Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have strived to help our clients navigate their way through these challenging times.
One of those ways was to launch our COVID-19 Marketing Resource Center with weekly data trends, marketing-in-a-crisis recommendations, and tips for using Skai to stay agile during this time. We’ve also hosted webinars, shared relevant stories in blog posts, and even built new features to help clients stay better connected while working from home.
Something that we’ve done behind the scenes is to connect clients from different companies to share their experiences and best practices learned during this time. These roundtables have been small, closed-door sessions so that the marketers could engage each other “off the record” and share their observations during this crisis. The Skaiers that hosted these private events were there to stimulate discourse by asking questions and then got out of the way so that the attendees could progress the discussion in a more natural manner.
Although not recorded, we did take notes and would like to share with you some of the most valuable—and anonymous—insights that we learned from these conversations.
Insights from Skai’s Local Search Roundtable
When and what decisions were made when COVID-19 was ramping up (especially with the ramp-up state-by-state)?
Some of the attendees were already working remotely either individually or in teams that had been virtual, so the impact on their daily lives—in terms of their work setting—was very minimal. In fact, the marketers that were already working from home were able to share their best practices with colleagues who were adjusting to the new work environment. This was more than just how to stay productive in their jobs, but also how to handle the WFH work/life balance. This included some of the agency participants who shared that they were even able to help their clients with the transition.
While some of the companies pulled back budgets or even paused all spend, the marketers whose companies continued their advertising efforts saw an uptick in performance. Across an auction-based channel such as search, with fewer competitors bidding on their terms, costs went down which positively impacted ROI metrics such as CPA.
Virtually all of the marketers who attended the roundtable reported that there’s an intense focus on ROAS right now. Driving a positive return for every dollar spent—whether at full volume or still partial levels—is incredibly important. There’s a lot of scrutiny at most companies right now to make sure that their marketing budgets are truly working at a time when consumer spending in most categories is fairly low.
Once the pandemic became the “new normal”, what strategic changes were made and how have those somewhat changed over time?
Most of the attendees shared the same two pivots that their marketing organizations made at the beginning of the crisis. The first and most immediate change was to be creative. They wanted to make sure to pause any current creative that wasn’t accidentally tone-deaf to the issues facing consumers. For example, ads which showed groups of people out and about—such as at parties, at the beach, at a bar, etc—would just land wrong at this time. Also, every new ad would need to be COVID-19 related. Figuring out the right new messaging was a full team effort as they brainstormed many different directions and then settled on creative that was a balance of staying relevant but not too negative.
The second pivot that most of the attendees spoke about was with budget allocation. The first step there was to stop spending on any part of their programs that drove consumers to stores that weren’t open or products that were out of stock. In many cases, this meant shifting budget to ads that were branding and awareness focused than acquisition. If a company had essential items to sell, the budget was switched to invest in those products and nothing else.
There was a lot of discussion around the changing of goals and expectations. For agency marketers, it meant having hard conversations with clients who were looking for ways to navigate through the chaos and hoping that their agency partners would be able to help them. The feedback was that “any engagement at this time was good engagement.” Without knowing how long the quarantining would last, across the board, the strategy was to continue to build relationships with customers, remind them of the brand’s value, and be ready when things returned to “normal”.
As the pandemic has extended past the initial timelines, the roundtable group echoed each others’ sentiments that the fatigue of COVID-19 messaging is starting to set in with consumers. They don’t want the “in these uncertain times…” commercials or ads anymore. Even if things aren’t back to normal, they don’t want to be reminded of that every time they go online or turn on the television. They want a sense of normalcy and so the messaging has changed to reflect that. One participant added, “Think about the customer’s point-of-view first whether we’re in a crisis or not.”
There has been a lot of analysis of how COVID-19 has changed consumer buying behavior. Which patterns do you see staying past the pandemic and how do you plan to shift your strategies moving forward?
This was a hard topic to tackle for the roundtable because so many things are up in the air right now. The assumptions are that this pandemic will certainly shift consumer behavior to shop online more than before and for more things that they may have never considered buying online. But, it still seems to be a wait-and-see approach as there’s no telling even when this pandemic will be over, let alone how it will truly impact business.
However, the attendees shared some individual observations that are on their mind right now about the post-pandemic future:
- The future of the website. Some local marketers are wondering if they should even have a website or they should use their Facebook or Instagram profiles as the primary destination for their advertising.
- Let the customer lead. This pandemic has highlighted a need for companies to stay much closer to their customers so that they can better understand their needs. They are asking more questions now and finding new ways to engage with consumers in order to remain relevant. This customer-centric approach should persist post-pandemic and companies shouldn’t go back to their old habits of simply pushing out ads without the customer’s point-of-view deeply entrenched in the messaging.
- Search needs other channels. Search advertising is a great low-funnel channel that can capture demand, but in times like these, it’s become evident that a search-heavy program can fall short when consumer searching behavior dramatically shifts. Other channels such as social advertising are needed to help build and create demand right now. Consumer-driven content is also an area that could help drive low-funnel search volume.
- What data can help right now? Most of the local roundtable attendees agreed that data-driven decision making is relatively hard during this time as the historic data can be somewhat irrelevant. Marketers have relied on month-over-month and year-over-year analysis for so long, but that data isn’t very useful right now. Other signals are needed to help guide programs and measure success.
Hindsight is 20/20. Looking back on the past couple of months, if you had the chance, what would you do differently and what advice would you give your clients?
It seems that marketers have really learned a lot over the past few months. While many of the anecdotes that were shared varied by attendees, the overall sentiment was simply that marketers need to up their game. While the pandemic is a dramatic example of a market fluctuation, the truth is that there are always forces pushing and pulling on marketing performance at all times.
Staying closer to the customer seems to be the very best advice moving forward. That can sometimes be lost in a sea of keywords, bids, and ads. Understanding their motivations, fears, and what’s driving purchase decisions will only benefit marketing performance.
Also, having a nimble and agile marketing process from start to finish can be very beneficial when a crisis hits. Many of the attendees expressed how quickly any program inefficiencies were exposed by COVID-19. By fixing these issues, they will not only be able to react quickly to the waves of the pandemic, but moving forward, it will help them be a better marketing organization that can better adapt to any future situation.
Interested in joining the next Skai roundtable?
If you are a Skai client and would like to participate in a future roundtable discussion, please let your Skai rep know.
And please visit our public COVID-19 Marketing Resource Center with more ways for you to up your marketing game during this time.