Global economies have been tanking as a result of COVID-19, and people face uncertainties on health, social and financial fronts.
Virtually no aspect of life has been the same since the pandemic took hold and, even as lockdowns around the world let up, restrictions (both legislated and self-imposed) will remain for the foreseeable future.
In the UK, the Office for National Statistics reported that the fall in GDP this April was the biggest the country had ever seen – almost 10 times larger than the steepest pre-COVID fall.
With the world on pause, it is little surprise that so many brands and businesses initially cut back on marketing activities, and are now rapidly reappraising their short and long term marketing strategies.
Marketing is more than just a call to action
Some, particularly in verticals that have had to cease or scale back trading, have stopped marketing altogether.
It’s an understandable reaction – but probably a wrong strategy. Advertisers and agencies have over the past decade favoured short term performance activity tied to immediate wins and sales, rather than a mature approach that considers ‘real’ business outcomes over a longer timeframe.
Let’s learn from this crisis to get back on track and build sustainable business and brand resilience.
Invest in what customers want today – and tomorrow
Brands that will come out on top post-COVID-19 will be those that have innovated even where frontline sales are not an option, by modifying campaigns to build brand equity rather than push performance. Taking an empathetic and genuine tone in ad campaigns is imperative – consumers need to know you’re on this journey with them.
This applies also to other shifts in consumer behaviour, mood and priorities that we are seeing, such as the response to #BlackLivesMatter, Brexit, the environment, equality and wider purpose-driven expectations.
COVID-19 has brought forth uncomfortable conversations about globalisation and sovereignty the world over. Uncertainty, fear and provocation underline all these issues.
Defence; recovery; growth
It’s why advertisers must ensure they are invested in what their customers want and need now and in the future. They must continually invest in their communications with their customers and audiences – so that they are reaching them where they are spending time, in the way they prefer and at the time that suits them.
Think: defence; recovery; growth. What is the right message to say right now, and where? Every business, every industry, will be on different trajectories depending on their individual circumstances.
For those that can’t operate efficiently now, it is important to invest in the projects that ‘business as usual’ ordinarily makes impossible to deliver on. Spend time and money on your websites and activities, such as improving your organic search experience. Stress-test your systems while times are quiet and ensure that when customers come back user experience is the best it can be.
Adaptability is a marketer’s best tool
Remember, this is unlikely to be a one-time crisis. We can expect spikes, clusters and second waves, as we’re already seeing in Leicester.
Think not of defence, recovery, growth as a linear trajectory, but potentially a cyclical or spiral one, so it is important to learn from the past few months and ensure brand and business are resilient enough to ride future downturns.
This thinking applies beyond the pandemic. Is your business able to ride economic uncertainties, anxieties over Brexit preparations, rising concerns over the environment and equality or unexpected geo-political flare-ups?
A marketer’s best asset is adaptability. Adaptability in campaign management, marketing strategy, planning and execution. With that comes the ability to control the message, the visual and everything else.
This is especially useful at a time when consumer behaviour is unpredictable and often extreme, and when you want to communicate specific messages to particular audiences or locations.
Dynamic set-ups can help
With conditions changing daily, communicate clearly and accurately with your existing and potential new or returning customers. If a product is out of stock, let them know when it will be back, and perhaps offer a loyalty discount. Has a particular flight route been paused – let the shopper know you’ll alert them when it’s back. Valuable first-party data should be used across all channels, not just email.
A robust Dynamic Creative Optimisation strategy can help here. Dynamic set-ups allow advertisers to serve as many creative variations needed to support a campaign, with every visual element within a template, such as copy, image and logo, able to be changed in an instant depending on the different data signals available, such as behavioural insights or stock levels.
Whatever stage of the Covid-19 curve a brand is at, marketers must ensure they have a well-constructed accessible database that exists in the marketing function rather than the IT framework. A good database is not just a sales tool but a brand-building and experience-creating one too.
In all, this crisis is giving marketing the chance to be more human, be more agile, and be more relevant at a time when consumers truly need it to be.