Following coronavirus (Covid-19), good marketing is needed now more than ever

– 1st April 2020 –

John Onion

 

Marketing pivots needed in an economic crisis

 

The situation we face

 

Coronavirus (Covid-19) has had an unprecedented impact, on our health, social habits and on our economy. But we need to keep the lights on. During an economic crisis we need to adapt effectively and quickly to survive and to do this, effective marketing is crucial.

 

We need to adapt in the short term and plan for the long term. Turning the marketing tap off to save cash now is not an option. Even if the whole organisation is able to go into a cost-free hibernation, when that time ends, the brand will be in tatters.

 

Conversely, companies that are able to adapt and continue their marketing will find that these moments offer the brave the most potential for developing the brand and increasing market share at relatively little cost. Communication, awareness and demand generation are crucial.

 

It’s not just about self-interest. Society is built on commerce, to keep people employed and fed. Many of the industries (and charities) we support now have a vital function in getting information and essential supplies to people that need them. Some of the organisations upriseUP work with are really coming into their own, helping communities through volunteer recruitment, raising money for highly vulnerable people such as the homeless or people with a specific illnesses. These organisations and others rely on the wheels to keep turning. Marketers must step-up.

 

 

Office cactus delivering digital marketing training

At times like this our office cactus provides useful training (via video)

 

 

Dust ourselves off and review where we are at. It’s time for a new strategy

 

Organisations are going to make changes, and marketing needs to support that. There are a few considerations that need to be made:

 

The operating environment

 

Thousands of companies need to make significant changes to their business model, for the short term at least. Others may still be able to focus on the same core products or services, but will find that their audiences and the nature of their environment (see the PESTAL model for external influences) have changed significantly.

 

 

The organisation’s position

 

Organisations need a swift team SWOT analysis on the new situation and a plan based on the SOSTAC model is an excellent place to start. When devising that, this is where I see the answers as to future success likely to be.

 

 

Changing audiences and markets

 

Now is a good time to review target audiences, as their current circumstances are likely to have changed significantly. At the same time your proposition may have changed altogether, which might open up a whole new audience. Revised personas relating to current conditions would be very useful about now and when we are through the bulk of coronavirus shut-down, audiences will need to be revised again. From economics through to patterns of behaviour, the world is going to be a different place.

 

An important thing to mention here – if your business model is changing, unless that change is going to be permanent, don’t neglect your traditional audience. If you had a training business with a limited sphere of influence (say Manchester), and are now temporarily providing online training where you can target nationally (or further), keep your brand going strong in Manchester for when your business gets back to normal.

 

 

The long-term strategy

 

The instinct is to think short term – cut costs or throw everything into increase sales. However, companies that are going to survive beyond this crisis need a longer-term strategy, and there are opportunities to doing so.

 

If customers or clients aren’t buying right now it might be wise to reduce paid advertising that focuses on short-term sales. However, there is high demand for content around how the world is changing as a result of COVID-19, and what people and organisations can and should do. Any content created should be genuine and helpful, serving your audience in this way will keep exposure levels high in the short term, at reduced cost. Beyond the crisis the brand awareness and continued SEO will benefit from the links and interest your new content has generated could see you in a much better place when we come out of this.

 

Also, as immediate demand has dropped, inventory (ad space, especially digital ad space including display and video), is very cost effective right now. If you are focused on long-term market growth through driving brand awareness, there is now an opportunity to do so at a far reduced cost. Any campaign should be sympathetic to current times, should be carefully worded and demonstrate warmth and positive social values. But get this right and you will be well-regarded when things pick-up.

 

 

 

office orange tree with low hanging fruit

Any business should still have some low-hanging fruit

 

 

A new approach

 

Pivoting needs to be quick. The competition is going to be setting themselves up in a similar way. There is significant early mover advantage here as markets and industries are shifting and new marketing opportunities are opening up, ready to be owned. Develop your channels with your audiences now, when they need you the most, and it will build a relationship. As time goes on your audiences will start to feel inundated, and it will be much harder to break through.

 

Priority areas I think all organisations should be considering are:

 

    • Focus on digital
    • Make sure that tracking and Analytics is perfectly set up
    • Go big on content and SEO
    • Get on video

 

A lot of this represents a speeding up of best practice initiatives. That’s what this crisis will do to us: compel us to trim off the fat and propel our marketing practices into where they needed to be, only much faster. Those that can adapt quickly will benefit – and be in a better place when this is all over too. Here’s a rundown of each point.

 

 

Focus on digital

 

I manage a digital marketing agency, so I have a vested interest in this sector. I didn’t start in digital; I began media planning and buying across print and outdoor, TV, radio and ‘ambient’. I moved into digital once I realised just what it could do: rich messaging, high engagement, significant reach. But the superpower advantages are pinpoint targeting, and full transparency (data, analytics and attribution modelling), which allow strategies to be effectively honed and optimised.

 

Where businesses are stretched and every advertising pound needs to hit the mark, you know exactly what digital is achieving, which elements are working and which aren’t. In times of tight cash-flow, targeting the bottom of the funnel can keep the lights on.

