“These are unprecedented times”. How many recent blogs, news articles, media quotes and social media posts have you read that have contained those words? It is true though and it is where we are now.
The awful COVID-19 pandemic which has claimed too many lives has forced people to stay and remain at home. People have been furloughed or lost their jobs and schools, restaurants, bars, and shops have been forced to close doors. The impact on the economy has been catastrophic and there is no doubt that the business landscape is a fluid situation.
It's incredible to look back on what things were like in Ireland and the UK only a couple of months ago as we try to envisage what the new normal will look like in the future.
To put it simply, things are changing all the time.
One area to look at is the seismic shift in the sales and marketing practices over the past few months. Organisations have had to become more agile, traditional practices have been scrapped and new ways of communicating and working have had to be found. One thing is certain, business will never be the same again and that's not a bad thing in some cases.
So let us have a look back at what has changed since the outbreak. There are also some helpful, credible reports, free resources, and websites at the end that will hopefully benefit business owners.
1. Video is the New Normal
We’ll start with the obvious one first. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Google Hangouts have come to the fore. Physical meetings, Trade Shows, and Business lunches are now, temporarily put on hold. Business travel is no longer achievable, so millions of video conference calls are being conducted across the world on a daily basis.
Zoom has been one of the beneficiaries of this ‘new normal’. The platform has seen an increase of 15% shares as the outbreak continued to impact on US Business Operations. In the last week of the week of March, Microsoft Teams gained more than 12 million daily users in one week. That’s an incredible 37.5% increase.
With the surge in usage on these platforms, this has heightened the security measures put in place on these platforms. ‘Zoom Bombing’ would not have been a well-known term two months ago however we now know how swiftly Zoom had to work to counteract hacking and security breaches on channels.
2. COVID-19 Related Terms Are Performing Better
Have you felt that your post engagement levels on LinkedIn haven't been great recently? It may be due to the words that you're using in your posts. It's unsurprising that the latest LinkedIn data has shown a spike in posts that mention subjects such as ‘COVID-19’ and ‘working from home’.
% Company Posts on LinkedIn About Working From Home (Source: LinkedIn)
There is also a dramatic rise in engagement for this type of content. Company posts that used words like ‘health’, ‘people’, ‘support’ and ‘take care’ performed better.
Coronavirus posts that got the most engagement using key words (Source: LinkedIn)
This gives you a good idea of what your current audience is looking for and wants to hear when they are viewing social media platforms. It’s worth considering this data when you are revisiting your social media strategy in the short term. Long term, it is more than likely that words will change and other terms will get engagement in the future.
3. Open Rates on Email Are Spiking
Some of us are now in a very different yet familiar working environment. Home. Business owners and employees have now fewer interruptions if you don’t count homeschooling and this has allowed for more time to consume online content. What this has meant is a steady increase in email engagements and open rates.
HubSpot has an excellent 'live' blog on the impact of COVID-19 on Sales and Marketing and the report highlights an increase in the average marketing emails by 29% the week of March 16, while email open rates increased by 53% the same week. This was an increase of 21% overall.
Increase of Marketing Outreach and Open Rates (Source: HubSpot)
To put this simply, now is the time to utilise your email marketing software to reach out to your customers.
4. Online Education Will Only Increase
Educational institutions and training businesses have had to swiftly move to an online model. Yes, online learning, webinars and video conferences are nothing new but applications relating to online education have now seen a growth of 700% as COVID-19 has temporarily eradicated traditional teaching methods.
There is a hope that this situation will soon pass and that learning will return to normal but there is no certainty that traditional teaching and in-person learning will ever be the same again. The cost, time, and convenience of online learning is very prevalent and has its advantages. Whether this will replace traditional presentation methods from a business and personal perspective will remain to be seen.
So if you haven't already done so, start trialing your sales presentations, workshops, and training sessions in webinars and video conference format.
5. Your Website Is Going to Be Crucial
If it wasn’t already, your website is going to be a crucial marketing vehicle now and in the future. HubSpot's COVID-19 report highlights a rise in online traffic with the average monthly website traffic increased by 13% in March, compared to February.
Monthly Website Visits (Source: HubSpot)
Customers are researching and interacting more online with businesses today. Therefore, ensure your website user journey is clearly signposted and you have a number of methods to allow you to engage with your customers. Data capture methods such as forms and chatbots on the main areas of your website will help to obtain customer information allowing you to provide help at a time your visitors need it most. There are some excellent tools to help check the health of your website such as Google Page Speed Insights and using this website grader tool.
6. Paid Advertisements
How has this pandemic affected paid advertising such as Google Ads? Well, pretty dramatically, Google Ads software company Wordstream highlighted a big dip in Google Search Ad clicks and conversion rates since COVID-19 became an epidemic in the United States. Conversion rates have dropped by a staggering average of 21%. Wordstream has stated that the reason might be that searchers are looking something entirely different and therefore the clicks are worth your ad spend. Obviously, different industries (Pharma, Medical, etc.) perform better at different times with AdWords and this situation will no doubt change, but if you are spending money with Google it's worth keeping and eye on this.
Google Search Ad Click Decline (Source: Wordstream)
7. Test, Test, Test!
We're in the unknown and it's very difficult to predict the success of your paid social media marketing campaigns without testing. That’s why it’s key to ensure that your budget is utilised effectively and that you A/B test and optimise your social media campaigns regularly.
Facebook has an excellent guide on how to adapt your measurement strategy for COVID-19. The report highlights the importance of optimising your ad campaigns through continuous measurement and learning allowing you to make adjustments to bidding and targeting.
Review your advertising budgets on your social media platforms. Facebook said 89% of advertisers say they have taken action with their budgets in response to COVID-19, with 45% saying they have adjusted media-type usage or shifted budget between media types.
8. Content Consumption Is Adapting
As mentioned above, more customers are searching online during the pandemic, The Drum reports that web browsing is up 70% and social media consumption is 61%. Therefore, ensure that your content plan is up to date to inform, educate, and help on these channels is up to date is going to be crucial.
Do not publish content for the sake of it, research what is resonating with your audience and the questions that they are asking. Tools such as Google Keywords Planner, SEM Rush, Answer the Public, and Ubersuggest are very helpful to gain insights into search insights and behaviour.
Review and amend your customer personas as their challenges, motivations, and influences will have changed considerably over the last couple of months.
9. Help Is Now King
This is a general observation and based on speaking to other businesses. If you’re one of those people who has reached out to a business owner on LinkedIn or Email to blatantly sell their services without any level of research or empathy, please stop and think. Is this is really going to help them? Or would it be better to revisit this at another time?
What people need now is support, collaboration and understanding. This is a difficult time for any business and a more consultative approach is going to be more effective.
Some Additional Information
There are many websites that are publishing very good guides and statistics about the situation. These are the some best sources that I have found:
Credible Coronavirus Websites
COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)
Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention
The Factual - Coronavirus Updates
World Health Organisation - Europe
Credible Business Resources - Coronavirus
InterTradeIreland - COVID-19 Support for Businesses
Enterprise Ireland - COVID-19 Response
Federation of Small Businesses - COVID 19 Advice and Guidance
NI Chamber Of Commerce - COVID 19 Hub
Coronavirus Updates to Support Your Business
Free Tools to Help Your Business
HubSpot Free CRM
Google My Business