For digital marketers, the current environment is rife with potential pitfalls, but likewise with alluring opportunities for reaching customers in a captive state.

Polly Wong, managing partner, Strategic/Ecommerce/Creative Services, Belardi Wong

Polly Wong, managing partner, Belardi Wong

The ongoing COVID-19 health crisis is upending a lot of conventional wisdom around digital marketing and media consumption.

People are stuck at home and eager for reputable news, yet publishers see ad revenue drop because of brand-safety prohibitions on pandemic-related content. Health and wellness products are thriving at the same time as people are looking for the comforting familiarity of junk food and escapist entertainment.

For digital marketers, the current environment is rife with potential pitfalls, but likewise with alluring opportunities for reaching customers in a captive state. Here, then, are some critical best practices for adjusting digital marketing campaigns in the context of an ongoing health crisis:

  • Account for a shift in digital consumption: Shift spend away from channels in which customer engagement has dropped (e.g., out of home (OOH), traditional TV, event marketing). As consumers spend more time online, evaluate channels such as video, podcasts and email to determine if there is an opportunity to engage. Remember that it is essential that messages be sensitive to the current climate. 
  • Review creative across all digital channels: Ensure messaging is still relevant amid a quickly-changing consumer mindset. Identify anything that is off-brand or untimely and fix it fast. This includes triggered emails, transactional emails—any interaction with the customer! New tools and methods are available to help update creative digital materials on the fly.
  • Create reporting based on the most up-to-date results: Comparing year-over-year or month-over-month results will not provide an accurate picture of digital marketing performance given current uncertainties. Instead, build a day-over-day report beginning March 9th. Watch higher funnel metrics (e.g., engagement rates, click-through rates, brand search volume) at a channel and campaign level so that you can quickly evaluate what’s working and what is not.
  • Watch for cost fluctuations as spend across paid social media shifts: CPMs (cost per thousand impressions), quickly fell across paid social as brands pulled advertising dollars and social media usage increased. However, they could be on the rise again as brands reinvest dollars in conversion-focused channels. Monitor CPMs at the channel and placement (e.g., Instagram story CPMs versus Facebook newsfeed) level to ensure each campaign is hitting return on ad spend targets (ROAS). Be nimble and make data-based decisions! 
  • Treat your customers with care and respect for our continually changing situation: This pandemic is, first and foremost, a humanitarian crisis.
  • Show that you understand what people are going through: More than ever, advertisers need to be customer-first, and this means understanding what customers are going through right now. They are trying to work from home while keeping kids happy and busy. They are not getting dressed up for work, but they still want to feel attractive and put together while feeling comfortable. They are focused on their workspaces, but thinking about life after the crisis ebbs. Brands should be aware of headlines and offer messages that are gently pushing sales while considering current needs. 
  • Be transparent about the effect on inventory and shipping timelines if fulfillment centers: Acknowledge that getting packages these days can be something to look forward to – perhaps offer a complimentary upgrade to 2-day shipping if feasible (since Amazon has slowed on fulfillment of non-essential products). 
  • Add value: Consumers are at home on desktop computers, and open email rates are showing strength. It’s an opportunity to foster a relationship with your engaged subscribers and add value with thoughtful campaigns.
  • Build trust: Like the rest of the nation (and world), we in digital marketing are “all in this together.” The stakes are high and the future uncertain, but the world keeps spinning and business activity will eventually, mercifully, resume.

When it does, the brands left standing in every industry will have learned invaluable lessons in ingenuity, adaptability and crisis management. With some thoughtful adaptations, digital marketers can lay the foundation for a brighter, more prosperous future.

Belardi Wong is a digital and direct marketing agency based in New York City.