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Marketing during COVID-19: Doing nothing is not an option

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The COVID-19 pandemic rages on and some experts think a second wave, or a series of waves, will soon force states to rollback reopening plans. In many places, that is already happening.

So, what does that mean for marketing? Likely, brands will take what they have learned about consumer media consumption and spending during March and April and adjust their marketing strategies accordingly. In this case, another round of stay-at-home orders will not have the same detrimental effect on advertiser spending that the first spike did.

I believe this for a number of reasons.

First, marketers are unwilling to sit back and do nothing. They know there are opportunities to connect with audiences, to provide real value and, depending on their product or service, to drive consumer spend — even amid the pandemic. A company’s livelihood could depend on the sales and marketing team’s ability to bring in revenue. Marketing needs to act.

Second, we understand that COVID-19 is driving media consumption and technology adoption around the globe. For many advertiser categories, this creates a unique chance to increase e-commerce spending and connect with new customers. Most consumers don’t want brands to halt advertising.

According to a March study by GlobalWebIndex, 73% of US consumers surveyed agree brands should advertise as normal during the coronavirus, or feel neutral about that statement. Global results were on par. According to Kantar’s COVID-19 barometer, also in March, only 8% of people surveyed believe companies should stop advertising because of the pandemic. It is possible even more consumers would agree now that it’s clear the virus is here to stay for a while.

Third, advertising is now a data-driven business. Marketers have the tools to adjust their spending based on lessons learned from the spring, as well as based on data about campaign performance and the virus’s spread. Should COVID-19 cases continue to surge, most marketers will make data-backed adjustments to their strategy, rather than halt their spending.

It could be as simple as updating their regional targeting. Cases are rising in some areas, but they are falling, or non-existent, in others, as depicted in this map. Some companies might concentrate on geographic areas that aren’t hard hit by the virus. Others, such as health and wellness solutions, gaming apps, streaming services or grocery stores and pharmacies, might actually focus on places where stay-at-home orders are in effect.

Seizing unexpected opportunities

Marketers may even see this as a time to try new things. This may sound counterintuitive, but business leaders know boldness is rewarded. Companies are fighting to limit layoffs and furloughs, and to maintain employee morale and brand perception amid economic turmoil.

Now is the time to find ways to stand out and drive revenue. For many brands, this means adopting new messaging and testing new distribution tactics.

Examples of brands updating their messaging in response to the virus are everywhere. Some banks ran ads highlighting that they had waived overdraft fees. Nike and Chiquita Brands launched campaigns urging people to stay safe and indoors, Guinness sent a St. Patrick’s Day message of hope and resilience. Lowe’s invited people to build their own thank-you signs for essential workers.

A number of companies that have taken steps to give back during the virus, or aid in the creation of masks or hand sanitizers, have shared those efforts via heartfelt marketing campaigns. As pandemic life continues, it’s likely more brands will take stabs at similar approaches, creating emotional and empathetic ads that resonate with audiences.

Advertiser willingness to advertise in these uncertain times could be rewarded with competitive deals. In the out-of-home space, many advertisers have pulled back because they assume people are indoors. Traffic patterns have certainly changed, but cars are still on the road and people are still out and about, hopefully in masks.

A potential drop in demand could create CPM decreases for buyers and a powerful and memorable way to connect with customers. OOH, like all marketing, is increasingly a data-driven business; so buyers should look for audience-based buying options in which OOH providers use data to inform their targeting and measurement approaches.

There are deals to be had on social media, too. Hundreds of brands have vowed to boycott Facebook and its sibling platform, Instagram, in July, because of hate speech on the network. For most brands, it’s more of a pause than a permanent departure. But, still, the boycott, coupled with some advertiser categories halting advertising in response to the pandemic, could cause lower than average CPMs, and an opportunity for marketers to secure a larger than normal share of voice on the platform.

One thing is for certain: doing nothing is no longer an option — for marketers, or for businesses. No one knows how long this will continue, and few companies can afford to sit back and wait. Fortunately, advertising is a data-driven practice, and marketers are resilient. 

They will use empathy, instincts, real-time data and what they have already learned from marketing during these difficult times to respond to changes in media consumption, consumers spending more time online and the pandemic’s spread, and to even seize opportunities. Doing so could lead to effective marketing that proves crucial for their business.

 

An entrepreneur since his teenage years, Wrapify CEO and founder James Heller started a digital marketing and IT consulting company that set the foundation for him to become a marketing leader in tech for Fortune 50 companies. In 2017 Heller was named a Forbes 30 Under 30 - Featured Honoree, is on the OAAA Innovations Committee and led Wrapify to be named a 2018 AdAge Titans Finalist.