Small business marketing strategies: How to make sure customers know you are open

Estimated read time: 10 minutes


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This article was written as states and businesses were reopening in spring 2020 after weeks of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the small business marketing strategies discussed here can really be used by any business that is opening for the first time or again after closure.

We will discuss:

  • Google My Business
  • Website messaging
  • Social media integration
  • Readability of content for all platforms
  • Employee advocacy
  • Paid campaigns
  • Direct mail
  • Earned media
  • Email marketing
  • Offline campaigns

Small business marketing strategies after coronavirus closures

Before we jump into the overarching small business marketing strategies mentioned above, let’s quickly acknowledge and consider messaging after the coronavirus closures.

Sarah Clarke
Sarah Clarke

“I believe the tone of the marketing is different in today’s new world,” said Media Strategist Sarah Clarke. “People need to feel safe. Featuring what safety measures are in place at your business would be good to include in post shut down marketing.“

Content marketer Jeremy Bednarski adds: “In marketing, be honest, empathetic and reassuring. You’re not just competing to bring people in over going somewhere else. You need to help them feel comfortable leaving their home.”

And please make sure your coronavirus-related messaging is specific and not just the generic “we care about you and are now open. Would love to see you.”

Certainly opening or re-opening a business is a lot of work in itself. Rocking the marketing can help it be more successful. Let’s dive into the other sections that can help here. Depending on your situation, it’s also wise to prioritize some channels over others.

For example, if you have a good email list, prioritize that over Facebook if nobody sees your organic Facebook posts.

Google My Business as part of your small business marketing strategies

Local SEO Expert Gregg Gifford shared on the Business Storytelling Podcast how important it is to claim and keep updated your Google My Business listing.

Customers rely on these listings for opening hours and more. Make sure they are up to date. Shoutout to Target Optical here. They had very limited hours and even were closed on some days during the coronavirus lockdown. It was all up to date and very helpful.

Your website

Interestingly, there are still small businesses that don’t have websites. Communications Strategist Jason Laz shared on the Business Storytelling Podcast why it’s important to have a website and what should be included as a bare minimum.

Then we have the case of businesses that have websites that are hard to update. Having to file a support ticket with an external vendor to make basic updates to your website is really not a good setup nowadays.

Make sure you can easily make updates like:

  • Text updates to the homepage and other highly visited website
  • Throw up a popup
  • Add a Hello bar
  • Etc.

In a Create Once, Publish Everywhere model, the website is an important part. Even when traffic seems low, the people visiting might be your customers. Make sure you have the information on the website proper.

Social media integration (organic)

Share all relevant information organically (without paying) on all your social media channels. Consider a tool like Buffer which allows you to push to all channels at once. This content doesn’t always have to link back to your website.

It’s okay to push everything natively to social media networks. It’s not about driving traffic to your website necessarily. It’s about raising awareness.

Read next: How to maximize organic social media in 2020

Readability of content on all platforms

While you are pushing your content to all these different platforms, make sure it’s actually readable on all the platforms.

For example, pushing a PDF to Facebook is a terrible experience on Facebook. Especially since many Facebook users use the Facebook app on their phone and that PDF is hard to read there.

Related: How can infographics work on mobile devices?

I’m still amazed at how much content is out there that can’t be viewed on mobile devices:

  • Infographics
  • Two-column pdf or white papers
  • Websites
  • Images and graphics

When I point this out the list of reasons can be long:

  • Our audience isn’t on mobile (Huh?)
  • They would never do that on mobile (Really?)
  • We didn’t even think about testing this on mobile. (Been there!)

The list can go on and sometimes these reasons are valid. The reality of things is that people use mobile phones for all kinds of things today. That can include content consumption and content production.

Author Scot Westwater reminded us on the Business Storytelling Podcast that whenever we say ‘that will never happen’ it often does happen. And people use their phones for all kinds of things, including looking up businesses.


Listen to a related podcast here.


The reality of things is that people use different size devices today and even if we don’t personally do that, our target audience might.

So, how do we ensure content works on all devices? It certainly can be a never ending battle and it also goes the other way towards desktops. The other day I saw a website that worked fantastically well on mobile but the way some of the features were created in the mobile-first way made them rather clunky on desktop. That wasn’t a very good experience on desktop.

It shouldn’t be mobile first or desktop first or print first. It should be all relevant channels first.

Certainly, it is okay to prioritize our main channels. If people use Instagram mostly on mobile, why would Instagram ever prioritize desktop functionalities? But, as we’ve seen in more and more functionalities are actually becoming available on desktop for Instagram. Desktop users have been able to view Instagram pictures on desktop for a long time.

