Why SMBs Are Flocking to Martech to Combat Covid Slump

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The old way of doing business isn’t working anymore. As restaurants, retailers, and other businesses work to keep customers updated about shifting hours of operation and in-store social distancing requirements, they are opening up to outside-the-box ideas and becoming more comfortable trying location-targeted marketing platforms.

Data show that digital adoption among businesses and consumers jumped forward at least five years in the first eight weeks of the pandemic. Small restaurants and retailers are eagerly adopting the same tools now that they were hesitant to try back in 2019. That push is leading technology providers to expand their offerings and develop new tools for a growing market.

“In the short term, SMBs are using this downtime to educate themselves and experiment with various available marketing tech tools and services,” says Venkat Kolluri, CEO of Cidewalk, which offers a local mobile advertising solution for businesses. “In the long run, SMBs will get more comfortable and sophisticated in using these tools, and we can expect to see them give big brands a run for their money.”

In the absence of face-to-face and in-store interactions, businesses are relying on quick and easy messaging services to offer needed support and drive sales. A number of firms have already begun launching new mobile products designed to help businesses solve the marketing and customer experience issues created by the pandemic. Cidewalk, for example, recently released an SMS-based business messaging service called Talkio. The service is designed to help small and mid-size businesses connect with the visitors on their websites, during a time when communicating with customers on the channels they prefer is extra important.

Shifting Consumer Behaviors

With consumers tightening their purse strings, businesses are pulling out all the stops to drive targeted traffic to their brick-and-mortar stores and websites. According to a study by IAB, almost 40% of marketers are increasing their investment in audience targeting to take advantage of more limited and fluid consumer behavior during the pandemic.

Research shows that customers’ preferred interactions have changed significantly since this spring. For example, 75% of people who are using digital channels to communicate for the first time say they will continue to use them when things return to “normal.”

“Reliance on online communication increased tremendously. It’s more than just having a strong online presence — businesses have to be able to both get the word out that they are open for business and also provide top-notch, personalized online customer support,” Kolluri says. “The pressure is high to provide a seamless experience for the customer from their first question all the way to checkout.”

In a recent article, Street Fight’s Mike Boland hypothesized that digital presence, which has been put on the back burner for years, may become a particularly hot area within local marketing. With the pandemic essentially taking offline presence off the table, vendors like Google, Yelp, and Snap are all releasing tools and adapting their platforms to make it easier for local merchants to communicate shifting details such as changes to hours of operation.

Research backs up that hypothesis. Analysts at McKinsey Insights found that businesses need to reimagine the customer journey to reduce friction and provide for new safety requirements. While that kind of evaluation and reimagination should be happening regardless of whether a pandemic is going on, the current environment has driven completely new business models for fulfillment.

“Looking beyond the ‘normal’ disruptions of business, the dramatic change in so many aspects of the supply chain and the way people fulfill basic needs absolutely requires companies to make sure they are measuring whether they are delivering to meet and exceed customer needs,” says Jim Katzman, principal of CX strategy and enablement at the experience intelligence platform InMoment.

Post-Covid, Katzman says the value of existing forms of customer data has been flipped upside down. The predictive models that made sense six months ago no longer apply in a world where nearly everything is being done differently.

“I like to say that, in this environment, customers are ‘free consultants’ to help companies evaluate whether they are serving them well,” Katzman says.

Social has become an even louder voice for process validation in 2020. Katzman says the customer voice and the alternate channels they are coming from are learning opportunities for companies.

Locality listening is especially critical right now. The customer experience at a homogeneous restaurant, like McDonald’s or Olive Garden, can be totally different depending on the specific location, in terms of policy, infections, and other factors. In addition to asking themselves, “Do I want to eat at McDonald’s tonight?,” customers now have to ask questions like, “Is the McDonald’s in my town open right now?” or “Is their drive-thru open?” With all that in mind, Katzman says CX learnings have to be interpreted and acted upon very differently in order for businesses to correctly plan.

“The biggest thing I see is how brands have embraced curbside pick-up and delivery to continue to fulfill customer orders,” Katzman says. “In my own neighborhood, we have a strip mall with a grocery store and several smaller restaurants and services. It appears that many of the merchants have gotten together to fly banners above their stores touting delivery and curbside pickup. The banners are all alike, so much of the entire strip mall has ‘unified’ their location to make customers feel they have a choice to choose whatever merchant they want to use. They do not have to go to one strip mall for groceries and one for pizza and one for dry cleaning.”

New Platform Adoption

That unifying of businesses could play a big role as it extends to the widespread adoption of mobile marketing platforms as well. If multiple businesses get together to use tools like Cidewalk’s geo-fenced mobile ads, it could fundamentally change the potential use cases and provide even more value for both businesses and consumers.

Already, Cidewalk’s Kolluri is seeing businesses combining messaging services with things like geo-fenced mobile advertising for maximum impact.

“Businesses are trying to figure out how to let their customers know that they are open and be reachable to offer timely quick support to customers when needed,” Kolluri says. “The combination of push-based geofenced local mobile ads helping businesses promote and direct their customers to their online websites, coupled with online website-based messaging services with personalized sales support, is turning out to be the ideal ying-and-yang solution to businesses, right when they need it.”

That kind of synergy between businesses and between platforms was something that was available almost exclusively to large brands before the pandemic. But Kolluri says cloud-based services and access to programmatic inventory are making it possible for companies to offer tools like geofenced local mobile ads as DIY services.

“SMBs used to shy away from digital marketing, assuming digital marketing services are expensive. Now businesses are keen on getting back into operation and are looking for ways to quickly let their customers know that they are back in business,” Kolluri says. “They are seeing the benefits of geofenced local mobile advertising as a cost-effective way to reach their customers. They are also realizing that they don’t need to be tech-savvy to use these services and are getting comfortable with the DIY marketing approach.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.