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Planning for recovery and future opportunities for small businesses

As the pandemic continues to have a far-reaching impact across lives and livelihoods, many small and midsized businesses (SMBs) are navigating uncharted waters. Yet, plotting a course for surviving and thriving in a post-COVID-19 world is possible. We’re here to help you with digital marketing insights and strategies on how to pivot your business for success throughout the crisis and beyond.

Understanding how consumer behavior continues to change

Consumer behavior continues to change. More people are working, shopping and learning from home. This, coupled with other lifestyle shifts, has led to an 18% growth in searches on tablets while desktop searches are up 8% when compared with pre-COVID-19 levels. More people are also using search on the weekend, leading to a 12% increase in volume. That’s two times the rate of the weekday search volume growth. Consumers are also searching during nonbusiness hours, specifically between 5 PM and 5 AM, at a rate twice that of regular business hours.

What are they searching for? New products and contactless shopping. Product shortages and a lack of easy online shopping at the start of the crisis forced many people to switch brands and retailers. For the basics, some are turning to websites they never visited previously (14%). Others are shopping at new grocery stores (20%) and adopting curbside restaurant and store pickup (15% and 19% for new and increased users, respectively). As a result, 10 to 20 million customers are now up for grabs, but they’re pulling back on discretionary spending and looking for deals on essential items.

“The homebody economy” also has more people dedicating time to domestic activities, consuming media and reading the news. With everyone focused on the news, native and display advertising are great ways to build more direct connections with customers by reaching them in a targeted, efficient and relevant context. Native advertising on the Microsoft Audience Network shows your ads on premium news sites like MSN, Microsoft Edge and Outlook.com.

Plan your comeback to capture searchers

In-store registers are starting to ring again as countries across the globe reopen. While analysts are expecting recovery to be uneven, overall, consumers in the U.S., Europe, South America and Asia are optimistic about the future.

As we transition to our new reality, start getting ready to apply more flexibility to your campaign benchmarks. Consider adjusting bids and budgets to align with marketplace dynamics. A Microsoft Advertising specialist can help you identify vertical-specific marketplace trends. Also, review your overall campaign metrics mix.

To better focus consumer demand, businesses are relying on search advertising. Paid search generates the greatest return on advertising spend (ROAS) across media channels, per dollar invested in the U.S. Some industry insiders have said that paid search is the most recession-proof tool, considering its ability to connect businesses with shoppers who are ready to buy. When compared with other advertising channels, paid search has been impacted the least and benefited the most, either retaining or receiving reallocated marketing budget.

Revisit your business and operation models to future-proof your company

Even as companies work to navigate the crisis and stabilize their income, businesses need to start planning for the post-crisis phase now. The shift to digital is here to stay as the pandemic has forced businesses to accomplish two years of digital transformation in the space of around three months. This change, spurred by the need for hygiene and contactless shopping, means the return to offline, in-store shopping will be slow and well below pre-COVID-19 levels.

One company that has pivoted aggressively to e-commerce is global retailer and Zara-owner, Inditex. The company recently announced it’s permanently closing nearly 1,200 stores as it maps out its post-coronavirus future. SMBs should take note as the move shows how big retailers see the industry’s outlook: a bigger focus on online shopping with fewer stores, providing intelligent retail and creative customer experiences. The brick-and-mortar stores that do stay open will work to provide customers with fun, novel and interactive experiences.

Companies will also need to be able to quickly and accurately forecast demand and adapt their strategies to respond quickly to changes in consumer demand. To do this, businesses are switching to more complex attribution models and moving away from last-click attribution and siloed media measurement. Our multi-touch attribution study found that, on average, search clicks are directly followed by a conversion 2.6 times more than clicks from other ad types, including social and video.

Combining paid search with other media channels, including native advertising, will amplify your searches and can help you get the best return on investment (ROI) during this unprecedented time. In fact, companies that used a combined offline and online cross-channel strategy had a 45% higher ROI than those who had a single online channel strategy.

Shaping your customer’s shopping experience

Customers will be expecting a seamless shopping experience. Also known as omnichannel, this means ensuring shoppers have a unified encounter with your brand whether they’re buying online from a mobile device or a laptop or in a brick-and-mortar store.

Santa Barbara Chocolate is a great example of a brand that provides omnichannel experiences to its customers. The company uses intelligent advertising tools by Microsoft Advertising and artificial intelligence (AI) to help make more informed marketing decisions and plan smarter customer journeys for shoppers. With help from the Microsoft Advertising API, they’ve also optimized their product titles by adding actual search terms used by shoppers and employing hyper-focused location targeting. These and other changes helped the company achieve a 476% increase in conversion rates and raised its average revenue growth by 315% in less than a year.

Omnichannel data and customer feedback loops will also help you allocate limited marketing dollars in a more impactful way. Don’t be afraid to reach out to customers with support and pay attention to any indication that you’re missing the mark on connecting with them. Social media can also be a great resource for quick customer readings. Digital Marketing Center by Microsoft is a free service that can help you manage your presence across leading advertising and social media platforms, including Google Ads, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Microsoft Advertising (available in the U.S. only). You can also ask employees for their on-the-front-line customer insights.

Building customer trust will be more important than ever post-crisis. Consumers will continue to expect brands to step up and showcase their values. Marketing with Purpose is a framework you can use to connect more authentically with your people, build trust and ultimately drive greater business value.

Get help from Microsoft Advertising

Remember, we’re here to help set you up for success during this challenging time. If you’re an existing advertiser, schedule a free search consultation to get help staying visible to customers. If you’re a new advertiser, create a new account or contact our specialists to get hands-on help setting up and optimizing your new account and campaign. Contact us whenever it’s convenient for you. We’re available 24/7 via chat, phone or Twitter. You can also check our resources at help.ads.microsoft.com.

No matter what size business you have, we're here to support you and your team every step of the way. Reach out to us on LinkedIn or Twitter with your questions. We want to hear how you’re adapting your strategies to today’s new reality and how we can better help you.

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