Coronavirus Era for Digital Marketers – How Bad is It and What’s Next?

newspaper showing coronavirus is changing the world with a subtext of What's Next for Marketers and photo of anoop yersong

Marketing never stops, even when during the time of a global crisis like coronavirus. seems to be consuming everyone’s attention; marketers still have to get their message out. The novel coronavirus pandemic is not only worsening the economy and making it slow but also impacting the ailing job market.

Even if the exponential increase of the virus slows down, businesses are still going to struggle for a long time. And they will need to make up for their huge losses. It is estimated that in total, COVID-19 will cost the global economy at least $2.7 trillion. And not only are people losing money, but they are losing traffic, leads, and conversions. So, the question is – what is going on and how do we prepare?

A lot that has already happened as a direct or indirect effect of the coronavirus. The swiftly spreading coronavirus is causing significant disruption in every sector. And digital marketing in every sector is suffering. It has forced unprecedented actions including permanent work from home, shut down of offices and stores, thereby, overall market stagnation.

Facebook/Google Strategy amid Coronavirus

To prevent the spread of incorrect and fake news about COVID-19, YouTube is “trying to block” all such contents. Similarly, Facebook is also blocking any account running ads to exploit the situation. However, this hasn’t stopped many businesses from doing the same. And there are many trying to piggyback on the crisis, and even profiting from the coronavirus crisis. If not directly, then indirectly, this problem has become an opportunity for some. There are advantages and disadvantages to it as the contracted human content moderators are not there anymore. And, the auto-spamming algorithm of these platforms is still trying to catch up!

Will this affect marketing? The straight forward answer is no! As long as marketers are not using messaging in the advertisements copies that make any claims to prevent, cure, or treat coronavirus, this change will have minimal effect on the paid accounts.

How Are Big Players Responding to Coronavirus?

google ads and facebook ads giving extra credits in 2020 amid coronavirus. Image showing a board for Stress Relief This Way and an image of Anoop Yersong
Billboard saying Relief this Way representing relief to marketers in Coronavirus in 2020 with image of Anoop Yersong

The tech relief keeps on coming, with Google now promising $800 million in aid to small and medium-sized businesses, including $340 million in free ad space. Google announced the financial package to support businesses, health organizations, and governments. The $340 million in ad credits will appear in the accounts of active advertisers and will be good through the end of the year, Google said.

On the other hand, the internet giant, Facebook is following in the footsteps of some of its Silicon Valley peers that have developed their rescue funds to support communities dealing with coronavirus, COVID-19. It has put together $100 million and will support 30,000 small businesses on its platform. Netflix has promised $100 million to workers displaced by the freeze that has halted work on movies and TV series throughout the world. Facebook has also pledged to donate ad space to businesses that use their platforms. In the hope that it will help to alleviate some of the cost of staying in touch with their customers.

Influencer Marketing – The In-Thing

Brands are investing in social media influencers across platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok for ad promotion since ad production and shoots of all the brands are kept on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The top campaigns are being created around health and hygiene, spreading COVID-19 awareness, the importance of handwashing, sanitizing, and keeping oneself healthy. Brands across categories are increasingly collaborating with digital influencers, leading to a 25 percent growth in influencer marketing activities. Influencers are also involved in posting challenges, games, and tutorials to connect with consumers and create brand awareness in the new market and among other age groups.

Influencers assist in giving a campaign momentum. Macro and micro-influencers are the people who consumers tend to listen to and follow according to the product.

If Influencers give a message out in the correct way, it definitely gives a brand enough impulse. For instance, RB India-owned Dettol has been running Hashtag Challenge, #HandWashingChallenge campaign on TikTok that has collected over 18 billion views and generated over 123,000 user participation videos since March 14, 2020. Ad campaigns have also become more personal and detailed as not many brands want to directly associate with a product they offer but are associating with the experience the product brings during this critical time directly.

Coronavirus and Consumer Behaviour

The coronavirus pandemic might bring a significant shift in the consumers’ mindset and the value system that underpin their buying decisions. The brands that would work to recognize this and modify consequently will surely turn out to be the new champions.

This critical situation has resulted in a sudden shift in consumer behavior from being opposed to using masks and sanitizers to buying them at any price, although I do not support the black market rates.

