Monday, August 17, 2020

Strategic Marketing Changes SMEs Need to Make Post-COVID

After 6-months of staring at our own wallpaper, working from home or looking at the world from behind a mask, consumer behaviour has changed considerably in a way we could never have predicted. Add to this a world recession plus the UK careering toward obscurity on the world stage c/o Brexit. Factor in a national second wave (any day now) and we've got the perfect storm for change. All bets and gloves are off for UK business. Que training montage.

As marketers, this is new territory. Words like 'unprecedented' and 'marketing disruption' are 'the new normal'. For SMEs, unused to this level of rapid change and without the finances or facilities to react, this could be a blood bath.

If there's any way you can deliver or serve your customers through online channels you need to be acting on this yesterday. Amazon just had a 30%+ boost in sales. Customer intent to shop in a physical store post-pandemic has plummeted 7% in the UK. This comes in a time when the retail high street was already in distress. Empty shops are on the rise as footfall sinks.

It's time to think about how you connect with your consumers. Obviously, e-commerce and digital channels should be your number one investment. It's critical to think about (and highlight) what will make you stand out from an already saturated market and to use every trick in our digital marketer's playbook to get the best bang for our investment. Investment will have to be made and money will have to be spent - but wisely, because not everyone has that right now.

How are you going to stand out against a behemoth of online retailers like Amazon? Sure, you could join them, but could you really stand to pay the basic seller's fee of (fixed rate) of  75p an item, plus referral fees and closing costs? Add to that the bulk of people shop for value as well as convenience, so how are going to undercut everyone else? A lot of people also use AmazonPrime, meaning they want it tomorrow, so you might also have to provide what you're selling in bulk to a local fulfilment centre. In times of financial hardship people also repair or replace with refurbished items. This means you also have the likes of eBay to contend with. It's not going to be easy and there's no one-solution-fits-all approach here.

Get your own WordPress site - there's still no substitute. Get help if needs be, but your call to action could be to get people to ring you if an online shopping system isn't for you. If it is think OpenCart, WooCommerce or Magento (they're all decent for SEO). Use solid images with your staff and customers in them - humanise y'self. Get on Trustpilot and start collecting reviews and case studies.

USPs (unique selling points) are going to be critical. What can you do to stand out from everyone else? On a local level, there might be benefits to being an SME - if you can get seen to show people those benefits. Imagine, for example, the power of being a local store who can showcase their (limited-time) deals and offers in social media (to a dedicated audience), hand-picked and sourced on the doorstep, then literally hop in the company van or use a local courier to drop off what your customer wants the same day? Post-Brexit, local provenance and supporting the regional economy could well be more of a necessity than a green social issue - and being ready to capitalise on that by humanising your company and giving that extra service could be the very thing that sets you apart from the likes of Tesco home delivery and Ocado. What can you do that your big competitors can't? Personalisation? Innovation? Localisation? Specialisation? After-care? Don't be surprised if we see a resurgence in traditional values and messaging.

Imagine being able to advertise locally, free through the likes of Google Business and organic SEO, but also via low-cost ads in the likes of Facebook and on a regional level. Get those remarketing codes into your website now, even if you can't afford an ad campaign immediately, and get it collecting visitors and interested parties - Adwords, LinkedIn, Facebook, whatever's appropriate to your audience. It'll save you money down the line when you inevitably look towards online advertising, even if you're not going to use it right away.

Making smart choices about ad spend will be important. Going granular and laser targeting your customers is going to be critical. Spreading your budget too thinly is a quick way to burn funds - and many SMEs don't want to feel like they're putting all their eggs in one basket. Trust me though, knowing your audience and who wants your service or product, and having the right landing page to give them the specific information they need to make that sale, is the way to go. Again there's a power in local. Small test spends with solid targeting.

Start sharing stories. This should be on a blog platform as part of your site and within your social channels. If you sell something as simple as eggs what makes you special? Maybe you write the name of the chickens on the boxes? That gives people ownership and investment. Maybe your a small off-licence and your staff write their own personal reviews of their favourite wines and whiskeys? Local brands mean local tagging and content. Maybe you're a local greengrocer and you've bought young Sally a moped so she can deliver to people who can't get out? Do your team sing while they work? Hello TikTok. Got a cool office or get out in the field in all weather? Hello Instagram. Empathy goes both ways, and people are trusting the big companies less and less (which is probably a whole other blog post). Small boosted posts in social will get your offers and deals under the right noses at the right times. Be relevant and authentic. Be there to offer a BBQ meat pack or Bouncy Castle just when people are going to need it. Send people to your content and make the most of that Ad referral code to capture anyone who shows an interest beyond your stories. These are basic strategies that most companies can put to use, now.

It's going to be important to look at how the world is going to change. Every car dealership and service centre worth their salt knows legislation is changing and is talking about electric vehicles - by 2030 you won't be able to buy petrol, diesel or even hybrid in the UK. Times are going to change fast, and if the conversation relates to you, you need to have a voice. Watch your market and watch the legislation. Be there to pick up on the good and the bad and use it to identify your own strengths. SMEs will have to be agile - things WILL NOT be going back to normal. Talk to your customers, digitally if not in person, because in times like this going with instincts instead of facts is dangerous (and unnecessary). Right now our customers have never been more sympathetic and insight is part of what separates us from the likes of Amazon.

If you need any help with this, especially if your business is based in Northern Ireland or The Republic, give me a shout on Twitter or LinkedIn. I've been giving advice to local companies, from pubs and bars to farm shops and auto dealers - if you're not already, now's the time to get ready and this isn't going back to the old normal.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Waving Goodbye to Blighty

Just a few lines to announce I'm heading for pastures new.

At the beginning of August, things being what they are, I was made redundant at Everard Group. A bloody shame, we had such plans and I really enjoyed working with some great folks there, but this is what happens when people eat Chiroptera.

With a looming UK (nay, World) recession, a current pandemic, a change in the general attitude of the UK as it careens towards casual fascism, unemployment, and Brexit hanging over the head of the working classes like the sword of Damocles, I've decided to run for (almost) foreign shores. As of tomorrow, I'll be a resident of Northern Ireland. 

From beautiful scenery to a lower cost of living. Here's to countless beaches and dramatic coastlines. The Ulster fry. Powers and Jameson's. Friendly folks who don't mind introverts. Taytos. Brilliant local radio. Better education. C.S Lewis, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, and Gary Moore. Open fires on rainy afternoons and ancient forests to walk my dogs.

Recent politics, media bias, a lack of general education, and a swing towards general intolerance means England isn't my home anymore. I'm done.

I'm in my fifties now. Here's to the third act.

I'll be living in Co. Tyrone for the first year, job hunting in The North and The Republic for something appropriate, and filling in the gaps with contract stuff. My worldly goods are packed into a Pickfords van, and I'm heading for the ferry as I press send on this post. There's a lot that local SMEs can get from what I do, and I feel a calling.

Connect with me on LinkedIn if you're looking for advice from a digital marketing manager in the Omagh area, if you have a contract or something permanent you think might entertain me, or happen to be local and fancy a drink.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” - Samuel Beckett.