The Novel Coronavirus changed the world and business as we know it. It may sound a little grandiose, but it’s true. When the pandemic hit the world and forced stay-at-home lockdowns, it changed the ways businesses operate, the way employees work, and the way that consumers buy – and that’s just scratching the surface.
It has also fundamentally shifted marketing and every aspect of how companies interact with their existing and prospective customers.
Here, we explore how digital marketing has been affected by COVID-19. And we will also look at what local businesses are doing to pivot and find success during these unprecedented times.
The Impact on Digital Marketing and Small Business
The Novel Coronavirus (oft simply known as “coronavirus” or “COVID-19”) has had a staggering economic and social impact on the world. Experts estimate that the virus will cost the global economy 2.7 trillion dollars and that it will send the world into the next global recession.
Socially, due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the entire world is online more than ever.
On one hand, the continued connectivity and business via the internet is a blessing. It has allowed many companies to continue on despite having to halt most in-person interactions and operations. This simply was not possible during previous worldwide pandemics and catastrophes.
On the other hand, though, the rise of social distancing has been a struggle for many. Businesses in most industries have had to pivot significantly and undergo extensive digital transformation to try to stay afloat. If they even made it that far.
For digital marketing, in particular, this has meant struggles like:
- Navigating sharp drops in organic traffic and conversions for most industries. For those in the news industry or the financial space, of course, traffic has skyrocketed, but for other industries – like travel, real estate, manufacturing, and even eCommerce – people simply don’t have these things top of mind, so they’re not visiting these sites.
- Having to drive the buyer’s journey with fewer resources as marketing budgets get reduced, but the importance of their work does not.
- Paid traffic struggles. Many businesses paused all PPC efforts and ad spends at the start of the pandemic out of necessity, and it’s been difficult for digital marketers across industries to toe the line between budget constraints and possible conversions.
Photo and statistics courtesy of Neil Patel
It has also called for significant strategical pivots, including:
- Moving all messaging to consumers online. People are now constantly on digital media, watching TV, and looking at phones looking for news and distractions. For marketers, that has meant a 100% pivot to these places, combined with new marketing campaigns, a shift in focus to stay-at-home products, social media-driven marketing, and more.
- Shifting internal operations online, which for many has called for significant digital transformation, new communication tools like Zoom and Slack, and other big changes.
- Moving toward experiential marketing. People are thriving online and constantly interacting with brands. They’re looking for interactions that are branded, interactive, multimedia, multitouch, and authentic. This calls for shifts like more personalized landing pages or emails. These contain lots of curated, relevant content, and focus on a particular industry, use case, or persona. They also track interactions and offer multiple CTAs so the audience can select what action they want to take next.
- Exploring virtual events and webinars. Many companies that offer in-person products or services have had to go virtual – even dermatologist offices pivoted to offer “virtual consultations” and recommendations.
- Altering ad messaging when possible. This can be particularly effective if your business can offer promotions about curbside pick-up, contact-free delivery, or special promotions.
The Impact on the Consumer
Of course, this must all be done with the consumer’s priorities and worries in mind. From the consumer perspective, overall priorities have changed amid:
- Economic concerns and the ensuing shifts in priorities/focus on only the essential.
- Health concerns as they try to avoid catching coronavirus from interactions, packages, etc.
- New ways of interacting – more people online/on social media who weren’t there before
- And more.
Companies that are effectively going to navigate this pandemic have to take these concerns into account and address them directly.
How Businesses Are Effectively Navigating the Changes
That calls on companies to interact and market effectively, compassionately, and strategically if they want their messages to truly resonate.
That means businesses like yours have to:
- Add a humanitarian layer to your marketing efforts
- Emphasize safety, acknowledge risks, and give customers peace of mind.
- Taking economic concerns into account and offering discounts. Alternatively, offer to donate a percentage of your profits to coronavirus relief funds.
- Be truthful, relevant, and straightforward. How have your target audience’s economic needs changed in the current climate?
- Provide a positive, optimistic tone – people have had enough doom and gloom.
- Stay on top of the latest trends, watch the data for insight, and understand ever-changing consumer behaviors to drive successful marketing strategies moving forward.
What does all of this look like, exactly? Creatively, this translates to efforts like:
- Creating interactive content that feels customizable and completely relevant.
- Experiment with new technologies like AR and VR. For example, many companies now allow users to see an item of clothing on their bodies or a product in their rooms.
- A switch to social commerce. Brands are selling directly on social media through shoppable stories and posts, social commerce plugins and apps, and ads on social media with CTAs to Ecommerce sites. And it works. 36% of internet users in the US have said that social media is just as important as other information sources for making product choices.
Examples of Successful Digital Marketing Today
Vendome Wine & Spirits: Virtual Tastings
A high-end liquor store located in Toluca Lake, California, Vendome Wine & Spirits held frequent wine and beer tastings in their store before the pandemic hit.
