How Covid made us adjust our marketing strategy and pivot to focus on
a new customer segment.
What a year!
To say the least, it’s been A-LOT to process.
I remember thinking about how this was the year we were positioned to take the next step. All the talk about 2020/perfect vision…well, we all know how that’s worked out so far. As some of you may know, in addition to my marketing consulting business, my wife and I own a. favorite design, a letterpress greeting card company. While my wife Amber, as designer and primary printer, is definitely the star of the show, I handle the behind the scenes stuff, marketing, construction, manual labor and generally whatever needs to be done.
First, a little history on a. favorite design. We started small in 2007 as a wholesaler of fine greeting cards to a few stores that grew over time to around 200 retailers nationally & internationally. Originally there was very little direct-to-consumer other than local maker shows. After a few years we added an e-commerce website which opened us up for direct-to-consumer sales with the main focus being wholesale. Fast-forward to late 2018, we took the opportunity to move the shop to our neighborhood in Albany Park, which included a nice retail space up front. We thought this would be the cherry on top, we’d continue to build the primary wholesale business but also sell direct to consumer. After some initial challenges with construction we opened the doors mid-2019 and everything seemed to be on-target. Neighbors were excited we were in the neighborhood, promotions were bringing folks in, the local chamber was extremely supportive and we won, “best place for gifts & shopping,” as voted on in the surrounding area. We thought, we’ve really got something here, this is going to be a great addition to the business, with wholesale as the main bread and butter.
Then COVID hit during one of our biggest wholesale sales months of the year. 90% of our ready-to-ship orders were cancelled by our retailers and our own retail shop had to close, leaving employees and the future in limbo. We’re fairly positive people and extremely resourceful so after an initial freak-out, we got to work to figure out how to hold it together. We did all the things small businesses were supposed to do. We applied for PPP loans to get employees back as soon as we were allowed. We applied for small business grants wherever we could and fortunately these efforts have helped. Overall though, just waiting for the wholesale business to completely return is not sustainable, especially since we don’t know when that will be. Plus, it breaks our heart to know some of them won’t be coming back at all. We know how hard it is to make a small business succeed. Our retailers are passionate, hardworking, amazing people and seeing some of them have to let go of their dream, through no fault of their own, has been disheartening to say the least.
To keep the business afloat, we had to pivot. We needed to expand our reach to focus on the nationwide retail customer with some fresh ideas to service our community. Fortunately, we had already built a great e-com website that could accommodate the shift. Since locals couldn’t shop with us in-store and many of our peers didn’t have e-commerce, we could fill the need. Locally, we could offer curbside pick-up, and nationally we could broaden our reach and ship direct, both safe ways to conduct business. Birthdays, graduations, holidays and special occasions were still happening and folks needed some way to buy special cards for loved ones. With a bit of extra effort were able to fill that gap.
So, what did we do and what have the results been so far?
Well, it’s been a long journey in a short period but we’ve seen some incredibly positive shifts in buying habits. In Chicago and nationwide we’ve consistently gained new customers through Google Paid Search, Social Media Ads and Local Page Promotions on FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. We’ve engaged our audience, targeted and adjusted to broaden our reach. We’ve optimized our website for enhanced SEO. As with most small businesses, we have a limited budget, especially now. However, my goal has been to be extremely efficient and targeted and it’s consistently paying returns.
To broaden our reach, I reviewed our analytics to pinpoint our unique customer demographics and targeted accordingly with Paid Search and Social Media. In addition, since we already had a pretty strong e-mail list, we just needed to engage existing customers more consistently with updates and promotions. Also, as our digital marketing gained us new customers, they would then be added to our weekly promotions.
As a few examples, here’s some arms-length analytics to give you an idea of how our well our pivot to direct-to-consumer has worked.
YOY 2019 vs. 2020 (March – July)
- Online sales +62%
- Total Orders +412%
- Online Conversion Rate +270%
- Sales Attributed to Marketing +1,360%
- Sales by Traffic Source: Social Media +1477%
While our numbers are EXTREMELY encouraging, we can still do better.
As I mentioned, we’ve been relatively conservative in spend but as I like to say, success breeds success. As such, I’ll take the same principles I employed in these campaigns to expand even further.
So what steps did I implement to encourage this growth?
Here’s a general overview:
- Google Paid Search (PPC) – Using our website in combination with Google Analytics data I put together targeted ads, fine-tuned with relevant/affordable keywords, dialed them in to make sure our ads received a high optimization scores from Google and optimized for mobile search.
- E-mail promotions – Weekly relevant promos and insights to keep existing customers engaged while welcoming new customers.
- Social Media – FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube – We cross-pollinate content across social media where it makes sense. We ran ads where it was cost effective and since it’s free and can sometimes catch fire, we do a lot organically as well.
- Website Optimization & Search Engine Optimization – I took hard look at the website to make sure we were optimized for SEO. Getting the right keywords into the mix, reorganizing and making sure load speeds were optimized. While this is more of an ongoing strategy, it’s really important as it works hand-in-glove with everything above.
While this has been an extremely trying time, I’m truly encouraged by what’s to come. With safety precautions in place, our retail store location is open once again, and we’ve gained a lot of new customers through our broad-reach efforts and campaigns. We’re continuing to see growth from new customers across the country and we’ll continue to broaden those efforts. Once we’re past the pandemic and wholesale returns, I believe our retail and wholesale sales will be a stronger mix of both. When that happens the business will be better positioned for the future. It took a catastrophe like this to make us strengthen the business in an area that previously played second fiddle but because of this, it might become first chair. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, if you’re challenged with your own need to pivot or just grow your business, I can help you create the perfect marketing mix to help you succeed. Feel free to call or contact me here – Tom