Answering the Questions Surrounding COVID-19 for Business Owners & Job Hunters

“What do I do now?” “Where do we go from here?”

Listen to an honest back-and-forth conversation with Kyle Minerley, Carly Benedetto, and Jess Reilly about what is happening right now in the world of advertising and marketing. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to not only focus on what brands can do to survive now — but to also understand the ongoing lasting changes our now world faces.  

Rebel reached out on social media and solicited questions from everyone from brand decision-makers, business owners to people who have found themselves pivoting careers. 

Navigate to the end of this blog for resources on how to get starting in the field of digital marketing for free!

Video transcription:

Jess Reilly: I keep getting questions like: “How was I supposed to prepare for what they’re calling the “Isolation economy?’” Messaging is one piece of what needs to happen. Businesses of any size — regardless if you’re a small mom and pop shop or if you’re a Fortune 500 company — need a crisis preparedness plan. You as a business cannot take your finger off the pulse of what’s happening in the real world.

For example, having that plan that defines how you are going to shift your workforce into a remote workforce. You need to know how you can adapt to disasters. Not to make yourself seem paranoid, but to really prepare for what could happen and how you can adapt to it.

Kyle Minerley: Yeah, it’s actually interesting. We had a fire drill here the other day. I live in an apartment complex and the fire alarm went off and you could feel the entire building just go like, wait, what do I do now?

It’s one of those things where you practice it so much when you’re in elementary school and middle school. You have a fire plan, you go outside, you wait out there, the all-clear gets sounded, you come back inside. No one knew what to do because no one had a plan. And what ended up happening was people slowly filtered out and then the alarm stopped at, one person went and tried the door and went upstairs, and then everyone else was like, “Oh, okay.”

It makes you think; So few people have a plan for something like the economic situation we’re in and we’re all just kind of looking at the situation and saying, okay, well what’s the market going to do? If no one has a plan, at a certain level, you’re responsible for yourself and you need to make that sort of determination.

Jess Reilly: I had somebody ask me the other day when we asked for questions on social media, “What do you think about the ethical implications of advertising in such a crazy time?”

And that’s something to consider even without its being a crazy time. There is a role for an ethical approach in marketing. For example for our higher education clients right now, if we’re able to acquire that one student — maybe in a healthcare program — who ends up saving lives, that’s worth it.

There is a role for advertising right now. The world of marketing is important to consider a powerful resource to help answer the question:

“How can these businesses survive?”

Kyle Minerley: Google has already recognized this. Carly and I were chatting just about Google pushing a large sum of money in ad credits for small and midsize businesses.

If you’re already a Google advertiser, you might actually have ad credits coming into your account. The truth behind this is a lot of the industries aren’t classified as an “everyday necessity”, like if you’re talking about someone who’s like a roofer or something like that.

Even if you’re in quarantine, if your house is leaking or if a storm comes through, you’re still going to need to have that fixed. It’s still important that people realize that these services are out there and those small businesses can still advertise on Google.

There have been huge changes even to the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) themselves and how they’re being structured in positive ways. Talking about coronavirus gets information out there.

People are still going about our day to day lives. This situation is happening and some normality needs to continue.

Carly Benedetto: I think to your point, Kyle, roofers, and contractors still have work to do. If your window breaks or your roof is leaking, you need them. We’ve had a couple of roofing clients who want to minimize advertising spends right now, and that’s okay. We understand that you need to pull back a little bit that you can’t pause because people will still need these services.

That’s the scary thing is you know your instinct as a small business right now is to just pause. You freeze up. You’re scared, you pause, but think about it. Life goes on. Things are still happening. Maybe you don’t need the luxury of a new roof if you were just thinking about doing it as an aesthetic, but if not, you still need a new roof.

It’s important for us as an agency to speak to our advertisers in that way and let them know, “Hey, we understand you’re scared. Everyone’s scared right now. There are a lot of unknowns and a lot of uncertainty. But to put it into perspective for you, you’re still going to have customers that need you and they need to be heard right now. They need to understand that you are here for them as much as they’re here for you and vice versa.”

