The Pandemic Turns 1: What's Changed in Digital Marketing?
Today, March 11, 2021 marks one year since the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a global pandemic.
It’s a grim anniversary, and one that hardly seems possible – equal parts too recent and too distant. On one hand, it seems an eternity ago that daily life, the evening news and most of conversations were not dominated by talk of the mystery virus that was shutting China, Europe and soon the rest of the world down.
On the other hand – have we really been living in a world of working from home, wearing masks and religiously sanitising our hands for that long already?
Here at Ambire, we decided it’s a timely reminder to sit down and think about these changes in digital marketing and whether or not these are likely to be here for the long-haul. After all, pandemic or no pandemic, a successful digital marketing strategy implemented now can help any business continue to grow into the future.
The quick shift online
Like every digital marketing agency around the world, Covid-19 seemed to sneak up on us out of nowhere at all. One minute, we were sitting in the office, discussing search engine rankings, content marketing and SEO results for clients, and the next we were all apart from one another waving tearfully from Zoom.
Working from home became the new reality, and there were a few weeks where clients had an understandably knee-jerk reaction, wanting to fully pause all digital activity across search engines and social media platforms.
It was not only understandable, but seemed the sensible thing to do as the world changed overnight. Digital marketing campaigns were thrown out the window and traditional marketers had an abyss open up beneath them.
In some cases, entire marketing departments were forced to rethink everything – from customer experiences to customer service and more. All of this was suddenly and fundamentally altered as no in-person experiences could take place.
Many of us remember these crazy times. Australia shut international borders to a couple of countries, and then suddenly all Australians abroad were scrambling for seats on increasingly limited planes.
Consumers flocked to supermarkets – who can forget the great toilet paper shortage? There was no long-term planning, but rather a sense of impending doom. Non-essential stores, gyms, theatres, cinemas and restaurants were shut down completely, leaving retail and other service industry workers out of jobs and left to rely on Government payments.
Then, however, something else happened and a digital marketing strategy suddenly became as necessary for survival as baked beans, toilet paper, masks and hand sanitiser.
To businesses of all kinds that were previously reluctant to head online, the pandemic pretty much forced their hand.
Businesses wanted to save jobs, stay alive and continue selling their products or services. Very quickly, digital marketing channels became the way ahead. Many were quickly looking for ways to run their business model online or in a socially distanced way. The move online was already in process, of course, but the pandemic accelerated it wildly.
From restaurants who quickly set up delivery models, employing those who had lost their jobs as drivers to entire companies that moved meetings to Zoom and employees to their homes. The best place to reach potential customers was online.
That’s not to say it was easy – and many businesses and business owners say they were simply in hibernation mode during the worst months of lockdown. In Victoria, the Australian state that experienced the longest and harshest restrictions, there are still real fears that many businesses have yet to experience the worst of it.
Of course, we are acutely aware that here in Australia, we are very much the lucky ones. The vaccine roll-out has begun in an orderly fashion, and the economy is performing better than many forecasted.
When JobKeeper and the Coronavirus supplement stop at the end of this month, there are still valid concerns that this performance will be revealed as inflated. This is particularly acute for parts of the country which rely heavily on international tourism or sectors which need international students – like higher education.
Early data shows that online search ad spending has already returned to levels higher than that of the pre-pandemic era. The shift online became necessary for initial survival – and it seems like it will be unlikely to reverse.
This is particularly apt because recent months have shown that there still remains a likelihood of further short and hard lockdowns as repatriation flights continue to introduce positive cases to Australian soil.
The odds of moving to a complete pre-pandemic ‘normal’ have been repeatedly recognised as impossible. The shift to more flexible working arrangements and the likelihood of much less international travel means businesses must focus their efforts in the digital sphere.
Brick-and-mortar companies that rely on foot traffic as their sole customer base are no longer viable options as data from the US shows those who can shop online will continue to do so.
Similarly, as people spend more time at home, traditional marketing methods and forms of advertising alone will no longer provide as much return on investment as focusing on both would be. You need to be where your target audiences are – whether that’s digital channels or social media.
