Pandemic Year One: How Have Small Businesses Survived and Thrived?

Photo by Larry Costales

It’s been a challenging year for small businesses in America, with the hardest hit being arts, entertainment, recreation, the retail sector, and restaurants. During the pandemic, 56 percent of establishments (4.7 million) experienced a decrease in demand for their products or services and 19 percent of establishments (1.6 million) experienced a government-mandated closure.  

According to data from Yelp’s September 2020 Economic Impact Data report and economic research from the University of California Santa Cruz, between 800-1500 small businesses closed between February- September 2020 (this number combines temporarily closed and permanently closed businesses, since as of this blog post, the Bureau of Labor Statistics hasn’t released the total number of small businesses permanently closed in 2020).

Credit: Yelp’s Local Economic Average Report, Sept. 2020

With decreased demand from coronavirus restrictions, how have organizations survived, and in some cases thrived, in a post-pandemic world where small businesses have been given very little guidance or financial assistance on how to operate? Many have resorted to out-of-the-box thinking and strategic creativity with the four principles of marketing: product, place, price, and promotion.

Successful small businesses have smartly pivoted their product offerings. During the first wave of the pandemic, more than 800 craft distilleries rushed to make hand sanitizer, with a void being created from panic buying, hoarding, and large retailers like Lysol, Clorox and Purell unable to meet the increased demand. Local seamstresses and fashion designers shifted to making masks, while bars and wineries have sold to-go cocktail kits and partnered with pop-up chefs. 

Photo by Gabriel
https://unsplash.com/@spenas88

Some breweries, bars, and wineries shifted their medium of place by holding virtual tastings, while restaurants like DaBao Singapore, Cassava, and Che Fico in San Francisco changed their product/place/promotion models by offering Netflix-style meal subscriptions to their regular customers. Subscribers can choose between a Che Fico box (loaded with jams, pasta sauces, desserts, and local produce), DaBao Singapore’s laksa bowls, or Cassava’s pasta dinners for two which include salad and dessert.

DaBao Singapore’s pandemic offerings

Here are three tips for small businesses who have been struggling during the pandemic:

  1. Rethink where your customers are and what they’re interested in. 

People are at home more than ever. Organizations can adapt to this by offering virtual interactive events, like tastings, art and craft classes, and seminars. Restaurants and retail have adapted with meal kits and weekly or monthly subscriptions, pivoted to ecommerce, expanded payment options, curbside pickup, and/or offered free delivery with a minimum $X orders. Otherwise, if the business is concentrated in one area- if some of your services or products are more popular than others during this time, perhaps you can offer package deals or targeted promotions?

2. Change or adapt your business model as needed. 

COVID-19 precautions and shelter-in-place restrictions have forced businesses to change their modus operandi. This is where out of the box thinking has truly helped brands overcome COVID-19 limitations. San Francisco Bay Area restaurants who wanted to decrease usage of paper menus used QR codes for outdoor dining and online ordering.

Beaver Creek, Ohio candle maker Wick Therapy Candle offered their DIY bar online, where customers take a five question survey to narrow down over 100 scents, select a container and up to three scents. After the purchase, a custom scented candle is delivered to the customer’s door. Global hotel chain Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group caters to local customers who want to feel pampered but who understandably don’t want to get on a plane. Their “Staycation at M.O.” program offers guests early check-in and late checkout, overnight valet parking and daily breakfast.   

Modify your business model by offering personalized products or services, adding new customer programs, or switching to ecommerce sites or virtual streaming services. These are just a few of the ways establishments can adapt their business models. 

3. Add onto or diversify your product offerings. 

Oakland’s New Parkway theater has creatively pivoted during the pandemic

If you can’t easily change the way you do business, expand your product and services line-up. Since Oakland-based theater New Parkway can’t show movie screenings, they now offer very private screenings where household members can rent out a theater for up to three hours, receive a three course prix fixe meal, and all the drinks you can drink. They also have a popular food crate delivery program and growler hour where customers can fill their growler from their choice of eight local beers. Nationwide, it is now common for restaurants, convenience stores, and gas stations to also sell groceries, hand sanitizer, and masks, along with their usual goods and services.  

While the pandemic isn’t over yet and restrictions are still very much in place, there’s room for small businesses to survive and thrive in today’s isolated landscape, and post-pandemic when we slowly shift back to a new normal.

By Courtney L.

