An Advertising To-Do List for Brands During the Pandemic

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We’ve long known the only constant in digital advertising is change, but this has never been truer than during the current climate.

With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting every aspect of consumer lives, brands are having to rapidly rethink and adapt their advertising strategies. It’s clear brands should maintain digital advertising campaigns where possible. With reduced competition in the market and lower programmatic CPMs, brands that advertise now can increase awareness, gain market share and build competitive advantage ahead of the post-pandemic upturn.

But what should brands be focussing on specifically at this time? Here are three things all brands should have on their advertising to-do lists during the pandemic:

Get closer to the customer

Building a panoramic view of the customer and gaining a deeper understanding of who they are, what they are interested in, what they need and what their preferences are is vital at any time, and even more so during a period of global upheaval. The old rules no longer apply and everything a brand thinks it knows about its customers is most likely outdated. Consumer behaviour is changing in ways that are both predictable, such as staying at home more rather than travelling to work, and unpredictable, such as taking up new hobbies that would previously have seemed out of character. For example, I have recently taken up running for the first time and those that know me will understand this is a significant change in my behaviour, one that would not be discoverable without new data.

But it’s not just behaviour that is changing. The pandemic has caused a seismic shift in perceptions and concerns, with consumers generally prioritising factors such as safety and sustainability more highly than they did before, which ultimately impacts their purchasing decisions. With the COVID-19 situation evolving so rapidly, brands need to ensure they have a real-time view of the customer as needs and priorities can change by the day.   

Make better use of your data

Most brands see the value of first-party data as a starting point to understanding your customers – perhaps from a customer relationship management platform – but scattered resources and siloed insights make it difficult to leverage that value. First-party data only presents a slim view of the consumer from within the context of a brand’s site or apps. For example, a news site most likely wouldn’t be able to ascertain from first-party data alone about the other new and shifting interests the consumer has, such as alternative travel plans like road trips, other content they consume like recipes, sewing and DIY and where they like to shop. Now is the perfect time to focus on harnessing first-party data and enriching it with high-quality, curated second and third-party data, such as demographic information and purchase or viewing history, to create audiences that are addressable across all channels and devices.

At a time when cookies and tracking pixels that only target devices are becoming limited in scope, advertisers can use people-based marketing techniques to fill the gaps in data and identify customers, however they are engaging with the brand. People-based marketing offers an unparalleled user experience, allowing brands to personalise strategies to particular individuals across all environments and create more meaningful connections. 

Employ test and learn strategies

With lower programmatic CPMs, now is an ideal time to employ test and learn strategies, trying out new ideas and using robust measurement techniques to understand which are the most effective. Brands can test a variety of creative messages, for instance, to see which ones resonate best with specific audiences.

They can also try out new environments they might not usually consider, especially with media consumption habits changing rapidly at this time. News sites are seeing a huge surge in readership as consumers seek the latest information about the pandemic, and they offer great value as some brands are reluctant to advertise in these environments due to the context. But with one March survey showing just 8% of consumers thinking the stopping of advertising should be a priority for brands – and another survey indicating almost 80% of U.S. internet users saying their view of a brand whose ad appeared alongside COVID-19 coverage would be unchanged – it may be well worth brands experimenting with these environments and benefiting from the increased reach of larger audiences.

Of course, advertising during the pandemic does come with a word of caution, especially when testing out new creative messaging and ad environments. Messaging must be appropriate for the environment in which it is served, as well as being socially conscious – brands mustn’t appear to be taking advantage of the situation.

In the upheaval of COVID-19 the only constant is change, but by prioritising these three tactics on their advertising to-do list, brands can be well prepared for the shifts and can gain a competitive advantage as they head into the recovery phase.


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