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COVID-19 Marketing Survival Handbook

71 practical ways marketing can help your business survive and thrive today

Are you looking to survive, adapt and then thrive through COVID-19?

Here’s the ultimate digital marketing guide to get you moving.

Let’s face it, this is not an easy time to be making marketing decisions. There’s unprecedented pressure on many businesses to slash costs and marketing is often in the cross-hairs. Prospects and clients are not behaving the way they were just a short time ago. And this is being reflected in huge variations in views, traffic, leads and sales.

As co-founders of a digital agency, we speak to business owners and in-house marketers daily. Some of them are experiencing increased demand and revenue. Some are unaffected. But most are down, some extremely so.

Even worse, there is no clear timeframe on when things will start returning to normal. Or even what that normal will look like. The smart money says we should all be expecting a ‘new’ normal.

With clients in a broad range of industries, we’re fortunate to be able to observe, experiment and learn fast. The marketing and sales upheaval triggered by COVID-19 is no exception. We’re seeing change at an unprecedented level.

We’ve sat down (virtually) with Rocket’s Directors, Strategists, Account Managers and Specialists to compile the ultimate list of what we’re doing right now to help our clients survive, adapt and thrive through COVID-19.

To help marketers and business owners get through this we’re offering complimentary video strategy sessions with our most senior marketing strategists. These sessions will allow us to give you advice based on your specific needs. You can arrange your session by calling us on 1300 059 620 or visiting us at rocketagency.com.au/contact.

Take care of yourself and your business.

David Lawrence and James Lawrence

1. General Marketing Tips

1. Update your leading marketing messages immediately

Many businesses have not yet changed their homepage, key landing pages and general marketing message since COVID-19 started. You need to develop two sets of messaging. One for right now and another for when the recovery starts. Get your ‘now’ messaging online today. Check out rocketagency.com.au to see what we’ve done.

2. Accept that video is no longer optional

The incredible growth of Zoom marks, once again, a fundamental shift in people’s desire to consume video content. If you were sitting on the fence with video ads pre-COVID, then you need to take a stand right now. Whatever it is you have to say, you need to urgently work out a way to say it via a video ad. Best of all, know that lower production value is more acceptable now than ever before. We’re even seeing mainstream television shows broadcasting from people’s living rooms, so don’t hesitate to write a script and get in front of your webcam. Your prospects want to consume video - be the company that delivers it to them. Here’s what we had to say about video before the world changed.

3. Consider delaying new product launches

In most industries, prospects are not ready for new products or services. If you’ve been working on something amazing in recent months and the launch is about to happen, then review whether this is the best time. For most businesses, it’s not.

4. Figure out a way to deliver your offering in a contactless (or safer) way

This won’t work for everyone, but is there a creative way to pivot what you do and deliver it in a contactless way? We’ve seen simple but effective examples; Vets meeting in the car park to collect animals, in-house consultations being done via video, and clients and retailers offering simple boxed versions of their offering which can be paid for and collected at the door to reduce time and contact. It’s time to get creative.

5. Over-communicate

But make sure your communication is short and effective. For some businesses, the best communication is one-to-many via email. For others, it’s 1:1 with their team reaching out individually to customers. For some it's a combination. Work out what’s right for your business and make it happen. Make sure your customers know you’re still working and able to offer value and support right now.

6. Review real-time digital marketing performance

The last four weeks have seen the quickest and biggest shift in the Australian economy in 100 years. Given we are in a rapidly changing environment it’s vital to have real-time access to the marketing metrics which matter. As always, forget vanity metrics and focus on the metrics which tell you when revenue is being influenced. This is particularly so for paid media campaigns. Make sure you understand how your CPCs, CPAs and conversion rates are being affected. Don't wait a month or a quarter to assess recent performance. Things are moving too quickly.

7. Build your case-studies

In times of crisis, financial stress and disrupted purchase patterns, buyers really don’t want to make a mistake. Now is the perfect time to build out stronger case studies and other ways of proving you’re the right company to do business with.

8.Be agile

We cannot recall a situation where change has been so rapid. Whatever you decide to do, accept that you need to proactively review and change it frequently. Don’t get it right today, only to be in the entirely wrong position in a day, week or month. No-one knows where we will be in three months time. So mentally prepare yourself and your team to pivot.

