COVID-19: Evolution Of Marketing Strategies To Meet Current Realities
By Jeremiah Agada
Coronavirus is, by far, one of the biggest challenges this generation has faced, and its impacts will last in the years to come. The world as we know it, may not remain the same again after this pandemic may have been long forgotten. Analysts have forecast that the global economy is set to fall into recession and the advertising market likely to follow in the first half of this year.
Already, the effect of the pandemic is being felt globally. With many major cities across the world under varying degrees of lockdown, unprecedented migration in a country like India, 6.6 million jobless people filing for jobless claims in America and rising tension in certain places in Nigeria, the world seems to be in the throes of this pandemic.
Closer home to the industry, observers have said that the Covid-19 crunch will mostly be felt by OOH (the print media included) and experiential subsectors of the Integrated Marketing Communications, IMC, industry, the effect will affect all sectors, perhaps excluding the digital space, for obvious reasons. Consequently, RTL, Europe’s largest broadcaster, has stated that Covid-19 is hitting ad bookings, while in the US NBC Universal also expects a material impact, not least because its Olympic coverage has now been postponed.UK broadcaster ITV reports the same, notably within the travel sector (5% of its 2019 ad revenue, or £91m) and expects ad growth to be down 10%. JCDecaux is anticipating a 10% dip too. Baidu in China advises Q1 revenue will be down by as much as 18% while other online pure players, such as Alphabet, Twitter and Facebook are also exposed – digital channels are often the easiest to switch off in a time of crisis.
Paul Ugoagwu, Managing Director of STB McCanns and a marketing communications expert who has traversed Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest markets-Nigeria and South Africa, brings home the effect of this pandemic on the IMC industry in an online chat with Brand Communicator: “The IMC industry is part of the general economic ecosystem so it is not expected to enjoy any immunity from the prevailing global shocks. Specifically, you will see a fall in Agencies/IMC earnings in sectors like Airlines, Entertainment, Sports, Sports Betting, Manufacturing, Oil and gas, etc.
“Conversely, expect to see a huge surge in digital spend from clients who hitherto had stuck with traditional advertising. For instance, radio adspend in Lagos which had relied on morning and evening drive time belt will witness a sharp decline as their Stay at Home audience migrate to digital platforms. Expect more spend in the international news media like CNN and BBC, the major drivers of COVID 19 news and updates, and local news-centric channels as people scramble for information on the global pandemic.
“As businesses slow in international IMC companies in South Africa, expect a percolating effect on their international affiliates in Nigeria. As bilateral activities and trade slow between these two countries, a corresponding decline in IMC spend will be felt among their big spender clients. Although Africa has been spared the harsher effect of COVID 19, the reality of its being tied to the economic apron strings of China, America and Europe will ultimately take its toll on the economies of Africa. The lockdown/stay at home order aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID 19, trickling down from hard hit regions to the rest of the world will put pressure on businesses to conserve funds by reducing ad-spend,” he explained.
It is clear we are in disruptive times, where there is no marketing playbook. As workers are sent home and businesses close, most consumers are experiencing more stress than they ever imagined. The current lockdown forced people staying home, which has altered consumer buying patterns. We now see more of: panic buying and stocking of essentials, more people opting for home-cooked meals or canned food over restaurants and delivery, travel restrictions impacting travel and tourism and hospitality, avoiding luxury shopping to safeguard finances with markets falling, shopping online and through mobile devices.
How will marketing strategies evolve in times of coronavirus (COVID-19) with people staying home, working remotely, and buying patterns drastically altered. How will marketing strategies evolve in these uncertain times and going forward? Marketing, some as published in an article by one of the world’s leading source for marketing technology, news and research, MarTech Advisor, provide insights that may prove to be relevant in the Nigerian market:
Winning Consumer Engagement
Winning consumer engagement will come from brands who can balance relevance, consistency and convenience to drive engagement. The kind of engagement that drives optimal customer lifetime value and real business impact. Moreover, each crisis leaves a long-term psychological impact on customers. While some might play it safe for a long time, others may want to indulge as a rebound.
