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We are living through times that are as unprecedented as they are uncertain. Needless to say that for marketers, the term 'business as usual' simply no longer cuts it as the world finds itself in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Millions are planning for a life of social isolation for the foreseeable future as consumer behaviour changes drastically. It wouldn't be an overstatement to state that the impact and spread of Coronavirus represent the most significant impact on our daily lives since the days of the Second World War.
It would be folly to suggest that marketing professionals can continue in their reliance on trends and forecasts that aren't applicable at this moment. Instead, marketing must become an altogether more reactive and tactical affair.
In the age of online search and social media, the world is reacting to this global pandemic in real-time, scurrying around for answers to their questions and solutions to their newfound needs.
Some businesses are beginning to recognise that these new searchers are driving new audiences and have risen to the challenge, as is the case for Morrisons. Morrisons have been proactive in their response to the outbreak. Recognising that many are keen to avoid battling through hoards of panic-buyers while running the risk of transmission, they've responded by creating 3,500 new jobs as they expand their home-delivery capacity.
For many others, the results of their response to COVID-19 hasn't been great.
We took the time to sit down and analyse the trends in PPC activity across the UK and US news and search trends over the last three weeks, representing the time frame in which Coronavirus has come to the forefront of our thoughts. We focussed on various sectors to see how searches are changing and aim to detail how you can modify your existing marketing plans to aim for a positive outcome in what is, frankly, a dire situation.
On The Slide
Businesses relying on events will struggle throughout this crisis with doors closed across the globe. Brands that have previously relied on experiential marketing strategies to build brand awareness need to consider alternatives - and they must act fast in doing so. Additionally, with so much uncertainty as to when lockdowns will end, event planners will be left in a state of floundering, unable to plan for the duration of their hiatus.
With bars and restaurants told to close their doors over the last week, to say they've felt the repercussions of the spread of Coronavirus would be an understatement.
Where possible, many are adapting their service and are preparing a delivery menu's as you read this. However, as many people experience increased job uncertainty, they will be the first thing to face the chop from consumers' weekly budgets.
The priority of public safety and strict limits on group size have venues cancelling both sporting events and shows and festival organisers cancelling far and wide.
As a result, search volume for live entertainment has fallen by 24% while conversion rates have dropped by 30%.
Brand opportunities for merchandise are no longer viable. More damaging than the drop in search and conversions is the time of year during which this crisis has hit.
A Not So Happy Middle Ground
Supermarkets have felt the strain in recent weeks. Panic-buying has been rife amongst consumers after being told by Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announcing lockdown as the government ramps up efforts to contain the virus.
Families have started to turn to online shopping, as recommended by the Government. Consequentially, we have seen unprecedented increases in online grocery shopping and retail. Many supermarkets are taking steps to bolster their delivery capacity, but even this failed to stem the flow of demand.
Ocado has been forced into taking the drastic steps of taking their app and website offline several times during the last week while they attempt to deal with the backlog of pending orders.
Many see this as a sign of things to come, and indeed, a permanent solution to shopping. The fact is, COVID-19 is forcing many who haven't previously shopped online into doing so, if supermarket giants handle the demand well, those who haven't shopped online may continue to do so when the pandemic runs its course.
A further silver lining for retailers is that they should collect a large amount of data to reflect on later down the line.
Despite the demand for groceries and other goods, things aren't all rosy for retail. Last week, Laura Ashley emphasised the financial strain it was under after reaching the decision to immediately close seventy retail stores, putting more than seven hundred jobs at risk.
In light of the pandemic, over sixty big high street retailers, including the likes of Arcadia, Costa Coffee, Primark and JD Sports, wrote to the government in a push for business rates to be suspended for large retailers.
Turning specifically to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic: there is no doubt that it is already being widely felt amongst the members of this group, with footfall and turnover declining by up to 50% in many towns and shopping centres,~ Retailer Chief Executives
On The Up
The approach of social distancing will be a lonely experience for many. It's challenging to maintain our connections for what may end up being several weeks, or even months.
Advertisers wise enough to advertise on Google are seeing some great results for gifting.
Brands can adopt gifting to generate new searches, building brand equity. Even if gifting isn't a key revenue driver it can still help you meet wider objectives.
With social distancing the new norm for the next few months, we are depending on social and on-demand even more to fill the void.
Facebook has been proactive in its response to the crisis by putting a COVID-19 information centre at the top of its newsfeed. Twitter has also produced something similar for the top of its 'explore' section on mobile. The platforms have quickly become a hub for staying up-to-date with global information, attracting users to log in daily.
Content themes have been changing as well. Comedic videos about the virus and how individuals are coping will become more common as we progress through the stages of confinement. We can also expect to see a greater amount of content relating to health, fitness and wellness as we attempt to retain our sanity during isolation.
While numbers for daily active users for the quarter are yet to be published, we'd expect to see a significant rise across different platforms as a consequence of the pandemic.
Summing It All Up
With the UK moving into lockdown, now is the time for your business to juggle the pots, reallocating marketing budgets into other channels.
Experiential marketing, for the remainder of this year at least, lies dead and buried six-feet under.
For the savvy and the opportunistic, there will still be clever ways to engage audiences while they spend most of their spare time online.
We're expecting the number of YouTube sessions to rise dramatically in the coming weeks and months, investing on display ads for this platform seems a wise investment.
If you can create a content series to replace your experiential marketing, target your audience with ads on YouTube and other social media channels.
Buying online gifts for all those unlucky enough to enjoy their birthdays locked up at home over the coming months will give momentum to the gifting market. If you're operating within this market make sure your gifts are available to purchase and that you're driving traffic to your site via ads on channels seeing extra usage throughout this pandemic.
We've seen gifting in FMCG acting as a positive brand booster with consumers browsing for items, in turn increasing website sessions and bolstering brand appeal.
Brands will also have events such as fathers day to think about. They should also be concerting their efforts for Easter, which, as per usual, have been ongoing since the 26th of December.
While you should definitely be capitalising on social media during this time. However, take it seriously, use whatever audience insights you can for these platforms. Don't take a scattergun approach to social and seeing what sticks. It's likely to yield a low return on investment.
Grocery retailers are treating this surge in demand as an opportunity to develop their delivery capabilities. Expect them to build of this both in the short and long-term. The usual POS' and OOH's aren't going to be as effective as usual with footfall grinding to an abrupt halt. When all this is over, it may well never return in the same manner which we've enjoyed over the last decade. Use this time to work on your online user experience.
Luckily, redirecting budget to online advertising should be a relatively painless process. Ensure your consumers know that your products exist and are readily available online.
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