9. Review your on-hold, time-consuming and long-term project ideas

Some of our clients have excess capacity in their sales and marketing teams right now. Smart marketers are using this time to get stuck into those projects that have always been important, but never urgent enough to actually happen. If you can take this approach, you’ll reap the rewards when this ends. Here’s some quick suggestions - overhaul your website, create a monster piece of content, pick a marketing automation platform, improve your CRM, plan new channels to promote your business in, start a podcast, write a video ad script, convert wordy content to infographics and more. Do not waste this time!

10. Make sure sales and marketing are aligned

In the most innovative and effective companies, sales and marketing work together. When times are good and business is stable, you might have gotten away with thinking sales and marketing were two distinct parts of your business. This is not the case in a crisis. As a matter of urgency, you should ensure that sales and marketing communicate better to best understand the needs of your current and future customers.

11. Invest in professional development

Similar to the point above. If you have downtime, don’t waste it with small changes and tweaks. Use the time to seriously upskill yourself and your team. Here’s a list of our favourite training resources on digital strategy. We’ve also written a book which provides exactly the sort of guidance marketers need at this time.

12. Grow your partnership network

It’s probably been hard to find the time to get out there and meet other businesses who share similar clients to you. And they’ve probably all been too busy as well. Now might be the perfect time to reach out and introduce yourself. The relationships you build and nurture today, could pay off immediately and for a long time to come.

13. Develop strategies to retain your customers

Most businesses will lose a percentage of existing customers for COVID-19 related budget reasons. In some cases this will be unavoidable. Unfortunately, the reality is that some of these customers will never come back. In addition to finding new customers, it’s worth exploring ways to retain existing customers (possibly on lower revenue) so that when this is over you can grow their revenue back to normal levels. Consider being flexible with payment terms (if possible), offering add-ons, putting contracts on hold or pivoting your services. Think long term.

14. Nurture lost clients

The clients you lose through Covid-19 need to be treated differently to normal lost clients. Many will still love you, and will look forward to returning when the world returns to normal. Put together a strategy to engage and inform these people. If you don’t, your competitors will.

15. Do your competitor research

Many of your competitors will be thinking as hard as you are about ways to survive, adapt and thrive through COVID-19. The benefits of competitor research are clearer now than ever before. Before you take any action, you should review the websites, social media and ad campaigns of your competitors. You should do the same for similar companies in different locations. Don’t start your COVID-19 marketing campaign with a blank piece of paper.

16. Ask your customers, ‘How can I help?’

We’re seeing businesses trying to solve their challenges in a vacuum. Remote working is not helping with this. The first step for all of us is to reach out to our clients and see where they could actually benefit. You might just find their answer is your opportunity.

17. Don’t kill your marketing

We might be biased, but there’s a saying, ‘today's marketing is tomorrow's sales’ and this is as true right now as it’s ever been before. Don’t believe me? Consider this article from 2009 by the experts at the Harvard Business Review.

18. Review your tools of the trade

I bet that if you reviewed that marketing tools you’re currently using you’d discover two things. Firstly, there is a bunch of stuff you pay for that generates very little value. And secondly, that there are a bunch of tools you’re not using that would help you generate better results. Now’s the perfect time to research the best way to tackle whatever the future throws at you. Here’s a list of our favourite digital marketing tools.

19. Need to cut budgets? DO NOT cut everything evenly

This might seem obvious, but we’ve seen clients wanting to cut budgets based purely on cost. Before you do something you regret in a few months, review your digital strategy and make sure the budgets you cut relate to things that were of questionable value in the first place. Don’t inadvertently cut the very things that will help you get out of this in one piece or apply a blanket rule of cutting all line items by a flat-percentage. Cut short-term activities that won’t bring a return in these trying times and continue to invest in long-term activities that will help you grow on the other side.

20. Invest in awareness

We’ve long argued that the move to digital marketing has left many companies under-valuing the long-term benefits of brand awareness campaigns. Now is the time to invest in awareness across multiple channels. If you’re not top of mind for your prospects over the next few months, it will be much harder to gain their attention when the crisis is over. Studies like the Harvard Business Review article above, show that it is cheaper to buy awareness in downturns than when economies are booming. This helps brands boom when the economy turns.

