From content strategy and SEO to crisis communications, budget allocation, and local search rankings, multi-location and enterprise companies are seeing their entire 2020 marketing strategy upended. What does the future hold for brands experiencing business interruptions and dramatic shifts in consumer behavior due to the Coronavirus pandemic?
We assembled a panel of local marketing experts to explore the most impactful trends, challenges, and opportunities facing brands right now—and how they will shape marketing strategy in the months to come. Joshua Titsworth, SEO Manager at Vizion Interactive and Miranda Miller, Content & Digital Marketing Strategist at Miranda-Miller.com joined our own Krystal Taing, Director of Local Strategy and Mick Wilson, Vice President of Customer Success here at Rio SEO, for an in-depth discussion on how businesses can best set up now for post-pandemic success. Watch the full recording here.
What can brands do to support their long-term initiatives? While we don’t know quite what a post-COVID business landscape will look like, there are steps brands can take now to combat the uncertainty.
As of March 25, 95% of people said they were avoiding public areas and there has been a drop in discretionary shopping. What do these rapid changes in consumer behavior mean for brands and agencies?
There’s been a complete change in how we do business. Six months ago, you may have had your campaigns and content calendar plotted out for the year ahead. Today it’s critical that brands are set up to collect and analyze customer data in real-time, in order to remain agile and in a position to respond.
This is also a great time to embrace video and mobile. Both have been on the rise for years now and if you haven’t adopted it, you’re already behind. Get creative and start experimenting with video and mobile—and perhaps other mediums you haven’t tapped into yet.
With massive shifts in demand varying by industry, how should enterprise brands be managing their marketing budget right now?
Use your analytics and external tools such as Google Trends and other tools to inform the decision you’re making about the business. We’re seeing major shifts to curbside pickup and contactless delivery, particularly in retail. Brands who may have been behind the curve are having to adapt quickly as this has become the new normal. This could very well be a permanent shift.
Now that the initial panic has settled somewhat, brands are having to find new ways to make budgeting decisions. The current pace of change and overall environment of uncertainty means brands must be positioned to allocate their marketing budget in the most logical and creative ways possible. For example, deciding to cut the SEO or PPC budgets as a cost-saving measure might make sense on its face. But the brand could realize better long-term results by reallocating PPC spend to content promotion, in order to build an audience that can be used for remarketing in the near future.
Where organizations may have taken six to nine months to make a decision before, that just isn’t possible right now.
What supports and advice can we offer brands who are perhaps struggling to prioritize, especially where revenue may be down right now?
Invest in SEO improvements that were once recommended but, for whatever reason, were given a backseat to other priorities. Technical implementations and navigational updates may have been put on the back burner, but brands may now have the time.
Capitalize on highly visible, low-cost content formats such as Google Posts to share important messaging about how your business is adapting to customer needs in the time of COVID-19. Leverage your email list and communicate regularly with your customer base. Customers are looking to brands right now for leadership, guidance, and support.
What impact does COVID-19 have on our content strategy and publishing? Should brands be communicating more or less? How do you create content that stands out?
Ipsos has recently reported that only 4% of consumers believe that brands should stop advertising due to COVID. Seventy-four percent want to hear from brands, so long as the information is helpful. This presents a great opportunity for brands to connect with relevant, useful updates, building their audience and helping their customers in the process.
Focus on the benefit to your customers—it’s all about what people want to hear, not necessarily what you want to say. Where possible, make sure your communications are locally relevant and focused on the communities you serve.
Highlight the new ways you’re meeting customers’ needs. In the financial industry, for example, mortgage rates are low right now. But how can you serve customers remotely or with as little contact as possible? Banks are setting up virtual consultations and other types of remote service that may have been used before, but not widely adopted. Curbside pickup may have been an experiment or a test in select markets last year; today, it’s the preferred service method for many.
As you develop these new ways of safely serving customers, make sure you are communicating them. Help your customers learn how to do business with you throughout this pandemic.
We were told that Google Posts would become more visible due to COVID-19 but aren’t seeing this in our category. Is it only for certain verticals?
The only Google Posts that are more visible are the COVID-19 specific Posts, and the update mirrored the way the Offers-type post was enhanced in mobile. It
should be available to every category where Google Posts were already available. If your category was missed in the update, keep an eye out as it may be rolled out in future. You can post in the Google My Business forum about it, if you’d like.
What advice do you have for restaurants and other foodservice businesses trying to cope with Coronavirus-related business interruptions?
The National Restaurant Association has released a number of helpful resources for foodservice professionals and brands. Depending on the type of business interruption, companies may have switched to curbside pickup and delivery, or may be shut down completely for an indeterminate amount of time. In any case, you can find COVID-19 resources for restaurants by state, business continuity tips, financial advice for restaurants seeking COVID-19 relief funding, and more on the NRA website.
Offering a limited menu can help restaurants with reduced staff remain open and viable. NextDoor, Facebook, and your GMB profile are great places to keep your hours of operation and other critical service information updated. Think about social, community-based ways to promote your availability.
