A New Normal in Small Business Marketing
When a nation locks down and industries are rendered inoperable, finding alternative business income generation can be necessary for survival. First and foremost, the business owner’s concern is paying bills and staff, then determining steps to survive. It’s a time when businesses often cut back on marketing expenses despite needing it more than ever before. But today’s challenge is really a tough one; it’s learning to walk again, only this time without any legs. Easier said than done.
How Marketing Dollars Have Shifted
Pay per click advertising is all about the lead, the sale - the now. Once you stop paying, it disappears. When everything shut down, millions of businesses no longer had any use for those clicks – their business models simply didn’t support a virtual delivery method. Smart owners knew they couldn’t stop trying; instead, many redirected those marketing dollars towards long-term business building activities, such as improving their websites.
Content generation and search engine optimization, when done properly, offer long-term benefits and, consequently, have garnered the lion’s share of marketing dollars post-covid. There isn’t the instant gratification gleaned with a purchased click; however, increasing keyword search volume builds website traffic more effectively and sustainably over time.
Virtual Customer Contact
Event marketing as we knew it fell on its face. Events, by definition, involve social contact. They include concerts, theater, and any type of in-person instructional activity. Some rerouted to virtual access and others postponed indefinitely. Many ecommerce businesses flourished as online shopping became the single source of entertainment.
Yet, widespread cancellations have created online alternatives. Webinars have dominated the scene as the next best way to get directly in front of the customer.
More restaurant websites have added online ordering options. One Spanish immersion summer camp moved all its lessons online. Some manufacturers started making masks, hand sanitizer and other covid essentials to repurpose unused assets. There may not be a virtual monetization model for every business, but people are finding new opportunities and spending time learning how to navigate new platforms to lay the groundwork for future income. It is all worthwhile learning and investment.
Privacy Protection, Awareness, and Its Influence on Marketing Methods
Even before Covid-19 came along, we were queued for a major shift once privacy related legislation passed. Few are aware and most won’t know they need to act until their local chamber of commerce forwards them a warning from a member attorney. That’s how many found out they needed to upgrade their websites for ADA compliance (Americans with Disabilities Act).
It may be hard to imagine how any of your ad campaigns could be invading people’s privacy, but audience targeting has come a long way in the last few years. If you’ve ever gone to a store, returned home, then noticed you’ve been served up ads by that store’s competitor, you’ve been targeted by a geofencing campaign.
An example: Let’s say you visited Home Depot and the Lowes down the block wants to show ads to their customers. Lowes would tag mobile users who visited Home Depot within a specified time frame and capture your phone in the process. Then when you went home, your mobile phone would start using your home Wi-fi. Now Lowes can serve up ads on your home computers. When you go back to work, Lowes’ ads can follow you there, too.
So, how does that happen? When you have popular office software like Adobe collecting user information from business computers and sharing data with partners like Google, Facebook, and a long list of third-parties, there’s nothing you do online that isn’t used to classify you for marketing purposes. If a platform is free to use, you are paying for it with your data, the most valuable commodity of all.
Law enforcement uses similar tactics to track down criminals. So far, the public doesn’t seem to mind being tracked in exchange for the convenience mobile phones offer – until the privacy invasion goes too far.
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is already in effect in Europe and has wreaked havoc on marketing campaigns by requiring users to opt-in before a website can save their information. It hasn’t significantly impacted most American businesses yet. But each state has new, similar regulations pending and being aware of their potential impact on your business is essential. California currently has the strictest standards in place (the closest to GDPR standards); other states have varying degrees of severity. Someone at your company should be on the lookout for these changes coming down the pike and be responsible for compliance to avoid hefty fines.
When you install third-party pixels on your website to track website visitors and then serve them remarketing ads, your computer places cookies on their computer. When you gather demographic information through a Facebook pixel, you are gathering personal information that you may not be able to collect any longer. According to data experts, within the next five years, all marketing will be opt-in only. No more remarketing. No more scooping up user information with HubSpot. Marketing options will look completely different than they do today, and we’ll all need to be more creative to reach customers in an already crowded digital space.
Contextual marketing will increase in popularity - a technique which allows businesses to show their ads to people according to their behavior, rather than their demographics or any personally identifiable information. If someone visited a webpage selling a computer, that person showed intent to purchase a computer and would be categorized accordingly.
It’s not the first time we’ve had to tackle a new marketing platform to keep up with the trends. Years ago, few businesses recognized the value of having a social media presence. Once they did, there was a mad dash to grow followers and likes. What we face this year is a condensed version of the evolution of marketing. There is no new normal in marketing that is sustainable for long. You can only accept things will change again soon and start thinking outside the box in preparation for the next far-fetched scenario to come to fruition. Not only has the virus changed the way we do business forever; it has eternally altered the strategies we will use to find our customers moving forward.