Ask-an-Expert: How to Advertise During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Amid an unprecedented global pandemic, only one thing is certain: there really isn’t a one-size-fits all solution for advertisers.

Published On: March 19, 202011 min readCategories: News

Learn how to Mitigate Risk for Your Digital Media Campaigns during the COVID-19 (Corona Virus) Pandemic.

As the owner of a leading digital marketing agency,  I have been asked by many on how to best manage media spend during this COVID-19 outbreak. Amid an unprecedented global pandemic, only one thing is certain: there really isn’t a one-size-fits all solution for advertisers.

Given this reality, it is critically important for advertisers to carefully think through their digital advertising strategy. Four common questions I have received are:

⇨  Should I pause all media?
⇨  What is the most effective way to advertise in a time of uncertainty?
⇨  Is it ethical to advertise in a time of crisis?
⇨  Do I have any other options?

Understand that this Affects All Industries and People World Wide

First thing’s first. Breathe. While hitting the panic button and suspending all business activities might seem par for the course right now, it is a short-sighted solution to a problem that will likely have long term consequences. We can’t be ignorant to changing market factors and not realizing that user spending habits are bound to change would be ignorant. But less usage? It’s actually quite the opposite. With ‘social distancing’ becoming standard protocol, most are working from home, somewhat isolated. Consuming media not only allows them to stay connected to the outside world, but also find entertainment and distraction.

Working from home during a pandemic, can the internet handle it?
Figure 1: An illustration of COVID-19 Lifestyle. Credit: Pete Gamlen

When we are trying to limit human interaction through social distancing, digital media as a form of advertising just makes sense. Ecommerce as a form of purchasing makes sense. So the question isn’t if there is an audience; the question becomes if there is an audience who will be receptive to your messaging and willing to commit to spending on your goods. Now that’s a question we can answer with proper positioning, the right sales strategy, and a moral and empathetic approach to your copy.

Curious on also following my webinar Sign Up Today. But ok, let’s jump into it!

Keep Calm & Spend On?

First things first, should we pause all media spend and pull all advertising during a global pandemic like COVID-19? The quick answer is no!

The long answer is that it is completely dependent on many factors that are unique to your business, industry, cash position and audience factors.

Let’s break this down. We’re on the same page that both digital consumption and digital media activity is up. From a Nielson study, “Media consumption is already at a historic high and increasing YoY…Staying put in our homes can lead to almost a 60% increase in the amount of content we watch in some cases and potentially more depending on the reasons.”

Media Connected Consumers

Figure 2: Nielson showing YoY growth of internet/media consumption with a substantial growth

So we know users are tuning in more. This is now a time where you need to regroup and think about how your users are thinking. Perform a user analysis and think about:

  1. Are there relevant search terms they might be searching for now?
  2. Are there questions relevant to your industry you can answer that are helpful and related to your products?
  3. Are there ways that are ok to spend now to benefit later?
  4. Are there products you can prioritize that are beneficial to your users at this time?
  5. Do you have lower price point items that can be put forward to reduce spending sticker shock?

Interest rates are low and borrowing money at this time is actually not a bad idea. If you have it in your business to ride out the storm you can achieve some great long term growth by investing today!

We also inherently understand that advertising and marketing efforts can seem quite the gamble at the moment. We encourage you to reach out to an expert at any time should you have any questions regarding your program’s performance. It’s still important to make sure any investment in search marketing will yield positive dividends, whether in the immediate future or within a long-term context.

Advertising Strategies for Sustaining Business Growth Through a Pandemic

Ok so you’ve decided that you have the cash flow as an SMB to capitalize on an opportunity. Or potentially you are an enterprise who needs to find the most efficient usage of your media and are able to pivot your focus.

Opportunity Everywhere

There is certainly an argument to be made for brand-building in this time. If you are an enterprise that can shift media to these areas it can pay off large dividends for future brand equity. That said, we can’t ignore the Bottom of Funnel (BoF) opportunity for the needs of the people right in front of us. This is what will maintain cash flows for small businesses and efficient usage of funds for enterprises.

Take the time to ensure you have a firm grasp on your break even point (BEP) when looking at the Return on Ad Spend (ROAS), the necessary cost-per-lead (CPL) to ensure you are hitting a positive Return on Investment (ROI), and a firm understanding of your Customer Lifetime Value (CLV or how much a customer is worth to you over time). Among other key performance indicators of course.

It might seem like industry jargon to some, but these numbers are essential when planning these types of long-term strategies so you aren’t making decisions based on the face-numbers you are seeing in front of you rather than what makes you money!

When in Doubt, Map Out Your Options

Social distancing and quarantining has many effects. One of them is an increased amount of personal/work time on your hands. Let’s use this to our advantage to create a framework that works for your business. To do that you need to have a strong understanding of your marketing success targets and goals. We can map that out in an analysis of your brand and position your marketing efforts for success.