21. Clean-up your database

If you have a database, then you also have data quality issues. Take the time now to sort your leads, create better segmented lists and update the quality of your contact records. This effort will pay off in the future.

22. Convert your top-performing blogs to video

As we’ve already mentioned, video is up. Now’s the time to review your top-performing blog content and create scripted or off-the-cuff video content which supports the written word and can also be promoted elsewhere.

23. Invest in building or renewing your marketing assets

Now is the time to produce new video ads, visual & written content for your business. The goal is to add value to the changed lives of your prospects and customers. Entertainment, information and education are in high demand currently and the best forms of these will be consumed by the huge numbers of people stuck at home. The content you relied upon yesterday is probably not perfect for tomorrow.

24. Pretend you’re a prospect

One of the hottest product categories right now is Hand Sanitiser. However a quick review of the ads, landing pages and websites on page one of Google shows that some products are out of stock and cannot be ordered, some are informational pages with no checkout facility and others take you to pages which do not feature the product itself. These companies are wasting their money and frustrating visitors. Don’t assume anything. Pretend to be a prospect. Find your ads, organic listings, remarketing advertising, social media posts and see where they take you and what they say. Would you be impressed with the journey and overall experience? If not, change it today.

2. Offers & Messaging

25. Give prospects an added reason to take action now

Finding it tough to get prospects to take that next step? How about offering a small discount or free shipping? If you’re marketing a service could you package it up with a physical premium or a bonus of some type? Or offer people a highly competitive introductory offer? Whatever the offer is that works best for you, it's worth getting creative.

26. Support your audience through a tough time

Your prospects need help right now. What assets do you have which can allow you to lend a hand? We’ve seen companies take previously inexpensive digital assets and offer them to their audience for free temporarily. We’ve seen others package up assets and deliver them as a COVID-19 related offer. What can you do with what you already have?

 

27. Articulate how your offering will transform your prospects’ lives

Buyers need to understand how their future will look and feel after they have purchased from you. This is truer now than ever before. In a world of constant uncertainty, people need to understand the benefits of your offering and its impact on their future self.

28. Be empathetic

A lot of your prospects and customers are having a tough time at the moment. Make sure your language and behaviour is empathetic. It’ll be remembered when things do turn around.

29. Prepare your non-COVID-19 messages

Currently, content and headlines with COVID-19 references are performing well. But this will change, and probably change quickly. Make sure you’re still creating evergreen content which you can continue to promote through your usual digital marketing strategy as things start returning to normal.

30. Start Selling post COVID-19 experiences

For some businesses this is already working, for others you’ll need to wait a little longer. Is there an offer you can make which gets bookings or sales moving with delivery or commencement held off until a later date? This can help with cashflow right now. Just as importantly though, it can also help you secure or grow your market share for later. We have seen this work well in hospitality and travel. For example, have loyal customers give your experiences as gifts which can be redeemed once you are open again.

31. Consider using COVID-19 language and themes in your marketing

Right now, making direct references to COVID-19 or being ‘at home’ will improve your marketing results. But this won’t always be the case, and will vary from industry to industry. Experiment with this in your digital marketing so you know when it’s time to pivot your language.

32. Make sure prospects understand your offering during COVID-19

Don’t assume prospects know the steps you have taken to continue offering your product or service safely during COVID-19. Develop a simple message which lets them know what to expect from their interactions with you.

3. SEO

33. Thinking long-term? Think SEO

Now is the time to move from renting your leads via paid campaigns to owning your leads via SEO. Money you invest in paid ads and remarketing may no longer be generating an acceptable ROI. But the money you invest in SEO will see that ROI generated in the months and years to come. It’s a great strategy to grow market share on the other side of this crisis.

34. Scrap your content calendar

The content you were planning to create and launch is no longer relevant. It’s time to go back to the drawing board and develop a content strategy that will work in a changed world. You should also start planning a strategy for the content you’ll need to create when light appears at the end of the tunnel.

