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Top 5 Marketing Strategies for the Pandemic

1. Keep Customers Informed

Maintaining accurate business information is more important than ever

One of the most important things you can do right now is to simply keep your customers updated. Widespread closures and special operating schedules have conditioned consumers to verify store hours and operating status prior to making plans. To make sure that your customers can visit with confidence, make use of your website and business search profiles to communicate your hours and services.

Your website and business profiles should highlight the following information

  1. Operating Status

  2. Hours of Operation

  3. Updated Menu

  4. COVID-19 Service Updates (delivery, takeout, dine-in, outdoor dining, supported delivery apps)

  5. A Message Regarding COVID-19 including safety measures and how your business is adapting business and making things safe for customers. You can also share your difficulties, appeal to customers, and thank them for their support.

Advanced guidance on COVID-19 Yelp optimization:

  • Yelp shows how long it has been since hours have been updated. If three or more months have elapsed since the last update, Yelp will display the disclaimer “Hours updated over 3 months ago,” to the right of store hours. Avoid this at all costs. Try to update hours at least once a month during this time so that customers have complete confidence in their accuracy.

Yelp hours should be updated frequently to avoid the "hours updated over 3 months ago" disclaimer
  • Share images of any updates you’ve made to your restaurant to accommodate operation during the pandemic. If you have outdoor dining, a new quick service window, or if you’ve installed plexiglass separators, you’ll want to share that with your customers. If you have an enhanced business profile, we recommend you adjust your featured images to help reflect your COVID-19 friendly offerings.

  • Even before the pandemic, sharing a clear updated image of your menu offerings was incredibly important. The same is true now, especially if you’ve adjusted your menu offerings.

  • Yelp offers a feature to allow you easily communicate the availability of certain key services like delivery, takeout, and outdoor seating.

  • Along with these updated services, Yelp also offers the ability to share a COVID-19 Update message on your business page. Don’t leave this blank. This can be an incredible opportunity to share insights into your business and the precautions you're taking to make service safe for your patrons or draw attention to important new offerings or service changes.

Example of Yelp's COVID-19 features for restaurants in action
Here's an example of what you should aim for with your Yelp profile.

Advanced guidance for Google Business listing optimization:

  • Hours: Unlike Yelp, Google doesn’t show how long has passed since hours were updated. Instead, Google automatically shows a disclaimer that "Hours or services may differ." This is done to help maintain the accuracy of listings on Google during the frequent closures and hour changes on the pandemic. Luckily, removing the message is fairly simple if not entirely straightforward. To remove the warning message, simply edit your special hours on your Google business page. If you're not already familiar with this function, it's typically used to indicate changes to your regular hours for special dates such as holidays. Still not sure how? Here's Google's official guide on setting special business hours..

  • Similar to Yelp, Google allows you to highlight the availability of certain services such as dine-in, take-out, and delivery.. Be sure to update this section to reflect the latest offerings of your business.

  • COVID-19 update post: Google has added a special post feature to help businesses share information and updates about their response to COVID-19. These posts will show at the top of your business's knowledge panel that displays in Google's local search results. This makes them an ideal area to share updates about changes in hours, new safety measures, temporary closures, and more. Like other Google posts, COVID-19 updates will only last 14 days. We recommend keeping an active post at all times. If you want to keep the same message, you'll need to renew the post every 14 days.

Preview of COVID-19 update feature on Google My Business
  • Add secondary hours. If your dining room closes earlier than your takeout and delivery offerings, you should add "more hours" or "secondary hours" for your business. This can allow viewers to view a "see more hours" button next to your regular hours to get more detailed information.

  • In certain cases, other features offered by Google My Business can be powerful as well. For example, adding gift card buying or donation links can allow the community to support your business directly. You can also accept bookings and appointments for things such as online classes that your business may be offering during the pandemic.

  • Read more on Google's official guidance for businesses affected by COVID-19 here.

2. Use Social Media

The perfect time to connect with customers

Restaurants can use Instagram and Facebook to keep connected with customers and updated on important changes to hours, outdoor dining accommodations, and new services. Social media is a highly underutilized tool in communicating with customers both in and out of the pandemic. Now, the online audience is even larger and the potential is even higher. Take this opportunity to stay connected with customers. Share details on your enhanced cleaning and safety protocols. Provide updates on operation status, outdoor dining availability, special menu items, and more. The right social media plan can go a long way in assuring customers feel safe returning to your business.