Consumer attitudes and behaviors are changing. Marketers must start there. Life before COVID-19 revolved around shopping, going to work, gyms, restaurants, movies, and schools. During COVID-19, all these have changed. People have now adapted to working, shopping, exercising, entertainment, and learning at home. Some new habits formed now will become the new normal – even after the crisis passes. Looking ahead, the best companies in the world will prepare now for how to meet the needs of consumers (where they’re at) when the recovery period begins. Don’t expect consumers will return to the same place.
Focus on Customer Experience More Than Ever
In worrying time likes these, brands must focus on instilling confidence in customers, by providing them with the means to cope with the situation, furnishing the right information, and going beyond to help customers. Being empathetic and prioritizing customer experience will help your brand stand out and help you build a loyal customer base.
Technology giants, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, and YouTube, have joined hands to support and work together to help governments arrest the novel coronavirus with their technological and financial might, and also assist scientists in research to develop a cure. They also issued a joint statement to help combat fraud and misinformation.
Shep Hyken, Customer Service and Experience Expert wrote in his LinkedIn post, “Many businesses are going to suffer financially because of this. Rather than deteriorate in front of your customers, show how you’re there for them through thick and thin. They shouldn’t notice an interruption in the way they’ve always done business with you. That may mean you can’t cut in all the places you want to cut. You may even need to intensify your efforts to ensure you deliver the best experience.”
For Paula Hansen, Chief Revenue Officer, SAP Customer Experience, it has become a challenge to meet customer needs, and one must think about how best to serve customers with limited resources and social distancing constraints. Organizations, especially e-commerce giants are over-burdened with rising online orders, stocks running out, prioritizing essentials, and ensuring the health of employees and customers.
“…All marketing efforts must now be reframed through the lens of COVID-19 and its broader business impact…many products can still play a role in this new reality. Focus on increased personalized connectivity and ways to keep services running. You may not be able to visit your favorite retail store or restaurant, but the virtual community created online mixed with creative new delivery and commerce services may be a realistic alternative. Technology should then serve as the backbone to deliver these ideas quickly.
In the same vein, Ugoagwu admonishes that attention should shift to online/digital platforms to drive IMC activities for brands and corporations. “Lockdowns/Restrictions in movements and business activities resulting from the COVID 19 pandemic creates by default a new media audience ecosystem held captive in their homes and locked on their mobile devices. Epileptic power supply will ensure that consumers of media content get more creative in their use of media devices. But as the audience migrate to the more convenient and readily available digital platforms, IMCs/Agencies should take advantage of this shift by advocating emphasis on the more measurable digital space. IMCs should also negotiate a big slice of SBCC (Social and Behavioural Change Communication) budget from the government and NGOs to partner them in the fight against the spread of COVID 19.”
Opportunity To Pick Up On Consumer Behaviour Changes
As social distancing becomes the new normal and organizations implement remote work – what will the role of marketers look like? John Nash, chief marketing and strategy officer, Redpoint, is quoted MarTech Advisor to have said, “During a time of economic crisis, the role of the marketer may now seem obsolete. However, it is quite the opposite, as this is an opportunity to pick up on consumer behaviour changes and virtually engage with consumers in new ways. These changing times make it crucial for marketers to see consumers as individuals and not group customers into segments. By relying on real-time data and providing brands with a Golden Record of all that is knowable about a customer (e.g. identities, transactions, behaviors), marketers can assist brands now more than ever in creating informed interactions. With these personalized insights, customers will benefit from relevant, positive engagement that is consistent regardless of distance, device, or journey path that is bound to vary for each individual consumer.
How should your marketing strategy evolve in such turbulent times? To survive the negative sentiment and economic slowdown: resilience, innovation, agility, and empathy should be marketers’ tools. As consumers’ lifestyles are adapting to staying at home, marketers must proactively reach out to them where they are.
Corroborating John Nash on the slowdown, Ugwoagu added, “Available and trending micro and macro-economic indices point to a looming and prolonged bitter recession. IMC attention should focus on those sectors that show capacity for quick recoveries, especially areas like production, manufacturing, sports, betting, entertainment, and consumables. Sporadic recoveries in other sectors like travel, hospitality and tourism occasioned by a boom and resumption of international sporting calendar should provide immediate revenue relief for some IMCs.