Where Small Businesses Should Spend Their Marketing Dollars in a Pandemic

Photo by Alexander Mils

 

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way Americans normally work, shop and spend their leisure time. Since consumers as a whole have decreased their overall spending, companies in turn have decreased their marketing budgets. However, businesses shouldn’t make the mistake of slashing and burning their marketing budgets completely. McDonald’s did this during the 1990-1991 recession and saw sales drop by 28%. Fast food competitors Pizza Hut and Taco Bell strengthened their advertising budgets, and increased sales by 61% and 40% respectively.

So, where should small businesses spend their marketing dollars in the most cost-effective way right now? Social media advertising (also called paid social), content marketing, and market research are the best ways companies can maximize their budgets right now. 

Social Media Advertising

Photo by William Iven

Compared to pay per click advertising models like Google Adwords, paid social is still more affordable for advertisers. Average CPC (cost per click) for Google Adwords is between $1-2 on the search network, while for Facebook ads, it’s about $0.35 globally and about $0.28 in the U.S. Advertisers can choose to either run an ongoing campaign with a minimum daily budget of $5 or boost a post (usually a one-time cost) for $10 to reach a certain percentage of their Facebook page’s followers.

Interesting facts you should know:

  • The pandemic actually caused a drop in Facebook advertising prices when you compare CPC (cost per click) and CPM (cost per mille impressions) prices from Q12019 to Q12020. Check the charts below from Revealbot.

  • Ad prices did tick back up in April & May 2020, likely due to advertisers returning to the platform. Advertisers should focus campaign objectives on Reach+App Install, which saw the biggest increases in CPM. (source: Revealbot)
  • Social media platforms saw solid growth in their monthly active users, with Facebook,Youtube, and Whatsapp seeing the most growth in April 2020. (source: Next Web)
  • Advertisers can now reach more than 2 billion people on Facebook. (source: Next Web)  

Bottom line: Facebook advertising and paid social advertising in general are the best ways to reach a captive audience, since many people are turning to social media for connection, entertainment, and information. 

Potential cost: $5- $$ (depends on your ad budget and campaign length)

Content Marketing

Photo by Florian Klauer

Even though most internet users have increased their time spent online, brands still need to consider whether the content they publish is relevant, interesting, and valuable. People are more likely to pay attention if your content hits these points:

  • Craft content that’s both informational and entertaining. If your content can both alleviate pain points and do so in a humorous or light-hearted way, you’re more likely to convince your readers to perform an action- whether that’s signing up for an email list, buying a product, listening to a webinar, or visiting a website. 
  • Efficiency and DIY topics are likely to be a huge hit with employees who have had to shoulder an extra workload because of downsizing while still needing to make deadlines. 
  • Tune into the thoughts, emotions, and challenges people are feeling with working remotely during this pandemic and what your brand can do for them.

Bottom line: Whitepapers, webinars, blog articles and Facebook/Instagram Live videos don’t require much overhead but do need the involvement of content writers, designers and social media managers. 

Potential cost: $$ Time and manpower from key internal + possibly external stakeholders. 

Market Research

Are your customers’ values and behavior still the same, prior to COVID-19? Chances are, probably not. Consumer purchasing behaviors change in a down economy. 

Confirm what products, software, and services your customers still deem essential. Market research in the form of feedback forms, surveys, and email campaigns can help determine whether customers will remain with a premium product line, downgrade to a basic package, or switch to a cheaper substitute/competitor.

Learning your customers’ priorities during this time will help you figure out if and where to reallocate funds and manpower. It is more important than ever to be responsive to what your customers are saying and doing, and adjusting expectations as necessary. 

Bottom line: Verify your core customer needs in order to make critical decisions about product roll out and existing services. 

Potential cost: $$ Internal stakeholder labor plus additional low-cost and free tools such as Survey Monkey, JotForm, and Hubspot Make My Persona which help you create surveys and generate buyer personas. 

Post by Courtney L.

Living Wirelessly With TOQi, the Hottest Cannabis Vape

Nothing will kill a high quicker than reaching for your vape and finding the battery dead just as you’re about to pull. Then you’re frantically looking for the proprietary charging cord, which you can’t find anywhere, and now the high is gone too and you’re left with a bad movie to stream on Netflix and a useless vape.

This is why TOQi CEO and founder Drew Henson (of SEAM fame) created the industry’s first wireless charging cannabis vape, the TOQi 510. This artfully designed, sleek vape is equipped with Qi-technology, which can also be found in Samsung’s Galaxy Note10. Qi technology allows the TOQi 510, and the Note10, to be charged wirelessly. No cord, no problem. Just use any Qi-equipped charging device, like TOQi’s Wireless Charging Pad.