How do we get to a point where content is actually viewable on at least the major devices-desktop, tablets and smart phones? Here is a handy list:

  • Be aware that this is needed. For example, when creating an info graphic with a lot of text and the text is small that could lead us to the realization that that info graphic most likely won’t be viewable on a mobile phone.
  • Test. Even for desktop browsers there are many different solutions now to test. I would recommend doing that. Also test for other devices and different screen sizes.
  • Listen to the audience. Every once in a while a reader would tell me when something appears to be not working correctly and they show me. The first reaction of course is to explain why something looks the way it does but I would highly recommend against that. Listen, and then fix where necessary.
  • Remember that it’s a never ending game. What works today might not work tomorrow. Who knows what the next device that people will use will be. Keep an eye on those changes and evolve with them.

Employee advocacy

Employees can help businesses spread messages. Onalytica’s Tim Williams said on the Business Storytelling Podcast that businesses should empower employees to share their own stories.

Given that many employees are ready to get back to work, this should be relatively easy. I know when I’ve started new jobs in the past, I would post a Day 1 selfie at the new office. Many others do the same. Why not encourage people to post Day 1 back after home sheltering selfies or something like that.

You can also consider sending examples to employees what they can consider to post.

Read next: New: LinkedIn now allows employers to send their corporate social media marketing posts to all employees with one click

Paid campaigns

Paid campaigns are possible in a number of different ways:

  • Social media
  • Google Ad Network
  • Your local radio or TV stations
  • Newspapers or other relevant media companies
  • Offline strategies like billboards
  • Direct mail
  • Etc.

It’s impossible to do all, but it’s probably worth considering doing something. As they say: You have to spend money to make money. When you pick the right campaigns it can help accelerate results.

I would prioritize the campaigns that are the least expensive and where less of my competitors are. For example, if none of my competitors runs a billboard and there are some good deals available, I’d try it.

Consider the payoff versus cost.

How to see what ads your competitors are running (Facebook)

Many platforms allow you to spie on what campaigns the competition is running. This section was first published in 2018 when Facebook rolled out this feature and still gives you an idea how to check on this.

Facebook in an apparent way to be more transparent they now show anyone who wants to spend the time all ads a page is currently running. Related: Remember how Russia influenced the U.S. election with minimal Facebook ad spend?

So now users – and companies of course – can view any page’s current ads.

Here’s how to see what ads your competitor is running:

Go to the page

On mobile: click the i Info and Ads

On desktop that’s at the bottom left:

That takes you to a screen that shows you all ads they are running:

Looking at the competition, I saw:

  • Similar ads with slightly different wording
  • Different uses of call to action buttons
  • What kind of multimedia was being used
  • Different ads for different countries – if a page runs ads in different countries you can see that.

If you started a campaign on Instagram only those ads are showing up in this overview. I tested it.

The ad overview also doesn’t show you the targeting your competitor is using.

It also doesn’t show you how well an ad or campaign is performing. When the ad has a video you can see – as always – how many views it has.

But a competitive advantage can certainly be gained by knowing what the competition is doing.

I realize I’ve said earlier that Facebook is a waste of time for content publishers who want to conserve budget and I stand by that opinion. No corrections necessary.

But this isn’t about using Facebook for your content distribution. It’s about using Facebook for business and content intelligence. This new feature can help us understand what others are currently doing in their marketing efforts.

I would recommend taking a look from time to time to see what kind of campaigns are being run. Then decide if your strategy should be updated.

What about direct mail in your small business marketing strategies?

Generally speaking I favor digital campaigns, but with a dip in marketing mail, sending direct mail messages to a specific area could be a differentiator.

My article on the topic dives deeper into what to consider and how to run this kind of campaign.

Read next: How businesses can maximize direct mail now as the U.S. Postal Services is seeing a decline

Earned media

Certainly news media has seen more prosperous days but people still listen to the radio, watch TV and read the newspaper. Earned media is a term used to describe unpaid appearances or quotes in media outlets. An example: When I ask guests to appear on my podcast after I saw their expertise in an area. They aren’t paying for it and earned the appearance through me recognizing that I’d like them on the show.

Being quoted in your local media can be helpful. You could reach out to them when you might have something newsworthy to share or can offer a comment for a timely story. Don’t be taken back when your pitch falls on deaf ears. Try again another time. Or pitch to another outlet.

Email marketing

If you already have a good list of contacts, make sure to use it appropriately. Send them updates to what’s going on, but don’t be obnoxious or overdo it.

Read next: Email marketing: When a business keeps sending you birthday emails about your dead dog

Offline

Don’t forget about offline channels. That could be the billboard, signs outside your business and other such tactics that have been around even pre-internet. They can work and might be the best tactic for you.

Small business marketing strategies

There certainly are more ways than ever to market your opening or re-opening. Prioritize based on budget, results and go from there. It’s okay to start with one channel and then build on the campaign from there.