Dealing with Pandemic Black Friday Sales as a Local Business

COVID-19 has caused retailers across the globe to shift to a heavier focus on digital sales. Lockdown restrictions may have eased, but the country is starting to see a resurgence of COVID cases. Small and local businesses have found ways to balance in-person sales with online throughout this year. But what happens when the busiest shopping day of the year rolls around during a pandemic?

There are a few marketing tactics that can be used to adapt to the pandemic and keep customers excited and ready to do business with you. Black Friday and the holiday season in general is something businesses don’t want to miss out on. And in a year that has been financially straining, these sales could be more important than ever.

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Most big box retail businesses like amazon and best buy and walmart are opting to host a sort of “black friday month” this year. They have planned out exclusive sales that either last the entire month, or have flash sales sprinkled throughout the month.  

A large number of retailers began their holiday season of discounts before Halloween even arrived. If you’re waiting until that usual last week of November, you’ll be way behind. Let customers know that your exclusive holiday discounts are already available and will be throughout the month.

Starting sales early is a great idea for small businesses, as it means customers won’t feel the need to all show up at your store at the same time. People are selective about when they go out this year, so if you have multiple dates in which customers can get access to your sales, your chances of getting their business go up.

Build a system for customer safety

Customers need to know that you’re being conscious of their safety during the holiday season. One thing you can do to make this clear is by offering appointment visits to your business. Naturally people will be hesitant to enter a store or office if they don’t know how many other customers might be there when they arrive. 

An appointment-only operation has the benefit of ensuring customer safety, while also making customers feel like they are being catered to specifically. A customer that came out to a business at a preset appointment is more likely to spend money than if they casually strolled into your building on a whim. You’re enabling a level of commitment. Make your customers think “well I bothered making an appointment, it would be a waste to leave without buying something.”

People need to also know that you are enforcing policies that will keep everyone safe. Post signs out front that clearly explain the rules for entering the establishment and be upfront about things like your cleaning procedures and social distancing systems. And most importantly, find a way to enforce whatever mask mandates that apply to your location.

Offer up exclusive digital discounts

It would also be wise to lean into online-exclusive offers this year. Encourage customers to give you their business through digital sales, and you’ll be opening up future business opportunities even when the world starts returning to normal.

Digital sales are also a great way to encourage financially hurting customers to opt for payment plans. These types of plans are becoming more and more commonplace for customers of any financial background.

Adopting contactless payment systems is great for in-store and online safe purchasing.

Making the online purchasing experience easy is also very important in 2020 and beyond. Set your website up with payment systems like Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, Amazon Pay, etc. 

You want to open the door for those less familiar with online purchasing systems. And as digital privacy becomes more and more important to consumers, you’ll want to avoid asking them to enter their credit card numbers into yet another website form. Systems like those mentioned above have safety nets for those who are concerned.

These systems can also be utilized for safer contactless in-store payment.

Get the word out through email

In years past, the strategy for informing customers about your holiday sales would be to plaster signs along your storefront. This is obviously different for each type of business, particularly those that don’t have a storefront and for businesses that sell services without the need for in-person stores and salespeople. But email messaging has already taken over for all kinds of businesses and is a key factor in pandemic marketing.

Getting people on board with your email marketing and keeping them engaged is your starting point, and you’ve hopefully been working on this over the recent years already. But once those emails are rolling into your customer’s inboxes, you need to make sure you are being transparent this season.

Being empathetic to your customers safety concerns is equally important in your emails as it is in your operational decisions. Truly showing customers that you’re caring for them means giving up something on your end. You can offer free shipping with the messaging of “we’ll throw in free shipping so you can stay safe at home and avoid the black friday crowds this year.”

Be empathetic in your marketing messaging

The perfect messaging balance in holiday 2020 will come from showing that you care about the customer’s finances and experiences. This doesn’t necessarily mean directly addressing COVID-19, but try to shift the message away from excitement and overjoyous hype. 

Think carefully about tonality and show sensitivity to how your product or service fits into the lives of customers living in a pandemic. Naturally, a direction to go with this is touting the affordable prices you’re offering. Let customers know that you’re bringing prices down for them out of respect for the mutual struggle that both customers and businesses are dealing with this year.