Consumers are shifting from loving to shop in-store to going digital about everything. The shift of students from enjoying classroom learnings to attending online sessions. Offices from doing physical meetings to making decisions through video conferencing and the mass from attending glamorous fashion events to viewing their live streaming at digital platforms. All these changes in daily behavior may become the ‘way of life’ and the ‘new normal’ for the people and consumers, in general.

change in consumer behavior showcased by digital platforms with icons of udemy, skype, hulu, youtube, netflix - anoop yersong content raj

All businesses and industries throughout the globe are in massive chaos. There has been the critical economic impact of coronavirus across the sectors, from entertainment to education, from food to fashion, from tourism to airline, from cruises to cars,  and whatnot. Marketers across the industries are trying to redesign their business models.

With store closures and customers patronizing down in their homes, the market is severely disrupted right now. Significant parts of the world, from China to Japan to Europe and the US, are struggling with weakening demand and disrupting the international value chain system.

Changing Market

It is known from history, each crisis leaves a long term impact, and dangerous coronavirus is no exception to following the pattern. The great depression propelled a “waste not want not” attitude that dictated consumption patterns for years. Furthermore, the outbreak of Covid-19 may move consumers to evaluate products from a different outlook. This may alter the key motivational factors for goods consumption. The beliefs, values, and attitudes of consumers may drastically evolve, leading to changing consumption patterns.

Let’s look at the three major changes that this crisis will bring in consumers in the long-term and its implications on the marketers.

1. Consumers may be driven to buy for conscientious value rather than gross value as before.

In the longer run, because of this crisis, people may be willing to spend more on sustainable brands and products that reflect their beliefs and values. Consumers may showcase a grown interest in fair trade product purchases. They will put more importance on liberal values, which may result in moral judgment building. Affluent consumers will rethink and re-prioritize their product consumption to make them look more conspicuous and responsive toward their society and nation as well as the environment. In the case of the fashion retail sector, there will be a transformation from “what you wear” to “who you are” within conscious consumers, heading to lifting consumer demands for product traceability, supply chain standards, product legitimacy, and quality.

There lies a great opportunity for businesses to re-define their business models and create products that are authentic, conscious, and responsible. Marketers must think deeper beyond the loud logo strategy.

dexter representing businesses thinking about going down the road of authenticity - anoop yersong

2. Consumers may indulge in hedonistic purchases,

which makes them feel better in this stressful and critical period. This has been termed as revenge or retaliatory spending. They will buy products for ‘ego-centered’ values, that is, personal benefits such as health and wellbeing, pleasure-seeking, and better quality. Marketers should make strategies to provide comforting experiences to the consumers and to help them cope with irrational fears of society right now. Brands must provide product content that conveys emotional values rather than a subjective symbol of status and affluence.

This is just the perfect time for marketers to go much deeper to identify what their brand stands for in the present time and what it can mean in the future. They must rethink how they can serve the needs of consumers purposefully and create meaningful content to inspire, engage, and entice consumers.

3. Fear of infection has hit shopping malls and shopping spots hard.

Consumers are staying more at their homes and buying products online rather than going physically to crowded locations. In the long run, this consumer behavior may lead to a permanent change in the shopping habit of consumers, and online buying may become a new norm for consumers of all ages. Just like what happened in India after the demonetization episode, most hesitant consumers are also gradually embracing digital mode of shopping and payments. Hence, retailers and marketers should work together to provide more meaningful and smooth online experiences to connect with consumers.

Online buying will become more attractive in the future. This slowdown is the right time for brand strategists to equip themselves to digitize the processes and upgrade their business technology and systems. This will allow them to develop operational efficiencies and provide personalized experiences to the customers. Digital Marketers should be ready with new plans and strategies to put their brand into the online loop.

