As of May 28, 2021, the Paycheck Protection Program has run out of funding. You can learn more about the PPP with our COVID-19 resource hub.
What Sorts of Advertising Options are Available During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has been an incredibly difficult time for small businesses in the United States. Social distancing measures in states around the nation, including New York, California, and Illinois, have rendered most small businesses inoperable, and they have left many business owners in a severe financial pinch. However, as with anything, there is often a silver-lining. The coronavirus has opened up a number of unique digital advertising opportunities for small businesses. In this article, we will discuss the different digital marketing opportunities available to you, go over a number of free advertising opportunities for small and medium sized businesses, and discuss a few marketing tips, many of which don’t require you to spend any additional money. By taking advantage of some of these opportunities, you can make the most out of the current situation.
Falling Advertising Rates
In line with the economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, ad rates have plummeted in the past few weeks as many businesses, large and small alike, have put the breaks on their marketing campaigns. Since digital advertising on Google and social media sites, like Facebook, are typically based on bidding for key words, without as many buyers for each keyword in the market, prices have naturally declined. Indeed, according to the Wall Street Journal, advertising rates for putting an ad in front of 1,000 viewers on Facebook fell between 15% and 20% between the month of February and March. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, saw a similar drop of 22% during the same time period, while YouTube, which is owned by Google, saw an identical 15% to 20% drop.
So what does all this mean? Well, on the one hand, it makes sense for a number of businesses to scale back advertising in the coming weeks if they are selling certain products. For example, if you are selling luxury products, now is probably not be the time to scale up your marketing budget. However, for businesses that are selling products that can sell in this environment, such as board games, arts and crafts, books, and other items people can utilize at home to keep busy during stay-at-home orders, lower advertising fees could be a great way to keep the orders coming in. The steep drop in ad rates represents a very unique opportunity for small business owners who operate in e-commerce in particular. If your e-commerce business is still thriving and doing well in-spite of the pandemic, now could be a great time to take advantage of the low advertising rates to capture new customers and drive orders and revenues.
Crafting a COVID-19 Specific Message
The key with digital marketing, or any marketing in general, is to craft a marketing campaign that is specific to and representative of consumers’ environment. This means your messages should be about how your product is transforming to meet the needs of people during the COVID-19 outbreak.
A March 2020 survey by Kantar found that 77% of respondents want advertising to “talk about how the brand is helpful in the new everyday life”. In addition, 75% said it should “inform about [the brand’s] efforts to face the situation.” From this, it is clear that what consumers want most right now is to know how your product is going to help them during this time, and how your business is going above and beyond to meet the current crisis.
For example, let’s say your local small business is a restaurant. You want people to know that you are still operating and functioning during this time. Creating an ad campaign that targets your local area, keys in on how you are still doing pick-up and delivery orders, and which links to a specific landing page on your website that describes the pick-up and delivery process, could be a great way to get the word out that you are still providing your services even during this challenging time. Make the pick-up process easy, understandable, and, most importantly, safe.
Free Advertising Opportunities
In response to the ongoing pandemic, Google and Facebook have both begun offering a number of free advertising opportunities for small business. Taking advantage of these opportunities is a no-brainer, especially if you are a local small business that is struggling to drive business, such as a restaurant like the one we described in the aforementioned example.
With regards to Google, the company has begun offering small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) that have had active Google Ads accounts since the beginning of 2019 ad credits. These ad credits are awarded to small businesses through their Google Ads accounts via notifications, and the credits can be used at any point throughout the remainder of the year until December 31, 2020. The ad credits themselves can be put toward advertising across any of Google’s various ad platforms, including YouTube, Search, and Display, and they can be used on any of the different campaign types that Google offers.
Unfortunately, if your business has not had a Google Ads account since the beginning of 2019, your business will not be eligible for any ad credits, as Google is focused mainly on assisting small and medium-sized businesses that have been clients of theirs in the past. However, if you have been advertising since that time, Google has said they have dedicated over $300 million towards the ad credit program, so if you haven’t been on your Google Ads account recently, we recommend you check to see if you have been granted any ad credits. For further assistance, you can visit Google‘s site to learn more about their specific ad credit program or contact them to learn how it may apply to your business specifically.
Facebook is running a similar program, in which they are offering ad grants and ad credits to small businesses and medium-size businesses that are long-time clients of theirs. The program, like Google’s, is designed to strengthen the relationship that they have built with their small businesses clients. If you have been a Facebook advertiser for some time, it is certainly something your business should look into. Unfortunately, if you have never done any advertising, you won’t be eligible for the program.
One of the business industries that has been hit the hardest is local restaurants. Restaurants typically operate on tight margins. Without being able to have their dining rooms open, their revenues have taken a dive during the COVID-19 crisis. While there are reviews on Yelp for just about anything, the site is best known for being the go to site for learning about local restaurants. As such, they have begun an effort to assist these small businesses during their time of need.
In particular, Yelp has begun offering $25 million worth of waived advertising fees, free advertising programs, and free services that usually cost money on their platform. Local small business restaurants are eligible to access free Yelp page upgrades, which come with a host of tools and other services to help businesses attract customers.
If your business offers free delivery or takeout, you could also be eligible for a free $100 ad campaign during the month of April.