One way to avoid sounding salesy is to focus on informing customers. For example, if you’re in the business of selling office furniture, don’t point customers directly to product pages on your website. Instead, write a blog that helps them identify the right office chair for their home setup. Identify different issues that people might be individually facing in 2020. 

Don’t just scream “buy now!” at your clientele, offer to help them first. Your discounts will look even more attractive when the customer knows you’ve helped them find their exact, right product or service.

How to Promote your Award-Winning Success in 2020

2020 has been a challenging year for businesses across the globe. But our annual Charleston’s Choice awards have shown that customers want to keep showing support for their favorite local businesses. So we wanted to help winning companies highlight their success and adapt award celebrations to a changing environment.

The Charleston community nominated and voted for the top businesses in a variety of categories. Now is the time for you to highlight your honors and give your business the extra boost that awards can provide.

Here in Charleston, customers are always on the lookout for Charleston’s Choice honors, as it shows a business is the best of the best. And this goes for all types of awards any business might be recognized for. Let your community know you’ve been recognized through these branding and promotional strategies. Almost all of them can be done digitally and virtually so that you don’t have to rely on in-person customers.

Brag in your email marketing

You’ll want to make sure that you’re bragging about your award everywhere you can. Emails are a great place for that. You can make specialized emails focused on your award. Or simply add in the honors to your existing communications.

If you have a regular newsletter, dedicate a special edition to announcing the honors. Make an event out of it and catch subscribers’ attention by detailing how and why you won.

What makes your customer relations the best in the business? Why is your business the top tourist hotspot? Awards carry prestige by nature. But customers want to know just why you’re the best.

This is also a good place to start incorporating the award logo into your branding. This would be temporary and wouldn’t be applicable in all branding locations, so there’s no need to rework your logo. So find the best way to pair your logo with the award branding and place that naturally in your emails. Have employees update their signatures to include that your business is an award winner.

Show off the award with pride

Take advantage of this time to promote your award in the digital and physical space. SEM campaigns can show web searchers that you are a business worth looking into. And traditional web page ads catch the attention of audiences in your area, if you are employing geomarketing capabilities.

Businesses with a customer-facing storefront will have an easy time showing off their award. On-location signage promotes your success to all potential customers or clients. 

But businesses located within a large office complex in their own suite don’t have the opportunity to flaunt as much. Local billboards are a good substitute and open you up for even greater reach.

If physical ads by the side of the highway aren’t your thing, you should at least be showing off your victory on your website and social media pages. Update your website’s hero image and fancy up your homepage for a few weeks to celebrate. Maybe even run a contest to show you want to celebrate with your customers, not just tell them how great you are.

Other benefits of winning awards

If you haven’t gotten your business entered into awards, consider the added benefits outside of attracting new business. The prestige of being an award-winning organization affects all aspects of business.

Awards can bring growth to your business internally as well. It’s not always about showing off the award to the public. Current staff will be able to take pride in the work they do and the company they belong to. It’s an opportunity for a great boost in company morale. So even just putting up the award logo around the office can have great effects.

The celebration events for the awards themselves can also be a great opportunity for employees of winning businesses. Award parties can be a place to network with other winning businesses and build new business relationships.

Our Charleston’s Choice celebration brings together local businesses and gives them a chance to show the community why they were selected for the top honors. Restaurants and beverage companies can share their award winning creations with attendees.

There is always value in building your face-to-face engagement with your community. Event sponsorships can enable you to directly reach your community and professional peers. It is a great way to build your brand image.

Signs, advertisements and published announcements are the wide-reaching way to show off your accomplishment. But, an event sponsorship gives you a more intimate way to connect with potential customers or partners.

Finally, it should go without saying that a little time to unwind does wonders for everyone.


4 Unique Hacks for Facebook Advertising

If you have any experience running multiple ads on Facebook or Instagram through business manager, you probably think the process is standard and straightforward. 

The truth is, it can be. You can duplicate your old ads and change up the creative or targeting slightly, and get a whole new audience for your advertisements. You can save tons of custom audiences in your ad account and reuse them for various ad campaigns. The process is quite easy to get a hang of.

But the tools that business manager provides you with can allow for some creative ways to market your business and find a valuable audience online.

