COVID-19 and the future of local marketing header image

For over two months, our world and the way we shop, interact with others and consume media has been drastically altered. At first, fear and uncertainty struck us as a health crisis became a global pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders were mandated. Next, businesses had to adapt to new methods of operating and generating revenue to accommodate the lack of in-store traffic. And now, as stores begin to reopen in some states, we must find ways to stay safe while being around others again.

Without a doubt, COVID-19 has shaken our world and the way we live; however, there are countless examples of how businesses have shined throughout this challenging time by prioritizing their customers and quickly adapting to the new paradigm. This has been shown through new methods of operating to better promote safety, new product offerings to help protect consumers, and some even donating a portion of proceeds to help fight the spread of COVID-19 and support local communities.

As businesses begin to reopen their doors, they must consider how to communicate and market new services and safety practices to local consumers. In a recent webinar, COVID-19 and the Future of Local Marketing, our local marketing experts Krystal Taing, Director of Local Strategy, Lauren Abramson, Account Director, and Tyler Ludwig, Director of Enterprise Solutions, shared their insights regarding which COVID-related trends are impacting brands and how local marketers can prepare for ongoing or intermittent business interruptions.

The trends we explored included:

  • Incorporating online business practices into your brick-and-mortar strategy
  • Adjusting to dramatic changes in media consumption
  • Offering contactless delivery or pickup
  • Optimizing your online presence for online or phone ordering
  • Handling temporary closures, special hours, and store reopenings properly
  • Best Practices for post-pandemic local marketing
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Below, we will dive into our top takeaways from the webinar.

Online to Offline Strategy

How can brands incorporate e-commerce and other online business practices into their brick-and-mortar strategy?

Focusing on your local reporting is now more important than ever to analyze any shifts in consumer behavior. By leveraging your reporting, your brand will better be able to adjust your local marketing strategies and online business practices based on the actions you see in consumer behavior. 

Our search experts also recommend utilizing tracking parameters to see how users are interacting with both your local listings and pages. Are they clicking to call you more now to find out if your business is open? Are they clicking for driving directions now that your doors are open again? Share this information with your key stakeholders to showcase how your local marketing efforts are aiding in the customer journey and brand awareness.

What should we be focused on auditing right now in regards to performance metrics?

If you have the resources available or work with a local marketing partner, now is an ideal time to focus on keyword research. Since the onset of COVID-19, we’ve seen a noticeable shift in keywords consumers are searching for, especially for keywords related to social distancing practices such as “takeout”, “drive-thru”, and “curbside pickup”. Brands should also look at their website traffic analytics to determine the traffic that’s coming to your website and what keywords they’re using to try to find your brand, and then readjust your keyword strategy to align with these new terms consumers are searching for.

Contact-Free Services

Now that some stores can reopen again in certain states where stay-at-home orders have lifted, should brands continue to offer these sorts of contact-free services? What updates, if any, should brands make to accommodate this post-COVID way of shopping?

Although it’s promising to see the curve flattening in most states and that the economy is beginning to reopen again, there has been some speculation that we could potentially see another wave of coronavirus hit again in the fall or winter. Brands need to be ready to quickly pivot to this altered form of operations again and should continue exploring and optimizing new services they’ve implemented, such as curbside pickup and contact-less delivery. We also encourage brands to look at reviews to see how consumers are feeling about your services, implement this feedback, and then improve the services you are offering. Now is the time to be both innovative and responsible. 

For multi-location brands that have stores open in one state and closed in another state that is still complying with stay-at-home orders, attributes are a great way to communicate the services you’re offering on your listings. In the past few months, many directories have rolled out new attributes to communicate changes in services businesses are offering and are working diligently to roll these out. Google My Business (GMB) has a number of attributes, including “no contact delivery” and “curbside pickup”, to convey social distancing services. Additionally, brands can also use COVID-19 Post types as another tool to prominently showcase your changes on your GMB profile.

Example of Contact-free services

Online Presence

How can brands optimize their online presence for online or phone orders? 

As many brands are relying solely or partly on online orders, for the time being, ensuring your call to actions (CTAs) and COVID-19-related information is prominently displayed on your Local Pages is a necessity. This may entail:

  • Updating your banners above the fold
  • Ensuring your messages aren’t stale
  • Customizing services that are available by location
  • Improving the visibility of your special hours
  • Detailing your curbside pickup process
  • Health and safety regulations your business is following
  • Information on how to purchase gift cards to help support your business

As a Quick Service Restaurant, we are looking to learn how to talk to our customers during COVID. What are some best practices you’d recommend?

Now that new Google reviews are starting to surface and the ability to respond to reviews has returned, it’s imperative to spend time on your reputation management strategy. This begins with listening to what your customers are saying about your business, especially anything related to the pandemic. For example, if you are a restaurant brand and you receive a review from a customer providing feedback about your staff not wearing masks while serving them, consider implementing these suggestions as you continue to improve your safety protocols. 

Next, determine the medium in which you will respond to your customer’s feedback. Will your team proactively reply to all new reviews you receive? Will you use a COVID-19 Google Post to share your safety procedures? Will you use your social media platforms to share COVID-19-related updates you make? Once you do choose how you will manage feedback, ensure your employees are trained on how to handle these matters professionally and with care. 

Temporary Closures/Special Hours

What is your recommendation for how businesses should handle temporary closures and special hours, especially as they begin to reopen or have an expected reopening date?

There has been plenty of discussion regarding whether brands should use special hours or temporary closures to reflect changes in their operations. Taing recommends brands leverage temporary closures if they know a location is going to be closed for two weeks or longer. If you do utilize the temporary closure feature, you can use the opening date to share with customers when you expect your store to reopen and this will display on your listing. Keep in mind that you must remove temporary closures via API or manually once your stores do reopen.

If you expect your store to close for fewer than a few weeks, we recommend using special hours rather than a temporary closure. Additionally, with special hours, you can set what date you want these hours to expire, allowing for more flexibility and eliminating the need to manually update. Yelp, Apple Maps also allow for special hours, making the syncing process seamless across other platforms.

Temporary Closure example

Revenue Generating Strategies

What are other strategies local businesses can take advantage of to help generate income at this time?

As businesses grapple with the loss of income from their stores closing, they’ve had to turn to other methods of revenue generation. One tactic that has become popular and customers appear to be receptive of to help support their local businesses is offering gift cards for future services. For retail and dining brands, offering takeout, delivery, and curbside pickup has also helped to keep their doors open and support overhead costs. We’ve also seen fitness studios offer a lower cost for monthly memberships while providing virtual workout classes. For businesses in all verticals, it’s important to understand what your business can offer to adapt and overcome this temporary economic downturn. 

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