Created to always be ready, the TOQi 510 boasts twice the battery size of similar vapes, at 400mAh (compared to 240mAh) and will quickly charge to 85% power in 20 minutes. The TOQi 510 also features a USB-C port so that you can use any charging cord to power your TOQi.

Henson discusses why he created TOQi, in this interview with the LeafOnline and with Benzinga. Check out the TOQi  510 on YouTube and at mytoqi.com and don’t be left without your high.

 

3 Quick Social Media Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

Photo by Christiann Koepke on Unsplash

Small businesses (or SMEs) are often understaffed and it’s often left to the business owner to run a social media account. When you’re juggling a thousand balls in the air, it’s easy to forget best practices. As hectic as operations get in your small business, keep these three simple social media marketing tips in mind.

Don’t Run Ten Accounts Poorly
With so many social media platforms – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, TikTok, YouTube, LinkedIn, Snap and whatever flavor of the month catches tech press’ fancy (remember ello??) – it’s easy to feel compelled to be on all platforms. FOMO is real when it comes to social media marketing. However, not every platform’s audience is right for your business. Focus on quality, not quantity. Pick the top platform that your customers are heavily engaged in and focus on creating quality content on that platform, rather than every single social media platform.
Reward Your Customers
Don’t forget to reward your existing customers when creating social promotions designed to lure new customers. Existing customers don’t want to feel left out or “punished” for being loyal. Promotions for first time customers/new customers are certainly important but if they’re the only promotions you’re pushing on social media, your loyal customers will feel left out in the cold. It doesn’t always have to be discounts but offer opportunities for your loyal customers to feel like a part of the family, from exclusive invites to sneak peeks.
Don’t Forget It’s a Dialogue
Listen! Don’t just push discounts, sales and promotions about your business non-stop. Your followers want more than to be sold to when it comes to social media. Share content that might interest them, because it interests you. Remember that social media isn’t a one-way street. Don’t post content and walk away from your computer. Monitor, read and actively listen to what your customers tell you on social media. Don’t be defensive, paranoid or have a heavy hand on the delete key. Take in the feedback, do your best to make amends when you can, and make adjustments as needed.

The Craigslist Business Model: Enough is Enough

Reading this excellent CNET profile of Craig Newmark reminded me of one of the highlights of SXSW 2019: getting to hear Craigslist founder Craig Newmark discuss his philanthropy and philosophy with Inc editor Jon Fine.

Inc editor Jon Fine (L) with Craigslist founder Craig Newmark

A refreshing contrast from the aggressive capitalism espoused by the Jeff Bezoses of the tech world, Newmark shared his simple philosophy on business. For Newmark, he knew when “enough was enough” financially, and focused more on ensuring a positive experience for users. Fine asked Newmark “how do you know when enough is enough?” Newmark answered that that was up to the individual. 

At Craigslist, the design philosophy was to keep things so simple and straightforward that it was obvious how to use it. “I didn’t know how to design but I knew ‘simple’ and ‘fast’ as design principles, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Newmark told Fine.

Today, Craigslist maintains the same design philosophy. To say that it’s rare to find a technology company maintaining both the same design philosophy and business ethos from its inception is an understatement (Oh hello, Google, how’s that “don’t be evil” motto working out for you?). Can you think of any other technology company that is still thriving, that looks nearly identical to its design from ten years ago? 

Craigslist has also never branched out from classified listings. As Newmark stated, he wanted Craigslist to focus on doing one thing really well. Competitors have tried to take market share, including OfferUp, LetGo and Facebook Marketplace, so it’ll remain to be seen if Craigslist can remain the standard. One thing’s for sure, it doesn’t seem like Newmark will be too concerned.

Craigslist has had its fair share of controversies, and Newmark himself admitted that he wasn’t the best manager during his tenure as CEO. But a tech founder who knew when “enough was enough,” willingly foregoing millions in further profit in order to focus on philanthropy, is pretty damn admirable in any age, let alone today’s gilded one where founders will sell their own mothers for extra Soylent from the Facebook cafeteria.

 

3 Ways To Authentically Celebrate #PrideMonth On Social Media

Photo by Mercedes Mehling

As brands either dip their toe or jump right in to the Pride Month pool on social media, it’s quickly becoming a lesson in authenticity.

