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By Lee Shortall, Agency Partnership Manager, GO!

 

We are now entering a time of unpredictability and uncertainty for businesses, and the next twelve months will become a true test in terms of businesses’ ability to survive. This will bring into question how we use and engage with digital technologies – which have now become intimately entwined with business change. What triggers the imagination in a time of crisis is technology, and the impact this has on our private lives, businesses and society. You only have to look as far as the three quarters of a million people that have signed to become NHS Volunteers (myself included) and the NHS’s quick reaction to manage this through digital technology. The use of their ‘Good SAM App’ that allows users to toggle themselves on & off duty and indicate when they’re available to help the vulnerable with things like medicine, shopping and other forms of essentials, is nothing short of life changing. Whilst some might think this is ‘just an app’ – where would we be two decades ago without this?

That said, we can’t shy away from the fact businesses need help. The travel and hospitality sectors have all been hit badly. Whilst innovation has played its part with cafes and restaurants offering delivery services, the majority of businesses that rely on footfall have come to a complete stand still – with many cutting their advertising budgets significantly as they look to re-adjust and plan for the future. On the flip side, other markets have seen a huge increase in the number of online sales and as a result have shifted the majority of their spend towards digital channels. This poses the question, are we seeing a dramatic shift towards a Digital First Economy?

 

Shifting the consumer behaviour dial towards digital?

Fortunately, during this pandemic, we live in a digital age where consumer behaviour is changing rapidly, and we can rely on data and analytics to measure and understand how this journey is taking place. We can utilise digital marketing channels in a time where more people are online than ever, to reach consumers quickly, through paid search activity, product listing ads, display advertising, re-marketing, dynamic re-marketing, YouTube video content, e-mail – the list goes on. The opportunity for retailers, with a sparing thought for those who are suffering as a result of this crisis, is huge. Advertisers invest in these forms of digital channels to ultimately either attract awareness of their brand, create leads or drive sales and conversions. For businesses that need to quickly re-calibrate and change their offering as a result of this crisis, or for challenger type brands that need to enter a competitive marketplace, are they prepared for what’s to come?

The majority of businesses will of course not rely on these types of digital channels to achieve all of their marketing objectives, but in time of ‘lockdown and suppression’ where people are heavily reliant on digital devices to completely get through their daily lives – whether it be for work, food, health & fitness, tech, homeware, gardening – are advertising budgets being stretched or re-allocated enough to accommodate this shift in consumer activity? Crawford Dele Prete (IDC) recently spoke about this and the effects that the pandemic will have on businesses and customer engagement –

 “The digital economy is increasingly being driven by more powerful platforms, with ecosystems gaining lots of developers, as well as buy-in from major enterprises. As a result, he said innovation has accelerated, particularly the ability to target the specific needs of customers. We are moving to a more data driven world, but success involves transforming data into insights. Customers today expect engagement, personalization and simplicity, and it is incumbent among suppliers to provide these capabilities.”

Having spent time working on the Google Partners project, with digital advertising agencies looking to grow their client roster through investment into paid advertising, there was a common dis-belief amongst some businesses and agencies themselves, that heavy investment into these types of channels would yield results – and in some cases they aren’t wrong. But when focusing on purely changing consumer behaviour and these types of campaigns – the opportunity to quickly engage with consumers and measure success as a result, sits here. However, when we think about the importance of customer engagement, it is vital that businesses review their online offering before even considering this type of investment to attract customers. Referring back to it being ‘incumbent for suppliers to provide these capabilities’ – are businesses where they need to be vs their competitors in terms of capability when considering their website, content, UX?

It can be said with some confidence that there is going to be huge shift towards these channels for businesses that have already re-calibrated and adapted to change, but for businesses that haven’t or need a refresh in terms of optimization of their product lines, campaign setup and customer engagement techniques, this can all be achieved for at least the most-part, through the innovation of digital advertising.

Facebook have more recently announced $100m worth of grants for SMB’s in order to help facilitate this shift, with a focusing on helping small to medium sized businesses compete and stay ahead of the trend. This is good to see, but do many SMB’s know about this? Have they re-calibrated their approach rather than just simply giving up? Education for businesses around this will be helpful, which will be achieved either in-house or through brand/agency collaboration –

“We want to do more,” said COO Sheryl Sandberg in a Facebook post. “Teams across our company are working every day to help businesses. We’re looking at additional ways to host virtual trainings – and will have more to share in the coming weeks – and we’re finding more ways to help people connect and learn to use technology through Blueprint, our free e-learning training program.”

Hopefully this announcement is the first of many from ‘the powers that be’ in helping smaller businesses compete. Equally, educational pieces through virtual webinars and events can help highlight the importance & effectiveness of such digital channels – spurring thinking and ultimately review of digital spend.

 

Should we only focus on the present?

Now is a more important time than ever to realise the opportunity that living in a digital world brings, but it also represents risks for others & we must consider them in our thinking. However, it can be said for all, the importance of shifting our focus back to the consumer journey and how we communicate with our customers during this crisis will be key. There is an opportunity here not only for the present, but one for when this crisis ends, as a result of what actions businesses have taken now – where brand loyalty will ultimately play its part.