When a crash hits, there is little anyone can do apart from ensuring that they are in the best shape possible for when the crisis passes. There’s no doubt that different industries will feel the effects of the lockdown differently, but there have been some fundamental changes that will impact all brands – regardless of their size and sector. From shifts in consumer behaviour and purchasing habits to a new-found appreciation for brand purpose – businesses are already starting to plan for the new normal.
In a blog we posted recently, we talked about how theatre venues can prepare for the post-pandemic reality and adapt during it. Here, we would like to shed some light on how the coronavirus pandemic has affected consumer behaviour across sectors and provide ideas for effective bounce-back marketing tactics that any business can benefit from.
COVID-19's impact on consumer behavior
Increase in online purchasing
One of the most significant developments we see coming out of this situation is the unsurprising channel shift from store-based shopping to online shopping. With stores closed, online channels naturally saw an uptick in demand, with 36% of UK consumers reporting to do more online shopping in mid-April, compared to the 41% doing so in the beginning of June 2020. This heightened demand for products online is likely to be sustained even after physical stores reopen; serving to accelerate the already present trend of increased online sales penetration.
In the short term, this shift brings an obvious opportunity for those with a strong online presence, but a threat to those without. Take fashion as an example, for those brands that sell heavily through wholesale and retail channels (like Next), this has quickly become an existential crisis, while for others (like Boohoo) this has led to record sales growth.
However, this does not mean that stores will become unimportant, but simply that their role in the retail sector will change due to COVID-19. For instance, the majority of us crave human interaction and enjoy the physical experience of shopping. Therefore, as coronavirus outbreak restrictions ease, we expect to see an increase in retail stores where the experience is pleasant and stores are beautifully styled for the enjoyment of the customers.
On the other hand, for other retail sectors, such as grocery shopping, the reduced day-to-day movement as consumers spend more time in their local areas will mean that location is going to become a key consideration factor, at least in the short term.
Online experiences will determine success
When it comes to marketing, online experiences will determine success. The persistent increase in e-commerce means that brands need to prioritise the entire online experience for their customers – from ensuring a hassle-free ordering process and seamless navigation to a beautiful website design with brand consistency throughout.
What’s more, with an oversaturated online marketplace, brands will need to find new ways to communicate with their audience, stand out from the crowd, and stay top-of-mind for consumers as they re-evaluate choices. In other words, digital marketing will become essential for attracting new customers as they shift a lot of their spending to online.
Search visibility will become paramount
In the post-pandemic world, search visibility will become paramount as businesses seek to dominate Google’s results pages. This is true for both organic and paid search marketing; which are going to thrive as shoppers turn to Google to find a way to your website.
Impatient users will not tolerate subpar quality content and will quickly turn to competitors that are doing a better job. This means that in order to set themselves up for success and capture consumers when they venture out again, businesses will need to put a strong SEO strategy in place beforehand.
Purpose, transparency and positive impact will drive brand loyalty
With 63% of global consumers preferring to purchase products and services from companies that stand for a purpose reflecting their own values and beliefs, brands will be expected to do more to solve social problems in the future.
And, if they fail to live up to customers’ expectations, two thirds of consumers believe that brands deserve to be boycotted and called out on social media in order to influence a change. This means that customers not only want brands to be committed to ethical values and authenticity, but they are also ready to ‘cancel’ brands that act against what they say they stand for.
Therefore, we anticipate to see an increase in brands that build positive impact into their business models and are transparent in how they lead their organisations.
Post-pandemic marketing tactics
Use digital marketing to gain a competitive edge
Most companies have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and have pulled back marketing spending as a result (-42% compared to February), whether out of caution or due to necessary cost-cutting in the face of financial struggles.
And, while a pull-back on advertising may cut expenses in the short term, it will most certainly affect a brand’s resilience in the long haul. The chart on the bottom-left compares sales for companies which cut back their advertising during the 1974-75 recession with companies that did not cut back. The companies that did not cut their advertising budgets (in blue) did better every year. By 1977, their sales had more than doubled, while sales had barely gone up by 50% for companies that cut their advertising. In 1975, sales were down for companies that cut their advertising, but up for those that didn't.
In the chart to the top-right, we can also see that the net income of companies that did not cut their advertising had more than trebled, while for companies that did cut back during the recession, it had barely doubled.
During the beginning of the pandemic, Kantar surveyed 35,000 consumers globally about their views on brands advertising through the COVID-19 crisis, only 8% of them thought that brands should stop advertising. Instead, the overwhelming majority thought that brands should use their digital channels to help consumers in their daily lives (78%) and inform consumers about what they are doing to address the crisis (75%).
This just goes to show how important it is to consumers that during a time when everyone is facing challenges, brands communicate their values and what they stand for. And, the best way to build relationships and credibility online is through inbound marketing.
