First off let’s start by saying we are not medical professionals. We are not economists. We are growth marketers. What we write here is not a commentary on the tragic human consequences and does not predict how or when this pandemic will end. We want to help by providing our ideas and thoughts around adapting your Coronavirus marketing strategy.
Everything written here has the sole aim of offering help. It is in our DNA to be transparent.
Here’s what we’ve found and our advice on what you should do next (in the form of actionable tactics).
We are living in unprecedented times for the world, and the world of digital marketing is no different. It’s a time where companies have to be tactical. With smart changes needed at speed to survive and to thrive.
We will walk through:
- the industries who can double down, and those who are in survival mode: whether that’s a need to adapt at speed, or those who have no alternative but to put the brakes on.
- our observations on how lockdowns have impacted human behavior, and what it means for your ad opportunities.
- actionable tactics we’ve seen work that you can apply whether you’re in double-down or survival mode.
Based on research from the digital marketing and employment perspective. There are clear winners and losers in the current situation. Most of the companies are thriving or struggling now, there is rarely any state in between these two.
Statista has published the impact of the Coronavirus on online traffic in some industries. This data is from March 22nd.
Candor has published a list of companies that are hiring, froze hiring or laying staff off. They also provided a breakdown by industry. This shows the even deeper impact of this economic crisis on particular industries, even individual companies.
Criteo created a roundup of different industries and how the interest around particular products in these industries has changed since the end of January. Things like consumer electronics, groceries, pet supplies or travel. They even provide a breakdown by countries!
Consumer behavior is closely related to the fact that different countries are in different stages of fighting the pandemic. Some countries are still not under lockdown and the essential items there are dry food, water, canned goods, toilet paper, and frozen items. Literally the essentials.
Other countries are already under quarantine, including most EMEA countries, parts of the US and other countries around the world. This has led to widespread remote-working as well as ordering items to the home.
The number of recorded cases of Coronavirus is rising exponentially, so there is no way of knowing what will happen next. But a few behavioral changes are emerging.
People are spending much more time at home and therefore spending much more time online. What are they doing there? Well, the fact that Netflix is lowering their streaming quality says a lot. In case you want further proof that online videos are booming, YouTube is also decreasing their video quality due to an increase in server use.
Despite this, a lot of companies are decreasing their advertising spend on these popular channels due to lower demand for their goods. This creates an opportunity to adapt your Coronavirus marketing strategy and benefit from lower costs per clicks, leads and acquisition/action.
At the same time, there are new businesses entering the digital marketing world. There is a chance that the gap created by lower ad budgets and companies going out of business will be filled by newcomers. The demand curve has shifted because the population is spending considerably more time online, whether they’re working or consuming video and written content.
The biggest caveat here, though, is that both consumers and businesses are going to be much more conservative with their spending. The spending focus will be on must-haves, rather than nice-to-haves or cool-to-haves. Given the stock market and job market volatility, the population will be much more focused on saving and earning money, rather than spending it.
Speaking from both my experience of living more than two weeks in lockdown and given the news at the moment, the industries that are currently surging online are ecommerce, e-learning, online entertainment and online work enablement. These four are capable of supplying most of the needs pictured on Maslow’s Pyramid:
- Ecommerce – Physiological needs for food, drinks and home supplies can be purchased via an ecommerce site. In fact, Amazon is hiring 100,000 people globally right now.
- E-learning – Learning can boost self-esteem and plays an important role in self-actualization. The e-learning industry can provide some safety within the volatile job market too. Companies like CXL, Moz and Ahrefs, among others, are making their online courses free, especially if you’re in an industry or region affected by Coronavirus.
- Online entertainment – The search for love has gone even more online. Dating apps have seen a surge in messages being sent in areas under quarantine. And nobody can say no to a good TV series these days. Netflix helps us feel safe by getting our minds off of outside events. Online games – not just ones like Fortnite or League of Legends, but boardgames too – have become much more popular given that people can no longer meet and play with each other. This, again, provides a sense of safety and belonging.
- Online work enablement – Tools like Zoom, Slack, Asana and Gmail have helped countless companies stay in business during the lockdown by keeping employees busy and customers happy. The record number of Slack users online has been beaten seven times within just 75 minutes.
Let’s get tactical – Where to start?
I recently joined a really interesting webinar that gathered some very smart people from the digital marketing industry, like Brian Balfour (Founder/CEO of Reforge), Patrick Campbell (Co-Founder/CEO at ProfitWell), Guillaume Cabane (Growth Advisor at G2 and ex-VP of Growth at Segment and Drift), Fareed Mosavat (ex-Director of Product at Slack) and Mark Roberge (Managing Director at Stage 2 Capital). More than one name from the above list should ring a bell. They shared some amazing information from their data and networks which has helped me realize the gravity of the situation.
