2020 has been an exceptionally tough year for small businesses. While companies of all sizes have faced challenges due to the impact of Covid-19 this year, SMEs have been hit particularly hard by a combination of government restrictions, lockdowns, and restrained consumer spending.
Fortunately, communities across the UK have rallied round their local shops. In fact, to measure consumer attitudes towards SMEs, iStock conducted a survey of over 2,000 UK consumers and found that more than half (54%) believe that it’s important to support small and local businesses who are struggling during the pandemic.
But while SME owners will appreciate the support, converting those supporters into paying customers is a different matter: our survey also revealed that only 35% of respondents who said it was important to support small businesses actually made a change to their shopping behaviour in order to do so. In fact, 51% of consumers admitted to increasing the amount of shopping they do with large retailers and brands since the onset of the pandemic.
Given these disappointing statistics, small businesses still enjoy some advantages over their larger competition. For instance, based on our research, we know that consumers feel three times more likely to be personally addressed and valued by small businesses compared to large retailers, and 30% of consumers say they feel cared about when doing business with SMEs.
The challenge therefore is to leverage this greater trust and customer loyalty in order to convert local supporters into loyal shoppers.
So what should SMEs be doing differently in order to attract more business? Clearly, it is crucial for them to act, rather than sit and do nothing. The first and perhaps most significant step they should take is to rethink their marketing efforts.
By improving their communication and marketing content, small businesses can encourage more UK consumers to come to them. Here are my three top tips to help SMEs give their brand communications a boost and convert goodwill into shopping behaviour:
This is the number one reason for consumers to shop with large retailers. In fact, of the shoppers who admitted in our survey to increasing the amount they bought from bigger brands this year, over two thirds (69%) said they did so because of convenience ‘ the fact that they can get most of the things they need in one place.
Therefore, small businesses should focus on demonstrating how shopping with them can be just as convenient as going to a larger store. An example could be to use their marketing to highlight delivery and return options, a wide product range, or a variety of payment options.
Use smart targeting and personalisation
Younger consumers are particularly passionate about supporting the local economy. Our survey found that the vast majority (77%) of Millennials who have increasingly shopped with small businesses have done so because they want to actively make a contribution and support them.
So how should small businesses target this demographic? GenZ and GenY shoppers are most likely to react to different forms of marketing and, to no surprise, social media is the channel that they use most. Video and image ads on social media have an impact on almost half of GenZ and GenY, so small brands should ensure to activate those channels and target younger generations.
Create the right content
Creating marketing content can be challenging, but it helps if you know what types of content connects with consumers. iStock is backed by Getty Images, and based on their resources and creative trends expertise, here are some insights into what content most appeals to consumers right now?
Sustainability and funny content tie for first place in the types of content that consumers want to see these days. Small businesses who source locally or are particularly eco-friendly can use this to their advantage in their marketing.
Also, with the pandemic taking a toll on everyone, a quarter of consumers want to see content that reflects their current lives and experiences. Only 8% want to see content that shows someone they aspire to be. They would much rather see themselves reflected in marketing content and visual representation.
Values are very important when it comes to marketing content: almost a quarter (23%) of consumers are more likely to shop with small or local shops if they see their values reflected. We have seen similar attitudes reflected in our Visual GPS research from earlier in the year, which showed that six in ten people prefer to buy from brands that are founded by or represent people like themselves.
When sourcing images to create marketing content, using premium-quality stock photos, illustrations, and videos sourced through platforms such as iStock will ensure that the messaging from small businesses will stand out to consumers in a powerful way. It will also protect them from costly copyright issues.
The past 12 months have been difficult for everyone. For small business owners, it may have been a particularly dispiriting year, especially if they were forced to close during the national lockdowns while large brands carried on trading.
But SMEs must remember that they enjoy a lot of support from their local community, who want to see them not only survive but thrive. If they keep this in mind, and apply the above tips to their marketing strategy, they have a very good chance of converting that goodwill into sales in the new year and beyond.