Shifting Strategies: Digital Marketing Through a Crisis

It’s been 11 years since the United States economy has seen anything even close to what we’re going through right now. Eleven years of fairly consistent growth with some bumps here and there, but nothing prepared us for COVID-19 to hit the United States and change everything nearly overnight.

While it’s easy for businesses to completely cut marketing spend in times of crisis, we in the industry look at these times a bit differently. There are hard decisions that are going to need to be made, but I’m hoping this can shed some light on strategies to explore that can get you through hard times, and come out the other side in a strong position to rebound efficiently.

  • Don’t Stop Marketing; Divert It’s Momentum

Because of social distancing measures, conferences, expos, and tradeshows are all cancelled which means a major part of many companies’ sales & marketing strategies and budgets is also completely out the window. On top of that, sporting events (both local, regional and national) and large gatherings are cancelled, drying up a lot of sponsorships that can increase overall brand awareness, whether you’re a new business or established in the market. What this means for companies – particularly the sales and marketing arms of companies – is that traditional methods to fill a lead list are on hold for the foreseeable future. 

So what’s the solution? What we suggest companies do to combat a sales and lead drought is to look at where potential customers are now spending their time. What we have observed already is that more time is being spent indoors and online. Diverting marketing funds from travel, conference fees, sponsorships, and wining and dining potential buyers and putting them towards digital marketing efforts (PPC, organic SEO, etc.) will continue to produce leads in the absence of in-person networking events. If you let your sales and lead funnel completely dry up right now, it’s going to be exponentially more difficult to fill up when the world economy is starting to move again. Don’t stop your momentum, shift it to a new medium.

  • Review your Success Metrics

Now is no time to think in short-term metrics. This is hard to hear as we see end-users start to decrease and bottom-of-funnel conversions taper off, but we still need to think long-term in this atmosphere. That’s why it’s time to consider shifting conversion metrics away from short-term wins such as form submissions, phone calls and demo requests. Instead, consider focusing on what can result in long-term results like email/user data collection, engaged website visitors, and a growing following on social media, all of which will let you stay in contact with users who have promising potential to convert in the future. This doesn’t mean that you should stop efforts to convert users who may be willing to pay for services, but with bottom-of-funnel search volume and conversions dropping off, marketing efforts can be shifted to metrics that can produce longer term victories.

  • Lean Into the Shifting Environment

Users, both B2B and B2C, are in a new space compared to even a month ago. Days and nights, weeks and weekends are running into each other and because of this, we’re seeing some major shifts across user behavior.

B2B Industry Shifts
In the B2B industry, we’re seeing more content being consumed than ever before, whether that be in the form of case studies, white papers or videos. This makes sense because potential consumers have more time on their hands, and with a lot of businesses tightening their purse strings, at least for the time being, sales timelines can be increased. It’s worth noting that for many of our clients, we’ve noticed conversion activity that used to be done M-F from 9-5 occurring sporadically at varying times throughout the week and weekend with the line between work/life balance becoming increasingly blurred.

To capitalize on this shifting environment, reconsider the goals you’re asking users to complete. Instead of hoping a user will Request a Demo or Sales Call, shift to producing content designed to collect email addresses and names, and putting in place a lead nurturing system designed to stay top-of-mind for potential buyers. When things eventually normalize, having a list of leads can make or break the rest of 2020 and how your company is positioned to grow in the future.

B2C Industry Shifts
In the B2C industry, we’re noticing some of the same patterns, but some notably different ones as well. The after-work or weekend conversions that we were once used to seeing are moving to mid-day. Companies aren’t filtering websites for workers stuck at home, and users aren’t in an environment where a boss or coworker might look at their computer screen throughout the day. There’s also a huge shift to shopping local that we’re noticing now more than ever. With “non-essential” shops shutting their doors to the public and restaurants ceasing dine-in service, now is the time for smaller, local businesses to ensure their e-commerce stores are up and running with clear messaging on their websites and across social channels. 

Speaking of social channels, the consumption of social content is also spiking across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Etsy and almost every other platform. Small businesses that have an active presence can stay top-of-mind for local customers now and in the future. Consider using your most engaging social channels in new and interesting ways, such as restaurants going live to teach how to make a famous dish or a yoga studio going virtual once a week for a beginners class catering to masses. Now is a great time to tackle the projects you’ve been putting off, even if it seems unconventional or if it might not have an immediate impact. Often is the case that in times of crisis (and honestly, in times of stability), businesses that can innovate and pivot quickly are the businesses that not only survive, but thrive. After all, Venmo, Groupon, Instagram, Slack and Uber are all businesses that were born during and came out of the 2008 financial crisis.

The search environment is changing. It sounds obvious, but keyword volume around external events like movie showtimes and sporting events are plummeting, but Instagram Live, Facebook Live and Zoom are skyrocketing.

People are hungry for content – not just written, but live content, videos and how to’s, and DIY/at home projects.

  • Revisit your Content Strategy

If it hasn’t been clear, search patterns are changing drastically. We’re noticing extreme volatility in keyword volumes; and using tools that look at search volume averages over the past couple weeks, months or years are going to be behind the ball. To stay on top of changing search trends, there are a few (free) tools that we would suggest using to shift your content strategy.

  1. Using Google Trends, you’ll be able to uncover terms that might be spiking in search volume. While it might sound obvious, you can find great keyword opportunities that may be relevant for mid-funnel conversions that can be nurtured for future ROI.
  1. Google Search Console also has up-to-date trends that represent how user behavior is changing. The plus side to using Google Search Console (GSC) over Google Trends is that GSC shows keywords your website is already ranking for. It might be a good time to revisit old content that is picking up new search terms.

  2. If possible, try and speak with a few of your customers. This doesn’t need to be a phone call – you have platforms like Google My Business, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or any other channel you’re commonly found on. If there are common threads you’re seeing, try and get in front of search trends! If your business can be one of the first authoritative voices on a topic that will be seeing keyword volume rising, you’ll be able to position yourself ahead of the curve.

I can certainly understand how the day-to-day change in business dynamics can be overwhelming, but now isn’t the time to shut down all marketing. Unforeseen hurdles are part of every business’ existence. The adaptable will survive and the current crisis is a new opportunity for creativity, fresh ideas, and new strategies to maintain your momentum. You can capitalize on that momentum when things get back to normal – because they will get back to normal.

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