Restaurant brands can also help customers feel safe doing business with them by sharing the most up-to-date recommendations and information from reputable sources such as the WHO and CDC. Write a blog post, share a video to your Facebook, and put out a Google Post letting customers know about the steps you’re taking to keep them safe.
What updates or content should multi-location brands incorporate in their Local Pages?
Update your Locator and Local Pages with important information about your hours of operation, methods of payment and pickup or delivery, and more. Put this information above the fold and display it prominently. Highlight services such as video conferencing and curbside pickup that are relevant to the COVID-19 situation and your altered business model. Plan to update these pages again as the situation changes to keep them evergreen.
How important is it to craft content or messaging now that will dovetail into campaigns that are paused or the campaigns we’ll have in future?
This is a great time to build out content and increase your production. Right now, you could be doing interviews, creating videos, writing blog posts and getting ahead of the curve.
Don’t stop publishing now, either—you can always promote content later if you don’t have the budget to pay for promotion today. As you continue publishing that unique, optimized, quality content you’re giving Google that much more material to consider as the algorithm seeks out the best answer to each and every query.
This could be the time to do a content audit, as well. Go back over your existing body of content and use your analytics data to find new opportunities to update and refresh content. Add new, relevant information. Change your calls-to-action to point to more recent offers. Maximize the value of the content you’ve already created by investing the time now, and it will pay off in the months and years to come.
How can brands best communicate COVID-related updates to customers on Facebook and GMB?
Use the special “COVID-19” updates format on Google My Business. Be aware that these posts decay quickly and you will want to republish updates every 4-5 days. Tap into local Facebook groups and pages in the communities in which you do business, as well.
Will marking a location as closed impact its ranking post-pandemic?
It is highly unlikely that marking a location as closed due to COVID-19 will impact the location’s ability to rank in the future. However, brands should take advantage of the “Special Hours” feature in Google My Business (or via the API) to publish modified store hours. Google has prioritized the publication of Special Hours over regular hours updates.
When it comes to temporary closures, evaluate your needs on a week-by-week basis. Keep communicating these updates across all channels to your customers.
Let’s talk about recovery, because one thing we do know for certain is that governments and health agencies are planning to loosen restrictions as we either find a vaccine or develop immunity to COVID-19. We don’t know what that will look like, or when it may happen. What do you visualize for brands three or six months from now? Will we see the return of foot traffic and revenue, or might consumer behavior have adapted to virtual?
It takes an average of 66 days for a person to acquire a new habit, according to consumer psychologist Paul Marsden. Coresight research also tells us that 47% of consumers expect the new shopping behaviors they’ve adopted to stay with them after the current shelter-in-place recommendations and requirements ease up.
The issue for brands is that we really don’t know yet which consumer behaviors are going to stick. It’s more important than ever brands are set up to get a clear view of consumer insights in every location, across the brand. Social and search data are key to furthering our understanding of how to best serve customers as this situation evolves. Brands will be able to see exactly what has worked and how customers have responded to curbside pickup, online ordering, delivery, and other quick pivots.
Brands will need to revisit the priorities they had established heading into 2020 and potentially reprioritize or even revisit their entire strategy as these learnings are incorporated. Clear communication and letting your customers know what has changed and how you’re adapting to it is going to be vital.
Are there SEO considerations for right now that will help us now to prepare for a post-pandemic return to business-as-usual (even if it looks somewhat different than it did before?)
Content is more important than ever. The content you’re developing should be flexible and easily updated, so that you can keep it fresh and also maximize its evergreen value.
This is the time to really get your marketing house in order and implement the initiatives and fixes you’ve wanted to do but haven’t had time for. Maybe this is the time to develop that app you conceptualized last year, or to rethink your customer’s journey and craft new buyer personas that better reflect new consumer behaviors.
Another impact of the Coronavirus pandemic will be the realization among many that SEO data is integral to all facets of the business, not just marketing. There are so many different types of insight gleaned from search data; it really is the voice of the customer in many ways. That perspective needs to be represented not only when brands are planning website updates or developing content, but when making changes in operations and other major business decisions, as well.
What tips do you have for brands that are trying to innovate and adapt in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?
A lot of the traditional barriers to innovation have disappeared, or at least been dramatically reduced. We’ve talked for years about failing fast and quickly testing new service models and ideas, but conditions now are unlike ever before—consumers are willing to give these new processes a try. What matters most is that your brand is in position to accurately measure the impact of each initiative, and to adapt quickly to what the data is telling you.
This is the time to resurface ideas that may not have gained traction in the past, run them up your decision tree, and see what decision-makers think today.
Be patient and understand that this is a learning curve for everyone. Don’t worry about overcommunicating—consumers want to hear from you!
Visit Rio SEO’s COVID-19 Resource page for more helpful articles, expert webinars, third-party platform updates and other information to help your brand navigate local marketing during the Coronavorus pandemic.