He doesn’t exclude the government too, as he adds, “Government, being traditional drivers of growth should incentivize IMCs through tax cuts, tax breaks and exemption. Operationally, IMCs should leverage the gains of working remotely/stay at home by championing a paradigm shift in work ethics. Smarter operations, trimmer workforce, virtual workspace, will triumph over bogus and fancy offices and physical locations. Expect Agencies/IMCs to lead the recovery operations in the service/consultancy arena through reorganization and possibly, rationalization. Workers in this sector, and indeed most sectors will do well to brace themselves for possible pay cuts, furloughing and lay-offs as part of the national sacrifice needed for eventual economic recovery.”
Anticipate Consumer Needs
Social distancing can lead to stress, boredom, anxiety, and a sense of loneliness. This makes it crucial to identify individual consumer needs and address them before it becomes a problem area. For example, with schools and offices closed, it becomes difficult for parents to work from home and engage their kids. Cable Service giants, Multichoice Nigeria for instance, at this period launched a new pop-up channel, Mindset Pop DSTV 317 which features educational programming covering the entire General Educational and Training (GET) phase, including Early Childhood Development (ECD), as well as a key focus on Grade 4-9 curriculum.
During this unprecedented time, as consumers’ buying behaviours and media consumption change, it’s so important for marketers to understand these emerging patterns – as well as to anticipate consumer needs. Real-time insights and technology that anticipate consumer interests and needs are essential for marketers and brands to create meaningful, supportive engagement with consumers. Brands have an opportunity to deliver real-time assurance, a feeling of connection.
Be Present in the Digital World
As people stay at home, time spent on their mobile devices, and online platforms is already on the rise. They are spending more time on OTT streaming platforms for entertainment, social media for connecting with the outside world, e-commerce portals for shopping, and so on. Although COVID-19 has disrupted marketing and advertising initiatives, we can expect marketers to keep their plans fluid and tweak their ad-spends to reach customers where they are.
Robert Rothschild, VP, global head of marketing, Smartly.io, when talking about adjusting advertising budgets said, “We’re in the beginning of a major behavioral shift, and as a result, some merchants may see e-commerce sales similar to the rates of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. That said, brands must reallocate budgets to ad campaigns accordingly, and reach consumers where they are most active – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. According to November research from Smartly.io, 52 percent of retail marketers said they will spend more on social advertising than they did in 2019, and 50 percent were planning to spend at least half of their annual marketing budget on social media advertising this year. We anticipate this number will only increase as people stay indoors and social media advertising becomes a primary focus for retail brands.
Transform into a Purpose-Led Brand
Quarantine and lockdown measures can help keep people safe and healthy. But the impact on mental health on different age groups may easily be underestimated. While cannot go to schools or play, the earning group is worried about finances, and seniors who are seemingly the most susceptible to the virus are stressed. It is, therefore, important to engage and entertain people. In these times, if marketers can find innovative ways to ensure their services reach customers, it will go a long way in building lasting relationships.
We are now seeing brands partnering with fitness coaches to help people stay fit at home, education apps to enable learning, gaming apps to engage people. For example, the Three Crowns brand under the stables of the FrieslandWAMPCO Nigeria Plc., has been organizing fitness sessions on the social media for people to participate in, in recent times.
“The immediate marketing challenge for companies is building a relationship beyond what they sell and focusing on helping, not selling. The focus changes from the product to how you can support users in getting through this. Cause-related options can be used to build visibility. Acknowledging changing consumer behaviour and offering help is relevant. Empathy is an important tone,” says Lynne Clement.
Survival of The Fittest
The world is going to look different on the other side of COVID-19 as teams strengthen their muscles for creating engaging, targeted digital experiences for their buyers. CMOs that spend this time building end-to-end, personalized digital strategies are going to come out the other side with a huge competitive advantage over the ones that are simply adapting their live events strategies to virtual ones. Additionally, now more than ever, we’re seeing marketing teams adapt rapidly to customer retention and expansion strategies. While customer acquisition programs might be thrown for a loop, marketers are recognizing that focusing on keeping their current customers happy and successful will help them weather this period, says Justin Keller, VP of marketing, Terminus.
No one can predict what’s next in the global pandemic and when it will end. But, to survive and rise, we must stay sharp. And for that, you need to understand, anticipate, and go above and beyond to fulfill customer needs. We also need to leverage the right technology to stay ahead of the challenge, be agile with your marketing and advertising spend, activate purpose-led marketing messages and focus on helping customers.