Secret Numbers for Marketers 

As per my experience, although the policies of Google and Facebook paid ads will not likely impact marketers’ accounts as much, the pandemic and the resulting market changes surely will. Here are the crucial numbers to prepare for all the marketers who need to understand the present scenario to adjust the accounts accordingly:

  • Across the 13 countries involved in a survey mentioned by Jason Mander, over 50% are watching more streaming services, 45% are spending more time on messaging services, and almost 45% are devoting more time to social media. Interestingly, over 10% also say they are creating and uploading videos.
  • One more report also notes that views on advertising are polarised. When asked if brands should carry on advertising as normal, just over a third agree, just over a quarter disagree, and just over a third aren’t sure. Gen Zs (38%), men(39%), and the higher income group (39%) are the most likely to agree that advertising should continue as normal.
  • According to Forbes, nearly 400 media buyers and brands, 74% think the coronavirus pandemic will have a more massive impact on their advertising spend than the 2008 financial crisis. 
  • Traditional out-of-home advertising is expected to take the biggest hit. New content development for banners, hoardings, and even television will be an issue. To add salt to the wound, marketing budget cutoffs may lead ad spends to decline by 51% in April 2020. Furthermore, if things do not improve, we can estimate yet another 41% drop for May and June.
  • Tactical changes are happening, too. Adweek suggests that 38% of marketers plan to increase audience-targeting. At the same time, 35% of our fraternity is planning to increase device targeting for over-the-top media and connected TVs.
  • Even with the pauses and shifts, some marketers are instead adjusting their messaging to address the current crisis. According to the IAB, 63% plan to change their messaging strategy due to coronavirus. Meanwhile, another 17% still have not yet decided what to do.
  • More marketers also plan to switch to purpose-driven marketing, with 42% planning to increase their mission-based marking and 41% increasing cause-related marketing.

Communication in Times of COVID-19

Strong communication with the consumers and client relationship management, as always, is going to be vital. It’s not just the product but the trust that our customers have in us. And in these tough times, the only way to keep it up is through proactive communication. Personally, I am a big fan of emails, but alas, the customers are not, especially when it comes to B2C. For B2B, when I was working with people from different timezones, emails were not the only channel. Every now and then, I didn’t mind giving them a call, sometimes even WhatsApp. Note – This is just an anecdote! 😉

We, as marketers, always need to consider long-term relationships with our consumers. And for that, social media platforms, live chats, and most importantly a good CRM is a necessity. If you are one of those startups or SMEs that thinks you can do it on Excel, please don’t! Get one integrated. Even free CRM tools will do the job really well!

Whether you are developing new product lines, improving content marketing or SMM strategies, the primary objective has to be – to keep the customers connected to your brand.

Marketers can even think of new ideas for the digital world, as there is so much to consider. Let’s keep that list for some other time!

Team Management during the Hard Times

Due to coronavirus, a lot of SMEs will be temporarily, or even permanently shut down. And the current situation, well, I don’t see it getting sorted anytime soon. So, IF that happens (which personally no one wants), the damage may escalate even further. This can be worrisome, and it really is! But in this situation, the best thing that marketers need to calm the nerves of your teams. Then help them educate and calm down the consumers who are now dependent on your product or services. Start off by acknowledging the problem, and then sharing the steps you are taking. And if you’re unable to do anything, just DON’T beat around the bush and say it!

For any business, the team defines everything. It is crucial that team morale is always up and positive, or at least optimistic. But this doesn’t mean keeping anyone in the dark if the ship is going down, which I estimate for thousands, if not millions of SMEs worldwide. But you need to step up and share your position in a way that doesn’t cause panic. Well, you know what I mean, especially if have been or if you are a team lead or a manager. And this is not a drill!

The Silver Lining

Coronavirus has unfortunately affected the health and wellbeing of communities and industries worldwide. We are uncertain about the time when things will get better. The world is still going through a devastating economic recession. Although I am no expert in economics, I am hopeful that the 1929 depression won’t repeat itself.

Almost every business is feeling the heat and digital marketers are also in the same frenzy. But instead of panicking, I think Now is the best time to strategize for the change.

We need to recognize the gaps, change our weaknesses to strengths, and strengths into distinctive capabilities. This pandemic WILL bring a major change in consumers’ mindset, ability, and choices. And the businesses that would understand this and adapt accordingly will surely turn out to be the new market leaders. It would be wrong on my part to say that this will end soon. But as a digital marketer, it’s important that we acknowledge the problems and plan for the world post coronavirus! Needless to say, keeping yourself and the people around you safe must be everyone’s topmost priority. Because the future depends on it!

PS: Feeling down because of this current situation is normal. But just hold on, stay at home, stay safe and keep others safe. And we’ll come together to fight another day!

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