How should marketing strategies be adapted to work through the COVID-19 crisis and will they change the way we market in the future?
By now, I am sure you have read countless articles about how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting every possible industry in unprecedented ways, ranging from causing complete shutdowns to changes in the budgeting and operational aspects of a business.
Such a major event is bound to have a long-lasting effect on how many industries operate, an interesting one to consider will be the effect of the crisis on how marketing is conducted.
With businesses moving online in every way possible, there has been a rapid surge in creating an online presence, whether this is through increased social media activity or virtual events, innovation has been the key factor in moving through this crisis. Whilst some businesses are thriving with this shift, others are lagging behind. The majority of B2B companies, in particular, invest a large amount of time and money into trade shows, exhibitions and networking events in order to meet network and build potential customer relationships. This means that there is going to have to be a rapid and great shift from traditional networking and marketing, to online digital methods, at least for the time being. Whilst theoretically, life will eventually get back to what we all know as ‘normal’, people are creatures of habit and as a general rule of thumb; it takes 30 days to form a new habit. So, what will be the impact of people forming new online spending and interaction habits? As marketers, we need to use this time to consider how marketing and advertising are going to have to shift to cater to the habits people have formed during the lockdown period, which may remain beyond the pandemic.
As with any new trend in marketing, it is always met with initial scepticism, followed by consideration, then budget allocation; it seems that with the new move to digitally dominated marketing strategies, many businesses are still in the scepticism stage and actually making cuts to their marketing budgets. This is happening for a few reasons, most notably due to the idea that businesses do not want to get something wrong; putting out a campaign during such a sensitive time is risky as there are so many factors to consider to ensure it does not put out the wrong message or come across as the business trying to capitalise on the crisis.Take a look at the backlash Cadbury’s faced for their Easter advert depicting a grandfather hiding easter eggs for his grandchildren, customers were quick to call it out as insensitive to the disproportionate effect COVID-19 self-isolation policies are having on the elderly, who should not be engaging in social activities even with their families in most cases. Marketing faux-pas like this can harm a brands image in the long term, so some businesses will simply be too scared to take this risk as the backlash could have a more detrimental effect on their long-term brand health, than simply skipping a campaign would. In terms of smaller businesses or those just starting out, some may only just be hanging on now, in order to be able to maintain their functioning post-COVID-19, money is having to be taken from the marketing spend. The problem with this is that it begs the question; how do businesses expect to survive the crisis without maintaining a presence throughout? Perhaps, going digital is the answer.
For the businesses responding to the digital shift effectively, they are likely to see a great gain from it; eMarketer predicts that digital media consumption and online shopping will see a huge increase, having surveyed that nearly two-thirds of consumers will choose to avoid shopping in person as far as possible. Moreover, the increased time spent at home will cause a predictable increase in time spent on social media platforms as a way to connect with people and induce a sense of normality. Although, with an increase in the amount of time spent online and customer engagement, will come an inevitable shift in consumer patterns; it is likely that business to consumer relationships will intensify. Whether this is in a positive or negative way is entirely down to the strategy a business has in place.
Increased interaction between the business and their customers means customers will feel a more personal relationship with the business so it is crucial that businesses have a clear strategy in the message they want to convey to their consumers during this time and how they want the relationship to function. Moreover, in the time that follows the crisis, businesses will have to maintain this online image and relationship they have cultivated with their customers, who may demand a more personalised experience from businesses. Therefore businesses will be expected to put more thought, and in turn money, into their online presence.
Another after-effect of more time being spent online by consumers is that online shopping may become the new norm and it is possible that people may choose to stop shopping in person as much, even after the crisis. This is due to a few reasons; online shopping is easier for a lot of people and far more convenient than having to go into store physically. However, a more pressing reason to consider is coming from the fact that no one knows what the aftermath of this pandemic will be. Many people will have never experienced such an event in their lifetime and the psychological effects that this virus may have on people cannot be predicted; a heightened sense of anxiety and fear of public crowding and spaces could dominate many people’s lives long after the self-isolation period ends and in-person experiences might never recover. So much about COVID-19 is unknown and the consequences it could have on society will be unprecedented, what this means for a business is preparing for every possible outcome as far as your budget will allow. It is worth considering the idea that maybe marketing will never go back to what we knew as ‘normal’?
In a similar vein, the aftermath of the radical increase in virtual events on marketing and consumer behaviours is something to think about. Rather than cancelling conferences, marketing events and networking events, many businesses have decided to move them online. As an industry, it is interesting to consider how this may affect the way events are held in the future. On paper, virtual events have a lot going for them; they are much lower in cost to hold than the nuances that come with hosting a live event because there is no venue, catering or accommodation costs and inviting speakers means you are generally only asking for an hour of their time, as opposed to a day or two. The ease of hosting an event virtually may become a comfort to businesses and people who become used to being able to attend a company-mandated event, without really having to engage or be fully present during it. However, something important that virtual events are missing and could never provide, is human interaction. For some many employees, attending events is a great booster of morale whether this be through the opportunity it provides to meet new people in the industry, learn from others, unwind in a more relaxed social setting or for some simply having some fun on the companies dime.
Ultimately, the move to increased digital marketing and virtual events for such a prolonged period of time is bound to affect the way the industry operates after the COVID-19 crisis. The most likely outco2me will be that businesses come out with a deeper understanding of the power a digital presence has, and it becomes a more integral part of their marketing plans after. It is also worth noting that the biggest advantage of the changes COVID-19 brings to marketing, could be to smaller businesses. Without the big budgets needed for traditional marketing, small businesses can benefit from customers paying and increased amount of attention to digital and social media advertising, as well as the newfound acceptance for virtual events which are far lower in cost to host but work extremely well as a marketing tool. The key to working through the crisis is a marketing strategy that understands not only who your business is, but the world in which your business is operating in; Small Giants specialises in digital technology and marketing and works with start-ups and scale-up companies to create and implement that best marketing strategy for them. If you want to know more, please check out the link here: www.smallgiants.agency.