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Surviving COVID-19 & gaining competitive advantage for your brand
In the last article we covered the topic of recent changes in digital marketing caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. We have concluded that brands need to understand the most recent economic shifts and changes in consumer behavior in order to rethink their strategies, react fast and go out of the crisis successfully.
With that said, the current state of brands is filled with countless challenges and uncertainties. What occupies marketers are ways to stay in touch with their customers and mark their brand presence while not looking like they are benefiting from this tough time. More businesses than ever are turning to the Internet for new solutions to thrive - but how exactly? This is the core of our today’s discussion.
Reallocation of your brand’s marketing budget
SEO, paid search and display advertising are all being affected by the coronavirus. Although many argue that search is a daily habit and utility and therefore it should remain unchanged, the nature of people’s searches is very different compared to before the pandemic started. As there are visibly fewer searches related to for example hospitality and tourism, marketing professionals are cutting spending in these verticals. However, we do think that digital marketing is absolutely essential for brands to at least maintain the business going during the downturn - and possibly push it forward too.
Marketing activities during the crisis should not be focused on short-term sales though, as these do not bring long-term benefits to companies. While they can surely have quick wins coming from selling products and services in demand now such as masks or disinfectants for high prices online, it might as well be investing time in projects that will no longer be bringing new opportunities soon.
Therefore, many brands are currently identifying ways in which they can matter during the coronavirus outbreak - ways that will also be a good direction to go in the longer-term - both at the recovery stage and in the new reality that comes afterward.
How can different industries allocate their budgets during this period?
Brands from the media, finance, food, healthcare and pharmaceutical industries are currently seeing traffic growth on their websites. At the same time, travel, transportation, construction and manufacturing companies note decreases in the number of website visitors. Depending on the current situation of an industry they are in, brands can now turn to different ways to relocate their marketing budgets. What are these?
Focus on e-commerce
Quarantine and self-isolation in many countries have caused people to avoid physical stores, which naturally boosts E-commerce in many verticals. It is mostly applicable to purchases that cannot be postponed, such as groceries or basic household items. Therefore, marketers can now compete for consumers who do not shop online often but have opened up to trying new solutions due to a sense of urgency.
Therefore, those brands that used to focus mainly on offline activities should think of moving their businesses online, and those who were already working a lot on their online channel of the business should put even more effort into it. Many brands are redesigning their business models and finding new ways to reach their customers online, e.g. museums organizing virtual trips or cinemas conducting online shows. Restaurants seek new ways to reach people through delivery and pick-up options, creating interesting discount offers and promoting themselves in delivery apps such as Uber Eats. Brands that see a decrease in consumer interest, should find new ways to maintain relations with their customers - for example focusing on long-term opportunities, e.g. Booking.com offering attractive deals for future reservations for people who book trips now.
Here is an interesting question to ask - what will this increase in E-commerce activity bring? Definitely, brands that can react quickly and fulfill people’s online purchasing interests will benefit from the ongoing situation. On the other hand, the logistics system is heavily stressed as orders are rising, but more and more limits are introduced such as borders closed all across Europe, the USA, and Asia. Deliveries take significantly longer during the outbreak and because of that, consumers’ habits will change permanently - 1 and 2-day delivery expectations is to be replaced by pre-Prime 5 to 7-day schedules - at least for some time after the pandemics (Tony Verre, The Integer Group).
Decrease out-of-home campaigns, and focus on at-home options
As more and more governments are limiting people’s movements, allowing them to go out only for absolutely necessary reasons, such as work to fight the virus, people are naturally not paying a lot of attention to what is happening outside. What it means for marketers is that most of the out-of-home campaigns are not profitable right now.
Instead, brands are shifting budgets to conduct online campaigns regarding so-called at-home options. What consumers need right now, and pay attention to right now, is everything happening inside their house. It means that your company can benefit from offering such products and services as fitness solutions and equipment, grocery and restaurant delivery and all kinds of apps serving people for productivity, sports or well-being. On top of that, everything that helps people learn new skills and organize their work online, as well as lets companies manage remote teams is growing as well.
