Whether you’re a marketer or a business owner, chances are you’re feeling pain right now due to COVID-19.
So am I.
We hear tales of lockdowns or at least social distancing requirements that may last anywhere from a couple to 18 months or more.
Barring a breakthrough in a vaccine, that places us all in a very worrisome position.
What do we do?
How do we survive?
Working with Clients
I’m going to be writing from the perspective of working with clients as opposed to marketing for my own site(s) alone.
If you run a business, these portions may not directly apply.
However, hopefully you find value in the discussions around strategy, or perhaps learn strategies to address similar issues in your own business.
As a service provider and business owner, I can speak to the stress of what’s going on right now.
If your clients are losing money, then you are, too.
They may need to leave/pause or scale back.
Leaving is clearly the worse of the two.
You don’t want to lose clients.
It can feel like a hit both financially and to the ego.
In the end, though, the only path is to minimize damage and be the type of person/company that they will want to work with again when this is over.
Minimizing the damage is the better option, even if not great.
I personally reached out to our clients with options and strategies to scale back.
If you do this, however, you need to outline what it will cost regarding rankings or service impact.
They need to know what they will lose, why, and hear a real strategy for timelines moving forward and how you can help them get where they need to go in the long run.
I view my clients as partners. I always have.
For this reason, when a stupid mistake on my part has cost clients wasted money in Google Ads (and I mean a stupid mistake, not testing) I’ve given free time to make that up and give them value for the money spent.
Because their pain is mine.
The same is true here.
If they are suffering, I offer to suffer with them, as a partner.
If nothing else, they will feel better taking you up on the offer than having to bring it up, and you’ll have outlined what you can deliver.
The end may be inevitable, the path is your choice.
And you can reduce the pain if you can…
Show Them The Money!!!
A final point I will make that is directed mostly to the other marketers in the crowd, is to show clients the money.
At my company we have the advantage of offering multiple services.
I’ve offered to a few clients to do a quick audit of some of their other marketing efforts (generally internally tackled so as not to step on toes), free of charge and only in areas I feel confident in, to help them isolate waste.
And it’s working.
In fact, in some cases, we’ve been able to save them in waste, more than we bill.
And that’s just from the first pass.
In doing so we solved a mutual problem.
We’ll keep working with our clients in this way through these challenging times.
Whether you run an agency or run a business… it’s where I recommend starting.
Find the waste, find what can be cut, find what can be paused, find what should be cut back, and help get it done.
Show them the money.
Strategizing, Then & Now
I’ve been to this rodeo.
If you weren’t a business owner or SEO in 2008, you may not have experience in this type of environment.
I’m not saying I have a magic ball and they’re not exactly parallel.
In some ways, this is worse than it was then.
But in others, it’s better.
It’s worse because it’s more severe, and it’s better because it won’t last as long.
I know that a few months can seem like forever (especially when you’re trapped in your home on top of stressed), but in 2008 we knew we were being decimated, and there was no end in sight.
The big difference for us now as opposed to then, is that we need to basically create two strategies.
Then we didn’t really know what we were supposed to do.
Strategy 1: Now
There isn’t really much use in a long-term strategy if you aren’t going to survive the short term.
We have clients in a myriad of different industries but one of the larger is travel.
So, I’ll use that niche as an example in approach.
One such client has a large PPC campaign.
We weren’t managing it, but we offered to help find the waste.
The first thing we did is cut their branded campaign which was driving mostly existing clients looking for information or to contact them.
Nothing wrong with that, but they’ll find them easily in the organic and conversions plummeted as the spend went up.
We added words like “spacious” and “private” to describe the beaches in the ads (both accurate), and the rentals are, too.
Language that answers the need of the user who wants social distance, without coming across as inappropriate.
- Dropped the radius targeting around them to locations within easy driving distance (they were national).
- Added bid-strategy refinements after recognizing that the situation and news are changing too fast for Google’s machine learning systems to keep up, and only through regular on-the-ground information and manual adjustments would we be able to keep up.
It’s too soon for conclusive results other than lowered costs, but conversions do not seem to be dropping with them.
The takeaway for business owners and SEOs:
Look for ways to trim the costs that get you nothing.
If you’re getting tons of COVID-19 costs from your branded campaigns and rank #1 organically, pause the campaign. Things like that.
The environment is different today, and your past setups likely no longer apply.
You will need to use some anecdotal information.
I don’t like it, but it will have to do out of the gate.
Monitor closely and adjust as necessary, but not so often you’re not giving things time to give you real, actionable information.
Will this all lighten?
Will the ads be expanded back to international?
But that makes no sense today, so save the money.
