An Open Conversation About Local Marketing During the Pandemic (Webinar Replay)

Traject COVID-19 local marketing webinar replay

Looking for local marketing strategies to help your clients during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Garrett Sussman, Head of Content at Traject, sat down with Duane Forrester, VP of Industry Insights at Yext, and Andrew Shotland of Local SEO Guide. They discussed a range of topics that focused on local marketing during the pandemic. They talked about what you can do for your clients to help them with their messaging, tone, and communication channels. There are a variety of ways to help clients adjust to our new normal.

If you have time, fire it up, and watch the whole thing:

The conversation was full of top-notch insights:

  • (5:40) How to support conferences and events you were planning to attend. 
  • (7:32) Recent changes in search volume. 
  • (10:00) Current problems with Google My Business. 
  • (15:22) Alternative services that businesses are offering. 
  • (17:41) Opportunities created by social distancing and the pandemic. 
  • (18:39) Looking ahead at vis-a-vis messaging in the coming weeks.
  • (21:42) How REI earned Duane’s business for life (can your company do the same)? 
  • (22:46) Small gestures that small businesses can make. 
  • (24:23) The importance of communication even if you’re not currently providing your normal services to customers. 
  • (26:54) Advice about eCommerce schema mark-up — if you have an eCommerce site, pay attention to this one.
  • (28:00) Ways that retail stores can pivot right now. 
  • (34:31) The value of providing services or products that are important to the consumer right now. 
  • (37:59) A quick, cheap way to provide help to clients who can’t spend money with you this moment. 
  • (41:57) Where it might be profitable for marketing agencies and consultants to look for clients.
  • (46:20) Creative ideas for people in the entertainment industry.

Don’t have time or energy to watch the whole thing? Here’s the summary.

On supporting conferences & events that you were planning to attend

The digital marketing world is absolutely full of events both large and small. Many people grow their careers through attending these events and speaking at them. Others have careers developing, planning, and running these events. Millions of dollars go into creating and launching them.

Naturally there’s a lot of stress around the fate of these events, many of which have been cancelled or postponed.

adweek marketing event cancellations
A list of cancelled marketing events via AdAge

Duane stresses that as a speaker and as an attendee, you can best support these events by prioritizing commitments. He reached out to folks at events to say, “I’m going to prioritize you as an event over anything else for future dates.” 

If there are events going on in the fall that he’s already booked, he’s going to prioritize the earlier events that are canceling now, but might have to reschedule for fall, “because I already said yes to them earlier in the year.”

If you were planning on attending an event, check their website to see if they have a virtual offering now instead. Put aside any refunded money from travel, hotel accommodations, and other expenses into a ‘future event fund,’ if possible. 

On the SEO impact of COVID-19

Duane also talked about how search volume is changing.

“44 or 49% of people said their search volume had gone down in the first week. In the second week, 60% said it had gone down. We’re going to see more of this, because people’s focus has been retrained.”

google trends hotels
google trends tennis lessons
google trends dentists

He said this has some real impact on how people will need to approach their websites in the future. 

“You’re going to see a very rapid rise in people saying: I want accurate answers. I want definitive truth. I want authoritative information.”

As an industry expert or educational resource, focus on getting your facts straight. You might want to get more involved in the content creation process as a subject matter expert, rather than leaving copywriters to do Google-fu via potentially uninformed internet research.

On the apparent problems with Google My Business

By now, most marketers and businesses have noticed that Google My Business (GMB) has been especially buggy over the last few weeks.

As of the recording of this webinar, business owners can’t respond to reviews in some cases. Some GMB profiles are reporting businesses as completely closed, even if they are offering limited services or are in fact still open for (safe, socially distanced) business. The Temporarily Closed ranking bug has been fixed.

There was a bit of back and forth between Andrew and Duane over whether this is even an issue — Andrew thinks Google’s pretty much always been screwed up, Duane thinks this is a little more worth being aware of.

Duane’s theory is that Google is moving resources around to address COVID-19. Before COVID, he believes there was a lack of human resources to monitor and improve GMB functionality.

How might the functionality breakdown impact whether people continue to trust Google for their informational queries at a local level? Duane thinks this is mostly going to be a blip on Google’s reputation, and little more.

“Where else are you going to have to go? Naturally, after [small business owners and marketers] complaining themselves out [they’ll] come back to business as usual with Google.”

Duane did express hope that Google’s systems would be more robust and able to handle things after the pandemic has lightened up.

On some alternative services that businesses are offering

Andrew shared a story about a client of his, AutoNation, a national car dealership. They’ve developed new services to address consumer’s concerns about cleanliness and safety.

All 600 locations are helping with the virus by offering a “disinfect your car service” that directly addresses their customers’ fears.

autonation coronavirus
example of local marketing during the pandemic on the autonation website

People are clicking through to their website and buying the service, via the Google My Business posts that Andres and his team have been developing to promote it. 

autonation google post

How could you help your own clients with this type of local marketing during the pandemic?

“I would go through your client list and your own product or service list and go, is there anything we can reorient to help people right now? Then use this platform [Google Posts] to promote it.” 

