Since the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic on 11 March, the impact has been felt across the marketing industry. Paid media is down and many ad campaigns are in a holding pattern. A report from Advertiser Perceptions shows that 49% of advertisers have delayed the launch of an advertising cam-paign, while 34% have cancelled campaigns altogether.
And while marketers in the US and Europe can reasonably expect the greatest impact of the crisis to be on the year’s second quarter, the long-term drag of coronavirus on ad spend could run well into 2021 – and up to 68% of them expect that it will.
What we know is that the crisis isn’t going away anytime soon, so where and how should marketers change their approach?
1. Move away from display and paid social media
Brands are recognising that now is not the time to intrude on a consumer’s personal space – and that includes their digital space. Display and paid social media ad spend is being reduced, with the focus of many campaigns shifting away from sales to brand awareness and supportive messaging. For example, Nike has launched a ‘play inside, play for the world’ campaign drawing on their brand’s purpose to encourage the public to stay inside and stay active, while Facebook’s new ‘Community Help’ tool uses the brand’s status as a social site to help people connect to neighbours in need.
2. Increase paid search
While we see reductions in ad spend on display and social media (such as push campaigns and other sales-focussed messaging), brands should refocus their efforts to make sure they are visible at the point of demand.
Three Whiskey’s Director of Paid Media, Nick Cowling, says he’s been advising clients to move away from display activity in favour of paid search.
“The main focus for all clients is to not stop marketing completely, which may feel like the obvious move,” he says, “but that would be a mistake – your competitors won’t. This is the time to stand out and be there for customers in a way that makes sense for your brand.”
Brands who are seeing less impact from impressions might want to consider reallocating some of their budget to support brand visibility and outreach in the spaces where customers would expect to find them, such as SERPs and in online communities.
3. Rethink brand objectives
Many brands are seeing lower sales from paid search investments, which can make spending in that area seem counterintuitive – but it’s important for brands to build a strong pipeline now to pave the way for a successful recovery down the line. Marketers need to assess the current climate and redefine their concept of what success looks like accordingly. This might mean giving less weight to impressions and conversions in favour of brand visibility and customer retention.
For example, ecommerce sites might want to think of how to generate leads, embed teasers to items that people may want to add to their wish list, or develop a way for customers to ‘pay it forward’ – like Easy Jet, who’s accepting bookings for next summer for a low deposit.
Informational sites should consider how user needs have changed in the context of Covid-19, and think about creating content or landing pages with resources to support customers.
4. Evolve with the times
History tells us that companies who advertise during uncertain economic times are more likely to sur-vive – and can even grow through a crisis. A study carried out during the 1989-1991 recession revealed that brands who increased their advertising spend experienced significant growth, while a study of the Great Depression showed that companies who continued to advertise ended up 20% ahead of where they were when the economic turmoil started.
We see this happening across sectors: in the medical industry, for example, 4 of the top 5 advertisers have increased their B2B marketing, including J&J and Pfizer, while IT companies, coffee brands, and insurance companies have all increased digital ad spending.
There can be opportunity here even for companies who aren’t in a position to increase spending. Tom Jones, Three Whiskey CEO, sees the current climate as a chance to accelerate digital transformation projects, at both a business and societal level.
“Among our client base we’ve seen companies use technology to successfully support their delivery models in ways they wouldn’t have imagined or perhaps, prioritised, a couple of months ago,” he says, “such as one retail client who’s been developing a virtual showroom to enable them to sell their collec-tions to their wholesalers.”
A brand’s ability to adapt to this current reality can mean the difference between failure and survival – just compare clothing retailers Primark and H&M, says Jones. “Primark has no digital operations and have sold nothing since closing their stores,” he says, “while H&M has been investing heavily in their online and multi-channel operations in recent years – and consequently they are continuing to sell during the crisis and offset the high street impact.”
The need to reach out to customers hasn’t gone away just because we’re all stuck inside. If anything, now is the time for brands to reconceive marketing goals and think about what the future will look like – but it’s important to put the customer’s needs first.
“Be remembered for doing the right thing with marketing budgets,” advises Cowling. The brands who do will be the ones who outlast the pandemic.
Photo by Sam Carter on Unsplash