter opt-in subscriber base right after George Floyd’s death. It said “We haven’t heard from you for a while. We miss you.” Oops that totally missed the mark. Even your cold, impersonal automated thank you messages can be buried in your MarTech platform. Update them to reflect your authenticity and acknowledge our challenging times. Don’t forget about your recorded phone messages too. And what about all of your images? Those perfectly curated photos aligned to your brand may now be completely irrelevant because perhaps it shows people crowded together. Your marketing team may push back on this, especially if you spent tons of cash on a photo shoot.
Change all images that are not pandemic friendly
Prospects will think –– “If you can’t take the time to change out a photo in your email campaign, why would I think your organization has done the hard work of adapting to our new world by addressing post-pandemic safety and cultural diversity?”
Everybody is in a rush to get campaigns out to keep their businesses afloat. But it’s even more important now to review and pausing before hitting “send”. It is much better to send an email campaign late than on time (even with everyone breathing down your neck) rather than having to deal with the fallout to your brand and business.
Free SEO technical resources
Even if you have resources – whether inside staff or outside vendors – these tools help keep folks accountable and on task.
Download the Screaming Frog app and scan your website for free if you have less than 500 pages. You can export multiple CVS files. It’s kinda techy looking, the interface is not user friendly, but it’s an amazing tool. You gotta love the name, right?!
The other free resource is Ubersuggest by Neil Patel. He is an SEO guru who disrupted the SEO industry by offering his Uberuggest tool for free. If you have bosses that are picky or snobby about the data they trust, definitely use this tool. It’s very user friendly and you immediately have actionable “to-do’s.” For example, let’s say you are pulled into an “online” meeting and get put on the spot asking “What are your ideas to grow our sales digitally?” Scan your website with Ubersuggest and respond by saying “hey, how about we boost our low wordcount web pages with meaningful new content? That will result in high SEO impact, potentially building our Google presence and boosting digital sales!”
Keep your digital house in order
Maybe you’ve already completed your tech audit early in the pandemic, but perhaps it warrants another look to address diversity and inclusion. Finally, be diligent in keeping your website accessible and secure. That’s a whole other topic, but add it to your “must do” list.
Essential Marketing Practice #3
Maximize usage of free tools.
Leverage to make up for reduced or non-existent funds.
We all work for Google whether we like it or not
Be sure to leverage free, free, free tools to complement your advertising (or lack of) to ensure organic search success such as Google My Business. You’d be amazed how many people and businesses don’t utilize GMB (as it’s referred to). You must have a legitimate physical address, even it it’s your home. It’s an easy and consistent way to build your organic Google views and searches. If you’re already doing regular social media posts, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do the same here. When people are on Google Maps – people can see all of your updates, photos and videos. Additionally, choose all the designations, called “attributes” that you can like women-owned, handicap accessible, LGBTQ friendly, transgender safe place.
Use your free Google Ads credit
If you’re a Small and Midsize Business (SMB) and already a consistent Google advertiser, hopefully you were able to take advantage of the $340 million Google gave away in COVID-19 ad credits. For one of our clients, this credit amounted to one full month of advertising! Even if you don’t meet their criteria, Google regularly offers $150 credits to get started in Google Ads.
Yes, your business must be on YouTube
It’s the second largest search engine and everybody is online right now! I must confess that as an experienced marketer, I had fought for many years against putting my company brands on YouTube because we couldn’t fully control the user experience. We couldn’t guarantee what video would follow our carefully created content. Unfortunately, we simply didn’t get the results I wanted from Vimeo and other video platforms. So I finally threw in the towel! YouTube has really improved the ease of use and SEO capabilities with YouTube Studio. When adding video descriptions, you have 5,000 characters to tell your SEO story. Plus 500 characters for your tags that can be easily copied and pasted from other videos in your channel. Additionally, you can get more mileage out of your video content by posting on Google My Business (GMB).
Utilize local platforms to tell your story
Make time to take advantage of local platform sites such as Alignable and even Nextdoor. Now more than ever, people want to support their local businesses. Make sure they can easily find and learn about your business.
Finally, make sure you are diligent in asking customers for reviews. Reviews matter to Google searches, both in quantity and quality of reviews. It is also critical to build your reputation in multiple platforms such as Yelp, Facebook, Alignable, and Nextdoor. This was painfully evident when Google suspended their review functionality last March due to the pandemic. They were slow to restore full functionality and one of our clients didn’t get their cached reviews for four months!
Does your marketing pass the stink test?
Ok, I’ve jammed a lot of information in this blog! Is your head spinning wondering how you’re going to be able to get customers back and keep the doors open? A phrase that I use often, especially in front of tough crowds such as the sales team – “Does it pass the stink test?” Meaning should we do it, does it feel right, is it what our brand stands for (or aspires to be)? If not, then go back to the drawing board and make it better.
Need a hand marketing your business?
Even during a global pandemic (and recovery), marketing and sales still have a job to do – getting customers and keeping them satisfied. Ask us how to create and implement customer-focused efforts that can help your business.
Keeping marketing accountable.
Jessica Kelley is a seasoned leader with more than two decades of marketing and finance experience in B2B and B2C channels. She has worked extensively within healthcare, consumer, commercial, and software industries in diverse environments ranging in size from a $100 billion corporation to a startup firm. Her company, HPZ Marketing is certified by the WBENC as a Women’s Business Enterprise.