35. Update your local business listings

For many businesses, directory listings drive serious amounts of traffic and revenue. Make sure these listings have been updated to reflect how your business may have changed. For many, the most important listing to maintain is Google My Business. Don’t stop there though, if other listings drive traffic and business for you. Think Bing Places, Tripadvisor and various social platforms. Just as importantly, when this is over you want to be well-positioned for any surge in demand. Make sure your listings are up-to-date and maximising all available functionality.

36. Make those SEO related coding changes to your website

If you’re already doing SEO, there is a very good chance there are technical changes you never made which are holding back your SEO performance. Now is the perfect time to get on top of them and see the benefits as things improve.

37. Dive into video SEO

As already mentioned, video ads are is more relevant today than ever before. Now is a great time to get your SEO video strategy sorted out and implemented. There’s no point in creating great video content if no-one is seeing it.

4. Paid Ads (Google, Bing and Social)

38. Review all your ads

Clever ads from earlier in the year might be completely inappropriate today. This will continue to be true throughout this crisis. Audit all of your ads today and pause those which could be tone-deaf or causing you harm in the market. Consider making tweaks to ads to increase engagement.

39. Consider the case for increasing your ad spend

Most companies are currently cutting their ad spend. Marketing Week estimates that around 90% of marketing budgets have been cut or are under review. As a result, bids in many industries are lower than they’ve been for many years. If your offering still has demand at this time, you should be looking to maximize your ad spend. Just make sure you keep a close eye on your ROAS. History tells us that companies that advertise in bad economic times outperform those companies who slash costs.

40. Pivot media spend to in-home

Not all channels perform equally and right now some channels have been radically disrupted. Outdoor media, event marketing, in-person marketing and anything related to sport is severely disrupted. Where does your media spend go currently? Does it match where your prospects now spend their time? Is it where you can reach them most cost-effectively? Is it possible to get a better and more agile return from digital rather than traditional areas like TV, radio and print? Burning lots of cash on radio advertising? Try Spotify. TV ads not getting cut-through during this time? Pivot to YouTube video.

41. Do you qualify for a Google Ads credit or a Facebook Ads grant?l

Both Google and Facebook are making funds available for selected small businesses to use for advertising on their platforms. For more information visit: Google Ads or Facebook Business.

42. Don’t jump at (data) shadows

The huge number of people now working from home has caused some major issues in reporting. Firstly, we’re seeing spikes and troughs just like in the stockmarket. If possible, don’t make big changes from small data sets. If you’re in the B2B space you will also be seeing unusual results as users who were once behind corporate firewalls are now appearing separately in your reports. Your IP filters are also now gone, which means that internal traffic is no longer being removed from your analytics reports. It’s possible for traffic to be up but conversion rates to have fallen as a result. Review your data carefully.

43. Consider advertising on Bing

If your search volumes have dropped, but conversions are still commercially viable, then it's worth considering running your Ads on Bing to increase your reach. Bing might have a small market share when compared to Google, but its users tend to be over-represented with corporates and older demographics. For many of our clients, Bing campaigns have proven to be highly profitable.

44. Review your bid modifiers

There’s a very good chance they’re broken. Working from home has changed everything from commuting to lunch breaks to weekends. Depending on your business you’ll need to reassess your standard busy and quiet times. Likewise, you might find your regional search behaviour has changed. Moreover, we’re seeing a shift away from mobile browsing, so bid adjustments at the device, location and schedule level should all be reviewed.

45. It’s a great time for a campaign deep dive

If things are slow for you right now, use the time for a badly needed deep-dive into your digital marketing campaigns. Look at areas you’ve been wanting to clean up for ages, and get stuck in. We’re not just talking about uncovering ways to increase performance during the current crisis, this is also a great time to improve existing campaigns for when we move into the recovery phase of the COVID-19 crisis.

46. Don’t go overboard with creating urgency

Be careful of using standard scarcity or urgency devices in your ads and digital strategy. Nothing is as urgent as COVID-19 and trying to pretend your offering is will risk alienating your audience.

