In this installment of Big Thinkers, we explore ways big brands can learn from smaller, more flexible companies during challenging times. Darryl Margaux, president and co-founder of digital advertising agency SearchKings, shares what small businesses have taught him about resilience.
The pandemic has balanced the playing field between small and large businesses online. Companies of all sizes have been forced to quickly pivot to navigate these complicated times and there’s a lot that big brands can learn from small businesses right now.
Local businesses are used to approaching marketing with an entrepreneur’s mindset. Even before the pandemic, they’ve relied on word-of-mouth and flexible strategies, and have had to shift to stay relevant with their customers and communities.
At SearchKings, we help thousands of small businesses with their digital marketing strategies each year, but we started out as small business owners ourselves. When we launched a decade ago, search marketing was still new and we were figuring things out on the fly.
We didn’t have much formal business experience then, but had a simple goal: to help small businesses stand out online. People warned us not to go into business with good friends, but co-founder Matthew Glickman and I had known each other since kindergarten and knew our skill sets were complementary. Instead of going after big clients, we took an old-school approach to grow our own business. We didn’t ask our customers to commit to long-term contracts, which forced us to adapt strategies and really prove the ROI.
We’ve learned a lot from the small businesses we’ve worked with over the years. Through the pandemic, we’ve gained a greater appreciation for their resilience. Here are some of the lessons they’re teaching us and what all marketers can learn from them.
Stay resilient by doing more with less
Small businesses have always had to do more with less. Many of our clients operate with tight budgets, even $500 a month. Now big brands are being forced to think this way, too. Profit-driven marketing has become increasingly important this year, as businesses look to the recovery period ahead.
Tactical thinking is important during times of uncertainty — it becomes resilience.
Tactical thinking is important during times of uncertainty — it becomes resilience. The big brands that are shifting their mentality this way, and finding ways to do more with less, are better positioned for the times. Marketers need to think small and find more impactful ways to reach customers directly, whether it’s when they’re researching online, or through text messages.
Look for signals to guide strategies
Don’t base your strategies on instinct alone — look for signals. Think of a busy emergency room in a hospital. How do medical staff know which patients need their attention right away, and which issues could become urgent? The patients all have monitors attached to them which feed real-time information back to the doctors and decision makers, allowing them to flag issues and fix problems.
Digital marketing works the same way. Insights and analytics offer signals that help inform strategies. Our cross-platform, alert-based system can help small businesses identify signals and patterns so they can quickly shift their campaign, and improve account management efficiency and performance.
Craft flexible messaging, not campaigns
At the beginning of the pandemic, businesses were forced to shift their thinking from “campaigns” to “messaging.” Digital marketing channels are an efficient way to be responsive, cast a wide net, and get messages into the market. Flexible messaging is now important to businesses that have become essential during the pandemic, like some of our clients in home services. It’s completely changed the way they advertise. For example, some have shifted to specific messaging around indoor air quality and preventive maintenance, or the power of remote diagnostics of HVAC systems using advanced technology.
For some businesses, the more important message may be that they are still open for business. There’s also a lot of value in staying visible during times when your ability to serve is limited.
Now more than ever, people are looking for the closest, most reliable service near them.
Build a local community of customers
Having a local presence has become very powerful during the pandemic, even for big brands. As more people stay close to home, they’re trying new products and brands and want stores and services that follow safety protocols. Small businesses understand the power of community and demonstrated performance.
Now more than ever, people are looking for the closest, most reliable service near them. They’re searching for things like “furnace repair near me.” On Google, searches for "plumbers near me" grew globally by over 100% YoY.1 Online customer reviews, like Google Reviews, are helping people research local companies in advance. Branding may come after the fact.
We’re helping thousands of independent home services and professional services companies, like electricians, plumbers, pest control, HVAC, and lawyers, connect with people at the local level through Local Services Ads. Big brands also need to think about their presence at a local level and what information will help people looking for products like theirs.
Marketers need to tell people what they’re doing right now and why they’re relevant during this time.
Focus on recent customer reviews to stay relevant
The whole idea of the sales cycle has changed. The relevancy of online ads has, too. We’re finding that many homeowners are looking at the most recent Google Reviews after clicking on ads, to better qualify companies. People want to know that the company they’re hiring did a great job last month, not last year. This is just as true for big brands. Marketers need to tell people what they’re doing right now and why they’re relevant during this time. How are you helping? How can you help?
This is a time for all marketers to focus on being resourceful, resilient and relevant to people at a local level. Most importantly, it’s a time for marketers of all backgrounds to learn together.