COVID-19: Forcing Marketers to Act Fast

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There’s no individual that hasn’t been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic - be it daily routines, lifestyle choices or spending habits. Our lives have been turned upside down, and brands must rapidly adapt to this ever changing environment. One of the most effective and essential changes to make is how we communicate. 

As traditional forms of marketing take the hit, let’s take a look at the major shifts and solutions we’ve seen implemented in the last few weeks.

Investment in online channels will continue to rise

Most brands decided to pull back their advertising spend, as the times (and economy) remain uncertain. With major events and sponsorship opportunities cancelled or postponed, and consumers being cautious with money, how should media budgets be balanced?

The big, and understandable, change we’ve seen is our clients moving their offline budget to boost online marketing activities. As consumers stay home and their consumption of digital channels increases, it’s natural to place resources where the impact is the biggest. The industry predicts over 20% rise in social media investments as consumers settle into their new house bound routines. 

Global Web Index reported a huge increase in people of all ages checking their social media more regularly now. From keeping in touch with those afar to staying up to date with the latest news, the time we spend on social platforms is bound to continue to increase. As commuting and travel fall to minimum, it’s possible channels like radio and podcast will suffer although the working from home workforce might choose those channels as a background noise in otherwise quiet households. Lastly, there’s print. There are publications which proactively adjusted to the new reality, preempting the decline in readership figures. French Vogue is offering its readers free digital versions of the March edition.

The entertainment magazine Time Out has not only put its offline edition on hold but also rebranded to Time In to strengthen the sense of community as the lockdown measures started to take place across the world. Everyone recognizes the unsurprising fact that it’s the online channels which will dominate people’s lives for the weeks, if not months, to come. A trend we’ve seen growing for years before Coronavirus struck, but accelerating much faster after we’ve acknowledged the outbreak.

If there ever was a time to be sensitive - it’s now

In the best of times, marketing strategy requires a lot of thought and consideration. Today, as consumers around the world deal with the virus and its immediate impact on everyday life, that consideration is even more crucial. From what we’ve seen so far, most brands opt for the better safe than sorry approach. And rightly so. The American confectionery business Hershey decided to pull their ads amid coronavirus concerns, because of videos depicting hugs and handshakes.

Coors Light stopped their “Official beer of working remotely” campaign, in light of most people now being forced to work from home. 

In the UK, KFC had to backtrack its latest campaign relating to its famous “Fingerlickin’ good” tagline. Even though launched before the worldwide hand washing initiative was launched, the company admitted it’s not the right time to air the new ad.

Pulling campaigns or changing creative last minute is a very costly move, although in some instances simply unavoidable. Even the slightest or accidental insensitivity can turn into a crisis and have a long-lasting impact on the brand image and equity. 

Remaining relevant is hard when a catastrophe strikes

In light of what’s happening around the world, global brands must remain responsive and sensitive to the changes their consumers are now facing. They must find a purpose, both right now as the crisis is ongoing but also in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak. As online activities take precedence and the relationship with customers is largely digital, there are advantages for marketers to build upon.

A timely communication, messages reacting directly to what is being expressed is much easier in the online universe. Listening to key concerns, challenges and questions poised on social media gives brands a glimpse of everyday reality they might have ignored otherwise. 

With hardly any geographical limits on collecting social data, brands can and should tailor their content and communication to specific regions and locations. The coronavirus and its implications are perceived very differently by residents of the United States and someone who lives in Italy. Acknowledging this demonstrates the responsibility and support consumers expect to see these days.

The new normal is forming

The changes we’re describing are taking place because the circumstances enforce them. When we emerge on the other side and the situation is under control, those temporary measures (and opportunities) are likely to become the new norm. Or at least a part of it and a solid reflection of the times we live in. Brands who previously dismissed the idea of building digital relationships with their consumers, are now having to learn on the go. But consumers are learning as well. Their priorities, needs and demands are changing, and a big proportion of those new values will form their new normal. The normal after the virus. And it’s a positive and welcome move for brands to be understanding and supportive in the process.

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