47. Constantly review your bottom of the funnel campaigns

Bottom of the funnel campaigns are those where the goal is to generate leads or sales from a particular visit or interaction. Recent weeks have seen these sorts of campaigns perform poorly for many industries. If this has been your experience, then our suggestion is to consider moving some of this budget into top or middle of funnel campaigns where the goal is awareness, information sharing and engagement. These efforts will pay off for you in the long-term. Keep testing your bottom of the funnel campaigns with smaller budgets so you are ready to jump back in when it makes sense.

48. Review your search terms report regularly

Your paid search budgets will be quickly eaten up by serving your ads to people who can never purchase from you. If there are products you are unlikely to have in stock in the near future, then stop bidding for them. You also need to regularly review your keywords to ensure you’re not bidding on newly trending, but unprofitable terms.

49. Reach your customers where they are

We’ve always said a single channel is never the answer in digital marketing. Since the beginning of March, traffic to Google Search and Google Shopping is down. At the same time the Google Display Network and YouTube is up. So are most social media networks. Take your message to where your prospects are, not where they once were. Most importantly, make sure you’re not relying on a single channel for all your sales or leads.

5. Email & Content Marketing

50. This is the perfect time for content marketing

People are spending more time than ever online. Your competitors are in turmoil and your existing marketing is no longer as effective as before. For some businesses, short term lead or sales generating campaigns simply won’t work for the foreseeable future. It’s time to pivot your digital marketing and invest more in the long-term, and content marketing is a great place to start. Use the time you have now to build out current or future content. This guide is an excellent example of content marketing created from the need to pivot aspects of our own marketing. Good content marketing can deliver results today and continue working for months or years to come.

51. Pause and audit all automated emails and content

We’ve seen some genuinely tone-deaf content come out in the past few weeks. In most cases this was content created and scheduled many weeks, months or even years ago. If you have not done this already, then drop everything and do this right now! How appropriate are those automated emails and soon to be released content pieces for today’s market?

52. Create an ebook

There are mistakes your customers are making right now as a result of COVID-19. Now is the time to create an ebook taking them through their 5 most common mistakes and what to do about them. Make sure you spend more time on promoting your guide than you did on creating it.

53. Invest in building your database of prospects

Businesses who have spent the time and money building large databases of future prospects are in a much better position today than those relying on a constant new flow of leads and sales. The reason? These companies can reach out, at virtually no cost, and communicate via email, SMS, retargeting, 1:1 calls and even physical mail to large numbers of potential customers. If you don’t have such a database, get started building it today. It’s never too late to start. How about swapping a piece of valuable content for an email address or mobile phone number? We can help you decide on the best marketing automation software to get started with.

54. Run a webinar

With the ability to learn in person severely restricted, we’re seeing enormous growth in the effectiveness of webinars. Sign-ups and engagements are sky-rocketing. If you’ve got a valuable message, it’s time to consider delivering it via a webinar. You can’t go wrong with Zoom. Record your webinar and use the content to generate leads well into the future.

55. Create COVID-19 specific website content

If there is any chance a prospect or customer could have questions about your services during this time then you need to update your website. Don’t make them guess. You should consider adding FAQs as well as building dedicated pages.

56. Keep the content rolling

If you’ve developed a pattern of content creation, EDMs and social posts then now is not the time to slow things down. It’s important that you speak to your audience either the same amount or more often than normal. Not only will this be important for long term SEO, it will also send a strong message to your prospects that it’s business as usual and you intend to be there on the other side.

57. Create a monster piece of content

There’s still a place for short SEO-driven content. The reality though is that a really in-depth definitive piece of content will out-perform shorter and more superficial content. Now is a good time to make a start. Here’s an example of this sort of content, launched for ourselves.

6. Social Media

58. Increase your investment in social media

We’re seeing crazy numbers in social media. A combination of uncertainty, spare time and remote work is resulting in huge spikes of activity. At the same time we’re seeing advertising spend being cut. The result is that costs in some industries are right down. If you have a message which can generate value for you now or in the future, now’s the time to review your social strategy and budgets. This opportunity won’t last forever.

59. Take a serious look at LinkedIn

If your offering is B2B and you’re not already dominating Linkedin, jump on this channel now. The opportunities to connect with current and future prospects directly or through promoting great content are significant.