Jess Reilly: Again, it goes back to messaging. There was a helpful CXL study that came out recently about different pandemics and similar disasters that have affected the world of business. The net of that is essentially those who did not hold the purse close to the chest and who invested in themselves getting their message out in the market are the companies that grew during these time frames whether it’s the .com crash, the 2008 financial crisis or during the SARS, MERS breakouts. That being said, we understand there still is a lot of uncertainty right now. We cannot say we can use those studies from the past to perfectly forecast what is going to happen. 

What we can say is that this is not the time to be conservative.

It is time to take the bold approach and make sure you are speaking to the people who are afraid. The way that you can make sure that you have a place in doing that is by being proactive.

Even beyond advertising and marketing, small and medium business owners should also make sure their voices are being heard by local policy leaders and in government. I think that’s more important than ever because this is the time that you know, their voice matters.

Carly Benedetto: If you are that roofer that has bold messaging out there, you’re going to be the one who gets the job and whose business will grow. Whereas those who were afraid and pulled back entirely are not going to keep getting jobs. The ones who put themselves out there are.

So yes, it’s scary. And yes, we understand there may be a need to pull back or scale back a little bit, but you can’t pause advertising efforts entirely. Life is still going on even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

Kyle Minerley: I don’t want to sound opportunistic, but recognizing how search interests are changing and how, again, people aren’t pivoting in terms of what they are searching for, but they are changing as far as the keywords that they’re targeting or going after.

It makes you wonder a lot about delivery services like DoorDash or Grubhub or Postmates. A lot of these small businesses themselves are kind of reluctant to be on those because of service charges that get added on top of their own fees. So they’re doing things like curbside delivery.

To get that message out there, they’re just posting on their Facebook pages or on Twitter feeds. Facebook is more up to date than someone’s website now, but it almost makes me wonder why some of these individual companies don’t start going after these related keywords in Google Search ads.

Keywords are, by the way, spiking in terms of search trends like “curbside delivery” or “local restaurants that do curbside delivery near me.” Restaurants should be bidding on those terms and saying, “Yes, we do this. Click here for our full menu.”

All you have to do right now is order directly on your phone. I actually just ordered pizza the other day at a local place and they asked for my credit card information or debit over the phone, which I was a little taken aback by. Then I was like, Oh yeah, that’s because you don’t want me physically coming in and running the card.

It was a great transaction, but I had to go through an odd site that was trying to aggregate all the local businesses that were providing this kind of delivery service. It’s weird right now that if you want to support a local business, it’s going out of your way as a customer not only in terms of just placing the order, but even just figuring out who’s open and who’s not.

You have to make sure you’re actually communicating with your customers beyond a sign on the door. Stay on top of this and be proactive. You should be potentially going after new keywords in search or changing the way that you’re advertising. 

Carly Benedetto: I wonder if that’s because you mentioned that people are more likely to update their Facebook right now than they are their own website.

People have this mindset that this is short term. The president yesterday announced that we’re essentially in quarantine until April 30th and that’s a month from now. We also know very well that can change at any moment.

We can’t have a short term mindset.

It’s easier on our minds to have a short term mindset because it’s less scary. The short term business owner mindset is “I’ll just do a quick post on Facebook,” but we need to think long term. We need to update websites and Google pages and change our messaging because it’s not going to be over in a week or even two weeks. 

Kyle Minerley: Let’s talk about the long term ramifications of this. Let’s say it’s under control. We recognize that this is going to have a larger impact on the world, especially if you’re looking at the economics of China where a lot of the workforce is gone.

We’re at the highest levels of unemployment in a long, long time. What does this mean as far as the future beyond quarantine of advertising, of messaging, and job markets? How is all of this shifting?

Jess Reilly:

This is not temporary.

I think a lot of the changes that we’re seeing are forcing our economy to change for good. For example, Carly, I remember you were telling me the other day about a business owner you know who just has not transitioned to the digital world.

Carly Benedetto: My mother-in-law.

Jess Reilly: Yes! I think that’s a really good example of how we’re going to be forced to see the digital space be deeply embedded in our economy, more so than it ever has.

Carly Benedetto: It’d be expected. Right now, everything is at our fingertips. We’re able to get groceries delivered, which we could before, but now it’s expected.

