Marketing Your Way Out Of The Pandemic
With the pandemic nearing its end, marketers need to adjust their strategy…again.
As the vaccine rollout gains steam across the country, it feels as if the end of the pandemic is finally in sight. After a year of uncertainty and quarantine, a return to “normalcy” is a welcome thought. But the transition back to “normal” is going to be different for everyone, and very few will revert back into their “before times” lifestyle. While some Americans can’t wait to jump into a mosh pit at their favorite concert venue, others will need time to feel comfortable in a crowd again. Many factors will play into how any given individual “re-enters” society including their age, location, health, vaccine status, and political views. And most brands will have consumers that fall across the spectrum.
Many behaviors and habits born out of COVID and quarantine will likely stick around post pandemic. A couple key examples?
- Retailers and brands were forced to evolve their shopping experiences to meet the changing needs of consumers, and trends like grocery delivery have become — and will likely remain — a preferred shopping method for many Americans.
- Technology and investment in telehealth, remote work, and virtual fitness had major impacts on their respective industries and will likely continue to be a part of the post-pandemic world.
- Media consumption habits trends, like video streaming, TikTok, and online gaming, that took off during COVID as people were stuck at home and desperate for entertainment have planted their roots in the daily lives of Americans.
Implications for marketers
All of these advances, while fueled and intensified by COVID, have changed the values and behaviors of consumers indefinitely and will impact how marketers can effectively reach their audiences. The best way for marketers to prepare for this upcoming transitional period and life beyond COVID is to take an audience-first approach that meets consumers where they are. Especially now, marketers should avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, be nimble in media efforts, tailor content to meet the varying needs of consumers, and ensure a seamless shopping experience.
Centralize media buying to maximize performance
During lockdown, many media channels experienced an explosion in viewership. Streaming TV subscriptions are at an all-time high, TikTok is now a household name, and online gaming platforms like Roblox and Minecraft have emerged as a social hub for younger generations to connect and play. Other channels like out-of-home and linear TV didn’t fare as well. And as we emerge from the pandemic, media usage trends will likely shift again. But if the past year taught us anything, it’s that the future is completely unpredictable and changes in user behavior that usually take years to solidify can be jumpstarted by unforeseen forces.
Marketers can stay ahead of this by focusing on finding the right audience wherever they happen to be rather than narrowing in on a specific media mix or tactics that have historically been successful. Employing flexible media channels like programmatic that use first- and third-party data will help marketers find the most relevant audiences, no matter what the media trend of the week is. It’s important to note that most demand side platforms (DSPs) — the technology that enables programmatic media buying — are not anticipating major targeting losses due to the death of third-party cookies because of their diverse data sets, many of which are not reliant on third-party cookies. Furthermore, most DSPs now have inventory that span the whole media mix — from connected TV and banners to podcasts and even out-of-home. So, managing your cross-channel media buying from a single demand side platform allows advertisers to maximize reach across channels, connect with audiences no matter where they happen to be consuming media, and optimize in real time as trends change.
Content is Queen
The pandemic has turned the consumer journey on its head. Everything from how audiences research, to what they value, and how they shop has been disrupted. And as we exit the pandemic, the consumer journey will evolve yet again. However, this evolution will be messy and vary greatly from person to person.
For this reason, it’s critical that owned content and experiences address the needs of each customer. Brands will need to have a close pulse on what issues their audiences face, what truly matters to them, and how that is changing as we enter post-pandemic life. Marketers can achieve this by conducting ongoing audience research (think social listening, keyword research, consumer insights, or user research) to gain an understanding of their audiences’ questions / concerns and then build out content to meet those needs. It’s important to be authentic and transparent, and make it as easy as possible for audiences to find the information they are looking for.
An omnichannel shopping experience is table stakes
COVID has also greatly impacted shopping behavior. In fact, ecommerce sales increased 44% in 2020 alone, accelerating growth by over 2 years (Digital Commerce 360). New shopping trends like BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) gained steam as well. 73% of US consumers have tried new shopping behaviors since COVID-19 and most intend to continue these behaviors moving forward (McKinsey).
While some consumers may revert to pre-pandemic shopping behaviors, many won’t. But everyone will expect that their shopping avenue of choice is convenient, safe, and easy. Marketers can achieve this by ensuring their website, local listings, and shopping feeds have the most up-to-date information so that shoppers can find accurate store hours, in-stock information, shipping times, and COVID precautions. A seamless omnichannel approach to shopping — think in-store, ecommerce, BOPIS, and direct to consumer (DTC) — is a must as consumers make their way back in-store at varying degrees.
Just as marketers have gotten in the swing of marketing during COVID, the tables are about to turn yet again. And although the end of the pandemic couldn’t come any sooner, it brings about some unique challenges from a marketing perspective. Although we can’t say with certainty how the next year will play out, marketers can stay ahead of the game by employing a flexible, audience-first approach with their media, content, and shopping experiences.