Marketing Through COVID-19 - Will Your Strategy Survive?

Posted by Lauren (Wenner) Gallagher on August 31, 2020

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As we look ahead at our marketing goals, careers, and investments, how can we react to the changes the global pandemic of COVID-19 has in store for us?

To begin to answer that question, we turned to the Forrester report: The 2020 COVID-19 Crisis Will Stun US Marketing. The authors describe two recovery scenarios for the US economy, and what implications those will have on marketing. The scenarios were created by Forrester to help determine anticipated changes.

If the US economy recovers in late-2020, we can anticipate:

Source: (Forrester, p. 3 and 4)

  • Ad spends will continue to stay below pre-COVID-19 budgets, but they will begin to increase in 2021.
  • Ad spends are not the only budget that will be affected. We will continue to see declines in spend on marketing technology and marketing services.
  • The biggest hit to budgets will be for promotional and offline media as the world turns to digital to stay “hands-off” of tangible items.
  • Branding budgets may see an increase as money shifts from ad spend.
  • Social will continue to be the biggest place for media spend, as more scrolling is happening while home isolation continues.
  • Marketing automation will be a focus for marketing teams, along with data and analytics tools.

In a separate scenario, a mid-2021 recovery for the US economy is anticipated to see:

Source: (Forrester, p. 7 and 8)

  • A collapse of offline media spends, including radio, print, and out-of-home, due to the slow-down in commuting, foot traffic, and flight travel.
  • Advertising spend focused solely on digital media (assuming ad spend increases in 2021).
  • A decline in marketing technology budgets, balanced out from the investments in marketing automation.
  • Analytics consistent with a late-2020 recovery in that it will see little decline, but more emphasis.

How to Adapt and Prepare Your Team, Your Plans, and Your Budget

While recognizing these recovery scenarios give us good direction for what to anticipate, we know there are still changes we won’t see coming. We recommend using people-lead planning to help transition to an adaptive marketing approach. This will keep your team flexible, allow you to continue to solve your customers’ problems, and make budget shifts possible when necessary. Here’s how you do it:

Shift to a sense-and-response mode.

This focuses on listening to your customers and understanding what they value right now, which might be different from what they valued a year ago. Through this, you can learn what’s affecting your business fluctuations during a global pandemic and use it to help lead your media spend decisions in 2020 and beyond. Gather and measure first-hand data from field personnel, consumer sentiment monitoring, or by third-party data to help get these answers.

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Prioritize and fix common consumer problems.

Build loyalty through active listening and solving the pain points your consumers face when purchasing from or working with you. Complete a root-cause analysis on the problems your call centers, inboxes, or chat messages see the most. Fixing and eliminating those common issues means you’re decreasing calls, emails, and messages, therefore lowering your costs spent to resource those issues, plus freeing up more funds for your marketing budget.

Be cautious in your messaging and coordinate company actions and communication.

Don’t shy away from over-analyzing what you’re saying and how it aligns with your company’s actions and beliefs. Stay current with your state and national safety guidelines in response to COVID-19. As you market to your consumers, you want to make sure you’re meeting their safety expectations of your business.

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Above all else, do not stop your marketing efforts during the pandemic.

Instead, shift your marketing’s purpose. After listening to what your consumers are going through and understanding the issues they’re facing, use that information to strategize marketing efforts around the value your company brings to them in those areas. Lena Roland, managing editor for WARC Knowledge, explains:

“Brands that provide solutions [that] help alleviate people’s hard times will have an advantage when the recovery begins. This can be done without an ad campaign — the best approach is to just get on with it.”

Source: (Forrester, p. 12)

Another way to grasp what Roland is saying is to reformat your marketing strategy to stay relevant and be authentic with your consumers in the real-life struggles they face during the pandemic, rather than running advertising campaigns that ignore them. Consumers will remember those brands who acknowledged their situation and sought to help.

Utilizing these findings and predictions to guide marketing decisions in 2020 and 2021 will still depend on how the economy reacts and recovers. But, as long as we are able to pivot and create an adaptive approach to marketing plans, there’s a better chance the outcome will be positive.  

Download our white paper on how consumer changes during COVID-19 will dictate marketing and sales planning.

Download Adapt & Adjust Whitepaper

VanBoskirk, Shar, et al. The 2020 COVID-19 Crisis Will Stun US Marketing. May 2020,

Topics: Marketing Plans, Adaptive Marketing Approach, Ad Spend, adapt & adjust

Lauren (Wenner) Gallagher

Written by Lauren (Wenner) Gallagher

Lauren is a Digital Marketing Analyst with a background in Google Analytics, SEO, influencer marketing, and content creation. One of her passions is working to help clients better understand data through education and easily digestible insights and recommendations. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and hosting dinner parties.

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