Everything’s expected to be on an app or quick or instant or digital or a Zoom meeting. If we’re living in this lifestyle for the next one, two, three months, people are going to be used to it and they’re going to expect it. So if you are that mom and pop shop that temporarily is offering curbside pickup or scheduling appointments online because you used to not, but yet you’re forced to continue.

When life resumes as “normal,” your customers will expect that. So it’s not a temporary thing. This is a long term change and it’s kind of that kick in the butt we all needed and some of these smaller mom and pop shops needed to get up with the times and adapt to the technology.

Kyle Minerley: It’s actually really interesting thinking about this evolutionarily, right? We went through a time period where the Amazo’s of the world and other big players could come out and you could rise to the top by innovating, by making things that are super user friendly, fun to use or mobile-first. The companies that got it right did really well. 

There was still space for 90% of other websites that are still built on the 1990 version of HTML. We’ve all seen these, we’ve all experienced them. You go online and you’re like, “Okay, they haven’t updated it, but it’s not really that big a deal.”

However, there is this expectation of “this is what it’s like in the digital landscape now” from the consumer mindset. It’s almost as if this is the big catalyst event that could wipe out everyone who’s in the bottom 50% of online performance because people physically can’t access you or they don’t want to because the competition is much better.

It’s so much more exasperating now because we are in a time of crisis. It’s the same thing that you see in nature, right? There’s going to be differentiators between top performers and low performers.

The sad truth is half of the low performers end up dying out.

Now, the advantage of that we have over evolution is we can adjust. We can manage your digital presence to make changes to your website and make sure you have all of your social listings claimed.

Earlier we were talking about the fear of investing in advertising. I think a lot of that goes back to fear of investing in your company during this time, but this is the time to invest. Even if you feel like everything is secure — because now everyone around you is going to be making these same sorts of changes.

Jess Reilly: I think we focus a lot on the business to consumer relationship, but we need to also consider the business to employee relationship. I think right now we are literally forced to have A/B tests that we’ve never really considered before.

Are more companies going to operate remotely? Are we going to see the commercial real estate industry impacted because companies found out that pivoting to a remote workforce is actually less expensive?

Are we going to see events, such as conferences, impacted because companies are not able to attend right now? Because they are not going, they can clearly see if that’s the best use of their money. Or is it something they did just because they have done it in the past?

Even things such as employee travel — having your employees travel all over creation — is that a good investment? It’s a very, very expensive thing to do, but do you actually need to, or can you operate over Zoom conference?

The actual structure of how a company operates within itself is going to be impacted, too.

Carly Benedetto: I think we’re going to see efficiencies across the board with how companies operate.

Have you seen that meme: “Another meeting that could have been an email”? This situation is kind of like “fly across the country for a meeting that could have been a zoom conference.”

There are going to be so many efficiencies, and again, I keep saying this is the kick in the butt that we needed. A little bit of a silver lining in all of this is we’re kind of forcing change upon those people who are afraid of it.

Now we don’t have a choice. In this downtime, Kyle is talking about investing in your company. There’s a time to do that right now. If you do have downtime and you can make those changes. Update your Google My Business profiles, maybe set up appointments online; there are things you can do as a small business owner right now to prepare for the other side of this.

If you’re a hair salon: download an app, set it up now and tell your clients you’re booking appointments online. Tell customers you can book your appointment now because there’s probably no one in the salon answering the phone to book appointments for May 1st. 

Kyle Minerley: Something we need to acknowledge is we are talking from a privileged position. Obviously we’re all using Zoom right now. We’re able to communicate freely. The benefit to our agency specifically was we were set up for this.

I’m currently located in North Carolina and am talking to my colleagues who are in Connecticut. We recognize there are a lot of people who don’t have these same sorts of digitally transferable skills. They might not be computer literate or their day job was something that was a lot more manual or physically-based.

Some of the questions I’ve been getting include,

“How did you get your start doing stuff like that? Is this something I could learn?”

Because in a lot of ways, our positions and our jobs are a lot more future-proof, at least the way that the economy seems to be going.

Does either of you have suggestions for how you got your start and some of the resources that are out there to get educated in this field?

Jess Reilly: Kyle and I got our start in this industry with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). What’s interesting about what we do in the advertising and search space is that everything that you need to learn is available for free to learn online.

