The last year will be remembered as a year that tested our capabilities of running a business in a highly volatile market. The pandemic changed the way we live and work which forced many companies to think outside of the box. Some businesses had to pivot to new target markets, while others had to reinvent their business models.
We decided to get in touch with some of our clients and other business owners to share marketing lessons they learned during 2020. After all, one thing that everyone needed to do during this pandemic was to adjust their marketing strategy.
Before we get to their quotes, let’s first explore how market changes impacted different businesses and what kind of actions they had to take to ensure business continuity.
Why did some companies thrive during the pandemic?
It’s not a secret that many online-oriented businesses thrived during the pandemic. The first that come to mind are streaming platforms and online retailers. Netflix added nearly 16 million new subscribers during the first three months of 2020 and Amazon practically doubled its profit during the pandemic.
The whole bunch of other industries also experienced growth.
According to Gartner, nearly a quarter of CFOs said they will move at least 20% of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions. As a consequence, companies that are offering remote workspace solutions became a pure necessity.
Also, some small businesses managed to increase profit during a pandemic. Cleaning services and delivery services were faced with rising demand. Hand-sanitizing products, masks, groceries and liquor became highly sought goods during a pandemic, and businesses which produce those goods actually profited during the past period.
By forcing people to work and sell through online channels, the pandemic accelerated some inevitable processes like digital transformation. Things like remote learning, remote working, and online fitness became normal parts of our lives and it looks like these new ways are here to stay.
If we take a step back, we can see two very different categories of businesses that thrived during 2020:
- those that were lucky the market changed in their favor
- those that successfully reinvented their business models and marketing strategies
While both had to deal with workflow, logistic, and supply-chain issues, we can all agree that what the latter businesses did was more impressive.
Marketing activities during 2020
Before we look ahead and start to plan marketing activities for a period in front of us, it is always useful to look back and analyze what was and wasn’t working so far, and why. Since the year behind us was unlike any other, it’s even more important to learn our marketing lessons.
The ability to adapt marketing strategy quickly to new market conditions was a true representation of the “survival of the fittest”. Businesses tried many different things like:
- change the messaging on their money pages to address the new pain points their customers were experiencing
- change the messaging on their homepage to keep clients and potential customers fully informed about the status of their service
- businesses that operate in different markets simply switched their focus to the niches that were experiencing growth during the pandemic
- some SaaS providers implemented hand gestures to control their apps without touching the screen and heavily marketed those features
- many businesses invested more in PPC, SEO, and content marketing to take advantage of the fact that people are spending even more time on the web
- those that were hit the hardest or didn’t have a chance to pivot looked to cut their marketing cost, focus on client retention and hoped the conditions will go back to normal as soon as possible
The entrepreneurs and business owners we surveyed outlined the main areas they were focused on in terms of digital marketing in 2020. Most of them pointed out SEO, content marketing, and email marketing as their go-to strategies in reaching out to their customers.
These are not new strategies, but they proved themselves crucial in reconnecting with an audience that drastically shifted online.
Did they outsource more or less marketing work during 2020
Outside of discussing marketing lessons they learned during 2020 and marketing channels they were focused on, we were interested in how much marketing work has been outsourced.
Did the switch to remote work, change of marketing focus, and change of business models also change the balance of marketing work that was being outsourced vs performed in-house?
Unsurprisingly, only a small fraction of businesses that already outsource work decided to outsource less. The rest did it about the same or more. Outsourcing work to marketing agencies and freelancers is already like having remote workers so it is only natural that businesses had no trouble to further embrace that approach.
There are many reasons why businesses outsource marketing services and that is not going to change.
Which marketing channels were the main focus throughout 2020
As we can see from the graph above, businesses have mostly focused on SEO and Content marketing – which is what we expected to see. Our sample was fairly small so it is hard to draw any big conclusions.
SEO and content marketing are the most widely used strategies in general, so it was not surprising they dominated in this survey too.
On to the marketing lessons!
Marketing lessons learned during the pandemic
The main goal of our survey was to gather insights on the most valuable marketing lessons business owners learned during 2020. Some of those marketing lessons ended up being more of a business lesson, but those two things often go hand-in-hand.
Without further ado, let’s check what businesses were doing and what helped them survive this turbulent year.