I’ll run through some of the more unique and useful hacks for Facebook Advertising through business manager.

Unicorn Ad Targeting

This hack goes against conventional advertising wisdom, at first glance. But depending on your business, it could lead to stronger customer acquisition and retention. 

The idea of unicorn ad targeting is that you can combine unrelated interests to get such unique targeting that the customer can’t help but pay attention. Audiences have become very used to seeing advertisements that target one of their interests. But they aren’t used to seeing ads that target multiple of their unique interests.

For example, you can target someone who has an interest in boating and sunflowers. Your ad can sell them a boat flag that features a sunflower. The people who fall into this audience and see this ad will be very surprised to see this overlap and will think something like, “wow, this ad really was made for me.”

The goal here isn’t to shy away from the public’s aversion to data tracking. The goal is to lean into it so that the viewer stops in their tracks and strongly remembers your ad. You’re not hiding anything here, when it comes to customer targeting.

The reason why I said this goes against conventional wisdom, is because this might feel like a weaker use of your money. Why spend $50 to target such a small group of people? Surely your estimated reach numbers will be higher if you were to align related interests in your targeting. This is true, but through unicorn targeting, your ad will catch attention much better and customers will naturally remember you more.

Create a Web Traffic Bomb

Facebook ads can be used to send a rush of users to your product or web page. This is especially useful if your business benefits from being listed on any page that shows trending products, pages, or articles.

The idea here is that you can use business manager to serve ads to the widest and cheapest audience possible. This tends to be by using audience network as your placement, since this tends to be very cheap and reaches a large number of users. 

You can also expand your location targeting wider than you typically would want to. It doesn’t matter so much if the users end up purchasing your product or service. You just want the clicks.

Once this traffic bomb starts occurring on your page, aggregate or other “trending now” type of services or websites will lift you to the top and people will find you that way. This creates a stronger impression with the user than your original paid ad would have. They are being told by a trusted service that your business is valuable among their peers.

Utilize Messenger Ads

One of the more underutilized placements in business manager is Facebook Messenger ads. These ads appear like traditional ads in the users feed, but the clickthrough takes them into facebook direct messaging, rather than a landing page you provided.

These ads can create a conversational relationship between your business and your potential customers. And the approach you should take to make the best of these ads is to use them for customer segmentation.

You have the unique advantage through messenger of finding out more about your customer lead. You can make note of what the users actually says their interests or traits are. And you can ultimately send them into applicable funnels for further marketing.

But how should you converse with the user once you have permission to message them? One good way is to apply active listening. You can set up a default initial message, when they click through, that asks them if they are a novice or expert at your industry service or product. And then you can make note of their experience level in your reply.

You don’t actually have to come up with a new product to sell them based on their experience level, if you don’t already have one. But you can acknowledge their answer and present them the product in a way that addresses their experience level. 

As an example, lets figure you’re selling a standing desk product. When the customer clicks on your messenger ad, they get a message from you asking if they are a first-time standing desk user, or an experience user looking for a better desk. 

If they respond saying they are a new user, you can reply saying “our desk is great for new users and is easy to swap between standing and sitting, as you get used to standing at work!”

If the user is an experienced user, you can craft a response saying “our desk outperforms the competition by using advanced hydraulics to achieve a smooth and fast lift into standing mode!”

Both responses fluff up the value of your product, but don’t’ distinctly state that your product is either only for beginners or experts. You sell these audiences the same product, but you make them feel listened to and acknowledged. The path to conversion then becomes much easier for you.

Skip Straight to Remarketing Ads

This hack says that remarketing is so much more valuable than regular marketing that you should skip the first step entirely.

Traditionally, you would set up an ad to run on facebook networks and then capture the info of the people who interact with your ad and then remarket to them. You create a second impression on the user after they already have brand recognition with you. They are now much more likely to make a final purchase.

The truth is that remarketed ads are 10 times more effective than regular display ads. The click through rate for retargeted ads averages at 0.7% compared to the average of 0.07% for traditional ads.

If your business spends $100 of your marketing budget on targeted ads, but only $10 on remarketed ads after running your initial campaign, you’re doing it backwards. Even if you don’t skip out on the initial ad campaign, as I suggested in the header of this segment, you should at least spend the heavier portion of your budget on retargeting.