All good marketing teams would tell you that no matter what form of marketing you prefer, being visible across social media platforms and search is suddenly vital.
As well as an online presence itself, optimising for user experience alongside all other SEO techniques is vital. After all, people who are spending more time than ever before on the Internet will most definitely be inclined to purchase products or services on a site that is friendly and easy to use.
The same goes when optimising for mobile devices. We are all spending a lot of time on these little black boxes, and platforms like Facebook are making it easier to buy directly from them. Digital experiences, whether on mobile apps or browsers, need to be seamless.
The Local Turn
One shift in consumer behaviour likely to remain is a renewed desire to shop local and support local businesses.
We saw this when everything shut down. People who could afford it looked to purchase takeaway meals and drinks from their favourite restaurants, bars and cafes. Likewise, local service providers and stores that could move to selling products online did so.
Oftentimes, this was done very successfully with simple social media marketing strategies – running competitions or rewarding customer loyalty. The time of day that a blog post or other form of content such as a Facebook post is published also played on this. Imagine a local cafe posting on their social media channels about offering delivery breakfast from 7am onwards or a bar that is now selling their stock of take away beer in the evenings posting around 4 or 5pm.
Particularly with the focus on safe and hygienic home delivery, a whole space for businesses to capitalise on digital advertising but with a local focus was opened.
The top of any good marketing funnel, then, should be attempting to catch anyone in your local area. The customer journey is now one which is much more virtual, and marketing efforts which reinforce messages through email marketing campaigns and social media advertising will do well.
It has taken a global pandemic for people to realise just how important appearing in organic search results truly is. Optimising with Google My Business is a good place to start, but marketing goals must expand beyond this.
Google is aware that more people use Search for everything and anything, so appearing in local Search is one really important way that a business can be seen. The same goes for local SEO efforts. Improving organic traffic must form the backbone of every digital strategy – paid search only goes so far.
Ranking for relevant search terms simply means reaching a larger audience than you previously could have.
The pandemic has also made some of the massive structural inequalities in our society clear – those who can work from home versus frontline, usually lower-paid workers who cannot.
Socially conscious consumers will want to get out and about and spend their hard-earned cash if they know they are keeping local people in employment and local business afloat. If you can capitalise on a strong social media presence to remind consumers where you are and use email marketing to remind people how your business is constantly adapting to pandemic-induced changes – you’re likely to reach a wider audience.
Strong customer relationships, encouraging repeat purchases are of utmost importance. We all feel as though we are missing human interaction – after all it can feel as though we’ve all become anonymous Internet users.
Publishing relevant content, particularly video content, and rewarding customer loyalty are key parts of this internet marketing strategy. For their part, consumers proved they are willing and able to support local.
Weirdly enough, as well as prospective customers getting interested in supporting local, they also started to get fussier and more demanding about what they expect from digital campaigns in general.
During the height of the pandemic, Facebook was forced to remove more than seven million ad posts because they violated guidelines and considered to be ‘conspiracy’ marketing related to Covid-19.
In times when fear and misinformation is rife, it seems fair that advertisers are held to high standards when it comes to their campaigns. For example, misleading information proposing alternative treatments as remedies for the virus would now have to be removed.
This extends beyond the pandemic, however. Consumers simply do not have the time for dealing with businesses who are found to be exaggerating how their product, service or business works.
It’s probably arguable that this is a direct impact of us all seeing just how dangerous false information can be.
Therefore, it pays to be mindful of the claims you’re making when selling or advertising anything at all – and make sure you have adequate data to back yourself up. Building trust with your customers has perhaps never been as important as it is now.
As the vaccines begin to roll out worldwide, it’s clear that tech companies like Facebook, Google and others will take a no-nonsense approach to spammy, dodgy behaviour online.
Even as things seem to be looking up, we think there have been a few seismic shifts in consumer behaviour that will never return to pre-pandemic ‘normal’.
After all, as every politician reminds us on the evening news – this is the ‘new normal’. Make sure your digital marketing strategy reflects this brave new, socially-distanced world.
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