When quarantine began, visitors were greeted by an in-store sign for “virtual tasting events.” The cashier then informed them (from behind plexiglass) that, if they purchased the corresponding bottle, they would get a link to a Zoom meeting where they would remotely explore tasting notes for that particular wine or beer. And it worked. According to the store’s wine buyer David Milligan, each virtual event has 15-30 participants – the average was 28 people when they had the tasting in person – and they have helped keep the business afloat and the community connected.
Why it worked: The store had already built a community around the tastings in person. As a much-loved neighborhood store, they had a customer base that wanted to take advantage of this offering. It was authentic, positive, and relevant to their existing customer base.
Wholesome Culture: Offering Socially-Conscious Content
Wholesome Culture is an ethically produced women’s clothing brand that has always focused on inspiring, “a better, healthier, and plant-based lifestyle around the world.” It’s no surprise, then, that they adapted their messaging to be socially conscious and aware of the gravity of the COVID-19 crisis through various email campaigns.
One email, in particular, used the subject, “Here’s How to Help Our Healthcare Workers.” In the email, readers found:
- A link to a blog that explores how to help health care workers
- Another “here’s how you can help section” that included suggestions like, “give a meal gift card,” “avoid panic buying,” and “make homemade masks.”
- A section encouraging readers to, “Stay home. Stay safe. Stay comfy.” This is where their sales came into play.
Why it worked: Wholesome Culture has always been socially conscious and socially aware – even their clothing always has environmentally-friendly messaging. So it wasn’t a huge leap for them to extend that messaging to the current crisis, touching on highly relevant and personalized points like:
- The fact that everyone is stuck home
- The need for homemade masks
- The struggles of healthcare workers
Yes, they included links to sell their products as well, but this didn’t seem pushy, inauthentic, or tone-deaf.
OC Restaurants: Selling Groceries, Supplies, and Meal Kits
Almost no other industry has been hit as hard as the restaurant industry. Most eateries have responded to the strain by offering takeout, delivery, and curbside pickup options.
In Orange County, many have taken things one step further to stay afloat, offering groceries, supplies, and meal kits to the public.
Mario Marovic, a veteran restaurateur, and owner of several OC eateries took to social media to offer toilet paper to those in need after he ordered 60,000 rolls from a restaurant supplier.
Similarly, The Original Fish Co. and its sister restaurant Katella Bakery, Deli, and Restaurant began opening pop-up markets to start selling groceries like fresh and frozen seafood, chicken and beef; pasta, tuna, tomato, and other canned products, milk, eggs, fresh fruit, vegetables, and bread.
Finally, At Provenance in Newport Beach, Chef Cathy Pavlos decided to turn out meal kits. She told The OC Register, “We can do an unlimited number of burger kits and we have our meats ground fresh every day. We have an unlimited number of pasta kits where we’ll package up the sauce, which you can either freeze or keep fresh, then we package up the pasta and the cheese. Our meals have a complete set of instructions on how to do it.” She’s also selling a vacuum-packed version of her short ribs.
Why it works: In all of these instances, the chefs and restaurateurs are finding innovative ways not only to maintain revenue but also to serve their communities and provide much-needed supplies to those who may not have been able to get them elsewhere.
Then there are broader efforts made by large, national companies.
Many airlines, for example – including Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, United, and American Airlines – have switched to cargo-only flights to transport essential goods, all the while offering spectacular deals to their consumers for future travel.
Big-box toy company Mattel recently unveiled a new line of Fisher-Price action figures that feature delivery drivers, grocery store workers, and healthcare professionals.
And, of course, most fitness studios have moved their operations online. They live-stream classes, provide at-home workout plans, and even host fitness challenges to foster community and encourage WFH health.
Why they work: Safe approaches to reopening is a form of social signaling. Such efforts have, of course, delivered mixed responses. At-home workout classes, in particular, have been met with some scorn online from people who feel that they’re being shamed or judged for their quarantine lifestyle.
So What Can You Do and Where Should You Start?
First things first: now is the time to keep your digital marketing efforts up if you can.
Any moment of economic downturn always means less competition and more opportunity. That includes pay-per-click advertising, search engine optimization, and content marketing.
Use this opportunity, then, to connect to your audience and offer unique, valuable, and authentic communication, products, or services. Particularly as the country slowly begins to reopen, focus on:
- Addressing customer concerns head-on, and explaining how your business is remaining socially aware and helpful to them.
- Pivoting your products and services to be relevant and useful to customers today.
- Keeping your finger on the pulse of customer sentiment, behavior, and priorities. This is something that will change regularly, and the more up-to-date you are, the better your business will fare.
And remember to remain flexible and aware as you move through these efforts. We don’t know what the digital marketing landscape – or consumer culture – will wind up looking like as we move past the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important, then, for you to pay attention to how your efforts are resonating, to what your competition is doing, and to adapt – as we all have throughout this time.