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Online Customer Mobility in the COVID era

UK lockdown v2 – accelerating digital transformation during reduced national mobility. As England settled into week 1 of a full national lockdown for the second time, the majority of sectors and industries strained under the thought of how they might stay in front-of-mind of their customers.

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Sales are down and unsurprisingly, so are budgets – apart from where businesses have identified a need to accelerate their digital transformation and ecommerce programs. And within this area, that’s where digital marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) + Paid Media (PPC) can help strike a balance between doing something to stay relevant and extending marketing budget to the end of the year. We know from earlier, broader share of voice studies, that brands with a high share of voice relative to their size tend to grow, while those with low SOV tended to shrink (source: Binet and Field 2013). And we also know that Pandemic-based downturns are usually v-shaped –  during the last 100 years most have lasted around a year (source: Harvard Business Review, spring 2020).

Crucially, any marketing channel is only as good as the data used to power and activate customers – of which previously known demographics and personae are now less well known.

The new normal and the consumers’ evolved behavior

As consumers embrace online as a new normal, buying behaviors detail that they no longer prioritize quality (48%), followed by price (47%) and then brand (24%). Following the first covid-19 wave, they’re mostly focused on availability (49%), price (36%) and quality (34%) (data sources: Marketing Week, summer 2020). And so, to the CMO, consumer market research becomes important, as does a scientific test-and-learn mindset to find the best marketing mix to re-engage with the target market at the right profitability.

Winning the online conversion, profitably

The insight here is that brand loyalty has likely taken a bow to the concept of mindful shopping (data source: McKinsey, summer 2020). This means that being a digitally savvy brand that is available in-the-moment and cost-competitive is more likely to win the online conversion. The latter trifecta of consumer decision drivers can be answered through algorithmically targeted paid media campaigns matched with keywords indicating high intent to purchase.

But given that consumers recently surveyed from the US to China expect to continue to make a portion of their purchases online post-covid-19 wave 1 versus pre-covid (data source: McKinsey, summer 2020), we need to think about those who have a low intent to purchase e.g. in the discovery and information search stages. These are consumers who may be profitable in the future, but may currently impact a brand’s online profit with their innocently non-transactional intentions. This is where SEO can help fuel longer term demand generation and in less obvious ways, power the revenue engine well into 2021 (thought leadership source: Forrester, autumn 2020).

Signals to aid useful customer mobility

Right now, customers can only travel in England for a pre-defined number of lawful reasons. One of those is of course to purchase groceries – of which the average digital store catchment area pre-lockdown v1 was a staggering 13.4km! (data source: Thinkwithgoogle, spring 2020.) Whilst the first lockdown resulted in deserted cities, England’s second lockdown details that, although it hasn’t quite matched the levels of March 2020, from November 2020 public mobility has significantly reduced.

This is precisely where a local marketing strategy needs to be introduced – customers need to know if their journey is worthwhile. Nothing helps communicate this better than the medium of Google Maps. And, to help understand coverage for local keywords, the Searchmetrics platform can support by providing a snapshot of top of funnel coverage through their universal search feature and therefore the opportunities to increase local coverage.

For example, businesses could check how they rank for top of funnel search queries such as [gym] in [town] or [near me] and gain an understanding of how much of that search is owned. First and foremost, most health and fitness sector businesses will have marked their premises as ‘temporarily closed’ via Google Maps, along with a message in the SERP feature communicating the date of reopening (2nd Dec 2020 in the UK). In the meantime, these businesses should use the lockdown as an opportunity to leverage the Searchmetrics platform to conduct a local GAP analysis versus the competition. The best place to start this local GAP analysis is by using Searchmetrics’ Research Cloud > SERP Feature > Domain Overview. Amongst other things, scrolling down the analysis shows the top SERP features for the vertical – for gyms its Google Maps.

The key point to remember is that if your health and fitness business is not appearing for local search (even during a lockdown), the competition will fill the void and customer loyalties will shift. Clearly this means optimizing for local search will support awareness and help the business to navigate an economically tough period. And in a future where lockdown is hopefully a distant memory, the term [near me] in the UK will always be relevant. In retrospect, it’s a term which has skyrocketed over five whole years (source: Google Trends, UK) and so will always be one which delivers traffic, making it an investable SEO topic.

In this vertical, we can see that after Google Maps, the Searchmetrics platform details the next most popular SERP feature is ‘videos’. And here’s where we have a second opportunity to engage with customers using video content during UK lockdown. Using Google Trends > YouTube, we can see that searches for [home workout] increased by almost 10x in the past 12 months. Breaking that down further, we can use Searchmetrics’ Keyword Research > Keyword Discovery feature to find the best keyword opportunities for different types of video class workouts (cross-fit, yoga, HIIT). This can be used to either a) create new video content or b) re-optimize relevant existing video content to maintain or increase awareness through a partnership of email and organic search channels.

The wrap-up

2020 is the year that was cancelled and re-cancelled, and where brand loyalties were tested. Make 2021 the year where your customer remembers your brand for having kept them informed, healthy and engaged. Consequently saving them from unnecessary travel yet enhancing their lives and digital mobility, and, dutifully, keeping them safe and within the boundaries of covid-19 laws.

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