In addition, Yelp has added a new search filter to their site called “Contact Free Delivery” where customers can search to find safe food delivery options. This service can be offered by your restaurant if it delivers via its own means, or if you use GrubHub or DoorDash to have food delivered. Since safety has become the number one concern of millions of Americans across the United States, offering contact free delivery could be a great way to get extra business. If your business is offering contact free delivery, be sure to update your businesses information on Yelp to reflect accordingly.
You Don’t Have to Run Paid Advertisements to Stay Relevant and Advertise
Obviously, not all businesses can or should be spending money on advertising at this time. But that doesn’t mean you need to halt your overall marketing strategy. Online marketing is about a lot more than just ad campaigns. Now is a great opportunity to stay engaged and active on social media in particular. Millions of Americans are sitting at home with nothing to do, so as you can imagine, they will spending a lot of time on social media, whether that’s older generations keeping tabs on their friends with Facebook or younger generations communicating via Instagram.
How can Small Businesses take Advantage of the Influx of Social Media usage?
Keep Your Account Active on Social Media
One of the most important aspects of running a business is maintaining a strong customer base. You can keep acquiring new customers every day, but if you don’t maintain your past customers, your client base won’t grow. As such, keeping your customers involved with and excited about your brand, your products, and your business is crucial at any time, but especially during a crisis like this. With so many eyes on social media, now is a great time to be active. Whatever you do, make sure you keep interacting and communicating with your current customer base and reaching out to new potential customers.
For example, let’s say you run an e-commerce boutique clothing store, and you design your own clothes. Now would be a great time to start sharing the upcoming designs you have. Sure, customers may not be able to buy them because they aren’t available for sale yet, but many customers also aren’t flush with cash right now, so they can’t make purchases anyways. By letting them know what is coming out later in the year or next year, you can get them excited about the future and keep them engaged with your business. Remember, you want to keep your business on the top of the minds of your customers. If they forget about you, they won’t necessarily come back to buy more goods when times get better. But if they know an incredibly fashionable t-shirt or jacket is coming out in 6 months, they might remember it when the time comes. Hopefully by then they will have some money to spend.
If you are a local business, now is a great time to start communicating with your customers about how your are supporting your community. Many restaurants, for example, have been using their excess ingredients and supplies to provide food for first responders and those on the front line of the pandemic. Obviously, business owners are doing this because they want to support their communities and give back. However, even though you are doing it because it is the right thing to do, it is still a good idea to let your customers know what you are doing. People want to know who is going above and beyond. So send out a quick Instagram post with an image of the great food you are making for first responders, or post on Facebook about the hand sanitizer that your distillery has begun producing as opposed to alcohol. It is a great time to build good will with your client base.
People will remember what businesses went above and beyond during a challenging time. When times get better, they will act on that good will.
For restaurants in particular, staying active and letting people that you are still operating and that you are following CDC guidelines for takeout and delivery is extremely important. People are nervous. If they know they can trust your restaurant to take the utmost precaution in preparing food, they will be more inclined to order from you. So give them instruction on how delivery and pickup works, post images on social media of your food preparation, and let them know how you are taking the COVID-19 outbreak seriously. Let them know that their safety and health is on the top of your mind.
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your website for search engines when they crawl your content. By utilizing key words and other methods, you can help your website achieve a higher ranking in search engines. The result is that when potential customers search for particular key words with a search engine, such as Google, your website will show up higher on the list of search results. The goal for any website is to show up within the first three results for key words that are relevant to their business and products.
Search engine optimization is an incredibly expansive field, and the algorithms of Google and other search engines are still a bit of a mystery. However, there are tried and proven methods for optimizing one’s website and content to achieve better overall search results. If done properly, your business can drive organic traffic, meaning traffic that did not type your domain address into the web browser or search for your business in particular, to your website, acquiring new customers and clients for your business.
Now, the fruits of SEO efforts can take a long time to show up, so improvement in your website’s SEO probably won’t help you in the short-run during the COVID-19 crisis. However, if your business has been shut down and you have found that you have a lot of free time on your hands to work on projects you were otherwise to busy to attempt before, now could be the perfect time to start researching and learning about SEO. If you can start the process now, you could really improve your business’ online presence so that when better times return, you will be in an even better position to get your business back up, running, and thriving again.
Don’t Forget About Other Forms of Relief
At Biz2Credit, we have been stressing on our blog the number of opportunities available to small businesses during this exceedingly challenging time. While this article only discusses the different advertising opportunities that have become available to small businesses as a result of the pandemic, as well as some good marketing practices to utilize during this time, there are tons of other vital business resources and opportunities being offered by the federal and state governments, non-for-profit and charity organizations, and private industry.
These include, but are not limited to relief funds and cash grants being offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), bridge loans and other funding being offered by traditional lenders and state governments, and more. Plus, many of these loans are available even for small businesses that don’t have great credit!
Be sure to keep up to date with our Biz2Credit Blog, where we are posting tons of information on the different programs available to small businesses during this COVID-19 pandemic.
With Los Angeles recently extending their stay-at-home orders to May 15, and the country still unsure as to when it can reopen the economy safely, businesses need to be prepared for the worst. Luckily, the United States federal and state governments have taken extraordinary steps to help small businesses, and private industry is assisting. So while this is a difficult time, there are still a lot of resources, many of which are free, available for small businesses to help them mitigate the damage.
Ultimately, through taking creative and thoughtful approaches to marketing your business during this time, you can make sure that your customer base remains engaged with your business, your brand, and your products. That way, when things get better – and they will get better – your business can hit the ground running.