No more business as usual. Governments across the globe are taking strict measures to contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and daily life is changing drastically for people around the world.

Every day, folks are waking up to new social curbs aimed at lowering the curve of coronavirus transmission. Schools and public gatherings have been suspended. Borders closed. Flights cancelled. Major sports events postponed. Restaurant dining moved to takeout and delivery only. It’s all happening quickly now.

As physical movements and social interactions remain limited for the foreseeable future, omnichannel marketing is losing a crucial channel: in-real-life (IRL) interactions. And the marketing industry is already feeling the ripple effects on many levels.

Marketing Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

While nobody knows what a post-coronavirus reality will look like for marketers, one thing is certain: in an environment where physical interaction is expected to be curtailed for an extended period, digital channels are now more important than ever.

Learning from the countries that have so far been impacted most severely by the pandemic, online channels will play an increasingly crucial role while more people are required to self-isolate at home. In Italy, where the overwhelming number of cases has necessitated a complete lockdown, internet traffic has been surging. During the first stages of coronavirus response, internet traffic in Italy increased between 8 and 20 percent. Once the government mandated country-wide quarantines in mid-March, online traffic spiked 30 percent over regular levels.

Here’s where marketers can make a difference. When it comes to providing consumers with the type of personalized, relevant and current information they are looking for online, marketing technology will play a key role. The same goes for responding with empathy to a new set of needs and restrictions imposed on consumers.

Brands and businesses are currently rushing to change their marketing tactics to meet business objectives in this new environment. To help marketers make forward-looking decisions, we are offering the following Five Digital Marketing Strategy Changes During the Coronavirus Pandemic to implement right now:

1. Redefine your business goals

The disrupted marketing landscape requires a thorough reassessment in terms of marketing strategy and overall business goals. Marketers can use the time working from home to reflect on the purpose of their brand – particularly in the context of COVID-19 lockdown – and define a new set of messages.

Start your brainstorming process with questions such as: What do your customers want from you during a time like this? What do they need to hear? Can you make their life easier by offering longer payment and return periods? Does your brand fulfill a critical need in these uncertain times?

If so, make your critical contribution the central focus of your marketing messaging. If not, will your brand require redistributing of marketing budgets and directing consumers from stationary retail to digital storefronts? Then updating your marketing mix and budget allocations is the next step (see 3. Omnichannel). The required funds could be drawn, for instance, from event marketing, which 41 percent of B2B marketers in the U.S. were planning to increase in 2020 before the virus hit.

2. Save outbound messages for critical communications

Before you send a coronavirus-related email to your entire mailing list, remember: You’re communicating in a highly over-messaged environment right now, with game-changing news popping up one news item, email, and text message at a time. Consumers are overloaded with messages from their employers, doctors, mayors, governors, and children’s schools. They have to install new apps allowing them to work and study at home, so make sure your message counts – and use segmentation to your advantage during this time.

Are you cancelling an event, product rollout or service offering? Do you have crucial information about product inventory or delivery times? A new policy to help COVID-19 relief? Of course a message to all affected consumers is in order. Otherwise, silence is golden when it comes to addressing the pandemic via email right now. It’s not a marketing trend or must-have, although lots and lots of companies are chiming in.

On that note, perform a thorough audit to control the cadence of your regular marketing automation. How much is too much? How often do your customers want to hear from you in a time of crisis? Crossing the line may annoy customers who have to deal with massive disruptions at a fast pace, perhaps even souring your brand reputation for life. Let them come to you, by making sure consumers can find answers to their questions easily (see 4. Inbound).    

3. Use omnichannel to your advantage

Redefining your business goals will also help identify the strong points in your brand’s omnichannel offering. All brands with stationary retail storefronts are seeing their hands forced by the current state of government-mandated lockdowns to direct visitor traffic to e-commerce storefronts. Even before these closings, foot traffic in U.S. malls was suffering, as 40 percent of consumers avoided shopping centers, so marketers had some time to respond.

Make sure that marketing automation – including geo-fenced triggers – no longer nudge physical store visits. Instead, formulate campaigns to reward online shopping, for instance by doubling rewards points on digital purchases or creating discounts and BOGO deals. Do you have the data points (see 5. Data) to identify your most loyal offline customers? If so, how can you specifically convert them into online customers?

As people wait at home for the situation to clear, a little personal acknowledgement goes a long way. Using consumer data from profiles in your customer data platforms (CDP), serve personalized experiences across channels and devices. While the actual shopping experience is hard to replicate online, individualized product recommendations – created with AI engines and delivered at scale – or special offers will make your message stand out from the rest.

4. Test-drive your inbound marketing for COVID-19

Keeping the expected surge in online traffic in mind, are you prepared for more consumers proactively researching your business directly? Or indirectly arriving at one of your properties through the magic of SEO and paid search? Take out the guesswork by test-driving your entire inbound marketing – including websites, chatbots, resources, videos, instructional content, brochures, etc. – for a wide range of search journeys.

Will people stuck at home in social distancing easily find your business via search engines? What about voice search? Has your geo-targeted marketing been updated to drive localized searches to your online store instead of physical locations? Are your blog stories and videos offering answers and strategies to current questions?

Speaking of questions, now is also a good time to update your website FAQs, also benefitting your voice search ranking, with new information as it relates to COVID-19 and the ongoing hiatus on brick-and-mortar retail. Use data from web sessions and customer service centers (see 5. Data) to see what your consumers need specifically right now.

5. Analyze and measure everything

In this reality disrupted by COVID-19, new search patterns and trends will emerge almost daily. That’s why data analysis and reporting are more crucial than ever. Learning what pages your consumers are visiting and what kind of searches they are performing will help to fine-tune your marketing message on the go (see 1.) and deliver relevant content that resonates.

Wear your data analyst’s hat and ask questions such as: Who are your most valuable offline customers and how can you nudge them towards online conversion? Which emails and messages are creating the most engagement right now and can you create more? Do you have locally relevant information for consumers living in a specific area? Are you able to identify nurses, doctors, cashiers, police officers, firefighters and others keeping critical services running while everyone self isolates – and perhaps send them a coupon or token of gratitude?

For us at Selligent Marketing Cloud, owning actionable data about consumers is key. That is what we enable. In times like these, it’s about leveraging that power and combining it with smart ideas for targeted campaigns based on real-time data. While you’re at it, maybe the current lull is a good time to make sure you’re up to speed, with every ‘I’ dotted and ‘t’ crossed, when it comes to compliance with CCPA, GDPR and other data privacy regulations (you can always visit our Data Privacy and Security Center).

Outlook

The coronavirus pandemic is causing alarming levels of uncertainty and frustration for everyone. But marketers are already responding with empathy and creativity. As cinemas across the United States shut down to the public, major film studios are making the switch to releasing current blockbusters directly to streaming platforms. Live streaming of events and concerts is also set to knit the gaps in our social fabric, and new marketing and advertising models will emerge in the process.

On the bright side, we are collectively facing this crisis in a world that is more (digitally) connected than ever in history. Can you imagine how COVID-19 would have unfolded in 1995, when the internet was in its infancy and critical information travelled far more slowly?

Today we have the tools to gain insights on what consumers need in the moment and respond with personal relevance at an unprecedented scale. This will be key while consumers are distancing themselves physically but remain connected digitally, perhaps closer than ever.

We will be providing more helpful content around coronavirus (COVID-19) and digital marketing in the days and weeks to come. Also make sure to read our statement on how Selligent Marketing Cloud is supporting efficient digital communications amidst the repercussions of COVID-19.

 

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