Over the last four months, the entire planet has undergone a life-changing crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic swept through nearly every country and major population hub. The illness, the travel restrictions, and the stay-at-home lockdowns impacted many businesses financially and have changed digital marketing strategies and the global community in ways that are likely to be permanent.
Now, in the summer of 2020, we have hit something of a mid-point. The new normal is rolling around and if we perfect virus-containment methods now, there might even be a post-COVID ahead.
But what does all this mean for local businesses? This is the question we ask ourselves for every major event, and COVID is an especially important issue to broach.
Local businesses have been among the hardest hit, largely due to a reliance on in-person patronage. However, local businesses are also in the perfect position to adapt and reopen using new digital marketing strategies and no-contact methods. Your customers are still nearby, and, in fact, they need local businesses to help them stay indoors and safe.
Let's explore three key questions on the minds of local business owners and strategists about how to use digital marketing strategies to rebuild your local customer-base and revenue.
1. What digital marketing strategies can our business use to encourage locals to shop with us again?
The first pressing concern we’d like to address is what your local business can do as part of your digital marketing strategies to attract local customers again. Across the nation, people have stopped going to stores and restaurants and have stopped calling for in-home services to minimize contact. Now that we understand the new-normal and how to stay safe, it’s time to bring them back in.
Locally Optimized Website
The first thing to do is build a website if you don’t already have one. Your website is the foundation of everything you do online.
Ensure that this website is the face of your company now and a portal to client services and resources moving forward. Make sure the website is locally optimized for both users and search engines, as it’s imperative that potential clients are able to find you when they do a local search. Then add vital tools to the website such as e-com functionality including BOPUS (buy online, pickup in store) and chat.
From there, what marketing steps can you take? The top three are blogging, social media, and email; all approachable and affordable for any small or medium local business.
Blogging creates web pages that will win search results from local clients. Write what you know and what your customers want to read about. We suggest writing at least one blog about each type of service you offer, also mentioning your city, region, or service area neighborhoods for local SEO value. Write high-quality blogs that provide useful information and/or entertaining stories relating to your industry, business, and local community.
Social Media Campaign
Social media is another form of inbound marketing with a different algorithm of exposure. Create a social media account for the brand and begin posting regular uplifting thoughts relating to the industry.
Share funny pictures, inspire discussions, or just share interesting news about how your local business is preparing to reopen with new-normal policies and customer safety at the forefront. While organic reach on social media has been severely curtailed, engagement is the name of the game. So, create social media content that will encourage engagement. One such way is creating video content. Even if it is ‘raw’ and unpolished, people love and engage with video more than any other content form.
Email your customers. Email is essential when rebuilding a customer base after an interruption like the recent lockdown. Let each of your customers know that your doors are open, and your team is back in business after a brief lull. Make sure to inform them of updated safety protocols designed to ensure both theirs and your staff’s safety.
Do not over-saturate, but make sure you touch base with anyone on an email list with something uplifting, informative, and encouraging of returned patronage.
2. Which steps of a digital marketing strategy are important to take first?
In all your options, there are some steps that should be taken first as the foundation of all digital marketing strategies. These digital methods are essential not only to regaining the attention of your local audience, but also converting that attention into new business. With all the following strategies, remember the central theme here – communication is vital and key to your rebounding successfully.
SEO Optimized Website
As we mention above your website is the foundation of your presence online. Make sure your website is locally optimized, and, considering the COVID concerns, includes the following features:
Homepage COVID Policy Banner
On the homepage of your website, add a banner announcing that your company has adapted to the new COVID safety requirements and that every service will be done with these precautions in mind. Essentially, this banner lets local online visitors know that your company is awake and ready to serve, unlike other brands that may have gone dark or failed to adapt their strategy. Have that banner link to a dedicated COVID FAQ or protocols page on your website detailing all your updated procedures as it relates to the new normal.
