Q&A with Alan Hwang of Gravitate

‘The biggest question that clients are asking right now is, “What the hell do we do with our marketing budget?”’

Alan Hwang is Director of Growth for Gravitate, a digital marketing and web design agency headquartered in Vancouver. He answered the VBJ’s questions about how to effectively market your business during the coronavirus stay-at-home order.

VBJ: What are your clients’ biggest questions right now? What are your best answers?

Hwang: We work with a pretty diverse set of businesses and industries, from small businesses to international enterprise level clients. The biggest question that clients are asking right now is, “What the hell do we do with our marketing budget?” There are businesses that are looking to cut expenses as much as they can, businesses that are looking to turn up their marketing spend, and everything in-between.

Alan Hwang

The short answer is that there is no set answer. It really depends on your business, your situation and where your marketing budget was previously dedicated. To start, you need to figure out exactly how COVID-19 is impacting your business. Do you need to close your business? Is your production going to be delayed? Are you not able to visit / service clients? Are you not able to attend events you generate leads from? Figure out how you’re being impacted and then figure out how you can be most productive right now, and still generate revenue (if possible).

Next, you need to take a step back and view your business and marketing plan in a three-to-six-month view (depending on your sales cycle) and figure out what you can do now to help you be in a better place three-to-six months from now. 

VBJ: How should the marketing strategies of a service-focused business like catering differ from, say, a products-focused business like a clothing boutique? 

Hwang: Since these businesses are impacted differently, the marketing strategies should also be different. 

The catering business are likely seeing a vast majority of events canceling and rescheduling. I would start by checking in with my current clients and easing their minds on the catering side (you know your clients are scrambling too). Next, I would figure out how I can be impactful now, as well as the long run. For example, there is a huge wave of ‘paying it forward’ for medical staff and businesses that are essential and still up and running. Is there a way to become a go-to pay it forward option through creating easy online ordering? Or, are you able to help bring meals to families through the current equipment you have to prepare and transport food?

For a clothing boutique, if you aren’t selling on e-commerce, this is a push to get that up and running. That will help you generate revenue now (and there are a lot of online shoppers now!) as well as continue to compliment your in-store business with an online option in the long run. Square, ShopKeep and Shopify are likely what you’re using in-store right now, and they all offer pretty simple e-commerce integrations.

VBJ: Is now the time to shift to e-commerce and short-term sales or is brand-building a better strategy for long-term viability? Does it depend on the business?

Hwang: If you can shift your business to e-commerce and generate revenue now, do it! Bonus points if e-commerce will compliment your business in the long run when things are back to normal as well.

We’re actually seeing our e-commerce clients get a cheaper cost per conversion with a higher return on ad spend. Interestingly, this is coming more from social media advertising (putting our products and offerings in front of our customers through Facebook and Instagram) instead of Google Ads (our products and offerings showing up when people search for something we offer).

If you are a business with a longer sales cycle and no way to go e-commerce (service businesses, travel, SaaS, etc.), you shouldn’t let up and just cut your marketing budget. You should change your messaging in your marketing to fit the current climate, as well as your call-to-actions on both your advertising and your website.

For all businesses, if you have “free time,” invest in your brand and your businesses. I’m willing to bet that you have a list of marketing wishes or goals that you have been meaning to do, but keeping your business running was taking up your time. If you have the time, get your marketing goals in order, and start getting things done!

VBJ: As consumer behaviors have shifted, so too will the marketing mix of many businesses. How are you advising your clients to stay in front of their customers?

Hwang: In general, I think the current climate is a push to invest in digital (if you haven’t already). Regardless of what type of business you are, you need to take a look at your marketing and reconsider how you can best reach your target audience.

For example, with your newly freed up event budget, host digital events or workshops and run digital ads targeted at your ideal customer demographic. This will actually lead to better brand exposure (higher reach and impressions) as well as help you generate leads right now (capture emails and engage with potential customers).

VBJ: More than ever, consumers are resonating with brands that show authenticity and purpose. How can small companies achieve this during a time of historic belt-tightening?

Hwang: I’m a huge believer that consumers are smart. If you aren’t authentic, people can see right through it. So, to start, don’t fake your compassion in an effort to be relevant and generate profit. Instead, find an organization or purpose that you truly want to support and see how your business can make a positive impact, even if it appears to be a small contribution.

It’s been impressive to see businesses shift their products and services to make an impact and support nonprofits, medical staff and small businesses that are being affected. I’d encourage small companies to see what the community is doing, find where they can contribute and get involved.

Share your support on social media and invite others to get involved as well.

VBJ: What trends and data are you tracking more closely for your clients now? How does that differ from just a couple of months ago?

Hwang: We are a super data driven agency, focusing on return on investment for all of our clients. With that as a norm, it has been pretty simple to continue to monitor marketing efforts and ensure we are still being effective. We’re keeping a close eye on return on ad spend (ROAS) for campaigns we’re running as well as industry trends and COVID-19 updates that could impact our clients so we can shift strategy as necessary. 

A couple of other items we’ve been monitoring are how clients and community partners can leverage the Google and Facebook ad support as those ad budget grants start to roll out.

VBJ: What else should our readers know?

Hwang: As I’ve mentioned, every business is different. 

We’re doing what we can to help support our community, clients and network. With that, we’re offering free consultations to businesses in need of fresh eyes on their marketing plan and figure out what they should do moving forward. If we can help you, get in touch – https://www.gravitatedesign.com/covid.

Our agency, community partners and industry experts are also coming together to host a donation based digital workshop on April 30 to help businesses. The workshop is free and any donations will be given to local nonprofits. To keep updated, provide your email on https://tableagencygroup.com/.

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Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start ClarkCountyToday.com.