If you’re doing something special to account for the virus, you should promote that too. You could use Google My Business posts, like Andrew suggests or try out your social media channels like Facebook.

Duane talked about how local grocery stores in his area are individually cleaning carts and handing customers a freshly cleaned cart so they know it’s safe. 

It’s a good idea to make sure people know you’re taking those kinds of precautions.

On messaging and communications in local marketing during the pandemic

Duane stresses the need to look ahead in your messaging. 

“Right now we’re all still talking about being quarantined. We’re all still talking about the rise of COVID and so on. Realistically we need to be thinking about how we’re about to be in an era of very big change based on the rapid growth of COVID and the impact that the effect of being in an acute scenario or even increased deaths will have on people.”

He feels that people’s focus is about to change, as well as what they’re willing to put their time into. He anticipates people who are not sick or who haven’t lost anyone feeling guilty, which means even people who are “fine” won’t react the same as they are reacting right now.

He stresses that the message, directly or indirectly, needs to be, “We’re looking out for you.”

He also stresses that customers need information about what’s going on. He made a comment about waiting to hear from Delta Airlines.

“I’m a Diamond Member. What does that mean now that none of us are flying? Do I get a pass this year? Do I get to carry over to 2020? Talk to me about this!”

Keep talking to customers about how your company is responding to the virus. Use email, use Facebook, use Facebook Live. Make sure they know the answers to questions that might be bothering them or issues that might be concerning them.

Finally, try not to be tone-deaf. This is not a time to go heavy on the sales. COVID-19 can seem awkward to talk about but that’s better than telling people to “buy buy buy” at a time when they’re scared, sick, or out of work. 

On commanding customer loyalty

One way businesses can invest in their future is by looking out for both employees and customers now.

Duane shared: 

REI sent me an email that will make me a member for life with them. I will now always spend more money with them on any product because they sent me an email that said they were closing, but also that they plan to pay their staff just as though those people were coming in to work so they can still support their families.

That tells me everything I need to know about the positioning of that business. After that, I will happily pay $20 more per set of shoes. I could get them on Amazon cheaper. I won’t. I’ll buy them from REI to support that business.” 

He also mentioned a smaller business who asked him if he wanted some hand sanitizer as he left the office. It was a small, simple, elegant gesture.

“It was a shared moment. It was personal. It made me feel really good about him. And I came home and gave him another 5-star review. It’s those little things businesses can be doing.”

Advice for eCommerce

If you have an eCommerce site here’s some more technical and practical advice from Andrew.

“If you have an in-stock/out-of-stock schema mark-up on your site, pull it off.”

He says he’s seen clients who have an in-stock item see a short-term surge in the rankings only to watch their rankings plummet the moment they go out of stock. 

“You don’t want out-of-stock showing up in the SERPs even if you are out of stock,” he adds. “You can still get the click.”

Meanwhile, you can use stock notices to get people onto your email list. We’re out of hand sanitizer now, but if you’ll give us your email address we’ll inform you the minute we have that item back in stock.” 

On pivoting your business

The businesses who are likely to survive right now are the businesses who pivot as quickly as possible. 

How can you pivot? Go virtual, go personal. Can’t go virtual? Go personal and via appointment.

Duane noted that a retail store could set up specific hours where people could come in by appointment to try on clothes that have been specially cleaned.

“Help the consumer feel like you’re mitigating the risk as much as possible.”

This is a good time to talk to customers directly via Facebook Live, to get more human. It’s a good time to figure out how to offer lessons or tutorials or consulting services online. It’s a good time to figure out how to offer delivery services. 

How digital marketing agencies can provide quick, cheap help to clients

Andrew points out it only takes about 30 seconds to put together a GMB post. If you want to build relationships with clients by offering some free help,  put a couple of hours into generating a month’s worth of Google My Business posts for them. That’s a ton of value at a small amount of lift.

Another way may be by offering your “brain labor.” It might be a good time to offer complimentary digital consulting and brainstorm with them on how they can pivot their business model. 

Don’t worry about getting paid now. When businesses start returning, they will remember who helped them.

Where agencies can look for clients

Of course, you’ve got to make money in all of this too, so you can support yourself and your own family. 

Many industries are doing very well right now, and some back and forth between Garrett and Andrew revealed a few:

  • Delivery services
  • B2B Businesses
  • Grocery stores
  • Marijuana and Alcohol Businesses

Look to some of those industries to see if you can’t pick up some clients who may in fact be overloaded right now. 

On supporting fellow marketers

If you have a team, think about how you’re supporting them. They might be adjusting to a new remote environment. Many employees are stressed for a variety of reasons, including having family members and friends on the “front lines” at hospitals, making deliveries, and in grocery stores. 

Andrew suggests giving them days off, talking to them, finding ways to be supportive. “We gave everyone Fandango cards last weekend,” Andrew says. “We’ve been doing things to destress them.”

He also notes that in the Bay Area they’re putting together some sort of support network for digital marketers whose client base has disappeared overnight. 

“It hasn’t happened yet, but when it does I’d love for you guys to support it if you can.” 

Connect with our panelists

Want more of Andrew and Duane?

Catch Andrew on Twitter at @localseoguide.

Connect with Duane on Twitter at @DuaneForrester. 

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