The biggest nugget that I took from that session is that we have to literally throw all the assumptions and information we’ve built up on our customers out the window. The situation we’re currently in has changed the way businesses and consumers make purchase decisions so considerably that you have to completely rethink your entire value proposition, targeting and messaging strategies, and sometimes even your offering. Now is the time to work on your Coronavirus marketing strategy.
In other words, you are most likely going to need to adapt to the current situation, or else sit there and hope for the best. There are of course industries that are surging right now (I mean, have you seen the Zoom stock recently?!) which have another set of problems: how to deal with the recent growth and retain these customers.
Chances are, though, that you’re not in the thriving part of the market. Instead, you’re looking for ways in which you can adapt your Coronavirus marketing strategy to help you cope with the economic slowdown that has either already affected you or is about to.
We are sure to experience a second wave of slowdowns too. These will reach a big portion of B2B companies that depend on B2C businesses. The chain here is simple: customers spend less in a lot of sectors, B2C companies in those sectors dial down their expenditure or shut down, and B2B businesses will have a lower demand for their products or services in turn.
In analyzing the last recession, McKinsey found that the strongest companies started investing in growth early, while others focused on survival and waited for the dust to settle. They maintained marketing while competitors cut back. They focused on profitability and improving the customer experience by simplifying and personalizing it.
“Think of a recession as a sharp curve on an auto racetrack—the best place to pass competitors, but requiring more skill than straightaways. The best drivers apply the brakes just ahead of the curve (they take out excess costs), turn hard toward the apex of the curve (identify the short list of projects that will form the next business model), and accelerate hard out of the curve (spend and hire before markets have rebounded).”
Who is your customer now?
Regardless of whether you’re B2B- or B2C-oriented, you have to reassess whether your clients are still looking for your solution. Maybe they’re out of business, or cutting costs, or have even switched to a different solution. The main question is: Who should you target now? What value are you going to deliver to them?
Sit down and think about your customer persona. Below is the original customer persona that we built for Ladder back in the day. We used Digital Marketer’s Customer Avatar Worksheet to complete it.
We work with clients from a variety of verticals and some of them have been affected by the current situation. Part of our Coronavirus marketing strategy, we’re looking for ways to focus more on industries that are either not affected or thriving. To do that, we look at the stock market. Then we focus on how to target the businesses that are currently seeing success. Another opportunity is checking what companies have open positions. Hiring is a positive sign, which increases the chances that they are able to spend in other departments too.
We’re targeting the marketing managers and product managers across industries like ecommerce, e-learning, digital entertainment and online work enablement. As a growth marketing agency, we can help them improve their customer acquisition and retention strategy, as well as the execution of it. We’re finding them through LinkedIn and Twitter, but also via Facebook. SEO would not be a priority for us because it takes about six months for it to start working and we don’t have that much time on our hands right now.
Tactic #1: Figure out what kind of clients see your goods as essential and why. Determine who now considers you a luxury and may soon move away from your solution. Think about how luxuries are being perceived now too – it might be said that a Netflix subscription is an essential item these days, while a new bike is not.
Tactic #2: Position luxury goods differently. There is still an appetite for comfort and apparel. The question now is how should their use adapt to the new situation? Try tweaking your message to fit the fact that people are working from home, remotely communicating or treating themselves while staying inside.
At Ladder: Our services are a priority for some businesses – like those that need to quickly scale up their growth activity but have a limited internal team or expertise in digital marketing. For others, like the companies that just want to outsource a single channel or run a discovery project, we are a luxury. We’re working on how to be an essential part of the growth formula of companies that are now thriving – whether that’s by providing more firepower in a channel that’s difficult to keep profitable or one that’s booming beyond expectation and should be kept that way.
Influencer marketing during the pandemic
Influencer marketing is basically the utilization of people with a medium-to-large following on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok in order to reach more users. By definition, influencers influence their fans with their recommendations and experiences. Micro-influencers tend to have more engaged followers, while the highly followed accounts generally have a lower cost per impressions but also a lower conversion rate. Adding influencers to your coronavirus marketing mix might be a good idea.
As people spend more time consuming online content, they’re even more likely to carefully watch influencers. That’s why they’re a big opportunity for marketers across the board. And, as a lot of their sponsorship deals have been shut down and their events have been canceled, many are now looking for new streams of revenue. You have a chance to swoop in and reach an entirely new audience for your product or service. Just be careful not to fall into a fake following trap.
