Over the last six years, The State of Local Marketing Report has tracked the steady increase in the prioritization and utilization of digital tactics among small businesses. In 2020, the research report revealed that the trend toward digital tactics was accelerated by the pandemic, with SEO, social media, paid search, and websites and landing pages experiencing the most significant increases in marketing priority from 2019.
Local businesses that once relied heavily on events and foot traffic no longer had those channels available when the threat of COVID-19 put an end to in-person gatherings and leisurely shopping. At the same time, streaming increased, social media use skyrocketed, and online search behaviors changed. The savviest local marketers took advantage of these trends by shifting their marketing priorities and budgets to the tactics that would be most effective in the new normal—digital.
Here are a few key data points that demonstrate the pandemic’s indelible impact on local marketing:
Events decreased in marketing priority by 27%
Headlines were made all over the world as major events like the Olympics, SXSW, and
Festival de Cannes were shuttered due to the pandemic. What didn’t make headlines are the countless local events that were cancelled, and the devastating gap in revenue it caused for brands and small business owners who relied on event marketing to drive sales. In 2019, 39% of local marketers viewed events as a marketing priority. But within the BrandMuscle event engine alone, more than 1,700 local events were cancelled or postponed in 2020. Now, just 12% of local marketers view events as a marketing priority, a 27% change from 2019. Because digital tactics offer a way for local marketers to connect with their community and drive revenue in lieu of in-person events, the downfall of events has been concurrent to the rise in digital. Furthermore, digital tactics are measurable, making it easy for local marketers to see a direct correlation between marketing spend and revenue.
Social media increased in marketing priority by 8% and in usage by 9%
Social media use was already high, yet it continued to increase in 2020 and is now a top three priority for almost 60% of local marketers. The number of local marketers who have no social media presence at all has fallen to just 17% in 2020, down from 22% in 2019. More local marketers—32% compared to 23% in 2019—are both engaging and advertising on social rather than opting for only one tactic. This suggests that every corporate-sponsored marketing program should not only include a social component, but offer significant support for it. However, only 11% of programs support both organic and paid social media as a local marketing tactic, demonstrating an opportunity to better support this priority channel for local marketers.
SEO has the highest perceived impact of any tactic, yet only 46% of local marketers are using it
In 2020, SEO usage increased 31% compared to 2019. With 79% of local marketers perceiving SEO to be an effective tactic, it should be a “must have” in most programs. Despite that SEO has the highest perceived impact of any tactic, only 46% of local marketers actually implemented the tactic in 2020. This discrepancy between perceived effectiveness and usage highlights an opportunity for corporate marketing programs to provide local partners with resources, training, and tools for understanding how to implement digital tactics.
Marketing priority and utilization of paid search, TV and streaming, and websites and landing pages also increased
Digital tactics increased in priority and utilization across the board because many local marketers were shifting their marketing budgets away from traditional media tactics that rely on the transportation economy to be effective. By transitioning their marketing strategy to primarily digital, local businesses were able to effectively reach people in their homes. Websites and landing pages increased in marketing priority by 6%; paid search increased in marketing priority by 6% and in usage by 34%; and TV and streaming advertising usage increased by 79%.
As we recover from the pandemic, traditional media will resume to some degree, but the trend towards digital was always apparent and has now been accelerated. What the pandemic highlighted is the importance for channel marketing organizations to be able to measure and adapt their strategy fast enough to make a difference between local partners surviving or struggling. Continuous analysis and adaptation of the tactics being used is key to a robust and scalable local marketing program