As everybody stays at home, people are looking for different ways to entertain themselves. The outbreak phase is the time to act smart on retaining existing customers in three main ways: marketing automation, content creation and social media (The Drum). When it comes to content, marketers should carefully analyze changes in content consumption and secure efficient reach. Computers, mobile devices, game consoles and television are some of the most popular choices. During the outbreak, brands can reach audiences through over-the-top media, e.g. through content published on well-known platforms such as YouTube. According to analysis by Kantar, 5 top activities at home are currently: long video, short video, sleep, TV, mobile/online games. It creates great opportunities for marketers to reach their audiences right where they are currently spending their free time.
Connecting with the audience - or fading away
There are two areas that brands should focus on - and neither can be neglected. These are: acting now and having a plan for later.
How should brands approach the ongoing situation? According to Ogilvy, they should take the following actions to activate purpose and optimize funnel mix:
- Sustain the sales level, focusing on topically-relevant segments and products or services. Shifts in media usage and topical needs and emotions should also be taken into consideration.
- Maintain broad reach to maintain exposure and increase brand awareness. This way, they can still get to potential customers.
- Engage both audiences and stakeholders. Social channels can be used to respond in real time and create a communication suitable for current interests and priorities (shared value programs).
- Spend smart - focus on wise investments and optimize the funnel. Media investments should be revised so that currently needed channels get higher budgets.
Ways to lengthen your reduced marketing budget
As mentioned above, brands should spend smart during the outbreak. Reduced budgets can be lengthened so that they efficiently cover the whole downturn period and let them connect to their audience throughout the outbreak.
All types of automation tools are worth considering now, as they help companies save on the more valuable and costly human working time and let teams focus on strategic thinking and formulating new tactics. At the same time, repetitive tasks normally performed by humans in the office can be delegated to computers at lower costs, in a shorter time.
An important area that brands can wisely optimize budgets on right now is design. With new urgent advertising and communication needs appearing in the current situation, companies want to address them quickly and produce high-quality content. This requires creative teams to focus on conceptual work and leaves space for automation tools to cover operational tasks such as generating visuals for online display campaigns. Similarly, businesses that move their selling to E-commerce now, are in an urgent need of producing multiple visuals for their online stores - something that can be efficiently performed by design tools.
Making your brand matter
Meaningful action and support for public health are one of the most important areas for brands to focus on during the coronavirus outbreak. They should activate their purpose and perform actions related to hygiene and the virus itself - but at the same time keep it all brand-aligned.
Most brands are currently figuring out ways to support their audience in this difficult time, bringing additional value - either directly with regard to fighting coronavirus or related to the new reality that people are facing right now. The communication spans from how they donate money to hospitals and support doctors, through tips on working remotely to creative ways to spend Wednesday afternoons at home and keep oneself calm during the pandemic.
People have developed new needs now. Therefore, brands that can help them distract, keep their bodies healthy, learn new things, work effectively and connect with those whom they care about the most will definitely get people’s appreciation - and stay in their minds after the pandemic ends (at least subconsciously). CSR initiatives that help countries solve issues related to coronavirus are actions that truly matter and can help nations cope with the crisis.
Preparing for “after pandemics” and the new reality
Many say that the world after coronavirus will be forever changed. Wise brands are those who are prepared for upcoming changes - and are able to leverage the shifts. The rebound is just a matter of time and brands whose exposure will be maintained during the outbreak, can increase their share 3 times during the downturn and rebound faster and stronger (Ogilvy).
Categories and segments with the highest potential and expected demand should be identified and leveraged during the pandemic. It is time for innovation related to emerging habits and technology advancements. As people are now getting used to everything happening online, they will most likely appreciate aspects of it that they were not familiar with before - and continue doing certain things online afterward.
People also try new things during the outbreak, such as online medical consultancies, online tourism or online education (in a broader sense than before). 84% of consumers tried at least one new service for the first time while staying at home now (Kantar). These consumers are an opportunity for brands to gain new regular users. Similarly, there are new business models born out of the coronavirus outbreak which will disrupt many categories such as online cinemas.
Only companies that approach this time appropriately and carefully prepare crisis plans can go out of it successfully. Nobody knows how long this situation will last, but one thing is sure - that the time after will be of great importance. Therefore, if your brand has not taken any serious steps to proactively address the ongoing situation yet, you should immediately focus on identifying opportunities and thinking about how you can have a positive impact now. It will definitely pay back - and help your audience get through the hard times. At the end of the day, we are all in this together.