How the COVID-19 Pandemic has Changed Digital Marketing

Feb 5, 2021 | COVID-19, Marketing Trends

The pandemic has reshaped nearly every aspect of life, from the way we shop for basic staples like food to how, when, and where we work. And for many businesses, it’s changed the way we connect with customers and prospects.

Widespread lockdowns and other restrictions forced many business owners to rethink their marketing strategies overnight. Digital marketing has skyrocketed as a result, and it’s easy to see why: more people are spending more time online in the wake of work-from-home trends, increased online shopping, and a general avoidance of public spaces.

As with any type of change in consumer behavior, companies must also make adjustments to their marketing execution. Here are some of the top trends in digital marketing spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic:

Honesty and Transparency in Advertising

Consumers have been wary of marketing messages for years, but if ever there were a time for companies to listen, it’s now. Honesty and transparency matter more now than ever as consumers turn to digital channels to help navigate the pandemic.

In fact, Facebook reports it has removed more than seven million ads for false information on the coronavirus. Reports of shipments that are paid for but never arrive have abounded due to deceptive advertising during the pandemic. Customers are taking more chances on companies and brands they are unfamiliar with due to product unavailability through their normal channels (more on that in a moment) and need to be able to trust they’re getting what they paid for.

Even if you’re not advertising anything related to the pandemic, it’s important to understand just how quickly misinformation can spread, and more importantly, how it can affect your brand image.

The takeaway: Focus on building trust with your audience now and moving forward in your marketing strategy. Be mindful of what you’re promising and promote yourself with integrity.

A Focus on Product AND Service

The “build it, and they will come” approach is working well these days. Whiskey distilleries and perfume companiesstarted making hand sanitizer to fill shortages. It’s not uncommon to find face masks, hand sanitizers, and even cleaning products from clothing retailers and other unlikely sources. In many ways, successful marketing has been as simple as having a healthy stock of products that consumers need, especially as shelves at larger retailers had been cleared of essential items.

But that doesn’t mean good customer service has taken a backseat.

During the pandemic, customer service has focused mostly on meeting new customer needs and expectations, even if it seems out of the typical model. For example, more local businesses are taking a page from the big box retailers’ playbook by offering curbside service, contactless options, and delivery.

Given the pandemic’s unique circumstances, service has also taken another form: caring about customer safety. Many marketers are shifting their messaging to include reminders about masks, social distancing requirements, and safety and cleanliness, as well as sharing how they’re doing their part in ensuring customer health and safety.

The takeaway: In terms of digital marketing, companies should include these new features and functions into their messaging. Aligning yourself with consumer priorities and interests helps to keep customers engaged and fosters trust with your brand.

It also demonstrates you have their best interests at heart. This is an excellent way to earn loyalty once the pandemic is over. They’ll view you as someone who is in tune with shifts in customer needs and proves you’re willing to go the extra mile to ensure a great experience.

Updated Content

In February 2020, creative designs and stock photos depicted what we would refer to as normal life. But fast forward a few months into the pandemic, and media featuring people have been noticeably updated to show people wearing masks.

Commercials for Uber show customers wearing masks to emphasize their “No Mask, No Ride” rule. The hit show Law and Order: SVU illustrated elements of the pandemic throughout its new season. Restaurants, travel companies, and even theme parks have all changed their image to look more “in the moment” during the pandemic.

The takeaway: Now is a good time for digital marketers to review their content libraries and find ways to align their imagery with the current climate. Creative designs that involve people can be replaced to include social distancing (like this Etsy holiday commercial), mask-wearing, health and hygiene, working and learning from home, curbside delivery, contactless pickup, and other hallmarks of the era.

Digital marketing materials to review include images and video content used in social media, blog posts, email marketing, landing pages, and lead magnets (e.g. e-books, checklists, or other downloadables).

Lower CPC and Higher Traffic Volume

Near the beginning of the pandemic, many marketers were forced to pull their digital ad campaigns because they had to temporarily shut their doors or had a significant drop in revenue.  

Though unfortunate, this was a major win for businesses that were able to continue operating. Because of the sudden drop in ad revenue for giants like Google and Facebook, the cost of digital advertising dropped significantly, thus lowering the bar to entry for businesses who wanted to use paid ads to drum up new business.

The other side of the same coin is an increase in reach. Because more people were out of work and spending more time at home, this led to an increase in time spent in front of the screen. Lower costs and a bigger audience created the perfect storm for marketers looking to cash in on online exposure.

The result during the early days of lockdown was a higher ROI due to a lower cost-per-click. And even though this slowdown is only temporary, it was an excellent opportunity for many businesses to get their feet wet in digital paid advertising, see how it works, test different campaigns, and see the true value of marketing themselves online.

 The takeaway: The bar for running CPC campaigns has always been relatively low. For many businesses during the pandemic, digital paid ads became an essential part of their marketing strategy. Getting started with something new is often the most challenging part, and now that the veil has been lifted, it’s likely that more businesses will continue to see the value in using paid ads to drive traffic and sales.

A Shift to Digital Experiences

For months, going to the gym, movies, or DIY art studios was out of the question. However, many of these types of businesses found ways to make the pandemic work for them without having to shutter altogether. The solution: embracing the digital experience.

Businesses who typically relied on a local audience have started turning to digital media (and digital marketing) to reach a broader audience. For example, fitness studios like this indoor cycling destination started holding online classes and live-streamed content to broader audiences.

Movie studies followed suit by bringing the year’s biggest blockbusters to popular streaming services, often for less than the price of a trip to the theater for two.

From art demos to concerts, classes and events of all types were also finding favor with online consumers.

The takeaway: At the heart of their success is digital marketing. Events that take place online require promotion in the online space. Marketers focused on highlighting the advantages of choosing digital vs. an in-person option, including social distancing, health and safety, on-demand access, and convenience.

A Love for All Things Local

During the pandemic, all eyes shifted to the small business scene. Many small businesses were in danger of closing due to lockdowns and a decrease in foot traffic. Hashtags like #shoplocal and #shopsmallbusiness started trending, reminding people to help out the small business owners in their communities.

As larger retailers started running out of essential supplies like cleaners and toilet paper, the small business community gained an edge. If they could connect with local shoppers, they became go-to’s for the items that had been wiped clean from bigger stores. 

The takeaway: Small businesses can take advantage of the same digital channels and strategies used by larger corporations. Catering to a local audience means connecting with your customers wherever they are — and during the pandemic, many of them were spending more time online. Paying for ads on social media and Google can help your local business stay top of mind and give shoppers a convenient alternative to traditional retailers.

Final Thoughts on Pandemic Digital Marketing

Through the whirlwind of uncertainty the pandemic has brought, there’s no doubt that digital marketing has played a role in helping businesses innovate and stay in touch with their audience. It’s a fast, effective way to share your messages, set expectations, and show you’re open for business.

While there is still much uncertainty in the days and months ahead, one thing remains clear: digital marketing will continue to enable businesses to grow and thrive. Contact our team today to start crafting your digital marketing strategy

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