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The Ultimate Guide to Navigating Your Marketing & Business in the Face of a Global Pandemic

Flattening of the curve, Self-isolating, Social distancing; All terms that just a matter of weeks ago were non-existent in western lexicon are now at the tip of the tongue. In this time, the world has changed; millions of people have lost their jobs, businesses have closed and an unprecedented strain has been put on the healthcare system. Few other issues seem as important as they did just a month ago and the perspective of what has happened is still difficult to comprehend. Despite this – business owners, marketers and upper management all face the issue – how to succeed in the face of a global pandemic and potential financial crisis. First, we must look at what has changed in the business world thus far.

Understanding the current climate – A change in consumer behaviour and operational demand.

Government restrictions and instructions have meant a temporary halt to business operations in the fitness, retail, travel and hospitality space, along with a necessary response from corporate organisations to force staff into remote work. The forced self-isolation to prevent the spread of coronavirus has provoked rapid changes in consumer behaviours. The most obvious result of this is the increase in online content and consumption. 

The whopping 50% increase in internet use in some areas of the world is so significant that many have speculated about the possibility of the increased demand, breaking the internet (don’t worry, experts are saying that we are fine – for now). 

As for social media? In Italy, where the pandemic has hit the hardest, Facebook reported that it had seen up to 70% more time spent across its apps since the crisis arrived in the country. Instagram and Facebook Live views doubled in a week, and messaging increased by more than 50% during the last month.  

After analysing 260 of its own campaigns, including more than 7 million Instagram posts, Obvious.ly saw a 76% increase in engagement on ad posts over the last two weeks. Q1 Instagram campaign impressions increased by 22% compared to the last quarter.

This extends to purchase behaviour too as a study from Ipsos MORI revealed that China, Italy, Vietnam, India and Russia have seen increases of up to 57% in e-commerce shopping.

As consumer behaviour changes so does business behaviour. Widespread change is rapidly occurring. Businesses in the service sectors have begun offering online consultations and classes as a means to continue operation, those selling consumer goods are putting more focus into their online stores whilst existing e-commerce businesses are sometimes struggling to cope with the demand ( Amazon recently announced it is hiring 100,000 employees as a result of a surge in online orders). 

Be brave. Innovate, Adapt and Market – But do it fast.

The prospect of entering a global financial crisis means many businesses will operate in preservation; limiting operation, scaling back marketing and narrowing service offerings. Is this a good idea? 

If financial experts are right and COVID-19 does result in a recession, this will not be the first we have experienced one in the modern world. It is important to look at past economic struggles and see how some businesses were able to thrive.

Two great examples by Forbes:

“Quick Service Restaurants: In the 1990-91 recession, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell took advantage of McDonald’s decision to drop its advertising and promotion budget. As a result, Pizza Hut increased sales by 61%, Taco Bell sales grew by 40% and McDonald’s sales declined by 28%.

Technology: Amazon sales grew by 28% in 2009 during the “great recession.” The tech company continued to innovate with new products during the slumping economy, most notably with new Kindle products which helped to grow market share. In a first, on Christmas Day 2009, Amazon customers bought more e-books than printed books. As a result, in the minds of consumers, Amazon became an innovative company by introducing a lower-cost alternative to cash-strapped consumers.”

The takeaways? Capitalism is a game that rewards those that take risks – If you don’t commit to marketing you are accepting defeat and if you fail to innovate someone else will! Warren Buffet once said “Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful” meaning that those that double down in their marketing efforts when others don’t are those that reap the rewards.

A Social Media Opportunity.

With such significant increases in the consumption of social media along with the likelihood that businesses resist marketing efforts;  making ad space cheaper, social media is the obvious place to invest marketing efforts. This is compounded by the fact that the early trends of search engine behaviour during coronavirus has seen a decrease in the amount of traffic coming from search for the majority of industries.

 (as per UberSuggest)

This decrease means that whilst consumers are spending more time than ever on the internet they are likely spending less of it looking for what you sell. This means that you simply can not rely on customers to look for you or your offering, you must present it to them and explain why they need it.

So how do you succeed on Social Media during this time? 

Some brands, dubbed Coronavirus Champions by Forbes, are emerging with leadership and demonstrating a genuine sense of care. How will yours fare? Here are seven ways to survive with social ads.

Nail your messaging: Be empathetic, be real & genuinely try to help.

Some businesses will inherently have advantages due to the space they are in, others will need to be more nuanced about their messaging. Regardless of where your business sits in that paradigm, in the face of a crisis, it is absolutely necessary to be sensitive and empathetic.

You have probably already seen plenty of Ads on Facebook since this all started and there are probably plenty that seem incredibly inappropriate even if unintentionally (here are a few examples). 

If you are able to be sensitive to people’s feelings then you are going to be able to relate to them better. 

Depending on your business it also might be 100% necessary to address the elephant in the room. COVID-19 is on the minds of all of us, it’s okay to touch on the subject just don’t exploit the situation!

