No more business as usual. Governments across the globe are taking strict measures to contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and daily life is changing drastically for people around the world.
Every day, people are waking up to new social curbs aimed at lowering the curve of coronavirus transmission. Schools and public gatherings have been suspended. Borders closed. Flights cancelled. Major events postponed. Restaurant dining moved to takeout and delivery only. It’s all happening quickly.
As physical movements and social interactions remain limited for the foreseeable future, omnichannel marketing is losing a crucial channel: in-real-life (IRL) interactions. And the marketing industry is already feeling the ripple effects on many levels.
Marketing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic
While nobody knows what a post-coronavirus reality will look like for marketers, one thing is certain: in an environment where physical interaction is expected to be curtailed for an extended period, digital channels are now more important than ever.
Learning from the countries that have so far been impacted most severely by the pandemic, online channels will play an increasingly crucial role while more people are required to self-isolate at home. In Italy, where the overwhelming number of cases has necessitated a complete lockdown, internet traffic has been surging. During the first stages of coronavirus response, internet traffic in Italy increased between 8% and 20%. Once the government-mandated country-wide quarantines in mid-March, online traffic spiked 30% over regular levels.
Here’s where marketers can make a difference. When it comes to providing consumers with the type of personalised, relevant and current information they are looking for online, marketing technology will play a key role. The same goes for responding with empathy to a new set of needs and restrictions imposed on consumers.
Brands and businesses are currently rushing to change their marketing tactics to meet business objectives in this new environment. To help marketers make forward-looking decisions, we advise they consider and implement, the following changes to their digital marketing strategies.
1. Redefine your business goals
The disrupted marketing landscape requires a thorough reassessment in terms of marketing strategy and overall business goals. Marketers can use the time working from home to reflect on the purpose of their brand – particularly in the context of COVID-19 lockdown – and define a new set of messages.
Start your brainstorming process with questions such as: What do your customers want from you during a time like this? What do they need to hear? Can you make their life easier by offering longer payment and return periods? Does your brand fulfil a critical need in these uncertain times?
If so, make your critical contribution to the central focus of your marketing message. If not, will your brand require a redistribution of marketing budgets, and will consumers need to be directed from stationary retail to digital storefronts? Then updating your marketing mix and budget allocations are the next step (see 3. Omnichannel). The required funds could, for instance, be drawn from event marketing.
2. Save outbound messages for critical communications
Before you send a coronavirus-related email to your entire mailing list, remember: You’re communicating in a highly over-messaged environment right now, with game-changing news popping up one news item, email, and text message at a time. Consumers are overloaded with messages from the government, their employers, doctors and children’s schools. They have to install new apps allowing them to work and study at home, so make sure your message counts – and use segmentation to your advantage during this time.
Are you cancelling an event, product rollout or service offering? Do you have crucial information about product inventory or delivery times? A new policy to help COVID-19 relief? Of course, a message to all affected consumers is in order. Otherwise, silence is golden when it comes to addressing the pandemic via email right now. It’s not a marketing trend or must-have, although lots and lots of companies are chiming in.On that note, perform a thorough audit to control the cadence of your regular marketing automation. How much is too much? How often do your customers want to hear from you in a time of crisis? Crossing the line may annoy customers who have to deal with massive disruptions at a fast pace, perhaps even souring your brand reputation for life. Let them come to you, by making sure consumers can find answers to their questions easily (see 4. Inbound).
3. Use omnichannel to your advantage
As many know, in the UK, “all shops selling ‘non-essential’ goods – this includes clothing and electronics stores, and hair, beauty and nail salons,” have been ordered to close. But, online retail is still open and encouraged. In light of this, redefining your brand’s business goals will help identify the strong points in your omnichannel offering.
Ensuring that marketing automation – including geo-fenced triggers – no longer nudges physical store visits will be important too. Instead, formulate campaigns to reward online shopping, for instance by doubling rewards points on digital purchases or creating discounts and BOGO deals. Do you have the data points (see 5. Data) to identify your most loyal offline customers? If so, how can you specifically convert them into online customers?
As people wait at home for the situation to clear, a little personal acknowledgement goes a long way. Using consumer data from profiles in your customer data platforms (CDP), serve personalised experiences across channels and devices. While the actual shopping experience is hard to replicate online, individualised product recommendations – created with AI engines and delivered at scale – or special offers will make your message stand out from the rest.
4. Test-drive your inbound marketing for COVID-19
Keeping a potential expected surge in online traffic in mind, are you prepared for more consumers proactively researching your business directly? Or indirectly arriving at one of your online properties through the magic of SEO and paid search? Take out the guesswork and test-drive your entire inbound marketing – including websites, chatbots, resources, videos, instructional content, brochures, etc. – for a wide range of search journeys.
Will people stuck at home in social distancing easily find your business via search engines? What about voice search? Has your geo-targeted marketing been updated to drive localised searches to your online store instead of physical locations? Are your blog stories and videos offering answers and strategies to current questions?
Speaking of questions, now is also a good time to update your website FAQs, also benefiting your voice search ranking, with new information as it relates to COVID-19 and the ongoing hiatus on brick-and-mortar retail. Use data from web sessions and customer service centres (see 5. Data) to see what your consumers need specifically right now.
5. Analyse and measure everything
In this reality disrupted by COVID-19, new search patterns and trends will emerge almost daily. That’s why data analysis and reporting are more crucial than ever. Learning what pages your consumers are visiting and what kind of searches they are performing will help to fine-tune your marketing message on the go (see 1.) and deliver relevant content that resonates.
Wear your data analyst’s hat and ask questions such as: Who are your most valuable offline customers and how can you nudge them towards online conversion? Which emails and messages are creating the most engagement right now and can you create more? Do you have locally relevant information for consumers living in a specific area? Are you able to identify nurses, doctors, cashiers, police officers, firefighters and others keeping critical services running while everyone self isolates – and perhaps send them a coupon or token of gratitude?
Owning actionable data about consumers is key. Typically, marketing automation technology offers this and makes use of it effectively. So, in times like these, it’s about leveraging that power and combining it with smart ideas for targeted campaigns based on real-time data. Further, while there is a change in momentum, now is a good time to ensure you’re up to speed – with every ‘I’ dotted and ‘t’ crossed – when it comes to compliance with GDPR, CCPA, and other data privacy regulations.
The coronavirus pandemic is causing alarming levels of uncertainty and frustration for everyone. But marketers are already responding with empathy and creativity. As cinemas across the UK have shut down to the public, major film studios are making the switch to releasing films directly to streaming platforms. Online events and live streaming of virtual concerts are also set to knit some of the gaps in our social fabric, and new marketing and advertising models will emerge in the process.
On the bright side, we are collectively facing this crisis in a world that is more (digitally) connected than ever in history. Can you imagine how COVID-19 would have unfolded in 1995 when the internet was in its infancy and critical information travelled far more slowly?
Today we have the tools to gain insights on what consumers need at the moment and respond with personal relevance at an unprecedented scale. This will be key while consumers are distancing themselves physically but remain connected digitally, perhaps closer than ever.