COVID-19 Behaviour Changes and the Role of the Marketer

May 2, 2020 Adam Dore

Quite clearly, the most pressing concern on most of our agendas is the current Covid-19 pandemic, how it is currently affecting each of our lives, and what we foresee life to look like after this is all over and the image in the header only shows the face of the story. The bleeding effect cannot be ignored, as we see a direct impact on both our work life and personal life, and a work-from-home culture has now become the new normal. Yet this is anything but normal and describes not only the shift from the office to a home environment, but also includes how businesses, schools, and the economy are adapting to the current crisis and mandatory stay-at-home orders.  

That leads me to the subject I want to touch upon: forced behaviour change and what this means for a digital marketer in today’s current climate. I feel it can be broken down into three key areas:  

  • Accelerating the shift from traditional to digital engagement  
  • Customer journey changes and expectations   
  • A paradigm shift in consumer behaviour   

Clearly, all of these are intertwined and therefore navigating these can become difficult, especially given the breakneck speed at which the landscape is evolving. It is also important to address the level of influence a marketer has throughout this process. Whilst we cannot compare the importance of a digital marketer to that of a frontline worker, whether he or she is stocking shelves or savings lives, it doesn’t mean that the role is not a critical piece to the puzzle, especially in today's economy.   

Transitioning from traditional to digital engagements 

Over the course of the last few decades, we have seen a shift in marketing, a macro trend heading from the traditional channels and more focused on digital. And though the movement towards digital media has been progressive, we have not seen such a need for it, naysay—a demand for it, until now.   

Unfortunately, this is having negative impacts across industries. Footfall to your traditional shops is 0, trade shows have been cancelled, and access to people and products is becoming a severe issue in a number of verticals. We have to be in a position to respond to this, and making sure your digital channels are effective is the only way to do so.  

Again, to coin a phrase that has been around for some time (but has never been more important),  content (and communication) is king. If you can get this right, then this brings about three key benefits:  

  • Getting key information and products to your customers: Delivering critical information to people in need of where they can access essential products and services is vital in today’s unfamiliar circumstance. What better way to do that than deliver that information to the palm of their hand (they are likely glued to their devices after all).  
  • Keeping the lifeblood of your company alive: Furlough is a new term to a lot of us, but it’s something that can be dramatically reduced if you pivot to a more digital focus and ensure that you can actually deliver your products and services to market. Yes, not everyone can make this transition, so certain investments need to be made in infrastructure and expertise to execute on such a strategy. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have the pool of colleagues that can be taken on that journey and ultimately stand them up for further success when we return to 'normal.'  
  • Stealing a march on your competitors: This may seem a fairly hard-nosed statement in the current climate, but the simple fact is if you can meet the demands of your customers through online channels quickly, then you’re setting yourself up for long-term success as well as providing them a service they’re missing out on right now. If you operate primarily through traditional channels, the likelihood is that a good proportion of that revenue will persist after the pandemic and therefore you can continue down that path. However, I strongly believe a proportion will not, and therefore it is a critical business decision to take action now to avoid long-term impacts as well as reduce the severity of the current impact.  

Understanding customer journeys and expectations 

Have you really understood your customer? If not, then now is a good chance to do so, because the fact is that even those who’ve spent time and effort defining their customer journeys will need to do a reset and map their needs, blockers, and goals. It goes without saying that from a consumer point of view, customer journeys will have changed dramatically, but it isn’t only the B2C world that needs consideration here. Whilst it’s more obvious in B2C, the changes are equally dramatic in a B2B environment. There are no trade shows, no dinners, no ability to meet your salespeople face to face, no mapping workshops, and war rooms. Don’t forget ultimately in business the goals have unlikely changed (or at least not dramatically so—we’re all selling the same services and products as before), but the blockers and channels, in particular, have seen a significant diversion from the norm.  

Understanding that diversion is a matter of validating and amending your personas and customer journeys. Note that this exercise is typically lengthy if you don’t have the strategy you need to think about ways to gather that data (from researching Covid-19 trends in your industry). Yes, the personas and journeys won’t be as accurate as spending a month or two collecting definitive data, but that is time we simply do not have. You will still be painting a more exact picture of your audiences.  

Adjusting to new customer behaviour 

I am of the opinion that consumer and work trends will be changed forever due to this pandemic. That may seem like a bold statement, but I really see this as a catalyst to accelerate an already growing trend. I speak from personal experience here—I have signed up for three different online food and alcohol deliveries as a result of this and having been given a great experience from these, I am likely to continue doing so (although that may say more about my inclination to indulgence than anything else). Nonetheless, people are being forced into a situation that lowers the barrier to entry and as we all know, retaining customers is far easier than generating them in the first place. If you can respond to this trend and meet (or even exceed) expectations, then why would they need to return to the habits of old? 

Now, of course, I am painting a positive picture of opportunity here; it goes without saying that there is certainly a risk to this approach, one increased by the speed at making such radical changes. You still have to plan carefully, but the key is to make sure you are considering less complex tactics and prioritising accordingly. Whenever you are adopting new strategies, there is often a temptation to boil the ocean, but in a time-bound situation there simply is not the chance to do this. We have to meet expectations, yes, but that does not mean that every fine detail has to be perfect, yet they do have to be thought through. Now more than ever the balance between the two has to be considered.   

In summary, we're all facing uncertainties in our personal and professional lives brought on by these unprecedented circumstances. We do, however, have to keep moving on and recognise that there are better days ahead and to make the most of a bad situation both in the near and short terms. As a marketer, you have a pretty big part to play in that.   

About the Author

Adam Dore

Adam runs the European Marketing Automation practice for Appirio. He has a wealth of experience running programs for small start ups to multi-national corporates.

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