60. Improve your remarketing advertising campaigns

Social media is a great place to invest in awareness right now. Even if your prospects aren’t buying today, you can still heavily influence their future purchases by overhauling or launching your social media remarketing strategy.

61. Go Live on social

Live streams, live premieres and broadcasts are gaining traction with the vast number of people restricted to their homes. This might be the perfect time to entertain and educate your prospects via video.

62. Create a Facebook Group

If there’s a way to assist your prospects as a group, you should consider a Facebook Group. Promote it to customers and prospects alike. Done well, you’ll create a strong community where support is openly shared and value delivered. It’s a great way to communicate with, and add value to your community.

7. Website Improvements

63. Make sure your site is lightning fast

A fast website has always been critical to achieving healthy conversion rates, strong organic search results and overall visitor satisfaction. With so many people working from home, internet networks have become congested. Many of your prospects will now be reaching your site using slow internet connections. Optimising site speed has never been so important.

64. Seriously Consider Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO)

Genuine prospects are like gold for most businesses at the moment. Don’t be that business who misses out on a lead because your competitor’s site was more effective. Now is the time to work out how to do more with your existing traffic by increasing your conversion rate.

65. Audit your mobile experience

Mobile traffic might be down, but for most businesses mobile traffic still contains valuable prospects. However, far too many businesses still offer a mobile experience well below their desktop experience. Now is not the time to lose sales, leads and revenue because your mobile experience is below par. Grab your mobile, browse your site and start jotting down issues you find. Get them fixed.

66. See and hear what your site visitors are actually thinking!

This is not so much a COVID-19 idea, but we’ve seen it generate tremendous value time and time again. User testing is the process of getting a small number of people unfamiliar with your site to attempt to complete a few simple tasks on it. Their screen is captured and they talk through their thinking. This is the best way of finding ways to improve your site that you’ve missed because you’re too close to the problem. We’re big fans of usertesting.com, but you’ll get the best out of the process by using an agency like us to manage the process and unearth the key recommendation for you.

 

8. Online Retail

67. Transform from bricks-and-mortar to clicks-and-mortar

In many industries, online sales are booming. If you have something you can sell this way, but you’re not up and running just yet, then it’s probably worth an experiment. The quickest way to get going, without the need for custom development, is by looking at Shopify or Bigcommerce.

68. Audit your product

It’s likely that some of your products or services are going to be more effective than others in the current conditions. Start your COVID-19 response by determining which products should be pushed and which should be held back.

69. Reshoot your products

If you find yourself with some spare time, now might be a great time to make sure your product shots are perfect. It’s exactly the sort of job that gets put off when things are busy.

70. Make sure your inventory and delivery times are up-to-date

With a huge jump in online retail it’s more important than ever to ensure your stock levels and delivery times are accurate. If you sell online, it’s likely you’re attracting new customers right now. It’s important they can trust in the orders they are considering placing with you. If large sections of your inventory are unavailable then consider temporarily removing these items and amending your remarketing strategy so buyers can easily view what is available for purchase right now.

71. Make sure you give shoppers clarity

Many buyers are concerned about delays to delivery times, expensive shipping, health & safety with packing and delivery and prices in general. As always, it’s critical to understand buyers’ concerns and clearly address them throughout their journey.

9. The COVID-19 Marketing Survival Checklist

  • Update your leading marketing messages immediately
  • Accept that video is no longer optional
  • Consider delaying new product launches
  • Figure out a way to deliver your offering in a contactless (or safer) way
  • Over-communicate
  • Review real-time marketing performance
  • Build your case-studies
  • Be agile
  • Evaluate running Spotify ads for your business to drive brand awareness
  • Make sure sales and marketing are aligned
  • Review your on-hold, time-consuming and long-term project ideas
  • Invest in professional development
  • Grow your partnership network
  • Develop strategies to retain your customers
  • Nurture lost clients
  • Do your competitor research
  • Need to cut budgets? DO NOT cut everything evenly
  • Ask your customers, ‘How can I help?’
  • Don’t kill your marketing
  • Invest in awareness
  • Clean-up your database
  • Convert your top-performing blogs to video
  • Invest in building or renewing your marketing assets
  • Pretend you’re a prospect

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