However, there’s so much misinformation and outdated information that the biggest thing is knowing where to access reputable information and how to put those skills into practice. First and foremost, podcasts by industry leaders are how I learned very quickly. I can tell you people in this industry do not hold information close to the chest because we’re all trying to keep up with the curve of Google. 

I’ve been doing a lot of speeches at colleges, and I’ve been getting requests from a variety of different students who ask if I can point them to learning resources. People who want to get into this field are hungry for knowledge. Understanding where to find those resources and being able to contact people in the space is how to get involved.

Carly Benedetto: It’s definitely drive, too. I launched my own eCommerce website about five years ago, and I Googled my way through the entire thing with the help of some friends who had done it, too.

So rely on people who you’ve seen be successful s, but you also have to have the drive. This is not something that someone’s going to do for you. The resources are out there.

If you’re not going to help yourself, it’s not going to happen for you.

Kyle Minerley: Something we can do when we post this is link to some of these other resources we have that we found useful. I know Moz has a really good introduction to SEO — the basic stuff that you should be looking for.

There’s a lot of information out there and you can Google everything, but don’t get roped into bad tactics. If you ever find yourself putting white text on a white background, you’re doing something very wrong. 

It creeps into the consideration for higher education, too. There are a lot of colleges offering programs online, so we’ve heard people ask “Why do I need to go to college?” There still is something to be gained from going to a specific source of learning and saying: “I got my educational credentials from here.”

Jess Reilly: I agree with you. he most valuable thing I got out of my college education was the connections I made. I literally got one of my first jobs from my mentor in college.

Personal connections matter.

For somebody who might be furloughed from the service industry and is looking to pivot, I’d recommend still making those connections online on LinkedIn.

I think the students that reach out to me now are brilliant. I wish I had the confidence to do that when I was in college. I’m so impressed by the drive they have to reach out to people to ask questions. That is going to be a big differentiator for the generation coming into this career or for people who were in the service industry and looking to pivot.

Don’t be afraid to be bold and say, you know, I really want to get into this field. I’d rather hire somebody with less experience and more drive than the inverse.

Kyle Minerley: Get your face out there specifically beyond sending an email or LinkedIn message. That’s a great first touch, but there is something different about if you reach out to me and you say, “Hey, you know, let’s, let’s talk about this topic. Let’s have a Zoom meeting about it.”

I think video conferencing is going to be the new norm just because it’s so hard to get emotion and empathy through a phone call or a Slack message. I can’t tell you the number of topics that shouldn’t have been arguments that ended up being arguments because they were on Slack.

There’s a reason why we have shifted a lot of our conversations to being video conferences even if it’s only going to be a five-minute conversation.

It’s going to be uncomfortable. It’s worth it. Do it right.

Carly Benedetto: It’s emulating what you’re doing in real life. I had dinner with my sister and best friend last night on our phones because we need human interaction right now. The same thing should be happening at work, and if you’re doing it in real life, you should be doing it at work as well.

Jess Reilly: You know what’s actually very interesting? 99% of the ads I get on my Facebook right now are for online dating services and these services have moved to video, too.

It’s like speed dating, but for video chat. Think about how this has impacted that industry. You know what I mean? Like, that’s insane.

Kyle Minerley: The flip side of this is the industries that are taking a hit as far as anything involving large crowds, entertainment, sports, etc. 

For example, Nike, which had giant deals with a lot of athletic influencers, where’s that money going now? Right now they’re not getting that sort of that kind of brand exposure. It’s going to be interesting to see how these bigger brands start investing that dormant spend. I am thinking that they’re going to be throwing it into digital.

We’re going to start getting a lot more interesting and innovative ads.

There is a huge opportunity for really innovative and interesting content to be put into digital advertising. The only reason why they haven’t previously is that there were other places where they invested their money then, but this is where the attention is today. I feel like that’s going to be coming down the pipeline sooner rather than later. 

Jess Reilly: I don’t even think it’s necessarily about just reinvesting into digital. It’s specific areas in digital that I think need to be considered. I think everybody needs to look at their media mix right now. Exactly what percentage of your advertising investment is going to each individual channel needs to be analyzed.

There’s an opportunity here to say, “Where is that whitespace in the market and where are other brands not necessarily advertising?” Just within the last week, we had a client that is not a B2B client invest heavily in LinkedIn and has seen 600% returns in that one week during a crisis shook the market.