Snapshot of Shake Shack's impressive social media content during the pandemic
Shake Shack's topical instagram content is a prime example of thoughtful marketing during the pandemic

3. Optimize customer experience and secure more reviews

Reviews matter

From SEO to projected conversion rates, studies definitively show that an abundance of positive reviews are closely related to the success of a business. Now with online searches peaking, reviews have an even greater impact. The best way to secure good reviews is to simply provide customers with a positive experience. With the dominance of the pandemic, however, there are new things that customers are seeking in a positive experience.

Offer safe dining options

Create an environment that inspires consumer confidence and communicates that your business is proactive and considerate of your customer’s safety. Thoughtful safety measures like special partitions, open windows, air filters and hand sanitizer placed near the entrance and restrooms will go a long way in creating a good experience. Not only will these measures offer enhanced safety for your customers and employees, but it will also help improve the experience of your customers and inevitably lead to more positive reviews.

Outdoor dining and proper safety precautions are a major influencing factor in generating business and positive reviews
Safe dining precautions are a major influencing factor in generating both business and positive reviews

Optimize take out and delivery options

Delivery and takeout will almost certainly play a part in any successful business plan this coming winter. Consider adjusting your menu and your packaging to ensure that your customers will have a positive experience. Make sure that the food you offer on your takeout and delivery menu will hold up for at least 20-30 minutes in a to go container. Look into investing in higher quality packaging to improve the taste and presentation of these delivery and takeout orders as well. Don’t forget to update your customers through your website and social channels as you make these improvements.

Ask patrons to show their love on Yelp

Finally, don’t leave things to chance. Remind customers to check you out on your online business pages, especially your Yelp page. Just be sure to tread lightly in order to stay in line with Yelp’s strict guidelines!

4. Get creative

Embrace changes that can help increase the bottom line

It's important to stay on your toes. There are a few pioneering restaurants that have already begun to employ excellent strategies to create additional streams of revenue during the pandemic. Where states have relaxed regulations and have relaxed regarding “to-go alcohol sales,” businesses have found tremendous success selling cocktails, or cocktail making kits. Other businesses have keyed in on the demand for new experiences and self-improvement resources by offering cooking classes or cook-along kits. Innovative businesses have catered their menu to the new needs of customers while reducing their own operating costs by offering a new fixed menu of family meal solutions. Yet others have cut down on operating costs, closing their storefront business in lieu of ghost kitchens and online orders.

3 Times NYC's pivot to frozen food offerings
3 Times NYC has doubled down on their frozen food offerings during the pandemic
Auntie Anne's DIY Kits for making pretzels at home
Auntie Anne's DIY Kits for making pretzels at home

5. Reassess your marketing plan

Major changes in consumer behavior

The pandemic has not had an equal impact on businesses in different industries. With restrictions and higher risk of infection in commercial areas, people are spending more time at home and in nature. This decrease in physical business has been accompanied by a trend of increased online activity. People are consuming more media, engaging in online self-learning, and doing more shopping online. Indeed, the New York Times reports that the tech industry has been largely immune to the economic effects of the pandemic and are in fact, reporting record earnings this quarter. For those considering paid advertising, there are both more users online and fewer companies investing in advertising. With supply high and demand low, the cost of reaching your audience is lower than ever across major advertising platforms.

Get creative and rebrand your services

Savvy business owners will take advantage of these changes as they adapt their marketing strategies and invest resources in securing a presence on these platforms. Consider ways to market your existing services to customers at home and on the web. For example, some restaurants have started creating at home cook-along kits. Marketed as classes, or curated experiences, these offer customers the food they love along with a unique experience to replace dining out. Not only can these options provide valuable supplemental income during the pandemic, but their marketability can help establish a presence for your business on social platforms.

With money tight, it can be important to find the right resources or enlist the right help to ensure that your marketing strategy is efficient and effective. Even if you're cutting your marketing budget or have simply not budgeted for marketing before, the increased potential returns means that it could actually be an incredibly economical time invest in your marketing.

If you're not sure where to start, get ideas flowing by setting up a free consultation with an advertising agency like our partner NU Media.


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