Some business owners may instinctively want to pause everything.
Certainly, if you’re a restaurant, that makes sense. But for many businesses, it does not.
Your CPAs may be higher but even if they’re break-even, that’s a win.
The alternative is that your competitor gets it at a profit.
Side Tip: Now’s also a good time to test strategies to improve your Quality Score. There are fewer clicks in a lot of sectors, and the clicks are generally cheaper.
Yes, conversions might be lower than normal, but the cost for the same testing would likely be much higher at a busier time.
Stay the course but adjust the strategy.
Onsite messaging may temporarily change to address current needs.
But, unless you’re specifically in an industry that’s advantaged in this environment like Amazon or safety shops, you’re likely not optimizing around it for the future.
And the future in SEO generally takes a while.
I’m monitoring keywords weekly for related trends for both blog post ideas for clients (so there I am watching short terms keywords, but for short term content ideas and not long term SEO strategy – something to always be doing) as well as watching for adjustments in how people might look for information in the future.
I’m not seeing much now, but I do anticipate some subconscious adjusting of the words we use when looking for restaurants, a place to stay, and most of the services and products you can’t get presently.
I don’t expect to see these trends for another 3 to 6 weeks, however – the point at which I’m anticipating seeing the peak having hit or hitting, and the arch more predictable.
This is to say that while we won’t be running into restaurants or nightclubs then, we’ll likely have a far better idea of when they might be a place we’d want to go.
And better to get ahead of our competitors in understanding when that’ll happen and what to do when it does.
Tired of reading all about how every company is working hard to keep their staff and me, their valued customer, safe.
And pulling out all the stops.
And cleaning carefully.
First – you should have been cleaning thoroughly anyways.
Second – it’s all kind of blending.
Don’t get me wrong, there may be specific questions you need to answer on social. If you’re asked it often there, answer it there.
Are you open? Are the special precautions customers need to be aware of? Those sorts of things.
Your social followers will let you know what they want to know.
When in doubt, always keep someone on messenger to answer that which you haven’t.
But for goodness’ sake, do something else.
Now is the time to differentiate.
You’ve got an audience with time on their hands, and new needs they don’t know how to fulfill.
I can’t give tips we’re giving to clients in this area, as it would undermine their efforts, however I can talk about what we’d do in couple niches to hopefully get your creative juices flowing.
I get my haircut every 5 weeks. And as of this writing, I’m into week 4.
There will come a point when I need a haircut and there isn’t a professional to assist.
If I did the marketing for my favorite barber, I’d be working with them now on a triage haircut series, for those stuck at home, covering all types of styles.
The goal wouldn’t be to turn you into a professional in cutting your partner’s or friend’s hair… but based on the specific style, how to keep it a decent length for their preference without making them despise mirrors.
Fitness Instructor or Studio
100% I’d be doing daily videos at various fitness levels to keep the folks engaged with me or my studio while they’re stuck at home, focusing on exercise routines that use a can of beans as a weight and a footstool as a yoga ball.
Basically, people still need to move and you can help them.
The perk, when this is over, they’ll remember and hopefully return.
Gyms rely on people who don’t go.
If suddenly someone doesn’t have to come back and there’s no admitting of failure tied to doing so, that’s a big loss of revenue.
So, help them be proud and give a few free months for people who engaged with you on YouTube (or wherever it might be) and followed along.
And not all activities need to be videos (though in this environment I suspect it helps), it’s just a quick and easy way to start with virtually no overhead.
I mentioned we have a travel client. And no, I won’t be giving away that client’s strategy (I’m generous with knowledge to everyone, except those competing with my clients. 😊)
Right now their social is packed with COVID-19 information but that’s because there’s a lot of regulation going on in the region, and it’s about the only thing people want to know right now… but that will end.
Soon enough the lull will hit, the guests booked at this time or the flights you scheduled for tomorrow will be dealt with.
And then what?
That will depend on where and who you serve.
What you could do is post daily tips for taking a vacation at home (only fun suggestions please).
You could create a virtual hide-and-seek and drop hints on your Page each day, let folks find the hidden locations or items, with the first to correctly identify them all winning a prize (might take that for myself now that I think of it).
Anything to give people distractions, and a positive association with your company. And ongoing engagement.
The first two (barber and fitness studio) I’d simply monetize through donation buttons and affiliate programs or ads.
Before we get to monetizing the travel example I want to suggest for your recommended reading list a piece by Adam Riemer titled, “Service Industry Professionals – How to Make Money During Coronavirus” which gets into more detail on some of what we’ve talked about here, and additional ideas.
