Business management

Digital marketing: connecting with an isolated audience

As the coronavirus outbreak cuts footfall, we look at digital marketing strategies you can use to engage with your customers online.

Below is some expert-endorsed advice for how to reach, engage and help your customer audience in these unprecedented times.

Take a customer-first approach

Successful marketing, when you look at the big picture at least, is a two-way exchange: you provide value or reassurance for your audience; your audience invests in your products or services. Right now, it’s time to focus much more heavily on the former.

“We’re enjoying coming up with different ways to positively engage with our audience and provide value in uncertain times,” says Jack Cooper, digital marketing manager at musical instrument retailer Andertons Music Company. “We realise we need to take a truly customer-first approach right now, so our main goals are to help educate, engage and motivate.”

Cooper and his team are achieving this through a mix of online channels. They’re focusing on promoting a library of free guides, for example, while also highlighting other existing valuable content, launching easy-to-enter competitions and sharing external content that is relevant to the business’s target audience of musicians.

Be the heart of your community

At a time when so many people are feeling isolated or disconnected, businesses are in prime position to foster some positive community spirit.

That’s what the team behind money-saving app Chip are doing as they invite users to share their relevant stories and ideas via the brand’s online channels.

Specifically, vloggers, artists, writers and other creatives are being encouraged to show how they’ve been affected by the coronavirus outbreak from a financial perspective.

“As one of the biggest crowdfunded businesses in the UK, our community has always been at the heart of what we do,” says chief marketing officer Alex Latham. “We often take communications advice from our users directly. And doing that is more important than ever at times like this.”

Due to social distancing, we’ve had to cancel our showroom appointments. But not wanting to lose that human connection, we’ve started video consultations over WhatsApp

Philip Dawson
MD, Lily Arkwright

As well as helping Chip’s audience by both providing an outlet for contributors and actually paying them, the marketing team is generating organic content that should further help to engage prospective customers during a difficult period.

Adapt without losing your USP

Even if you’re forced to change the way you operate, it’s important to show that your core values remain. Think about the aspects of the business your customers value most – and use technology where possible to integrate them into any new ways of working.

“Due to the advice around social distancing we've had to cancel all of our showroom appointments,” says Philip Dawson, MD of Manchester jewellery retailer Lily Arkwright. “But not wanting to lose that human connection, we’ve now started carrying out video consultations over WhatsApp.

“Our customers still get that all-important face-to-face time to engage with our advisers. And we can continue showcasing our products and answering queries through a channel that – while not quite what we’re used to – is still much more personable than email.”

Avoid panic marketing

Amid so much uncertainty, it’s natural to feel that you need to employ drastic marketing measures to keep bringing business in. But this can be counterproductive in the long term.

“The most common reaction is to start panic selling: discounting your products and services in the hope of increasing sales and building a cash reserve,” says Alexander Jobling, head of digital at music PR firm Burstimo. “But by doing that you risk devaluing your brand, and may be revealing what your product or service was truly worth all along.

“With this in mind, you should react to those who are heavily discounting and selling – stand out from them by providing other things of value for your audience. If you are at all able to offer something for free – whether it’s an advice video or a helpful PDF with tips and advice relating to your products – do it. It’ll contribute to a more personal relationship that should help you when this difficult period ends.”

Don’t lose sight of the competition

Keep in mind that your business isn’t the only one being forced to adapt. Your own marketing adjustments may be cancelled out by your competitors’ moves. Sam Wright, founder and MD of Norwich agency Blink SEO, explains: “We are seeing lots of clients shift their focus to pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and search engine optimisation (SEO). While there are lots of opportunities in both, there are also some big challenges to consider.

“In some business-to-consumer sectors, PPC is going to see a lot of competition in the form of big firms, which have both bricks-and-mortar and e-commerce presences, pushing online advertising in response to decreases in footfall. On the other hand, SEO can be quite a long burn in terms of results – so if you don't have the channel already established, it will be extremely difficult to get things moving quickly.

“Our advice is to stay focused. With both PPC and SEO, the most important thing is to understand the search terms that are going to generate you the most business. This isn’t the time to be experimenting with new areas. Instead, you should be doubling down on terms that you know work for you. And if you have an external agency, now is the time to lean on it harder too.”

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