Always invest in the foundation. We tried several new things in 2020, but the real success was continuing to double down on our content strategy.Bryan Christiansen, CEO at Limble CMMS
While this wasn’t exactly a lesson, 2020 did reinforce a lesson I already learned. Success in content marketing is largely a numbers game. The higher your content output, generally the better results you will achieve. Of course, other factors do play an important role too. For example, on-page optimization, content quality, content distribution & promotion, etc. But content output remains extremely significant.Adam Connell, Founder at Startup Bonsai
The most valuable lesson we learned in 2020 as a marketing agency is the importance of diversification of marketing services. Being a one-trick pony – in our case, an SEO agency – although beneficial for scaling operations – poses threats of over-reliance on a single service or product, which as the Covid-19 pandemic has shown can have negative consequences on profitability. As an agency, we have diversified our service offering to include multiple marketing services that are effective and affordable to our clients who have been forced into lockdown by the pandemic. These services include retargeting, email marketing, and social media advertising on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Additionally, we have focused resources on the diversification of clients, specifically those in essential vs non-essential industries. For example, in Canada, dentists have been forced into lockdown for non-essential dental services such as teeth whitening and routine checkups, while emergency dental services have been allowed to continue to operate. As a result, we have focused on upselling our dental clients on SEO services for ER keywords. Additionally, we have had very positive results upselling remarketing, email marketing, and social media marketing services to our existing local clients who are looking for more affordable ways to attract clients, especially those clients which have shown interest in the past. Email marketing has shown the greatest ROAS.
Finally, we have genuinely tried to help clients who have been negatively affected by the pandemic by offering them discounts, temporary suspension of long-term contracts, as well as free consultations which have built reports and strengthened our relationships. All our clients are still with us because of these initiatives.Darko Dodig CEO and Co-Founder at Wisevu.com
It’s important to have a continuous effort both on outbound and inbound marketing, even if there is a harder year (like 2020 and the pandemic situation). Fortunately, we already held this belief in our company, but this year was a big confirmation.Silvana Carpineanu, Marketing Specialist at Expert Software Applications and Mindomo
Search is still king. We have seen both up and down in our search traffic throughout 2020. The bottom line impact from search traffic is never proportional. A 10% drop or boost in search traffic may result in more than a 40% drop or a surge in revenue. As a business owner, it’s important to understand how search works. And it never hurts to get help from experts like Point Visible.Jerry Low, Founder of Web Hosting Secret Revealed
The most valuable thing we learned at Typeset last year is to stay the course. We had a few months after the initial stay-at-home orders were issued where everything reduced to a slow grind. We worked on projects that were strategic to our goals and resisted the urge to pivot. It was the right call because once businesses were ready to start marketing again, we were ready for them. We’re busier than we’ve ever been.Sarah Mitchell, Co-founder at Typeset
Staying focused on our core businesses and long term plans by continually adding products and content is how we got through 2020.Gilbert Welsford Jr., Managing Director at ValveMan
There were no patterns, no rules, no clear trends. All numbers were changing almost randomly. The virus outbreak shook all markets both in good and bad ways.
We are lucky, the SEO tools market wasn’t affected that much. I’d even say the spring of last year was the best we had. At first, there was a significant decrease mirroring the worldwide virus situation. However, we adopted, prepared new campaigns and managed to increase the revenue. Not to mention that e-commerce skyrocketed since everyone was buying almost everything from their home. That helped too. Sometimes it looked like everyone was about to sit in front of their computer and started working on their website, and that’s where products such as SEO tools are needed.
On the other hand, this pattern ended after a few weeks and the rest of the year was hardly predictable. There were situations in which it was impossible to find out what will happen in the next month. The usual patterns weren’t followed at all. So at the end of the day, I think that in our niche, it doesn’t make sense to focus that much on what will happen because of the virus situation. I think the best way is to focus on our plans and what we want to achieve in 2021.Maros Kortis, CMO at Mangools
Keeping marketing stable and steady is important. In most cases, you can’t panic and pull long-term marketing efforts due to outside events, and you also shouldn’t dump a lot of investment into the short-term without planning. Test enough for the confidence and then commit to seeing the plan out over time. Slow and steady wins the race.Alex Selwitz, Marketing Manager at Red Stag Fulfillment
2020 appeared to be a hell of a year. As marketers, we work hard to plan, anticipate, and craft strong strategies that help us hit our goals. However, this year proved, when something unexpected or extraordinary happens, previous plans appear not to work the same way. ‘Be flexible’ was the motto of 2020. Shifting the whole marketing strategy overnight will never be stressful again. It may be challenging to keep focused on the destination under stress. However, it appeared to be the only reasonable solution.Erika Rykun, Outreach Manager at WikiJob.co.uk
I picked 2020 as the year to finally start my own business. A pandemic was *not* in the business plan! What I learned was to stay strong to your principles. When you fear work is going to dry up, fear kicks in. Fear rarely helps you make good decisions. Turning down work is not a luxury everyone can afford (bills have to be paid) but try and stay focused on the things you’re best at. It will make both you and your customers happier.Andrew C., Founder, Optimisey
Like a lot of companies, we had big plans for 2020. After March, we had to pivot and focus on the most important things we could do at that time. We had to pull back on a paid campaign we had spent months on as it wouldn’t have made sense during the first few months of the pandemic. Going forward, I’ll be more aware of how the best-made plans sometimes don’t get executed as intended. It’s how we are able to adapt our strategy when something unexpected comes up that will keep us on track.David Campbell, Marketing Strategist at Right Inbox