Many companies are taking June to share proceeds with a trusted LGBTQ-friendly foundation, or celebrating their diverse employee base.

Others see Pride Month as a cash grab, adding the colors of the rainbow to their logo or selling colorful merchandise without a charitable effort.

The LGBTQ market is a strong one — growing in influence and spending power, so it’s natural that many companies would do what they can to sell to this demographic.

The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce cites the community’s spending power at $917 billion. As cultural attitudes shift, brands are learning how to market to the LGBTQ demographic and embracing the rainbow more than ever.

Whether you’re a mom-and-pop shop or a Fortune 500 brand, you need to be transparent and authentic when marketing to LGBTQ consumers on social media. Here’s how you can improve your current strategy or be prepared for next year.

1) Donate to an LGBTQ-friendly foundation

This is one of the simplest, most effective ways to authentically market your business on social for Pride Month. If you’re a small business, find a local charity or foundation that helps the LGBTQ community. There are also several nationally recognized foundations (such as The Trevor Project) that you could donate to.

You can promote that proceeds from a specific item will go to that charity. In general, it helps to say how much of the proceeds will go to the foundation, whether it’s a percentage or set dollar amount per sale. This gives your fans trust that the money is going to a good place, rather than just a vague promise.

https://twitter.com/AEO/status/1136264358705737728

As with any other demographic, LGBTQ consumers want to see that they’re not just being sold to as part of a trend.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BxxHk29Aviw/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

2) Foster an inclusive culture

Another way to be authentic during Pride Month is to highlight your company’s efforts in fostering an inclusive culture and being a destination that’s welcoming for employees of all backgrounds. 

Using social media to showcase your business as a welcoming space for talented, dynamic LGBTQ employees makes your company much more versatile and diverse. Potential employees who might not have considered you otherwise may now check out your careers page, putting your business on the radar of more people.

While it’s good to show that your company is inclusive and accepting, don’t single out your LGBTQ and ally employees, but let them share their stories, if they volunteer. It has to be more than empty platitudes or photos of employees at the local Pride parade.

Ensuring that you have an inclusive culture (not just putting up a front on social) signals to the LGBTQ community that you actually care about them beyond sales and subscriptions.

3) Don’t just slap a rainbow on & call it good

If you’re not able to designate an item to sell, with defined proceeds going to a foundation, and you don’t have an LGBTQ story ready to share, it’s okay. You can still share a photo or graphic sharing your support of Pride Month without some kind of hard sell.

Where some companies err is thinking that Pride Month is the time to make money off rainbow-themed merchandise or check a box after they’ve added rainbow colors to their profile logo.

On social media, the clap back against companies who simply see the LGBTQ community as another customer has been strong. Much like how many brands commercialize pink items with vague support of “breast cancer awareness,” yet don’t explain how the proceeds help, companies can commit a terrible error by selling the rainbow without the support.

https://twitter.com/vaakser/status/1137097838129831936

An important part of marketing to LGBTQ consumers is to show that you’re supportive all year long, not just in June, when #PrideMonth is trending. 

By Justin L. 

Change Communications Announces Expansion to Greater Phoenix Area

One of our favorite things about building Change Communications has been the opportunity to get involved in new communities where we do business. We love doing good work and trying to give something back. Along the way, we get to meet and collaborate with passionate and brilliant entrepreneurs, dreamers, and do-ers. It’s a good life.

With our 10-year anniversary upon us and an expanding clientele on the west coast, we’re excited to announce Change Communications is expanding to the greater Phoenix area, with a new office opening its doors.  

Dan Strickland, VP of Marketing, will lead the Phoenix office. “Phoenix has a wealth of talent,” said Strickland.  “There’s an incredible network of entrepreneurs, creatives, and risk-takers here, and we’re excited to provide these businesses the PR and marketing services that they deserve.”

Phoenix was selected for its thriving economy and its vibrant business climate, driven by both dynamic young startups and established players in the technology, bio-tech, and hospitality sectors. 

In addition, Phoenix boasts a rich diversity of innovative nonprofits. From social justice to youth counseling to yoga and mindfulness, all of them are doing important work, and we look forward partnering with them.

“We have ambitious plans for this thriving area of the Southwest,” said Katy Lim, Change Communication’s Managing Director. “We can’t wait to dive in and start getting to know our new friends and colleagues.”

Contact us to find out how your business can benefit from our PR and marketing services.

