Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Supporting Today’s Workforce”
Today, marketing for small businesses has been changing dramatically, and many small and large businesses and ventures have had to figure out how to pivot their online presence for survival, balancing business operations with staying in touch with and serving customers at the highest level in every-evolving conditions. Key challenges have been keeping customers informed, adapting to new customer behavior, shifting offerings and messages to be relevant to today’s challenges, and utilizing budget-friendly tools, including video, to stay in touch with customers.
To learn more about how small and medium-sized business have been impacted during the pandemic, and how they have risen to the challenges, I caught up with Kim Spalding, Google’s Global Product Director, SMB Ads. Spalding leads product management for Google’s SMB and Emerging Market Advertising. She was formerly the COO of HomeJoy, a home services startup. Prior to that, she was the vice president of Operations and vice president of Global Coffee Category for Starbucks. From 2002 to 2011, she co-founded Seia Wine Cellars, a Seattle winery known for their award-winning Washington Syrah. Spalding also served on the Board of Directors for City Year Seattle, an education-focused non-profit.
Spalding offers powerful tips and resources for entrepreneurs and small businesses navigating the Covid-19 crisis. Here’s what she shares:
Kathy Caprino: How have you seen small and medium sized businesses impacted by the ongoing Covid-19 crisis?
Kim Spalding: Small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of the American economy — they provide two-thirds of net new jobs and employ 47% of Americans. They are being disproportionately affected by this crisis—including business closures and deep revenue impacts. Many physical retail businesses have had to quickly pivot and establish, or rely much more heavily, on online sales. In fact, according to The Connected Commerce Council, 1 in 3 small business owners in the United States say that without digital tools, they would have had to close all or part of their business.
Caprino: How do you suggest small businesses communicate with their customers, as states begin phased re-openings, and they get back to business in this “new normal?”
Spalding: We know small business owners continue to face their own set of unique challenges. As businesses’ physical locations re-open around the world, they’ll be busy navigating their operations in today’s new normal.
Being online is more critical than ever before. I believe SMBs are resilient and though some might have to close their doors for good, I’m optimistic that many will come out of the Covid-19 pandemic stronger, and digital tools are a critical enabler. As businesses begin navigating plans to safely re-open their physical locations, following country and state guidelines, Google wants to help small business owners communicate with current and potential customers, and build awareness about their available products and services
Every month, over 1 billion people use Google Maps to see where they are, search for businesses, and find directions. The first thing businesses should do is ensure that all their information is up to date across all online channels, including their website and business profile on Google, which will also show on Google Maps and Search. Businesses owners can share their current hours of operation, as well as updates to available products and services as local regulations change. They can also add a donation or gift card link to their Business Profile on Search and share a personal message to inform customers how the funds will be put to use. And if business owners don’t have a website, they can easily create one from their computer or phone in just under 10 minutes.
Video is another great way for business owners to communicate with customers, even if they’re currently working from home. In a matter of minutes a virtual showroom can be created! And With a free YouTube channel for business, owners can develop videos to introduce their business, showcase what’s great about products or services or teach customers how to do something new.
Caprino: How can small business owners think about generating revenue while still remaining sensitive to everything that’s going on in the world?
Spalding: Customer behavior is fluid and with local government restrictions changing week to week, the challenge becomes figuring out what their customers specific needs are and anticipating how they will continue to change.
As a business owner, you should focus on what you can do and provide for people. Be sure your marketing messages clearly reflect your most current products and services that you have in stock. It’s also important to include your contact information so customers know how to get in touch with you, especially during this challenging time.
Although brick and mortar locations may be closed, people are still shopping, just looking for different things. In May, we released a new tool called rising retail categories which shows what people are searching for during this time of need to help our customers stay ahead of rapidly changing consumer trends and expectations. Already, we’ve seen businesses apply the insights to content creation, promotion, and product ideas.
Caprino: What are some key resources available for small business owners who are looking for budget-friendly tools to communicate with customers?
Spalding: As the Covid-19 situation and customer behavior changes, if you have the budget, online advertising is a great way to keep current and potential customers up to date. With Google ads, you can communicate the information that you think is most relevant to them during this time, like changes to offerings, inventory, or hours. Smart campaigns is an easy ads solution for small businesses that utilizes the power of machine learning to help business owners generate the results they care about most – such as phone calls and actions on their website. You can create an ad in less than 15 minutes.
We’ve also seen searches for ‘curbside pickup’ and ‘in-stock’ surge by more than 70% in recent months. And unfortunately for many consumers online, the process of finding what is in stock and which stores close to you have those products, is a chaotic process. In the past few months, we’ve updated our ads products so that it’s easy for stores to let people know they’re offering this increasingly popular fulfillment option.
With more people than ever relying on Google Maps to easily find local businesses, we are making promoted pins available for all smart campaign advertisers. Promoted pins in Google Maps appear on the map itself, as a branded pin, when a user is browsing the map or searching for a place. Through September 2020, these will be free for small businesses who use smart campaigns, our easy to use ads solution designed for small businesses.
Caprino: Can you share some of your personal experience as a small business owner and/or examples of small business owners Google has seen successfully pivot their operations in response to forced closures?
Spalding: As a small business owner myself I spent nine years running a winery with my husband. The experience gave me unique insight into the challenges and triumphs of small business owners.
I know firsthand the major challenges small businesses are facing right now—worrying whether your business will survive a crisis. We had to make some hard choices, such as whether or not to lower prices amid a financial downturn. And while we did cut back prices, we also struggled to reach customers with our product. Looking back, I wish we had all the digital tools that are available now, like a free way to make quick video ads.
A recent success we’ve seen with one of our customers is The Spice House, a gourmet spice shop based in Chicago. The owners quickly shifted their focus to e-commerce after closing their retail stores in the wake of the coronavirus. With consumers cooking at home, and demand for spices on the rise, using Google Ads to promote their online store proved to be instrumental as April became a bigger month for sales than the December holiday period.
Caprino: How can small businesses ensure that they aren’t being (and appearing) “tone deaf” in their marketing, ads and communications, and acting as if it’s “business as usual” when it is most decidedly not, given both the Covid-19 crisis and the transformations occurring in support of the #blacklivesmatter movement?
Spalding: It’s certainly not business as usual. We’re at a pivotal moment here. I advise small business owners how important it is to be sensitive both in the tone you’re using in your messaging and in word choice. And if there’s ever been a time to change the way the marketing industry does business, it’s now. Marketing has the power to either break stereotypes or solidify them, to push the cultural conversation forward or revert it. Marketing can be a conversation starter, and it’s painfully obvious that more conversations about systemic inequity and race need to be had.
For business owners, these conversations provide a unique opportunity to connect with customers on a deeper level, and foster meaningful relationships within their communities.
For more information, visit https://smallbusiness.withgoogle.com.
To build a more rewarding, impactful career, read Kathy Caprino’s new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss, and work with her.