  1. Identify
    1. Calculate Your Standard Targets (ROAS/CPL etc…)
    2. Identify Target Audiences
    3. Identify Matching Products for these Audiences
  2. Analyze
    1. Perform a Pandemic Analysis on Products to identify what is needed now, what is not essential and could be cut, and what people might take a discount on now to gain on later.
    2. Analyze and pivot your performance targets accordingly
      1. For products that are still needed – maintain standard numbers
      2. For products that can be leveraged later – Look to Customer Lifetime Value
      3. For products that are not needed – pause media or research another creative solution to sell (might need to get into the weeds here!)
  3. Execute 
    1. Map to your ad platforms targeting, bidding strategies, audiences and product focus

Drastic Times Call for Drastic Optimizations

Right now, the cardinal sin that many agencies are breaking is to act as if it’s business as usual. SEM Director, Gian Verano, explains why this is irresponsible.

“As with any critical event that immediately takes over everyday discourse, online searches for COVID-19 have grown exponentially over the past few weeks. Recent user query data reveals that these searches span well beyond just healthcare or government subject matter. In this time of uncertainty, people want answers. But it is during these unpredictable times that you must remain committed to the account performance and brand safety of each and every client.

Continue to monitor search queries, both paid and organic, to ensure your brand only shows up when it’s relevant to do so. For companies with public facing resources, you can immediately mobilize multi-channel content amplification that will position your brand as a trusted advisor amid a sea of noise. For all companies, make sure to meticulously curate keyword and audience targeting to ensure that spend and resources are not wasted in vain.” – Gian Verano, SEM Director

In Times of Crisis, Advertisers Should Act Responsibly

Now that you have a strategy, it’s time to bust out our empathy cards and think about how your brand is being perceived when advertising. I find second opinions go a long way here. Make sure someone who doesn’t have your same pressure and goals is reading your ads over before going live.

“We are going to see record consumption of online content, and time spent online. Now is the time to create engaging content and convert customers not for a sale today, but in the future.” – Brand Expert & Founding Partner, Peter Palarchio

Bottom of the funnel conversions can still be a primary focus with the right strategy. By focusing on your CLV and understanding your prospective customer’s needs you can use media now to position sales that benefit them later. Let’s look at some brand-friendly ways to get your voice out there.

Keeping Customers Informed Also Keeps Them Engaged

Some users may very well still want and need your service! Make sure you have branded queries covered and also make it clear how your operations are working during this time. Potentially, there are some creative ways you can pivot your business to operate during this time. Talk about it and guide your prospective customer to the right place to convert for this alternative sale.

Focus on Creating Win-Win Solutions

Perhaps you are solving an issue caused by the pandemic. A food delivery service possibly? There is likely increased demand for a service like this. Tread carefully, respect the reason for the demand and don’t be greedy. If your costs are going up to ensure you can facilitate the service that’s ok, but evaluate your long-term CLV before you jack prices up for a short-term gain. If people are using your service now, and you have a good product of course, there is a great opportunity to keep them on board after!

Ethical Brands Are Empowered Brands

Are you in the position to help people at this time? Talk about it! To be clear, I am not recommending you do this for the sole reason of brand equity. I’ve been blown away by amazing qualities coming out across the globe by brands. If you’re one of those brands, it is not selfish to talk about this and help your company move forward through the crisis.

When Paid Media Won’t Win the Battle, a Solid SEO Foundation Can Help Win the War

Ok so you’ve pulled media or maybe just reduced, and you still need to think about getting customers. Now is the time to turn your attention inwards to see how you can best leverage this time to invest into the long-term growth of your company. Enter SEO…

It’s no secret that SEO is a long-term gain with upfront infrastructure/content investment. In a time where your upfront sales might be slowing down this is the perfect time to focus on this channel. It is proven to have one of the highest Returns on Investment as a channel. Look to divert your media spend to content creation, technical SEO, and link building for domain authority.

“While the market is slowing down, it’s important to stay focused on the present landscape and understand that, despite changes in consumer behaviour, the large SEO machines of Google and Bing are independent of these market forces. 

Think back to those keywords on your “wish list”. You know the ones that are very important but required too much time and resources alongside your other marketing is the time to shine. These are achievable and now is the time to create a focus to obtain these rankings that will put you on top as we continue forward through this crisis” – SEO Expert & Founding Partner, Tyler McConville

It might take you a few months to start seeing the return on this investment, but it will pay huge dividends and help you come out of this stronger than ever!

It’s Time to Venture into the Unknown Together

We have never faced anything quite like this in many of our lifetimes. The most successful businesses are able to be flexible and this includes long-term growth strategies that are fluid with user needs.

What’s the biggest thing I can do for my team in this time of crisis? Make sure everyone is working in a safe environment and generate sales so that I can keep supporting my employees. This is my commitment to my team and means that I need to get creative on how I’m making new sales! Not only for my clients who we are constantly working on new ways to improve, but also for my own business. While there is nothing to like during all of this, it is certainly comforting to see how amazing our world can react in times of trouble. 

As always, we’re here to be your Search and Digital Experts helping you navigate the digital space. I will be discussing this more in a webinar that will also outline some examples.

For the time leading up to my webinar I will be holding an Ask Me Anything and provide free advice on how your business might be able to pivot it’s digital media during the pandemic. Please comment below or reach out to me at [email protected]. I’m also happy to provide a free consultation for fellow SMB owners or marketers!

For those interested in learning more about how to execute the strategies above, I will be hosting a webinar.

Watch the Webinar Now