Tactic #3: Using a tool like BuzzSumo, indaHash, SparkToro or SocialBook, find influencers who are popular among your target audience. Work with them to promote your product or service. Be creative in how you showcase it; a simple endorsement isn’t very popular among consumers. Try to orchestrate an experience that will utilize the power of your solution and show it in action.
Display network advertising
Display ads are those that you see on websites (or ‘networks’) that serve news and information like cooking recipes (which are very popular right now!). They tend to have a large number of cheap impressions but a considerably lower click-through rate than, for example, search ads.
The media industry is often the first place people go to in situations like the one we’re facing right now. So it’s no surprise that the traffic on media sites has significantly gone up. They provide regular updates on the number of people infected and the death toll, as well as the latest news on government actions.
These news sites are divided into two models for its users: paid subscription or ads on the site. The latter is much more popular, so they’re another great opportunity for marketers.
You can find more display ad tactics in The Ladder Playbook.
One of the oldest tricks in the book – discounts
Offering a discount may push the undecided users over the edge and get them to convert. This is definitely not a new tactic, but given today’s circumstances, your Coronavirus marketing strategy has a good chance of benefitting from it.
Everyone is strapped for cash in difficult times – people and businesses alike. Making an effort to provide a discount to your faithful customers may very well strengthen your relationship. They might even be so kind as to refer new users to you and build viral loops into your funnel.
Discounts are a great way to fuel your retention stage. People who saw your product or purchased before are much more likely to act on a discount that you serve them. Facebook remarketing is great for this. I’ve seen brands use it a lot recently, so keep in mind that the competition doesn’t sleep.
They are, however, a double-edged sword. I worked in the past with an ecommerce business that became so dependent on discounts that over 80% of their sales came from them. Their users were literally waiting for them to run a discount before they made a purchase, so the weekly discount became the norm and the only way for them to make a decent sales volume. Be careful with overusing discounts.
Tactic #5: Try offering a discount to your customers. Promote it with ads and write compelling discount copy. Examples include: “20% off all men’s razors”, “Get $50 off your first purchase” and “Limited time offer: Get your first 3 months free”.
You can find more tactics around discounts in The Ladder Playbook.
At Ladder: We’ve built our service model to be able to adapt to our partners’ needs. This means we’re able to scale our services up or down within the different packages we offer. These services include, but are not limited to: Strategy, Paid Social, Paid Search, CRO and Creative. We have seen some clients in the industries hit most downgrade to lower packages or pause altogether. Our goal is to help our partners grow, and if that means a temporary downsize or pause, then we’ll do what we must to help them survive.
Give more value to make it difficult for customers to leave you
There is a good chance that some of your clients may have left and you need to work out how to keep the current ones. So, start giving more while asking for the same price in return – if you can afford it, of course. If retention is a big part of your focus in the Coronavirus marketing strategy, then when this tactic can be very helpful.
Showing your customers that you’re going above and beyond despite the difficult times will make the decision to drop you even harder. This might mean doing extra hours for a client, or sending something additional with their order.
Remember that finding new customers in these times will be much more difficult to achieve than it used to be. This is why retention is your strongest bet if you want to survive and maybe even thrive in this economy.
Tactic #6: Talk to your customers and ask how you can be of more help in these difficult times. If you already know what this is likely to be, then start doing it and overdeliver to create the ‘wow’ effect.
Tactic #7: What is the competition doing? It’s definitely worth conducting fresh competitor research in order to find new ideas. Check out their funnel by signing up as a lead, or prepare quantitative research with tools like SimilarWeb, SEMrush and SpyFu.
At Ladder: Digital agencies like us could invest more into research and prepare a set of ideas on how they could help their customers as they struggle during the pandemic. They can use this to produce materials that will fuel the top of their sales funnel. See what I did there?
Embrace the remote-working trend
With a great number of companies switching to a 100% remote setup these days, people are forming new needs. Sitting at home for up to 24 hours a day does change people’s behavior. Working literally next to the place where you are supposed to rest and recover is challenging too.
We all enjoy a good coffee, for instance. If you’re lucky, your company has invested in a high-end coffee machine. Chances are though, if you’re stranded at home, you don’t have the same machine at your disposal. You have instant coffee. This creates a big opportunity for coffee machine and coffee bean producers to deliver their products to people’s homes – maybe even deliver freshly brewed coffee to your door.
