01 Jun Digital Marketing: How Best Practices Have Shifted During the Pandemic
As a result of stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures that have been put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an influx in people’s reliance on the digital space. In order to abide by safety measures, people are turning to social media and other online platforms for news and entertainment, and are relying on eCommerce websites and apps for food delivery and retail purposes.
Needless to say, the shift to the online space has massively increased, especially since people are spending much less time outside. This unprecedented global situation has forced digital marketers to rethink and re-evaluate their strategies accordingly. Right now, it’s more imperative than ever that businesses maintain a strong online presence, because in many cases, this is currently the only space that can be used to reach customers.
Since most countries have no official projection as to when the pandemic will end, digital marketers need to rethink and restructure existing strategies to adhere to this situation.
As a digital marketing agency with a decade of experience, we will use our own expertise and observations to discuss how we think digital marketing services, best practices, and strategies are shifting due to the pandemic’s impact.
Authenticity and Empathy
In the last few months, an overwhelming unanimity in marketing studies has shown that a brand’s ability to put forth empathetic messaging will resonate most with audiences. Perhaps the worst mistake a digital marketer can make right now is to actively ignore the pandemic and its impact. This doesn’t mean that your content should be alarmist, bleak, or heavy-handed. But an acknowledgment of the situation should be the bare minimum.
Various articles and firsthand accounts from users, one example pictured below, have shown that audiences are actually more likely to think negatively of influencers and businesses who put forth tone-deaf content. Being tone deaf may not just lead to a stasis in your business, but can actually severely affect your business’ reputation. Marketers should not underestimate the fact that customers will remember how brands handled and responded to COVID-19 (whether positively or negatively), perhaps for years to come.
Listen, I’ve unfollowed several influencers since the beginning of this pandemic. The tone deafness is beyond ignorant, I’m appalled at the clownery.
— Wanna (@WannasWorld) April 12, 2020
Digital marketers who ensure their content is both sensitive to the situation while still aligning it to their brands have a much better chance at building brand awareness, and in turn garnering positive and authentic connections with audiences, than those who do not.
For example, for one of our own clients whose services are based on in-person classes, we shifted messaging away from directly promoting their services when the pandemic started. Over the last few months, we have been promoting the client’s online videos, free resources, and other social media channels for customers to access while they stay home. While strategies like these may not drive capital right now, customers inevitably respond well to brands who they feel are looking out for their best interests, and are providing the resources to do so. Fostering a genuine relationship with your customers now will ultimately pay off in the future. At the end of the day, businesses should keep in mind that the number one global priority right now is everyone’s health and safety. Acknowledging the pandemic’s devastating effect and adapting this perspective into one’s marketing content is critical.
To better understand how this can be done, take a look at this article, which highlights brands who have effectively structured their marketing campaigns to adapt to the current climate.
Stakeholder Over Shareholder Capitalism
A concept that has largely been at the forefront these days is the idea that brands should adopt a stakeholder, rather than shareholder, capitalist structure when it comes to marketing.
The main difference is this: stakeholder capitalism is one that prioritizes the needs of all your stakeholders—customers, employees, communities, partners, and society as a whole—rather than just those who own shares in the company.
Since the whole world is currently dealing with this crisis, marketers who shift to a stakeholder ideology are more likely to effectively incorporate the aforementioned authenticity, empathy, and transparency into their content.
Marketers also need to accept that, in certain cases, content focused on brand awareness rather than sales-driven content may resonate more with audiences right now. Firstly, this is because in the current economy, certain services are unable to be sold, such as hair cutting and in-person classes. But even in other cases, advertising content that tries too hard at being self-promotional may come across as insensitive and predatory, whereas advertising focused on brand awareness can allow marketers to build authentic connections with their customer base and prospects. If your audience can’t purchase your products or services right now, having a strong foundation in place means there is a better chance they will buy from you in the future.
Remember that COVID-19 is not just affecting people who are sick from the virus, but that everyone is affected: those in the workforce, students, and families. Unfortunately, many people’s livelihoods are currently at stake, so marketers need to keep this in mind when strategizing new content.