TV4 Entertainment Wins Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies Award

We are giddy with joy to announce that our client, TV4 Entertainment, was named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies in 2019! It’s an incredible honor and we can’t thank Fast Company enough for the recognition. Congratulations to the hard-working TV4 Entertainment team and their many partners!

In the Film/TV category, TV4 Entertainment was named along with powerhouses Netflix, Participant, Warner Bros, Blumhouse and A24. Not bad company to be in! Read more about why TV4 Entertainment was honored here: https://www.fastcompany.com/company/tv4-entertainment

We always believe that it’s just an honor to be nominated, but to quote the great Vince Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

SEAM Honored With SXSW Interactive Innovation Finalist Award

 

January 22 might have been known as the day the Academy Awards announced their 91st annual nominees but for us, it’s the day that SXSW announced their Interactive Innovation Award finalists. Included in this prestigious group was our very own client, SEAM Technic. We are so thrilled for our friends at SEAM! Take that, Meryl Streep! You might have 3 Oscars but do you have a SXSW Interactive Innovation award?? I didn’t think so!

We’ll be joining SEAM at SXSW and we’ll be showing off the Lotus by SEAM personal safety wearable in the Innovation Award finalist exhibitions at the Austin Convention Center Exhibit Hall 1 on Saturday, March 9 from 12pm – 6pm. If you’re going to SXSW, please stop by the booth and bring us a beer! Other things we’ll accept: Food, BBQ, a cowboy hat, money.

SXSW has grown into one of the must-attend annual events so we’re very excited to go and even more excited to see SEAM honored. Let us know your best tips, survival guides and places to go in Austin by tweeting us at @ChangePR.

See you in Austin!

3 Things To Know While Pitching Journalists Before the Holidays

Welcome to December in the journalism world.

 

This little PR pro is pitching Santa to write about his client’s iPhone case; Photo by @MikeArney

 

Our sources are prepping their out-of-office replies, stories still have to be filed and we’re all just trying to hang on until the company holiday party (with a cash bar). It’s a special time of unrequited phone calls and frustration, with a pinch of lower standards at times.

With all this in mind, how can you successfully pitch journalists before — and during — the holiday lull?

We’re a little more accepting during the holidays

The stories we’re really chasing are likely about to go into a holding pattern, as government officials and CEOs get the luxury of taking long vacations around this time. Even the ones that stick around until a few days before Christmas Eve don’t really want to deal with the hassle of a journalist.

We’ve still got to post something to our websites and fill those column inches somehow. The closer we get to New Year’s Eve, the more we tire of hearing, “Hi, you’ve reached…” when we call someone.

This can be a great time to pitch stories that might be more on the fringe of our coverage base. If you’re responsive, can deliver your sources and have a relevant story wrapped up like a present … we’ll be more likely to put you on the nice list at this time.

Our readership is still hungry for content in December, so writers might be a little more flexible when you pitch.

With that said…

Don’t think we’re desperate

Just because our sources may be unavailable in December and we’re scrambling to get stuff posted, it doesn’t mean that you can dust off an old pitch, add a holiday keyword or two and expect us to publish.

If it’s something that we’re not going to be interested in at all in September, our feelings probably haven’t changed since then. While we acknowledge your plight — clients still want placement, no matter what — we know what our editor and readers will think if we submit something with only a flimsy connection to our beat or location.

As always, the more time you give us, the better. While we likely have more time to answer your email, DM or phone call, that also means we’re reading your pitch more closely. There are plenty of ways to refresh a story idea for the holidays, but it might take some digging and ingenuity.

You can look back at stories a website or publication has done around this time last year to get a better sense of what flies with the readership. A lot of the holiday content has been planned for weeks, if not months, so your best bet would be figuring out ways that your story could be complementary (or even unique) to what we’ve already got planned.

Get a jump on 2019

A bedrock of content around this time: predictions about the new year.

These are quick, easy and digestible pieces to which readers often respond well. If you’re scrambling to get your client one last placement before the ball drops, think about offering a listicle guest post or an interview where an expert from your client shines a light on the future of their industry.

This helps out in a few ways. It’s easy content to publish and it makes your client look innovative and forward-thinking. Some writers can even gain story ideas from these lists and want to follow up with your client’s CEO or expert at a future date.

December is a great time to pitch evergreen story ideas that we can work on now and post in early January.

You can also take this time to plant seeds for January and early spring. As we discussed before, the holidays can be a slow period for writers. If you were too late with pitching a holiday-related story, this could be a perfect opportunity to work together on something that helps us start the new year strong.  

By Justin Lafferty