Industries globally are facing the biggest challenge in recent memory, as the world fights against COVID-19. The pandemic has also reshaped our society and the way we live our everyday lives, directing everyone and everything into the online world. Brands now need to find a balance between increasing sales and maintaining healthy enough long-term margins. This means acting smartly and building momentum. Over a third of consumers (37%) believe brands should advertise as normal according to recent data from GlobalWebIndex – both brands and publishers must be responsible today in order to build loyalty for tomorrow. 

Online opportunity boosting network traffic

There is a huge and steadily growing online opportunity for brands looking to maintain loyalty, particularly as content publishers experience higher shares of network orders in response to lockdown orders, with increases of 20% week-by-week. There is, however, uncertainty in the air and consumer engagement with ads has fluctuated somewhat in recent months, with many regions experiencing a drop in activity in February and early March. However, in recent weeks, we have seen an increase in activity globally. In the UK specifically, affiliate clicks have been increasing since mid-March, and this month orders are up, with the sporting goods vertical experiencing an increase in share of total orders.  Whilst consumer behaviours will continue to adapt to the changing climate, there is opportunity for both advertisers and publishers to deliver campaigns and engage with their audiences.

Talk of a global recession will increase the challenge of getting consumers to part with their hard-earned cash on items that they ‘want’ rather than ‘need’, having become increasingly aware of anything deemed ‘non-essential’. Many brands and retailers will have been feeling the impact of recent demand drying up, and whilst we have seen deal sites growing their share of traffic in the UK by 72% year-over-year at the end of March, cashback and loyalty have been less a utilised option, and have experienced a decline in share of orders, however remain a key opportunity for brands to leverage. At this time, publishers will continue to play an important role for shoppers as they search for ways to reduce the reticence around ‘non-essential’ purchases. Brands that do not typically work with a diverse publisher mix could enjoy a significant boost by diversifying and partnering with publishers able to provide additional incentives to consumers. 

Recent figures from IMRG showed growth in the health and beauty sector, which grew 31.6% year-on-year for the week commencing March 15th. As well as this uptick in health and wellness across the world, we are now also beginning to see demand for leisure spending make a comeback in China, as the country eases out of lockdown. Whilst Chinese consumers have regained a certain level of confidence in spending, they have also become more selective and conservative when it comes to selecting publisher deals. It is therefore imperative that deals are compelling and catch the eye of the consumer. It may be tempting for brands to offer large discounts as a way to drive traffic, but they must also ensure they avoid damaging margins.  

Solutions to drive growth

In these challenging times, advertisers must seek solutions that will drive growth, meaning publishers are having to rapidly react to the impact of coronavirus to boost engagement and traffic. When it became clear that country-by-country, Europe was heading for lockdown, content and commerce platform Global Savings Group acted swiftly to launch a new initiative: GSG Stay@Home. In fewer than 5 days, it had sourced 135 exclusive discount codes for millions of its users. Each campaign has seen a high level of performance due to the popularity of categories including home entertainment, health & beauty, takeaways, and home and living. Through its innovation of Dynamic.Coupons – which allows advertisers to pursue new coupon strategies, such as up-selling and cross-selling – Global Savings Group has seen a positive effect on performance for publishers in recent weeks. 

It’s vital that publishers continue to create effective ad environments and foster stronger consumer-brand relationships by optimising the data they have available and employing personalisation tools. Machine learning and automation are now providing publishers with valuable tools and insights into the customer behaviour, from consumers’ browsing habits to shopping behaviour, so they can fine-tune their strategies and make smarter, more personalised content-serving decisions in real-time.

Using new methods to help drive consumer engagement and traffic in these uncertain times is vital. In China, 55Haitao launched campaigns targeting COVID-19 essentials both online and offline. It provided users with the most up-to-date information ranging from where to find protective gear, to which advertiser was offering the best deals on certain vitamins to which supermarket had the most extensive supply of essentials. 55Haitao also pivoted their marketing message to encourage ‘buy now, shop later’ options for advertisers. This change encourage consumers to shop, while setting realistics expectations. By utilising all its channels to inform users – not only in China – but also across US and Europe, 55Haitao was able to ensure community engagement and support.

Publishers need to be smart in arming themselves with the insights, strategy and support they need to remain relevant and useful to consumers in these challenging times. Trends in China indicate we will see increased spending in categories like clothing and fashion, entertainment, beauty and travel when the pandemic ends and confidence increases – almost half (40%) of consumers say they will once again begin making major purchases once the COVID-19 outbreak begins to decrease or is over, according to research from GlobalWebIndex. 

People’s purchases have changed through the stages of the pandemic and they will change again in the ‘new normal’. It is undeniable that publishers have an important role to play in meeting changing requirements during these difficult times and acting responsibly now, to support consumers in the future.