Digital marketing takes the wheel post COVID-19

By Doug MacMillan

In the May/June 2021 marketing column five marketing and branding trends were identified that are expected to take root as we emerge from this pandemic. This is the first of a series, which will build out those five trends with more research and insight.

Up first: your digital marketing. It is no secret the pandemic lit a bonfire under consumer digital behaviours, establishing fresh habits that will likely result in permanent shifts in how people find, vet, communicate with, and evaluate businesses.

If digital marketing isn’t sitting in the front seat of your business plan, there is a good chance your company will be left behind. Note that I said business plan and not marketing plan. Marketing, sales, service, quality control, planning and inventory are all interconnected in the mind of the customer. The challenge is continuing to engage with them digitally beyond the call-to-action click by using digital media throughout the entire customer journey.

If you’re already well on this digital path, stick to it. Keep in mind that due to the immense number of businesses and industries leaning on digital efforts, people are becoming immune to the standard online marketing techniques. The challenge lies not only in reaching people to generate a click or a call, but to create content and strategies that help your company stand out as genuine and service-focused, community minded and honest.

If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that humans are capable of adapting, and quickly. Some people may never go back to working the way they were, shopping in person, or actually communicating face-to-face. Why is that? It is because they don’t have to. The resources are there for them digitally, so why go back? This demonstrates the importance of having digital marketing tactics in place.


Ranking of websites and digital ads

Let’s get into search engine optimization (SEO). Most people today understand the term: when you search for something in Google, the results that appear are ranked based on a number of factors, many of which are within your control. Search engine optimization is very important for ranking your company’s website or digital ads. By determining which keywords work appropriately, and the algorithms of SEO, you can effectively target digital efforts.

One growth area is voice search, which is becoming more popular as technologies such as Amazon’s Alexa are used more often in the home. SEO will perform quite a bit differently with voice search versus typical keyboard search that tends to rely on only a few words. This is why it’s important to wrap your head around a modern keywords strategy and to incorporate both short and longer, more specific keywords.

Let’s look at an example: If someone is searching for the best plumber to service a septic system north of Toronto, the typical Google search might include “septic plumber Toronto,” however, if you are speaking the inquiry, you’ll use a full sentence: “Alexa, find me plumbers north of Toronto that specialize in septic systems.” SEO simply looks for the best match in both occurrences: adding content to your website such as blogs, and longer search terms in an AdWords campaign, will rank you well with the voice searcher, as well as the keyboard searcher.

“It’s nice to hear what people liked about your product or services, but it’s also a great opportunity to adapt in areas that could be improved.”

We’ll wrap with the ultimate digital word-of-mouth tool: online reviews. Reviews and testimonials have been a part of business for years, but with recent digital the way reviews are utilized and the trust behind online reviews has changed. Consumers are relying on the web for insights about products and services in a new manner, trusting complete strangers’ opinions to make decisions.

We could dive into a full column on reviews, but for now here are some key points to help you incorporate reviews into digital marketing efforts moving forward. The first step: ask. Then, engage with positive and negative reviews to create connections and keep trust with customers. It’s nice to hear what people liked about your product or services, but it’s also a great opportunity to adapt in areas that could be improved. Having many positive reviews, primarily through Google, boosts SEO.


The appeal of the “homemade”

Another tool that utilizes SEO is video marketing. As noted last issue, video consumption was up 120 per cent through COVID and many businesses turned to lower budget, personable videos to help communicate genuine messages. This trend may be one of the most important tools in marketing over the next 10 years. Seventy-two per cent of businesses say video has improved their conversion rates. It has also become a way to connect with and educate their audience about products or services, and especially to provide quick tips, demonstrations, customer comfort (meet “Joe” so you’ll recognize him at the door), and so on.

In the old days, creating videos meant big budget. Today, videos need to be well-planned and offer valuable content, but they do not need to be top-quality, professionally edited, expensive videos. In many ways, a “homemade vibe” may prove more genuine and less intimidating. Google ranks sites or feeds with videos higher, partly due to SEO, driving more organic traffic than solely text webpages.