Michael D. Smith is an award-winning creative and the founder of MDS Media Inc. We create B2B Content Strategy to position market leaders.
Brands need to rethink their messaging to meet the moment. Historically, the fourth quarter was a lucrative time of year for businesses big and small, as customers flooded stores to take advantage of steep discounts and stock up on holiday gifts. But with the pandemic predicted to last well into 2021, Q4 2020 will be unprecedented for a different reason.
The last quarter of the year was already producing diminishing returns — last November, U.S. retail sales grew just 0.2%. Brick and mortar retailers without a strong online presence have continually lost market share to e-commerce giants like Amazon. The pandemic, however, has presented a challenge for both physical and digital businesses. Mandated closures have led to higher unemployment rates, resulting in many shoppers with less disposable income. And customers fortunate enough to have both employment and disposable income are choosing to save.
Still, there’s a bright spot in all of this — content. A recent Nielsen study shows that content consumption is up all over the world. Compared to last year, Americans are spending 215% more time online reading global news and assessing current events. In Italy, consumption is up 180%, and in Thailand and Japan, it’s up 125% and 78%, respectively. There’s still a hunger for great content, and if you have the right messaging and strategies, your brand can connect with current customers, onboard new ones and turn a difficult quarter into a success story.
Prioritize Your Audience’s Sensitivity
This is a frightening time for most people, and your brand’s marketing has to acknowledge that, or else you run the risk of sounding tone-deaf. Take JNCO, for instance. The brand — most well-known for the wide-leg denim trend of the 90s and early 2000s — sent out an email about how its 50% off sale could help customers enjoy their time in quarantine. It was rightfully panned on Twitter.
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Customers’ priorities and behaviors have shifted. They’re focused on maintaining their health and wellness, stocking up on basic supplies and spending money on products and services that keep them safe. They’re also looking to be comforted; they don’t want to be sold to.
As you prep for Q4, reassess your customer personas and rethink what your target audience wants to hear from you. This could mean marketing nonessential goods in softer ways, with message-based content instead of product-focused content. This could mean sharing the ways your business has been impacted by the pandemic or how you’ve supported your immediate community. It also means creating empathetic messaging that makes customers feel supported.
For examples of how to find the right balance, look to health care brands like Vanquish and CVS Health, who either addressed customer pain points in fresh ways or focused on what they were doing to make customers’ lives safer and easier.
Keep The Focus On Digital
Throughout the pandemic, customers have become more comfortable shopping for everything online, including services and educational courses. Site traffic on the top 2000 North American e-commerce sites jumped 125% on average from March to June, and U.S. e-commerce sales shot up 31% in Q2 alone. Clearly, shoppers don’t feel safe spending their money in person, and they’re mostly buying products on the web. Thus, your content marketing efforts need to focus heavily on digital consumption.
This could manifest itself in different ways. On social media, you can craft shoppable stories and posts. You can update your website with the right apps and plugins to make shopping turnkey easy. You can also run digital ads with CTAs that link directly to your website or digital storefront. And you can invest in SEO, which leads to a much higher conversion rate than traditional outbound marketing.
Essentially, everything you do should steer your audience toward purchasing online, and in so doing, you need to make it as simple and accessible as possible.
Build Trust With Your Customer
The rapid increase in online activity has led to a rise in new dropshipping companies. Shopify saw nearly 500 new coronavirus-related e-commerce shops on its platform in the first few months of the pandemic. Some of these sites are legitimate, but many of them either don’t have the goods they’re selling or they haven’t personally verified the quality of their products. This has led to widespread mistrust of new dropshipping businesses. However, this is the time to use high-quality content to establish your expertise.
Use your content to educate the audience about your products, how you run your business, and general, nonpromotional topics related to your product categories. Additionally, think beyond typical content like blog posts, emails and ads. Each piece of successful marketing should route your customer to your storefront, and when they get there, they need complete information. You can further establish trust with a detailed FAQ page, full product descriptions, customer reviews and links to your contact info and store policies.
Use Multiple Social Media Platforms
Social media use is at an all-time high right now. An estimated 51% of U.S. adults are scrolling through their newsfeeds at higher rates now than in years past. If you want your content marketing to make an impact, you need to meet your audience where they are.
A lot of business advice stresses that you should focus on mastering one or two social media platforms, but you’re better off spreading your content across as many platforms as you can. Don’t limit yourself to Facebook — start posting on TikTok, Twitter and Instagram as well. By using several networks, you can reach a wider audience, improve your search engine rankings and visibility, and ensure you’re more available to handle timely customer service issues. Not to mention, if you don’t show up on these networks, your competition will. Just be sure to tailor your posts to each platform and maintain brand consistency.
In short, the world of business and the consumer have shifted dramatically. Now, your content has to make the change, too.
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Author: Michael Smith, Forbes Councils Member