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3 Takeaways From the First 30 days of COVID-19: How the Paid Media Landscape has Been Impacted

By Andrew Kougl

I didn’t know it was going to be this bad. I don’t know how much worse it could possibly get. What I do know is that things have changed for the foreseeable future and maybe much, much longer than any of us first anticipated.

I recently watched a Vox story on the 1918 Spanish Flu – my biggest takeaway? It wasn’t until 1922, four years later, that people really felt like things were “back to normal”. That really shook me. While I don’t think we’ll have to wait that long thanks to modern science and healthcare, it’s still very apparent that our present condition is causing behavior change on a massive scale, and it’s deeply impacting nearly every aspect of our lives.

If history is any indication, our new normal is going to look very different. Here are a few things that have caught my attention and are shaping the way we’re approaching Paid Media moving forward.

Connected…more than ever?

It may seem crazy with social distancing, shelter-in-place orders and mandatory quarantines, but there are examples of people connecting with others everywhere. Singing from balconies, cheering for healthcare workers, neighborhood aerobics classes and yes, Zoom – so much Zoom. And people are expecting to hear from brands during this time, too.

It’s important that brands maintain a voice now because with so much change being forced upon people, consumers want to know their favorite brands are still around and thinking about them. We’re beyond the “we’re in this together” messaging. Brands should continue to be empathetic, but it’s time to shift to a proactive strategy focused on how we’ll be coming out of this and what that new interaction looks like post-lockdown.

Create new promotions, virtual celebrations, sponsored contests, etc. designed to give winners a special experience that makes them forget about COVID-19 for the day. Now’s the time to communicate and figure out what feelings and emotions people would love to feel again. And you’ll need to develop a creative marketing strategy, along with operationalized solutions, to follow-through with delivering on those consumer needs. It’s not back to business as usual – and no, I don’t mean the social distancing rules and hand sanitizer – I mean specific marketing initiatives your business is executing coming out of this pandemic.

Media consumption on overdrive

Media habits have changed rapidly with the outbreak of the pandemic, but they all point in the same direction – people are consuming WAY more content than ever before, up as much as 60%. Connected TV and OTT is the biggest winner here, but linear TV, audio streaming, podcasts, video streaming – you name it, people are filling their extra hours consuming content. Is it yours?

It can be difficult to think about investing in marketing with the stock market faltering, unemployment numbers soaring and economic uncertainty, but now is precisely the time when you should be investing. The reality is your audience is still out there, eager to get out of this lockdown and enjoy themselves again. In the meantime, they’re looking for ways to purchase and consume products/services in a digital way.

Make sure you are making it easy on them to do so. Focus your attention on your website, your app, your metrics, and double check your entire digital footprint and user experience. Go through the shopping cart experience yourself; it should be seamless on all devices. Don’t make the act of someone paying you the most difficult thing about the experience. Can you change messaging, improve shipping, or create/tweak brand loyalty programs and refer-a-friend promotions, etc.?

Touting these improvements could give you another reason to get back in front of your consumer. At a minimum, you should be sharing your updates through organic social and emails. These users, your brand loyalists, have a higher Consumer Lifetime Value (LTV) and Average Order Value (AOV) and will be the first ones back when this lets up. They are going to get you back on your feet, and it might not be a bad idea to have a new appreciation program for them that they can take advantage of when restrictions are lifted.

Take those initiatives and updates that have generated the best feedback from your audience and amplify that message with a boosted post on Facebook and Instagram. And if possible, consider a short, succinct media campaign. With all the added impressions due to record consumption, rates have never been more affordable. It’s possible your competition is uncertain about their marketing strategy right now, opening the door for you to take on some added market share.

One thing I do feel certain about: when we are out of the woods on this, people aren’t going to be spending time researching where to go or what to do – they’re going to have already been dreaming about it for weeks beforehand. Make sure you’re part of their consideration set and begin that process of lead nurturing early, you’ll thank yourself for it later.

Consumer confidence will come, slowly

Even though we’re seeing protesters and rallies across the country demanding an end to the current sanctions placed on us by our local governments, it’s important to remember that is a small minority of the population. The vast majority of people are abiding by their local leader’s requests to stay home and social distance. One of the most interesting pieces of research I’ve seen was done by Allison Greene who charted out device clusters in New Jersey (people in the same location at the same time) before and after the shelter-in-place orders. What it shows is that people actually socially distanced themselves, before any government intervention took hold.

This is important to note because the same logic will likely prevail when stay at home orders are lifted. We won’t see these device density charts shoot up to their previous levels in a matter of days or even weeks. It will probably be slow, gradual and methodical.

Why is this important for brands? For starters, setting realistic expectations – this is going to take time. Second, users are going to get bombarded with messages from a lot of brands all at once, so either take a strategic approach (see above) or be prepared to increase your frequency caps across your channels because consumers are going to need the reinforcement with all of the other promotions and offers they’ll be seeing. Third, make sure your offer is strong, unique and authentic. Avoid cheapening your product or service to get someone back through the front door. People will have waited a long time to finally go out again and exert their ‘financial vote’ with their hard-earned money. They won’t be looking for the cheapest option but rather the most fulfilling one. Over deliver here and live up to their expectations.

If your competitors have you outgunned and increasing your budget and frequency are not possible, consider partnering with an influencer who will drum up support and advocacy for your brand, giving their audience a trusted recommendation that they’ll appreciate trying once this is all over. Don’t know what influencer aligns with your prospective consumer? Now’s the time to figure that out.

Users expect to hear from brands during this time and a preferred medium is email. Sending out an email with a quick questionnaire or a pop-up questionnaire on your site asking your audience for their opinion on preferences for a “Grand Re-Opening Surprise” is just the kind of thing your loyal clients will appreciate you asking their input on. Gear the questions correctly and you should come away with excellent learnings to guide you on future influencer outreach and potential future offerings that are right up your target’s alley.

I hope these takeaways have given you something to think about and present an opportunity for you and your brand to take advantage of your current situation in a helpful and meaningful way. During times of change, there will always be brands who capitalize and others who falter. We’re all challenged in the same ways right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t set yourself up for success ahead of the competition. By thinking about how you can offer unique approaches that provide excellent experiences to your current and (hopefully) future customers, and actually acting on them, you can guarantee you’ll come out on the other side stronger and more influential to your consumers.