Digital Marketing in a COVID-19 World
How reassurance helps consumer retention
The end of the world as we knew it
America was surging along with continued post-recession economic expansion when it was suddenly hit with the novel coronavirus outbreak, which brought everything to an abrupt halt. Businesses nationwide were forced to close their doors for weeks to stop the spread of the virus. Millions of employees who previously battled traffic commuting to work found themselves working remotely, within just a minute’s stroll from their bedrooms. As weeks of lockdown turned into months, workers thought less and less about gas prices and more about whether or not a shower or change of clothes was in order before the workday began.
Digital marketing domination
As our nation stayed home to stay safe, brands of all types scrambled to quickly find their place in this COVID-19 reality. B2B and B2C ecommerce, and brick-and-mortar—all had to acclimate to a large, new crop of sofa-shoppers. Consumers, on the other hand, showed an almost seamless transition to online work, shop, and play. In June, internet sales increased an astonishing 76% over the previous year, prompting the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, to see its stock soar to record heights! The year 2020 has been—if I may attempt to say this overused word applicably—an unprecedented time in internet history. With all these changes, where exactly do marketers stand now? Understandably, since the outbreak, B2B event marketing has come to a hard stop and looks to stay in lockdown mode for a while longer. Brick-and-mortar B2C businesses, however, are rallying to get back to business-as-usual, with face mask and distance requirements in place. Yet, because so many shoppers still find the internet the most comfortable place to reside, the pivot to online sales and demand for strategic digital marketing is undeniable. Consumers have claimed “squatters’ rights” to the internet; and until they step back out onto the pavement, it’s where brands need to reach them. With that said, I must mention that there’s still a place for complementary print advertising to supercharge digital sales, which you can read more about here. Print marketing, working in tandem with digital, is still definitively the best way to go. What we’re going to focus on now is the most efficient way brands can connect with consumers from where they primarily shop today—from the comfort of their couches.
Work for it
Although seemingly all too delighted to shop online, consumers at this moment are actually looking for a bit more from brands before they commit to purchase. A recent survey revealed that 43% of consumers find it reassuring when brands they know reach out to them, yet a whopping 40% also want to know what that brand is doing to help out during the pandemic. Shoppers are genuinely interested in how businesses are treating their employees, what community outreach they’re doing, which safety measures they’ve instilled, and so forth. What’s important to keep in mind is that it’s always easier to retain loyal customers than attract new ones. That means brands need to make a concerted effort to communicate with their current audience, and prospective audience, on a whole new level. The well-established image of a pre-COVID-19 brand isn’t enough to guarantee sale. Current consumers want to be invited in a little closer, so they can grasp the internal culture of a brand. This moment is dictating that brands work for it if they want to keep and engage new customers. There’s also another opportunity digital marketers should pay attention to…and we’ll talk about that next.
If you’re non-essential, you’re somewhat nonsignificant
Internet use skyrocketed, so one would assume their Search Engine Optimization or SEO would take off with it, right? Not necessarily. Pre-COVID-19 internet users were logging on to check their social media status, emails, sports stats, and favorite non-essential business websites. Every consumer had their own user and consumption habits, which was reflected in their internet searches. Targeted audiences were easily reached organically, over time, via their normal online browsing habits. Since a greater percentage of users click on organic results overall, SEO was the way to go. Post-COVID-19 internet use, contrarily, included a massive, worldwide cohesive search for news and coronavirus educational content, personal protective equipment, home improvement products, fitness equipment, entertainment, and the like. Zoom meetings replaced conference rooms. Video tutorials became online classrooms. Everything related to working and schooling from home now drives online life. If a company doesn’t fall into any of these timely “essential” categories, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to produce search engine content that prompts clickthroughs. So, what’s a non-essential company to do?
Pump up your PPC
First of all, keep up the SEO. Work with it so that your web content pairs current consumer trends with your offerings. Time will allow content to organically rise up amidst the essential online landscape. Don’t give up on SEO, but in the meantime, also implement PPC ads. Unlike organic searches, which take time, Pay-Per-Click advertising, or PPC ads, are an instant way to get in front of potential customers. PPC ads propel your brand to the top of the internet search results page, thus guaranteeing a view. Beyond that, PPC ads are also able to target audiences based not only on relevant content and keywords, but also by geographical location, time, and even day of the week. Here’s the best part—essential brands are dropping PPC ads, because they don’t need it right now. Costs for PPC ads have gone down, which means non-essential brands can invest in PPC ads for less, have less competition, and make a bigger online impact until organic searches for non-essentials stabilize. Whether or not your business is deemed “essential” at this moment doesn’t need to dictate your brand’s online presence and productivity.
Reassurance helps consumer retention
This is perhaps the most important takeaway from this article. By now, most of the world is aware of the novel coronavirus. I am quite certain that everyone searching online has had their lives forever impacted in some way by the events of the past few months. As mentioned earlier, it is far easier to retain a loyal customer than acquire a new one. Right now, brands need to make deeper connections with their consumers. What consumers are looking for is positivity, sensitivity, and reassurance from brands that their position is relevant. Here are some guidelines every business should follow when composing their messaging to the current digital consumer:
- Skip the extreme wit. There is a time and a place for humor. It would be difficult—even for a lighthearted brand—to come across as respectable if their online tone veers too far into the comedic at this fragile moment in time. Dry wit is better left for lighter times.
- Stay positive. Although impossible to predict the final outcome of 2020 events, avoiding dark and dreary foreboding copy is also a must. If you have nothing uplifting to say, say nothing at all.
- Show leadership. Your company should have a story about how they are making everything better in some small or greater way.
- Skip the stats. The more we think we know about this virus, the more things seems to change. Don’t shy away from COVID-19, but make sure you save statistical information for the CDC.
- Emotion is essential. Recent research has shown that the highest performing COVID-19 ads are tied to positive emotions. They make consumers feel inspired, and engaged on an emotional level.
No one knows exactly what the American landscape—or world landscape—will look like as it leaves 2020. Brands need to proactively adjust their tone and content, so it fits comfortably into this COVID-19 season. Digital marketing should be presented to others in a positive, pertinent, and engaging way. Although businesses may find themselves in varying positions depending on their current relevancy, we are all moving forward together. If you need help adjusting your messaging and digital tactics, we’d love for you to contact us.
By Kimi Mattig-Louria
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12 ESV)
References in order of hyperlink appearance:
1. Digital Commerce 360 – https://www.digitalcommerce360.com/article/coronavirus-impact-online-retail/
2. MOVE Communications – https://movecommunications.com/the-resurgence-of-print/
4. CDC – https://www.cdc.gov
6. MOVE Communications – https://movecommunications.com/contact/