It is essential that your website make it possible for customers to order online. Whether you provide in-home services or delivery goods, customers won’t come into the store and peruse like they used to, but they will shop and make orders through your website. So, transition your merchandise to an e-commerce directory, provide an interactive takeout menu, or add a service scheduling tool to your website and feature it front-and-center.
One method that has grown popular and has proven successful is Buy Online, Pick Up in-Store or BOPUS / Curbside Pickup. Make sure to inform customers of this option should you chose to provide it, both on your website and important business listings
Put yourself on the map; the only map that matters. Make sure your business is marked in Google using the GMB (Google My Business) platform. Take control of and optimize this free location and business listing if you haven’t already.
Fill out every data form and optimize your entry so that it is ready to convert. List your current hours so that Google recommends your business when you are open. If customers can schedule appointments or services, integrate the booking widget. If you serve food, connect Google to your online menu and delivery services. Load up your best images.
Google will help local customers find your business when they search for services using the search engine or Google Maps exclusively. The more integrated, the better.
Claim & Update Vital Business Listings
Aside from Google My Business, there are additional business listing sites that should be updated with your new COVID policies and procedures. Core listings include, Facebook, Bing, Yahoo, Apple Maps, Yelp and any industry specific sites as well.
In-House or Outsourced Delivery
Customers may be unable to come to you, but you can go to them. If you don’t have the staff or resources to provide delivery in-house, then partner with one of the gig-economy teams like DoorDash or Postmates to deliver for you. Being on the platforms for delivery services can also win you some extra business, at the cost of commission.
3. What can a service area business (SAB) do online to provide safe on-site services?
Service-area businesses that provide services for clients in homes and on-site are facing unique challenges for new-normal safety. In many cases, the business model changes very little to ask technicians to wear masks and gloves while working on-site, but clients need to be informed and assured that their services will be safe. You can help make these services safe and reassure your clients through a few select digital marketing strategies.
Develop & Publish New No-Contact Service Policies
Put together a new concrete service safety plan. Define when your team members will wear gloves and masks, and when those gloves and masks are changed. Define how PPE will be provided and the protocols for keeping both employees and customers safe during on-site services.
When the policy is complete, publish it and link to it in your homepage COVID banner so that customers can see how you will be protecting them.
Provide for online service scheduling. Add a scheduling tool to your website hooked up to your company’s calendar so that clients can schedule their own services without an in-person talk. We also advise adding a live-chat feature so that clients can talk to someone and build a schedule in this way.
Provide Remote Consultations
Consultations for on-site services often happen in person, but they don’t always have to. Hold video meetings with clients and even visually inspect a situation before arriving in person to limit the in-person contact between employees and clients.
Outline What a New Safe Service Looks Like
Write a detailed day-in-the-life style example of how a new COVID-safe service is performed. Give your clients a play-by-play so they know what to expect.
Share Pre-Service Safety Tips with Clients
If there is any way that your clients can prepare the house, site, or themselves to be safe during a service, let them know. Share an information page on your website and/or send an email to clients when they schedule a service. Advise them on wearing personal protection, cleaning up before the service arrives, and keeping the family in a separate part of the house to minimize contact.
Accept Digital Signatures & Payments
Lastly, enable your customers to sign paperwork and make payments through digital means. This allows for remote conclusion of your business and no need for contact through clipboards and pens.
The recent lockdown isn’t the end of local patronage, it just means less foot traffic. By connecting and communicating with your audience online and providing many safe, remote resources for no-contact service, you can rebuild your customer base and your local business can thrive in the new-normal.
LocalBizGuru specializes in helping local businesses build awareness, traffic, and revenue with your surrounding community. Contact us today for more insights and tips on digital marketing strategies that help you thrive both online and off in any business environment we face.
Remember, we’re all in this together, and we’re here to help in any way we can.
Nachum Langsner is the Co-Founder and CMO of LocalBizGuru. He has over 10+ years of experience in the SEO industry and is a frequent presenter and instructor of SEO seminars for entrepreneurs and small business owners in the Greater Cleveland area for organizations such as Jumpstart, the Better Business Bureau, COSE, Score and the Ohio SBDC at CSU.