Some businesses will sell products that are easy to recognise why they are needed – for those that sell products that aren’t as obvious – being empathetic, real and genuinely trying to help people is essential.

As Kristen Ruby, CEO of award-winning public relations agency Ruby Media Group, says in her article How to survive a brand quarantine during coronavirus, ‘People will remember how you handle your marketing during this time’.

Combat stock issues with a competition.

If there’s a supply chain issue that would prevent mass marketing of the product, try running a competition instead (giving something away for free in exchange for an email address). This will allow you to maintain and increase brand awareness, and have a database full of potential customers when stock is back up and running.

Offer to help the situation.

If there is really no reason someone needs your product at a time like this, for example, you sell a luxury good, a great option to incentivise purchases is to give a portion of proceeds to a group of people who have been affected by the pandemic.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, announced that Facebook would invest $100 million to help 30,000 small businesses in over 30 countries through the Facebook Small Business Grants Program. A fantastic initiative to support small businesses while continuing to engage businesses on the platform.

Engage your audiences. Be a customer first.

This is the time for active responses – don’t neglect commenters on your ads, engage them and build the relationships. Offer free shipping or flexible payment options for those who might be struggling financially.

Betts has set up a striking banner on its website that highlights how it is taking action during the COVID-19 outbreak, and what it is offering its community: free shipping, free returns and an extended return policy from 14 to 60 days.

Stay informative through social.

To alleviate concerns, brands are communicating to social media followers with details about how their business is addressing the virus, whether that’s rigorous store hygiene or closing stores and focusing online. This is the time when EDM open rates are higher as customers want to stay informed with how their favourite brands respond.

Concrete Playground, a digital city guide with engaged audiences in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Auckland and Wellington, posted a heartfelt message to their followers on Instagram to turn attention to small, local businesses, and ways to support from home. For a business entirely focused on being in the know about exciting events and places to visit – which isn’t the priority right now – this is a great example of being real with your audience, and bringing hope and support, while still aligning with the brand’s purpose.

‘Going out might not be at the top of your to-do list right now,’ the Instagram post reads, ‘but you can continue to support small, local businesses without leaving your apartment.

‘Buy from artists who’ve had their shows cancelled, order gift cards and merch from venues that are struggling or just book in a dinner for that birthday a few months away. 

‘Then, when we come out the other side — which we will — we’ll be raring to get out there and hit up concerts, food festivals, comedy galas and charity raves once again. And we’ll be there with you every step of the way.’

Do flash sales or incentives for bulk purchases.

Customers are actively seeking to stock up on all kinds of goods, make that process easy for them by offering discounts on bulk orders or push existing customers to purchase again. If what you sell is a non-essential item consider running a flash sale to drive immediate revenue. 

Invent new ways to connect.

Engage your audiences with challenges, polls or interesting content to help them feel engaged with your brand and provide them some likely much needed 

Great examples of this include incredible comradery in the entertainment industry. #TogetherAtHome, a collaboration between Global Citizen, WHO and international artists, is an online music experience formed to forge community at a time when many feel isolated at home, and inspire people to take meaningful action to help stop coronavirus. Chris Martin of Coldplay launched it on an Instagram live video, spending half an hour chatting to fans and playing requested songs on his piano at home. Commenters from all over the world posted emojis of their country’s flag while thanking the artist for lifting their spirits. He passed the baton to John Legend, who also played an impromptu concert from home with his family, encouraging others to stay healthy and flatten the curve by practising social distancing at home. Since then, hundreds of live streams, including virtual music festivals and cooking tutorials, as well as free fitness class offers have been popping up all over social media to unite the community and add value. People won’t forget which brands stepped up and generously offered support at this time.

What Megaphone Marketing can tell you about Facebook Ads & COVID19 so far.

As an agency that spends around $1 million dollars a month on our client’s Facebook Ads, we can easily see a change in how consumers are engaging since COVID-19 began. 

CPMs have definitely reduced and market saturation appears to be reduced. Ecommerce businesses have seen steady increases in sales and services that can offer their expertise online have had steady results. In particular, businesses that sell food, at-home fitness products, and work from home products have seen immediate spikes in sales.

Overall, the ads that have been able to successfully address the elephant in the room and do so in an empathetic manner have overwhelmingly outperformed typical ads regardless of industry.

Further good news comes from looking internationally at places like Singapore who have been further along in the life cycle of COVID-19. Through our clients that run ads in this area, we have yet to see any perceived lockdown hangover as it relates to Facebook ad Performance. 

In closing, with so many stimulus packages and government benefits in place, Australia is well poised to sustain some economic online growth. However, with no real end in sight yet and real consumer uncertainty it is absolutely essential that as long as your business is operating that you double down, lean in and truly attempt to innovate. Otherwise, you might be left behind.

By Josh Gowing