The cost per click for remarketed audiences is significantly lower and you’ll end up with more conversions, under the same ad budget.

Balancing targeted advertising in the age of digital privacy

When Apple announced it’s latest iPhone software operating system, iOS14, it went all in on privacy features. This is nothing new for the leading phone manufacturer, but Apple wants their customers to have greater control than ever over their information.

This is an admirable effort on Apple’s part, as businesses like Facebook and Google come under scrutiny for mismanaging user data. But how do the new features, which are already adopted by 25% of users, affect your ability to effectively market your business?

What has changed?
The new notification makes users more aware than ever of how their data is used across the internet, mostly for targeted advertising.

Normally, new features of a phone operating system wouldn’t mean much to businesses that aren’t involved in that ecosystem. But with Apple’s iOS14, which released on September 16, businesses that rely on targeted advertising and marketing are more affected than ever.

The new system will require apps to ask users to allow data to be tracked and saved to their unique online profile, most commonly used for targeted advertising.

Facebook went so far as to warn app developers that the new privacy changes will severely weaken its ability to track users and serve targeted ads. 

“Our ability to deliver targeted ads on iOS 14 will be limited…” Facebook said in a release. “As a result, some iOS 14 users may not see any ads from Audience Network, while others may still see ads from us, but they’ll be less relevant.”

Audience Network is Facebook’s system for utilizing the unique identifiers that phones create for their owners. They read that info and create a profile for ad targeting that can follow the user into other apps and services. This also helps Facebook build its audience data for paid ads in business manager, which has been a powerful tool for businesses to reach potential customers.

How immediate is the change?

The tracking features do still exist, as the operating system did not outright kill them. That unique identifier, called the IDFA (ID for advertisers) is still on a user’s iPhone. But the big change comes from iOS14 forcing apps to ask the user for permission to track. This weakens the potential effectiveness of the IDFA.

When given the choice, we can assume many users will refuse to allow apps to track their data. In 2020, the digital landscape is shaped by the ongoing struggle between privacy concerns of users, and the need for businesses to reach new audiences through targeted advertising.

So as more users come to adopt the OS and learn about the privacy features, the more people will inevitably opt out of data tracking within apps. Once an app is opened for the first time after the user updates their phone, they will see a pop-up that asks if they want to allow the app to save their data.

How should you adapt?

After Facebook put out its warning to developers, Apple decided to hold back some of the features until next year. The goal is to give app developers more time to adjust to the changes.

Users even have the ability to opt out of receiving targeted ads based on the profile stored on their phone.

It won’t be until 2021 that Apple forces all apps to warn users about the data tracking.

“We are committed to ensuring users can choose whether or not they allow an app to track them. To give developers time to make necessary changes, apps will be required to obtain permission to track users starting early next year,” reads Apple’s developer note.

So if your business provides an app to customers on Apple’s App Store, you do have additional time to comply with the changes and develop your app around the idea that users can opt out of providing data.

But even if you don’t have an app, this change still heavily affects your business’ ability to reach new customers that are potentially prime to spend money with you. Should Facebook abandon its utilization of the IDFA, one of the largest sources of user data will be dampened.

Since this is a war of sorts between user’s concerns and advertisers’ need for data, it is important to remain sympathetic to the users. 

In the end, you likely have a level of concern for your digital privacy as well. Try to think about the things that you wouldn’t want data trackers to know. You can then build your targeted marketing campaigns to not be blatantly directed at the user.

You can still utilize the audience databases that exist, but avoid looking like you’re specifically targeting a single action or interest. This will all help maintain good will among privacy-minded customers.

It might also be beneficial to broaden the audiences that you target. If your business sells to mountain bikers, for example, you can keep your audience size large by including all kinds of bikers in your targeting. If the mountain bikers start opting out of data tracking, that audience will shrink within the ad networks. And the more people feel like ads are being forced upon them via hyper-specific targeting, the less they will trust you.

If your business values a balanced approach to targeted advertising and marketing, contact The Post and Courier Advertising today.

Creating a Strong Email Onboarding Plan

Having a poor onboarding experience for your customers can pretty much kill your growth and potentially your business.

