The following is a guest post from Collin Holmes, CEO of brand management company Chatmeter. Opinions are the author's own.
Lately, many are itching for a similar experience, and it's not necessarily to fly to a remote Thai beach or drive cross-country to have an adventure. While those things would be nice, consumers all mostly impatient for normalcy. The simple thought of heading to a neighborhood coffee shop or a casual stroll through a favorite clothing shop could spur a smile.
Opposite from this consumer eagerness is hesitancy and desire to remain safe for themselves, their family, friends and community. Retailers are feeling the pressure of both sets of emotions as states across the country begin to reopen and allow businesses to start selling under new, stricter guidelines. Starbucks, for example, recently announced the reopening of most of its company-owned stores with new parameters and a "monitor and adapt" strategy in place.
Consumers are weighing this need to stay safe and responsible against their enthusiasm to fully begin contributing to the economy again. In order to whet both appetites, they are relying on content and information now more than ever as we navigate the pandemic together.
To prepare for this new chapter, retailers must recognize the importance of providing clear, fast and accurate information about their business. As companies reopen, consumers will follow with cautious optimism but are looking at their path to purchase through a new lens. Marketing strategies need to not only meet consumers where they are, but help them make important, informed decisions as "monitor and adapt" reminds us that the only constant we can count on is change.
Retailers face adversity as consumers use the same channels with new urgency
Consumer needs have fluctuated since the beginning of the pandemic, with people across the country seeking everything from crucial medical supplies to the latest form of entertainment. Despite being pushed to conduct most business online, the hunger to purchase in store remains strong, forcing retailers to manage a lot on their plate. The National Retail Federation estimated $430 billion in revenue will disappear by the end of June. These retailers are feeling the burden to develop a strategy, plan and timing to reopen; ensure they have sufficient product to sell; manage employee safety; and add and retain customers to support their bottom line.
As stores reopen, consumers are using the same methods on their path to purchase: conducting research online to purchase in-store. But with so daily changes, they need hyperlocal information to determine details as straightforward as whether a store is even open or has amended hours or rules. These consumers will also still look to complete their purchase journey by leaving feedback on their experience with the brand, which may skew negative and deter existing or new customers if confusion or unsafe conditions are met along the way. This word-of-mouth marketing that informs and influences others in the same purchase path can prove damaging to brands that do not quickly place value on providing the most accurate information for curious and concerned consumers.
Reevaluate approach and underscore SEO
With some businesses conducting furloughs and layoffs, budgets are increasingly tight. Relying on a marketing strategy that may have proved fruitful pre-pandemic may not be successful as consumers rethink how they spend money. States and even certain districts, cities and towns are all at different points in their journey back to reopening. A blanket strategy is not "one size fits all," and marketers must consider the specific needs of consumers in one region or area against another.
Whether a business can emerge from COVID-19 and succeed or fail is dependent on how they adapt their SEO and marketing strategy to connect with customers. They need to understand that consumers have heightened wariness, perhaps fewer options and are hesitant in where to place their trust.
Prioritizing high-value strategies like SEO and local listings management ensures location information is visible to customers searching for products or services. Keeping consistent information across all platforms is key at this stage as details are necessary to determine relevance, prominence and proximity for local listings rankings. Simply updating a business website is insufficient, as mismatching information can decrease rankings and reach.
Continually improve the customer experience
This hyperlocal approach and prioritization of SEO and local listings will set marketers up for success as they reopen their businesses and look to recapture customer volume. It is a pivotal moment for many retailers as providing an all-encompassing great customer journey has taken on a new meaning with new implications. As consumers rethink their path to purchase, marketers in turn must react and implement strategies to reach consumers in an always-on, personalized manner to gain and keep buyers, increase brand loyalty and drum up revenue.