For the travel site strategy, I’d be leaning on a slightly longer game.
Yes, you can monetize through the same mechanisms, but with our client, I’d be more prone to simply add all the people who entered and/or visited the content page to a remarketing list.
Strategy 2: Then
There will come a time when this is all coming to pass.
If my own estimates are about right, we’re a good few months away from being let out to play in a fashion at least quasi-akin to what we used to.
We’ll have a far better idea of whether I’m right in about 4 weeks.
By 6 or 7 weeks out, I should be pretty certain based on the countries that have gone before us and how they’re faring and how their attempts at less-distancing have gone.
This will likely also be the time when folks are getting really stir crazy.
They’ll have spent a couple of months with limited engagement, the weather will be getting nicer, and they’ll have an end in sight, even if it’s another month away.
This end is the more important part… because it allows folks to plan.
Essentially, you have people who have been cooped up, want to get out, can’t but know when they can, with access to the internet and a desire to have a carrot dangling in front of them – even of their own making.
The Big Change
And there’s an additional factor I believe we must consider, though I am not yet 100% certain.
Time will tell.
That factor is that I suspect we are in a very very unique scenario.
One that happens infrequently in a person’s life and it’s happening to all of us simultaneously.
As Robert Palmatier discusses in his book, “Marketing Strategy: Based on First Principles and Data Analysis” there are key points where a person’s buying patterns change from their fairly predictable and consistent ones.
Life events like pregnancy, changing cities or buying a house, etc. These are the times that every marketer sees potential rewards… and risks.
You can win big. And lose big.
As we alluded to with the fitness studio above, part of what keeps people paying their monthly fee even when they don’t go, is the shame of admitting failure. And now that is eliminated.
They’re not quitting, they’re simply not signing up.
And this example illustrates why I believe that we are collectively entering a new world of risk and reward. Opportunity and threat.
We can disrupt our competitors. And we can lose what we ourselves have.
Some of those engagement actions we discussed up in the social media section are starting to seem more important with that thought, aren’t they?
And so that will be the underlying principle driving “then” strategies.
The Reality Is…
Some companies won’t be the threat they were. They’ll mismanage their resources. They’ll not have the resources to weather the storm.
There are several reasons the competitive landscape will change.
This too is an important factor.
So lay your groundwork over the next couple of months.
Get remarketing lists set up as discussed above, listen to your users on social, use a tool like Lucky Orange or Hot Jar and record your visitors and see how they’re interacting with your site.
If you can’t afford that – simply review your analytics and see which pages people are visiting when they’re just daydreaming, but before they’re planning.
Pay attention to how the loosening of the restrictions is rolling out in various areas and what that results in.
Start your marketing into those regions as they open up (if applicable), targeting the product and services you saw them gravitating to in their daydreaming phase. Target them individually, and in aggregate.
Be sensitive in your messaging. Understand that damage has been done and you are the Phoenix.
A description including “Used To Stay With ABC Co & Can’t Now?” is obviously not the route to go if you’re referring to a company that did not weather the storm. But bidding on their brand name is.
Depending on the scenario, I might even link that ad to a post written about:
- How unfortunate it is that they are no longer able to serve the community.
- How your heart goes out to the owners and staff – some staff you might have hired as you rebuild your team.
Click costs will likely be lower than normal, so if you’re using paid and have a bit of a war chest, I suspect you’ll be able to take advantage of some great CPAs out of the gate – provided you’ve done a good job with your ads as far as understanding where your users are at, what they’re feeling, and how comfortable they are.
If you’ve kept your users engages on social, email, or other forms – you’ll have a great opportunity to pull them back into the fold.
Offer discounts if you can, because you want to welcome them back and like they do, you look forward to “gathering with old friends again.”
But It Will Not Be the Same
I am not trying to paint a rosy picture of some utopia.
Even fully prepared, there will be struggles as things return to the new normal.
People will have been out of work.
The staff you may have had to lay off temporarily, may not be there when you need them.
We may not be going right back to packing stadiums (in fact I find that highly unlikely in the next year, though I hope to be proven wrong), and we’re going to all be a little wary because things will start to open up at a time that some people will likely still be infected.
We will still be distancing, just closer together.
So, you need to ready for that, whatever that means for you and your business or your client’s businesses.
You know your demographics.
You know how they’re being impacted.
Think long and hard about where they’ll be and where your staff will be when we’re on the other side.
Make sure the marketing effort you’re putting in now and throughout is focused on the right strategy in place to serve the right product, in the right way, to the right people, at the right time.
It’s what we should always be doing.
But this time there’s almost no room for error.
And the rewards will reflect that.
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