According to HubSpot, “61 percent of marketers say improving SEO and growing their organic presence is their top inbound marketing priority.” In addition, they also said that “55 percent of marketers say blog content creation is their top inbound marketing priority.”
The reason for this is because the product purchase is at the bottom of the marketing funnel and there are still many steps a customer needs to take before they buy from you, especially at uncertain times like these. Therefore, companies will need to nurture their leads through the process by providing great content that is easy to find online.
One of the best ways to welcome back customers and encourage them to feel comfortable, is by explaining to them what to expect. A lot of people are still concerned about how safe it is out there, so using social media, for example, to communicate the measures your business is taking to ensure the safety and comfort of your customers, will ultimately help you convert their likes into actual purchases.
Aside from social media, email is another great channel that you can use to reconnect with your audience. With daily email open rates growing steadily by 5-10% each week since the start of the pandemic, we can clearly see that people now have more time on their hands to devote to opening and reading your emails. This gives you the opportunity to send them highly targeted emails where you can introduce your content to their weekly consumption diet and bring them one step closer to a transaction.
Ensure a great digital experience
With consumers having a laser-focus on online shopping, brands cannot risk a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing, but instead need to deliver a tailored message based on the time, location, and interests of the consumer.
Companies that fail at delivering intuitive and functional online experiences will struggle while only the savviest brands will survive. One of the most essential things in ensuring a great digital experience is maintaining a recognisable and consistent brand image across all channels. Using a style guide to set rules for your tone of voice, and proof-reading your content to eliminate typos and grammatical mistakes, will show customers that you take your online presence seriously.
Optimising your loading times is also important, not only from an SEO standpoint but also from a user experience perspective if you want to maximise your sales opportunities and customer engagement. In addition, you should also strive to reduce clicks and form-filling where necessary to make the user journey as quick and easy as possible.
Last but not least, communicating with transparency and integrity in today’s world has evolved from important to essential. So, be honest on your product pages about what you are offering and make it easy for customers to get information from you through your various channels.
Boost your SEO game
According to SEMrush, searches for “buy online” have skyrocketed globally from about 15K searches at the start of the year to 27K+ searches per month in March.
Of course, SEO looks very different depending on the industry. For essential businesses, SEO is important for standing out and getting chosen over competitors in search results. And, for nonessential, temporarily closed businesses, SEO is still important as there is never a bad time to build evergreen, relevant content that will attract qualified leads in the future.
To understand this, it is important to keep in mind that SEO results require long-term strategy. SEO is about gaining the trust of search engines and this takes sustained effort and consistent output of content over time. Results from SEO campaigns do not appear until at least three or so months down the line, so you need to be patient as there is plenty you can be doing now that will pay off in the future.
As we mentioned earlier, consumers do not become customers right away; it usually takes multiple encounters with your brand before they can trust you enough to purchase from you. By publishing helpful and educational content as part of your SEO strategy, you will be able to build trust, breed familiarity, and boost brand awareness until, eventually, leads start buying from you.
In other words, search is only going to become more integrated in our daily lives after the pandemic, as consumers are seeking out nearby businesses and looking for support. Boosting your SEO effort during the lockdown will most certainly pay off as it will help you to become more visible and set yourself up for success once things start to normalise.
Modify Your Offers
Adjust your offers to make sure they are socially responsible and reflect the safety measures, trends, and lifestyle changes relevant to the current market. Naturally, the COVID-19 crisis has had devastating financial consequences for everyone – especially the younger shoppers. Mintel reports that 41% of 16-24s say they are worse off due to the virus, compared to the overall average of 35%. This will obviously have a knock-on impact on retailers who have a younger consumer base, with such consumers under financial pressure.
However, this consumer group is still the most resilient and the most persistent in their shopping habits. Another group that has seen an increase in online shopping is people aged 65+. This then will bring opportunities or a need for retailers to better tailor their offering to these consumers.
Customers from the younger demographic, for instance, will be more interested in knowing that the brand they are purchasing from cares about their safety and is vocal about their stance on important social issues. Coming out of the pandemic, they are also likely to be more value-driven, so advertisers should highlight the affordability and benefits of their products.
When it comes to 65+ customers, we know such shoppers are more likely to shop via a tablet, for instance. Also, they may, due to growing voice-assistant ownership among this demographic, become a bigger driver for voice-search than any other group.
In essence, the pandemic has proven that in order for marketing for work, it needs to be agile and flexible by reflecting the changes in consumer habits. The pandemic has already changed many businesses to the core and the speed with which you respond to these changes will make the difference between failure and success. So, this is the time to get strategic, incorporate a functional and flexible marketing plan, and effectively nurture your leads through inbound marketing.
Do you have a post-pandemic bounce-back plan? If not, don’t worry! We can help you respond to the unique challenges your business faces due to the COVID-19 crisis, and build momentum early through effective digital marketing strategies. For more information, please contact our team through the form below.