What Can Brands Do to Navigate the Change COVID-19 has Brought to the Sales Funnel?
On March 1, 2020, there were a total of 30 COVID-19 cases in the United States. Now the world has completely changed. And with this “new normal” of social distancing and quarantining, a brand’s job is to react to the changing needs and perceptions of consumers and adjust their marketing at each stage of the sales funnel.
The Digital Sales Funnel
Perhaps the most notable and drastic change for many brands is that elements of their sales funnel previously occurring in-store are now increasingly becoming digital.
Consumers’ unwillingness to leave home means upended media habits. That’s created a boost in formerly declining at-home awareness-drivers, like direct mail or broadcast, and digital awareness-driving like OTT, digital display, and social continue to grow in relevance. Of course, commutes being nearly nonexistent has resulted in a disruption to radio habits, and out-of-home and in-store have seen temporary dips. Either way, media spending has had to adapt accordingly.
Stay-at-home orders and a general fear of going out has kept many shoppers from evaluating products and brands in the ways they used to. But even for those that do venture out, the infrastructure to conduct in-store or in-person research no longer exists. Considered purchase brands are facing the challenge of how to leverage virtual tours, product reviews, and video demos and consultations to provide digital alternatives to something that’s not currently possible.
Once a shopper knows what type of item they want, there are new factors that tip the scales at the decision point. Options such as delivery, speed, ease of ordering, and safety are making buyers weigh these questions: Do I take the ease and convenience of a mass-produced item of questionable quality, or do I give my money to a brand that I know and trust but has a longer wait time? Do I want to ask someone questions face-to-face? Do I want a delivery team in my home?
Preparing for the New Normal
Even as we begin to see restrictions lifted, the new concerns and sentiment of shoppers will linger on into the “new normal.” We believe that, for a time, marketing messages will change to be less about flashy deals and more about making people feel safe. And about building relationships. Brands should discuss what they’re doing to prioritize safety for both consumers and employees — such as practicing cleanliness and adherence to social distancing to help encourage patronage. Businesses that do right by employees who test positive for COVID-19 or have been furloughed don’t necessarily need to brag about it, but their dedication to corporate responsibility will be noted by consumers.
Shoppers have a lot more to worry about than saving 5% on their next purchase. They’re also worried about tracking down cleaning supplies without becoming ill, about job security, and about keeping their sanity intact while working from home. Your brand message should account for all of this and speak directly to the struggles of your audience. If your products and services can help to ease the burdens of your shoppers, place that at the center of your marketing materials. Give people real reasons to buy for this new reality.
Keep in mind that there’s a fine line between being there for your customers and giving off the impression that you’re trying to profit off of the current situation. It is possible to brand your current approach in a way that’s sympathetic to the struggles of your audience, without coming across as opportunistic. These small touches can go a long way with consumers, and they show that your heart is in the right place.
There’s no tried-and-true marketing playbook for navigating these waters. But a focus on replacing in-person interactions with digital experiences, a sympathetic tone, and a true understanding of the plight of your customers will help you to come out of this pandemic in a strong position.
Written by Jason Bender
With 20 years of brand building and digital innovation for clients like Mars, P&G, Ford, and more, Jason brings deep CPG, automotive, healthcare, and tech marketing experience to Icon as Chief Experience Officer. He blends the skillsets of creative and strategist to guide the execution of Icon’s customer-facing work across teams. His honors include Cannes, CLIO, and Webbys. He has been published in iMedia Connection and Inc, and has presented at events like NewCo and HOW Design Conference.