This means that marketers need to understand how to meet the needs of their audience, recognizing the gaps many are facing because of the pandemic, and incorporating these factors into one’s messaging. For example, many fitness centres have shifted to online classes or live sessions on Zoom or Instagram Live. Restaurants and other food-related businesses have been resuming for take-out only, and are also promoting their deals (such as free delivery or meal kits) on social media and other online websites.
To learn more about stakeholder capitalism, CEO of Guild Education Rachel Carlson discusses it at length in her #StopTheSpread initiative, linked below.
Twitter friends – need your help. We're working with a leaders around the US on work to #stopthespread of #covid19. Frustrated by the response times here in the US, we’ve made a commitment that civic & biz leaders can put into action today. Sign tonight: https://t.co/lLFUdDAKaK
— Rachel Carlson (@RachelRCarlson) March 14, 2020
Looking at the Larger Picture
With the future being so uncertain, digital marketers need to be able to plan accordingly. This means not just looking at how strategies can be adjusted to adhere to the short-term, but for the long-term as well.
Since at the time that this article is being written, there is no solid timeline on when in-person interactions can be resumed, these methods cannot be relied on as an effective measure for engaging with audiences. This means that maintaining a strong online presence is more important than ever for your brand’s success.
This also means that digital marketers need to dedicate time to researching how your target audience’s needs and lifestyles have been changed by the pandemic. For example, since they are likely spending most of their time at home, what will their priorities be, and what will their leisure time look like? What are their emotional processes during this time? Most importantly, which of these habits will persist after the pandemic is over?
It’s also important to remember that virtual alternatives such as livestream classes, digital entertainment, webinars, online class sessions, and even virtual doctor visits are all methods that may take on a more permanent place in society’s structure even long after the pandemic has ended. Thus, investing in long-term campaigns that promote virtual services is a safe choice, and these can later on be kept and improved upon as the situation resolves. Planning for the long-term ensures that you are saving time and budget spend, rather than having to revector strategies, pull campaigns, and readjust your budget on a regular basis.
Recognizing which sectors are thriving right now, such as eCommerce, is a good starting point when evaluating your digital marketing services and strategies. If eCommerce is not applicable to your business, then prioritize your online presence by taking advantage of brand awareness-based social media marketing. Statistics have shown that 77% of people are spending more time on social media since stay-at-home measures, with Instagram and Facebook seeing the most growth. So if you’re not already on those platforms, take a look at how you can optimize ads on social media for your target audience. Audiences are spending a lot more time keeping up with news, entertainment, and brands on social media than ever, which means that digital marketers have the opportunity to get their advertising out in front of more people than ever.
Since print advertising like billboards and bus ads are less likely to be seen, due to the significant decrease in people spending time outside, it is likely a good idea to redirect away from these campaigns and focus solely on the digital space for best results. Social media is also often cheaper to advertise on, which is ideal for businesses who are also dealing with tight budgets right now.
Digital marketers should also be prioritizing spending advertising budgets on promoting items or services that cater to audiences’ everyday needs, rather than promoting overtly niche or premium products and services. Most markets must also consider offering discounted prices where appropriate, in order to increase accessibility. Again, this is because many customers are currently dealing with tighter budgets due to job loss or reduced working hours. Alternatively, marketers can come up with new plans for budgets that were initially planned for in-person events and services and reallocate that money to digital advertising. Ultimately, advertising should accurately reflect the shift in consumer habits, supply chains, and customers’ mobility.
Ultimately, digital marketing best practices have changed in big ways due to the pandemic, and some of these practices are likely to stay in place indefinitely. Adhering to practices such as empathetic messaging, building thoughtful connections, and being more in-tune with and aware of how the pandemic has affected your audience are bare minimum aspects that digital marketers should be prioritizing right now.
Click to learn more on how you can use social media for brand growth!
And for even further insights on digital and social media marketing trends and best practices, be sure to follow Spark Growth on Twitter!