Covid-19 might be close to over (hopefully for real this time!) but the effect it had on businesses across industries are far from fleeting. As business owners prepare to deal with an evolving global consciousness when it comes to businesses, services, and accessibilities, it’s important for savvy entrepreneurs to be able to look back and understand how local marketing has changed.
One thing to understand – small businesses had to adapt in a big way to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Barring an established nest egg, you couldn’t expect to simply shutter your doors during the surges and expect to survive. Here are a few things that changed for small businesses at the height of the pandemic, so that we can start looking at how operations might transform going forward.
The Transition to Online
One of the more obvious ways that small businesses changed was by increasing their online offerings – though exactly how depended on the niche and their audience. Going virtual was pretty much mandatory at the height of the pandemic, with businesses either changing how their services were delivered (such as the rise of telemedicine in Health & Medical fields) or completely altered their business model to perform online.
Before the pandemic, 64% of small businesses had a website. That meant that around 36% had to abruptly look into making a shift or otherwise face rapid losses during the pandemic.
(It’s worth noting that e-commerce made up only 12.9% of sales as of fourth quarter 2021 – meaning that even though it’s a worthy avenue to pursue, nearly 90% of sales still take place in physical locations).
There are a couple of tactics small businesses used to ease their transition to online in order to keep up sales, or simply mitigate losses, during the pandemic.
Online Tactic #1: Utilization of Social Media
Whether they had established pages or simply inactive ones, clever business owners were quick to make use of social media during the pandemic.
Besides being an instantaneous way to keep customers up-to-date with what was happening in their business (adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols, changing services and products to accommodate clients, a change in hours as teams adjusted), social media had the added benefit of showing customers which businesses were innovative and compassionate during a difficult time period. And trust us – that counts. According to research by Edelman, over one-third of customers switched to a new brand because of the ways they responded to customers during the pandemic.
Moving Forward: We’d expect companies that got used to using social media to continue doing so in the future. Even as stores begin to reopen, they’ll always reap the benefits of their increased connectivity with customers, enabling them to deepen their connection, covert them into long-time buyers, and offer them a more tailored experience in the future.
Online Tactic #2: Making use of Emails and Newsletters
Interestingly enough, social media and email marketing are often pitted against each other as companies try to figure out which avenue to focus their efforts on. While the answer of which one is objectively “better” will depend on your audience and your goals, it’s worth noting that during the pandemic, it’s likely that smart business owners made use of both.
According to OptinMonster, 60% of consumers subscribe to a brand’s email list, all in the name of receiving promotional messages direct to their inbox (though you can always increase your opt-in rates by offering some sort of instant value in return, such as coupon deals)
Some small businesses that previously didn’t focus on email marketing at all adopted it as their preferred method of staying in contact with customers. While not quite as “personal” as social media can be, it would enable your audience to receive only curated messages rather than having to sift through memes, videos, or comments on social media.
That said, a lot of the same formulas that win on social media during a pandemic also convert well via emails – being human, personable, and compassionate to the stresses of your audience. According to 5W’s 2020 Consumer Culture Report, 83% of customers are influenced when a brand aligns with a cause their passionate about, and 76% of customers like when a CEO speaks on issues they care about.
Moving Forward: We expect businesses to continue making use of email lead generation to keep their customers up to date on changes in operation or special promotions and deals, while some may go into more advanced techniques such as sending specific emails based on segmentation to increase audience engagement, or even offering specials specifically for people on their email list to cultivate exclusivity.
The Future of Small Business Marketing
The pandemic has increased small business’s awareness of the power of several different online options available to them. Now that the genie’s out of the bottle, we expect small business owners to continue utilizing these to cultivate a stronger relationship with their audience, which will lead to increased profits and sustainability over time.
For other businesses struggling with developing a digital marketing strategy, we expect them to either finally adapt, or start to be left behind as businesses and customers grow more used to this enhanced connection in their markets. For both business owners and their consumers, the level of communication and flexibility afforded by digital strategies will be hard to match. Eventually, you may be hard pressed to find customers that will settle for less.