The first experience someone has as a potential customer sets the tone for your relationship. If the onboarding process is confusing or overwhelming, you risk driving the customer away permanently.

What is onboarding?

Customer onboarding is the process a new user goes through to become acclimated with your product. The onboarding process starts from the moment a new visitor begins your signup funnel. It continues as they tour your product for the first time and never truly ends. 

You should continue to use onboarding as you educate your user base about new product functionalities and features. No matter when it happens, great onboarding quickly and effortlessly answers several key questions for your customer.  

Why use email to onboard?

Email is a great supplemental onboarding tool that can further educate users about your product’s features and benefits. The process should always start with a welcome email, and can then go on to include emails with followup and additional information.

Welcome emails have four times the open rate of other types of emails, and are shown to perform even better when they include video. A good way to incorporate that is by using short looping videos in a welcome email. This adds interest and movement to an otherwise static experience.

You can use email in other ways to enhance your onboarding experience. Remind new users to access the product during their free trial. Dig deeper into product benefits. You can even share social proof to build value. 

What should the email series include?

An email onboarding plan can look different for every company. But time has shown that there are best practices for how many emails to send, and how much to space out the send dates.

Stephanie Dill
Stephanie Dill, The Post and Courier’s Digital Marketing Manager

Once you get the welcome email out to the customer’s inbox, what comes next? For additional insight into how the Post and Courier onboards its brand new subscribers, I spoke with Digital Marketing Manager Stephanie Dill.

“Currently our onboarding process is a series of 6 emails sent over 30 days,” Stephanie points out when asked how many emails and how often the company sends. 

“We start with a welcome letter from our Executive Editor, putting a human face behind the subscription, and then the following emails highlight different benefits you receive as a subscriber.” 

Explaining benefits that customers receive as patrons of your business is crucial to the email onboarding process. When customers walk through your store, or browse your catalog of products or services, they get the basic idea of what they’d be paying for.

Present exclusive customer benefits in your emails

The email onboarding process is your chance to present the deeper value of your business, outside of what the customer already knows on the surface.

“These [benefits] include newsletters, access to apps and our digital replica E-Paper, our podcasts, exclusive subscriber-only Facebook groups, etc.” 

For customers using the newspaper’s E-Paper service, videos have been made available to walk them through the service’s interface and show them how to navigate the digital newspaper replica.

Great onboarding can decrease your customer service requests. If you do a great job teaching new customers how to use your product, they’re less likely to have questions down the road. In fact, 47% of businesses say using video as an FAQ tool has helped them do just that. 

“The onboarding series is a way for us to help our new subscribers make the most of their subscription and form a relationship with them that we hope will last for a long time,” Stephanie said.

How often should you send emails?

Your business should decide whether it wants to send out a burst of many emails in a short period of time, or if it should send a series of fewer emails over a longer period of time. There can be ways to meet in the middle, but you should find the right balance for your business and its customers.

“I think a blend of the two is ideal for us,” Stephanie said. “Right away, we want people to know how to use their subscription, so we send quite a few emails in the first 10-12 days. After that we back off, giving more time between sends, but continuing to check in and have little touch points for the first 30 days or so.”

Adapting the plan to your business model

The message behind your onboarding emails can and should look different depending on how you sell your product or service. Are you a business that simply sells your goods, and then hopes customers return to pay you again? Or is your revenue built upon subscription services, or other forms of recurring payment over a long period of time? 

Stephanie gives valuable information for how the onboarding process should differ for these two business models.

“I think for an already paying subscriber, you already know they are committed to their purchase, and you are working to show them additional benefits to keep them long term,” Stephanie said. 

“For a marketing qualified lead, they haven’t made that commitment to your brand yet, so your relationship is in a different place. You are still building and nurturing the relationship, and it is still very sales focused. You are offering things they want and need, but trying not to overwhelm them.”

For these types of customer leads, you should offer them discounted access to your product. You already know they have shown interest in your brand. They just need a little extra push to dedicate their time and money to you.

Finding the right balance of email frequency and regular communication with customers is the key to keeping customers invested but not overwhelmed. You never want to drive anyone away if they feel their inbox is becoming cluttered. 

So always make sure your emails are valuable and informative. Treat your potential customer well, and talk to them like a person, not just a piggy bank.