Chris Attewell, CEO, Search Laboratory
The coronavirus pandemic is causing a lot of uncertainty for both businesses and consumers right now, with many industries seeing a fall in sales as a result. With media attention highly focused on covering COVID-19, it’s also harder for brands to get through to their audience and pushing your brand in a time when many are worried about their health and financial security can seem insensitive. As a result, one way in which brands are responding to the crisis is by cutting back on their marketing and advertising activity.
Before you cut all marketing activity completely, it is important to assess whether you can adapt your campaigns to fit the situation, as some brands may find changing their key products or brand messaging at this time can help to secure sales during the pandemic. For other businesses, now is a good time to sort behind the scenes marketing – from cleaning up your analytics to planning for the year ahead.
No two businesses or industries are affected the same
It comes as no surprise that travel businesses have been hit harder by the pandemic than online grocery stores. The pandemic has changed what consumers can and can’t do, and as a result, changed what they do and don’t buy. While some industries are affected more than others, businesses within the same industry are being impacted differently, and even within the same business, no two product categories are affected in the same way.
It is therefore important that, in addition to being aware of how COVID-19 is affecting the wider industry, you understand how your unique business is being impacted by the pandemic. This is key to making informed marketing decisions during this period of uncertainty.
What marketing activity can you do right now?
How you proceed during the pandemic depends largely on whether you are still able to make sales during this period.
For businesses who are unable to trade during this period, or have seen a decline in traffic and sales, now is a good time to invest in tidying up your channels, ensure you are tracking data which is aligned with your goals and improving brand awareness.
For businesses who are able to continue making sales, adapting your messaging and strategy to reflect changes in consumer needs is important for both short- and long-term brand sentiment and ROI.
In this blog, we run through ways to adapt your marketing activity effectively during the coronavirus pandemic.
Adapt your messaging
Regardless of whether you are in a position to make sales still or not, you should adapt your messaging during the pandemic. Consumers may be worried about their health, their friends and family, and their financial security, so it is important you are sensitive with your messaging. Avoid being seen as cashing in on coronavirus and using it as a hook to sell your products.
Provide value to your audience
At a time where you may be getting fewer sales than normal, identify ways you can provide value to your customers in a way that is relevant to your brand. Not only does this keep engagement high during the pandemic, but it also puts your brand in a positive light – something consumers will remember when they are ready to purchase. Jimmy McCann, our Head of Digital Strategy, notes that valuable content can also be used to create soft conversions and capture user information at a time when hard conversions may be down.
Audible releasing children and teen books to users during the pandemic is a great example of brands providing value to their audience. Not only does this help families who are stuck at home, but it also highlights their service to users who may not have considered purchasing Audible previously. While they are using the service for free during the pandemic, many are likely to purchase subscriptions in the future as they have sampled how the service works.
Trial different platforms and content types
With so many people now stuck at home, we have seen an increase in online activity, with 70% of consumers worldwide saying they are spending more time on their smartphones than normal. Apps like Houseparty have seen a revival, and more content creators are turning to Instagram Live and Instagram TV to engage with their audience.
Head of Social Media, Niki Lancaster, says: “For brands who are unable to engage with their customers in ways they would traditionally do so, this is the perfect opportunity to test out different platforms and content formats and see how they can engage with their audience.”
For restaurants, this may look like hosting online cooking classes so customers can create and eat their favourite dish at home. Bars and pubs could host virtual quizzes, while fashion retailers could do an Instagram Live Q&A with an influencer or stylist on how to dress for video conferences.
Adapt your paid advertising
With just 8% of consumers saying that brands should stop advertising during the pandemic, and more people online now than ever, it bodes well to continue with paid advertising should consumers be able to purchase from your business right now. However, it may be necessary to adapt your messaging, strategy and budgets to avoid upsetting consumers or using budgets inefficiently.
Ryan Jones, our Head of PPC, says: “Monitor paid performance to see what products consumers are buying and use this to tailor your campaigns. While demand has fallen in some areas, other areas have risen – even within the same industry. Take this on top of the latest search trends and identify products you have which are in demand right now.
“Many brands have reduced their PPC spend, with Amazon, in particular, appearing to have cut back since mid-March. This creates an opportunity for smaller brands to increase their impression share and conversions for products they might not normally be able to compete for.”
James Kenny, Head of Programmatic, adds:
“We have also seen a significant drop in CPM across display, video and paid social, due to the number of businesses reducing their programmatic marketing spend. For businesses who are running campaigns with an achievable goal during the pandemic, this translates to getting more reach for your budget.”
It’s important that any paid campaigns are sensitive to the situation. Avoid using coronavirus to cash in on sales; not only is this likely to damage your brand reputation, but Google has a policy around sensitive events so mentioning COVID-19 in your ad copy or keywords may be taken down.
Focus on awareness building activity
With so many consumers at home, we are seeing an upward trend in social media engagement. If you are seeing a drop in sales during the pandemic, use this time to build awareness, interest and engagement with your audience. This puts you in a strong position for when consumers return to purchasing your products.
While sales may have dropped, there are still consumers out there who are researching your product with the intent to buy – even if this isn’t an immediate intent. Defining and tracking engagement metrics which will help you understand this audience is key to making budget decisions during the pandemic. Learn more about how to define, value and measure engagement during the pandemic here; you can also access a free Data Studio dashboard to help measure engagement.
Remarketing activity is key
Re-marketing activity is going to be more crucial than ever over this period, as buying cycles have slowed down in some areas – both due to disturbances in supply chains, and consumer caution. Almost 40% of consumers say they are delaying major purchases until the outbreak begins to decrease in their country, and 20% are waiting until the pandemic is over globally. James Kenny says: “Ensure you are effectively tracking users who engage with your product and service and build an audience plan looking at how you will segment them and what messaging you want them to see. This makes it easier to reach users with the right message when they are able to buy.”
Upkeep and maintenance
Now is a good time to get around to the jobs you are usually too busy for, such as optimising content, cleaning up your social media channels and testing new landing pages. Ticking off all the jobs which get pushed back now puts your website in a stronger position for visibility and sales to help you get back on your feet.
Plan for the year ahead
Now is a great time to plan for key dates such as Black Friday and Christmas. If you have the resource available, start on these key periods now so that, when the pandemic is over and normal business resumes, they don’t get lost in the rush.
Organise your analytics
Use this time to clean up your web analytics. Are you tracking the right data for your business goals? Can you link up online and offline data? Are you using the right attribution model? Capturing and tracking relevant data is crucial to making informed business decisions so use this period to ensure your web analytics is up to speed.
Update your content strategy
Having a data-driven content strategy is key to attracting prospects at all stages of the customer buyer journey. Use this time to analyse your first-party data to see what content works best for your customers and use these insights to draft a killer content strategy.
Adapting your marketing during the pandemic is crucial if your business is to survive the challenging period; focusing on engaging and retaining customers in the long-term will help to bounce back once the pandemic is over and consumer confidence returns.
Published date: April 29 2020