It wasn’t the obvious choice, but we found an opportunity and acted on it and it made all the difference.

Carly Benedetto: I saw that Audi and Taco Bell actually are doing branding on Zoom. Zoom virtual backgrounds that you can add to your video so Audi and Taco Bell have capitalized on that placement, which is very interesting to me.

Jess Reilly: That is super interesting. I remember when Snapchat did that initially and I thought it was not going to be a big conversion driver. And that’s so not true. Brands like Glossier as an example, have invested in Snapchat and seen huge returns. That’s innovative thinking.

Kyle Minerley: I feel like that sort of advertising technology is only going to be getting better and better because it’s getting more attention.

Other industries that are kind of doing extremely well during this time is one of our clients who sell health-based elixirs through E-commerce. Their sales are absolutely through the roof right now. In connection to this kind of health shift that America was having pre-coronavirus anyway, it makes sense they are doing well.

Jess Reilly: They are doing really well, specifically also on Amazon, because they were classified as an essential product. We also have other clients here that are causing Amazon because of Amazon’s policy shifts during the pandemic. 

This is a good example of how understanding your media mix is and where you’re advertising is important. So for example, this elixir company is doing really well and has the opportunity to sell more than this time frame then rather than less or even just maintaining.

Kyle Minerley: Even after this period of immediate rampant buying from consumers slows down and consumers start pulling back and tightening their purse strings.

In a few months down the line, the economy will inevitably end up recovering, and you will have already built brand awareness. 

Carly Benedetto: That’s such a good example for the small brand right now. For the big brands, I saw Perdue’s CEO shot a commercial just from his selfie camera. It’s phenomenal because it’s real and he’s hearing you and he’s communicating that he is there for his employees. He’s there for his consumers. He’s just straight up there for you.

He’s not trying to push sales directly right now. He just was like, “Hey. We’re getting good for you and we care about you, and I’m going to shoot this as a selfie because I’m not gonna put anyone else at risk.” Your consumers and your employees want to be heard right now. 

Kyle Minerley: There’s also a misconception between a small business thinking that because Amazon or Wal-Mart is advertising something that they can’t. Realistically speaking from a digital marketing perspective, that’s not the case at all.

I would say define who your target audience actually is. Understand what the demographic parameters that encapsulate whoever your best audience is, figure out what channels they consume media on, and then put even just a small advertising investment behind.

The way the internet’s set up today is can reach your target audience directly for a much lower cost than traditional media. You want to hone in on who your best demographic is now. If you’re newer to the advertising game, you might not know that initially.

You might only have a gut feeling of who your audience is exactly. However, it’s really easy to set up an initial A/B test, as long as you’ve defined one or two variables you want to test for like age, gender or geographic location. The results of that will let you hone in on and identify where you can grow. 

Jess Reilly: There are also tools online you can use that will tell you information about who’s on your website and what their demographic profile is. You do not have to have all of the agency resources in the world to be able to access a lot of that information.

While understanding maybe only a part of your audience is actually going on to my website currently, it can give you a baseline understanding of how to improve your standing from where you’re at right now.

Carly Benedetto: And then doing testing to break it down further so that in time you get better and better and better with the results in the targeting.

Kyle Minerley: Yeah. Now that being said, again, time of crisis, if you’re a small to midsize business, you might have other things you’re focusing on right now.

This is the advantage of an agency partner.

You bring them in, you talk with them, they discover who you are and what you’re trying to do from a branding and marketing perspective. Then they’ll define why you’re trying to achieve and help you actually format your messaging, figure who the right audience is, set up the testing, and run everything for you.

Jess Reilly: We can even take the branding a step further by answering the question –” What does authenticity mean to you in the times we’re in?” What does that mean during a crisis where we break out different messaging segments and build creative that is actually going to resonate in the market?

We use both first and third-party data to back up our hypothesis and then break through the noise in the market to actually make a difference. It’s more important than ever. 


Helpful Resources:

Moz Courses (now FREE through 5/31): https://academy.moz.com/

Google Ads Academy / Skillshop: https://skillshop.withgoogle.com/ 

Data Science Resources: https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/overview-of-data-science/

Web Analytics Development: https://www.simoahava.com/