 

In 2019 digital accounted for over 50% of media spend for the first time. It was already predicted that this would grow in 2020, and now, (following coronavirus), more than ever. Out-Of-Home (including tube advertising, busses and billboards) are going to see a big reduction as ‘out-door’ and commute time is almost halted. Similarly, magazine and newspaper sales will slump significantly. But the real rise in digital (in-home) will be because marketing budgets are going to be forced to be more accountable; better targeted and with better data, and the sooner organisations adapt, the further ahead they will be.

 

 

Make sure that tracking and Analytics is perfectly set up

 

Organisations are going to need to make every penny count, and that means having Analytics set up to clearly record web traffic and activity. From our experience, most organisations are far from this point. We review the Analytics accounts for every one of our clients on commencement of engagement. 95% of the time we are able to make setup improvement recommendations that will significantly improve the quality of the data being reported.

 

Unless your organisation has a real expert in Analytics setup, get your account reviewed.

 

Remarketing lists should be getting generated. A view should be created to filter out internal and agency traffic, and spam. There should be a clear process for labelling links, from all emails and also social media. Tag manager should be used – in a sophisticated way, tracking all important activity, mouse movements and engagements.

 

Conversions also need to be tracked. Financial ecommerce transactions or B2B service lead contacts. Now is the time to know exactly what is working and its impact. This will help significantly through the hard times, and when normality finally returns, your organisation will be in a very good position.

 

Finally, this is the perfect opportunity to work on CRO (conversion rate optimisation) developments on your site. Run user A/B testing through Google Experiments, analyse site usage through Crazy Egg or run live user-testing programs against your target audience. We find that CRO is typically underperforming for many organisations, and where that is the case it represents a huge opportunity.

 

 

Go Big on Content and SEO

 

Content relating to coronavirus is important right now, whatever your industry: Investors need to know how the crisis will affect their portfolio. Health conscious people need to know how to keep fit at home. Many parents are desperate to improve their home-schooling abilities. We might all be looking for optimal strategies with toilet paper…

 

It might be that your industry has been flattened by this. You might have shut the doors completely, but utilising whatever spare time you now have to provide useful content for your audiences will keep the brand alive and continue the conversation with your consumer. If you do it in an effective way, there are considerable long-term benefits. Conceivably, a fifth page keyword placement could be on the first page within three months. In addition to providing ‘free click’ traffic in the short term, an effective content / SEO strategy now will see your organisation fly when the normal world resumes:

 

    • The media is crying out for content about how coronavirus and resulting disruption is going to impact on their audiences. People’s media consumption on all of this has increased hugely.
    • There is an opportunity for high quality, genuine content to generate coverage – in news and on social media. This is time to serve. In time of crisis, content must be caring, understanding and helpful. The audience needs to be at the centre of any communications.
    • When done well, thought-leadership exposure will generate traffic from link clicks and SEO rankings. Such an opportunity for climbing SEO rankings so quickly (as now) will not come again for a long time – if ever.
    • This could reduce the impact on their business over this difficult time, particularly if done in conjunction with new products, services or an appeal related to Covid-19 and the resulting shut-down. For some organisations this content will be very effective at delivering traffic in significant volumes.
    • When we start to come out of this, organisations which have delivered useful content for their audiences will have leap-frogged several positions in search.

 

It is the same for all organisations. Marketing needs to continue, but it needs to adapt, and it needs to be effective. Even more so with content marketing – but those that get it right quickly will be in a much better place compared to the competition.

 

 

Get into video

 

Digital video has been growing for some time. The demand for professional quality clips has dropped, and organically video is used often, self-shot, giving the human, authentic touch to marketing communications. Platforms such as Facebook and YouTube have brought this sophisticated media within reach of all advertisers.

 

In terms of video advertising, the amount of video content Organisations have available to show does not match the inventory (advertising space) available. This means (considering what video ads can do) that right now promoting video ads is exceptionally cheap.

 

It’s also a channel that’s growing and worth investing in. Last year spend for non-video digital display grew by 8%, whereas spend for video grew by 27% to a total of £1.32 bn. This growth means video now almost accounts for the same as non-video display (£1.45 bn).

 

In an organic context, with the current crisis and subsequent isolation, video is poised to go insane – and the landscape will never be the same again. Video will be used in training (professional skills, fitness, home schooling). Businesses and individuals who haven’t been using it will become full adopters within a few weeks.

 

Organisations and consumers may re-evaluate themselves after this. Once society has made it work, I don’t think things will go back to how they were. Consumers will get used to intangible video products and organisations will be keen to keep some of the efficiencies that video offers.

 

 

the upriseUP team together

A still from our upcoming video, upriseUP is sticking together (but not too close)

 

We are in this together

 

There is a genuine togetherness that current conditions have brought to the marketing community. There is plenty of support out there, and some great advice (it seems that many in marketing have realised the importance of adding to this debate!). Among some of the great pieces I have read, Mark Ritson’s Marketing in the time of Covid-19 serves well as an inspiring call-to -arms, and Smart Insights have Creating a Marketing action plan for a recession.

 

If anyone reading this would like to talk through their thoughts for our industry – or their organisation specifically during these times, I’d love to hear from you. It seems an odd thing to say under these circumstances, but I think our way through this will come from much closer collaboration.

 

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