2020 made it clear to me that it’s really the power of connection and engagement that helps businesses like mine make a difference. I like to think I knew that already, but the situation we found ourselves in with so much virtual work during the year made it even more important to look for ways to contribute to our communities and show up. I’ll certainly be taking this forward into the coming months with more activities designed to connect and share with my audience, as well as encouraging them to do the same.Elizabeth Harrin, Director at GirlsGuideToPM.com
It’s vital to be flexible and always understand customer needs. When the pandemic hit, so many brands rushed to put out feel-good, generic “we’re here for you” messaging that it became mock-worthy. But the brands who really understood their customers and offered real, practical help (e.g., Zoom making their platform free for educators and first responders) thrived. When market conditions change quickly, for any reason, deep customer knowledge is essential to responding in the right way (not appearing tone-deaf or just part of the noise).Tom Pick, Senior Digital Marketing Consultant at Webbiquity LLC
The most valuable lesson I learned in 2020 is that SEO is increasingly important. With people in lockdown or just going out less, and businesses transitioning to digital rapidly, search engine optimization is more crucial than ever. If you want to rank on top of SERP, you need to have a sound strategy and be able to build high quality backlinks at scale.Mike Schiemer, Owner of Bootstrap Business
I learned from 2020 that survival is the most important thing when it comes to your marketing. If your business can’t survive a pandemic, lockdowns, market changes, and an economic recession then your marketing doesn’t really matter. But if you had a good marketing strategy going into turbulent times, and can adapt to major changes, then you will outlast a lot of your competitors.Erik Johnson, Owner of Everything Entrepreneur
2020 reaffirmed my faith in content marketing. Creating helpful content finds takers, even during a crisis, and that’s why we doubled down on our efforts to create even more useful content in 2020. We plan to continue promoting clients and generating leads for our business through content marketing.Shane Barker, Digital Strategist & Brand and Influencer Consultant at Shane Barker Consulting
Marketing lessons from Point Visible
Before we wrap this up, we wanted to share a few personal marketing lessons we learned working with both big and small businesses who were trying to adjust to new conditions on the market.
Switch to working from home
As an agency that works with a fair amount of freelancers (mainly content writers) and a team that was already familiar with using tools like Zoom and Slack, switching to remote work was not an issue.
One thing that definitely helped was our long-term effort to streamline different processes. Be it onboarding new employees, creating a content marketing strategy for a new client, or coordinating different editorial activities, having a predefined workflow ensured that the quality of performed work doesn’t suddenly drop.
Since marketing is a creating endeavor executed by creative people, sync meetings and brainstorming sessions became very important. We probably held more meetings than while we were in the office together! It proved to be a great way to keep people focused and engaged.
Using downtime to focus on research and strategic planning
The pandemic changed what people and businesses were focused on. With new concerns and a more volatile market, their priorities and pain points also changed.
What this meant for us in early 2020 is that few clients decided to pause their campaigns. That combined with our decision to postpone some research projects meant we had a few people with time to spare.
We decided this is as good a time as any to start up new internal projects, two to be exact. The first thing we did was revisit and update our content marketing strategy. We performed additional keyword research and a digital marketing audit. Findings were used to define new long-term goals and set up the editorial calendar for 2021.
The second thing we worked on was developing a new service. We had a few team members with a lot of passion and experience around social media management. We agreed to build on that and offer it as a standalone service (so far it only played a minor part in our client’s content marketing projects).
The main lesson you should take from this is that, if business slows down, you can take this as an opportunity to work on yourself. Improve internal processes, resolve long-standing issues that are on your backlog, adjust your long-term plans, and look for added value you can provide to existing customers. It is a time to make your future self proud.
Brand trust doing wonders for client retention
The thing we were the proudest of is the fact that almost all of our clients stayed with us throughout the pandemic. Some of them even doubled their budgets!
We attribute this to our long-standing efforts to:
- running transparent campaigns with detailed cost breakdowns
- allowing clients to be as much (or as little) involved in the process as they want
- proactively suggesting changes and improvements
- performing quality work that generates results and provides ROI
In times of uncertainty, businesses do not like to experiment. Adjusting your marketing messaging in that direction is what helped many businesses stay afloat. It is never a bad time to start working on building brand trust with new and existing clients and customers.
Focusing on long-term solutions instead of quick wins
Most of our clients come to us because they want to grow their business by attracting relevant organic traffic and converting it into leads and customers. In other words, they need quality content and great links – and we can provide both.
Now, link building and content marketing are by their nature long-term solutions. Some of the bigger brands we worked with continued to focus on their main keywords and requested a few additional SEO campaigns around pain points and niches that experienced massive growth because of the pandemic.
While it might be enticing to pump resources into quick wins, with a limited budget, businesses need to keep their eyes on the prize. Slow and steady wins the race even in a volatile market, as long as you operate on a solid foundation.
That’s it from us. We hope you were able to pick up at least one great marketing lesson you want to follow going into 2021 and beyond.
If you need help with your SEO and/or content marketing efforts, don’t hesitate to reach out or schedule a call. We’re always excited to give advice and discuss ways in which we can support your business goals.