Perhaps, digital marketing doesn’t seem like the first thing to take care of in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re seeing how the startup scene is quickly splitting into two camps: those who try to stay afloat and use every cent to support their staff (Airbnb has definitely seen better days) and those who struggle to cope with increasing demand (bless Zoom server support team). For the first ones, marketing becomes an unaffordable luxury, while the latter might not even need any extra visibility right now.
Does that mean every startup needs to stop doing digital marketing – at least for now? This question is keeping marketers across the globe awake as we speak. In the US, the ad industry could see nearly $26 billion in lost revenue, or a 10.6% decline, while the majority of marketers in the UK are delaying campaigns, reviewing budgets, or pausing product and service launches.
Putting a plug to marketing can save some dollars which is nice. But that’s short term. What will happen on the other side of the tunnel, if your business lives to see it? What will be your brand’s value? Will your products and services be on top of the customers’ shopping lists when they get back to their normal spending? With those questions in mind, here are five smart things you can do with your digital marketing strategy right now.
1. Reshuffle the channel mix
Start with evaluating your current marketing spend – and not only on digital. It’s safe to say, you won’t need any out-of-home (OOH) activity at least for now, same goes for event sponsorship – most of the customers will avoid large public spaces in the nearest future. At the same time, 95% of consumers say they’re now spending more time on in-home media activities.
It might seem like a time to go for TV and radio, as people flock to traditional channels for news. On the other hand, it’s news and updates they want, not ads. So it’s wise to be mindful about the situation and minimise the presence on channels typically used for emergency statements. It will take a bit of extra sensitivity to do display ads right now – placed in the wrong space, they might cause a backlash.
Same goes for email and push notifications. It’s tempting to send reassuring messages to your audience to show you’re there for them. However, 32% of 2000 UK consumers already say they have received ‘too much’ or ‘far too much’ communication from brands about COVID-19 and one in ten are ‘annoyed’ that businesses are contacting them at all during the crisis. Use this channel to update on substantial changes in your business operations, or show how you help local communities, and that’s enough.
So which channels to focus on? The safest option is to prioritise the ones with a prolonged ROI, such as SEO, organic social, PR and content. The positive impact of those doesn’t end when you stop pouring money into them – instead, a well-optimised website, strong social media community or expert comments in tier-1 publications have a good lifetime value. Paid search and paid social spend will mainly depend on your line of business, but the budget can be reduced – and here’s why.
2. Pivot the strategy
User acquisition is like a holy grail for marketers. From restaurants to personal training, from car loans to hand-made bags, if your business provides b2c services – I bet most of your budget normally goes to UA. In my experience, a mid-size b2c startup spends about $30-50K on UA per month. Hence the multi-billion ad revenues of services like Instagram and YouTube.
So why switch to retention? In the times of economic turmoil, the core audience is the one to rely on. It’s a basic psychology – too much uncertainty turns people to familiar, trusted products and services. A survey by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) on March 18 shows that 43% of consumers find it reassuring to hear from brands they “know and trust”.
In other words, in the middle of a global quarantine it will be hard to get new customers to stop by your restaurant. What you can do is show how you care for your regulars with home delivery through Uber Eats partnership or video recipes of your specials on IGTV to help with that crave.
Shake the dust off your CRM and start talking to your loyal customers. Talk about them, entertain them, bring back their best memories (like this hotel in Mexico calling for the pictures with #sunshinefromsandos hashtag to cheer up people until they can travel again).
Most importantly, focus on customer support. Your support lines are basically the forefront of your marketing right now. Honesty and eagerness to help is something your loyal customers are expecting right now, so don’t let them down. What else do you think they are waiting for?
3. Deliver it home
If you are not producing hand sanitizers, canned food or toilet paper, you’re most likely not on the primary shopping list. However, once the storm calms down a bit and everyone starts to adjust to the “new normal”, the new shopping and consumption patterns emerge.
“Can I get it online?” “How long will it take to deliver?” “Do they have contactless delivery?” “Can I experience my favourite things from the outside at home?” If your business can say “yes” to those questions, congratulations – you can benefit from the second wave of customer’s purchases.
Use budgets to promote online sales, at-home and delivery-based options. Make sure your audience knows about all options you have, use digital channels to deliver, enrich and promote them. If you don’t have those options yet or they are running in the background, now it’s the right time to develop and bring them into the spotlight.
What’s the benefit? First and foremost, it shows that your brand is agile and customer-centric. Second, those types of brand messages are actually useful for users bounded by quarantine rules. Finally, it’s a great chance to create a new sales and communications channel for the long run, as the user base of digitalized services will definitely grow as a result of pandemic.
4. Invest in content
Once the basic needs are satisfied, your audience will face another challenge – boredom. A study by GlobalWebIndex shows that 45% of global consumers are already spending more time on social media, while online video consumption reaches all time highs due to pandemic.
Get creative. Whether it’s an online skincare tutorial, DIY tips, product overviews, workouts for children and grownups, quizes or riddles – make sure your social media accounts provide all brand-relevant content possible.
Understand user needs and how they change over time – Google Trends is a great tool to help with that. For example, if you have a productivity app, you might be starting with ‘setting up a home office’ checklist and continue with ‘how to stay motivated’ and ‘’how to avoid burnout working from home’ tips and tools.
Put audience insights from your Google Analytics into use too! You might find that a large share of your audience also does gardening or baking – try to find new angles for your brand messages from there.
5. Keep an eye on HR
Finally, the narrative around your brand will hugely depend on how you handle your HR. The general sentiment is that offering paid time off for those who cannot work due to pandemic is considered the most important step from brands. If the layoffs in your business are inevitable, try to be as careful and sensitive as possible in communicating it and brace yourself if you don’t.
If you are considering job cuts in your marketing team, have an honest performance evaluation and do not let go of your superstars. Perhaps, offer them a different role for some time – for example, your UA experts might contribute their knowledge to SEO or support. It might be not a dream job, but will keep your team as a whole in the storm. And just one final thought: a research done by Kantar proved that putting a plug on marketing can cause a detrimental impact on a brand. So while you’re trying to ‘save’ the business by stopping marketing activity, you might not have a brand to work with once it ends. Be flexible, focus on brand-building campaigns and customer support – and see you on the other side!
Main image credits: Jon Rehg/Shutterstock
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