Blue Apron has experienced massive growth since the coronavirus hit. Their stock price has jumped from just above $2 in mid-March to $12.5 today at the start of April. What do they do? Deliver a set of ingredients needed to cook a chosen meal. No shopping needed – you just open the box and read the supplied instructions to prepare a delicious meal for you and your family.
There are loads of products that similarly make working from home easier, like a standing desk or a comfortable chair. Even little things like comfy slippers or a miniature golf setup could help cope with the lockdown.
Tactic #8: If your product or service isn’t yet adding obvious value to a remote-working setup, then adapt it and communicate this to your target customers. A coffee maker is going to boost productivity, for example. Noise-cancelling headphones can help people concentrate at home by blocking outside noise too.
Tactic #9: Find remote talent. A lot of great specialists have lost their jobs and are ready to work for you. They may even do so at a lower cost. Marketplaces that connect freelancers and businesses, like Upwork, should be offering even more talent than before. You can outsource more of your work and focus on the things that only you can do for your business or customers.
Tactic #10: Sell globally. We live in a globalized economy. Companies these days will not be especially picky when it comes to choosing business partners, as long as you offer superior value and/or price. Perhaps now is the best time to internationalize with your sales efforts.
At Ladder: We’ve been a remote company for years now. Having the team spread out across Wrocław, London, New York, Austin and other places around the world has helped us prepare for the full remote setup. We have the processes and infrastructure in place to carry on with our work without any major disruptions. The only thing we’ve done differently is create a weekly happy hour for us to get together and play games.
Schools are shut down and kids stay at home all the time
A lot of kids are going to be bored during the lockdown. On top of that, parents are going to be working remotely and need time to focus. This builds up demand for online entertainment and other ways of keeping the kids busy.
A client of ours that offers online music lessons is currently experiencing strong growth. And I am confident that this is not an individual case.
In fact, the entire private tutoring industry is booming. Some ‘super tutors’ are in such demand that they can charge as much as $300 for 45 minutes of work. Given that the exam period is approaching, this is only going to increase.
Tactic #11: As a freelancer or an agency, look for clients in booming industries and niches. Some of your struggling clients might seriously downscale, pause or go out of business altogether.
Tactic #12: Help your business or your clients adapt to the new reality and build your offering around the new trends. An example could be repurposing the production line or services towards goods in higher demand.
Tactic #13: Dedicate online courses to younger users. These could be around the ways that platforms like TikTok, Facebook and Snapchat work. They could build up interest around the topic and go further into studying the digital marketing landscape. This way, we could help build a new generation of digital marketers. They could start early and gain an unfair advantage – and you can be sure that they’ll remember who was the one that helped them learn.
At Ladder: This post is part of a marketing strategy meant to help build more demand for our services. By providing actionable insights and tactics, we’re promoting our own services while simultaneously helping companies that are looking to expand their growth operations.
People are switching jobs
People across severely hit industries, like restaurants, bars, events, travel and hotels, have already started looking for new career opportunities – with a record number of people filing unemployment claims.
In response, offer an opportunity to switch their career towards something more in-demand than their previous occupation. This can be a webinar, a free course, or a framework to work on – anything that will help these people learn more useful skills.
This is an opportunity to provide value to the community and aid people in need, which will likely have a positive impact on your organization’s image. People never forget who helped them in difficult times.
Another positive aspect of helping people by offering learning opportunities is that they are likely to return to you once they need the tool or service you provide. They can help boost your referral funnel too.
Tactic #14: Produce a course around the niche space that your product or service is in. This will enable you to provide valuable content to the ones in need, while also potentially training new users or even employees.
Tactic #15: Hire top talent. It’s no longer an employee market – it’s an employer market. Top talent has become available, and if you have the resources to hire them, now is the time to do so.
At Ladder: Over the years, we have been releasing a lot of what we do through our blog. Once I have a little more time on my hands, I’ll be sure to use these internal documents to provide more hands-on value to you based on our tried-and-tested ideas. In the meantime, there are a number of marketing certifications (a lot of them are free) that are a great source of new knowledge for newcomers and more experienced digital marketers alike.
Reporting is key to staying on top of budgets
Companies are often going to be much more careful with how they spend their money. The economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus means that every ad spend dollar will be looked at three times now before it’s spent. And, after it’s spent, it’ll be looked at another three times to assess whether it was a good decision. Every marketing strategy has to revolve around data, especially a Coronavirus marketing strategy.
This is why your reporting setup must be top-notch and provide information like:
- Ad spend
- Conversion rate
- Best-performing campaigns, audiences/keywords, copy/creative
All these things and more will be needed to justify the expenditure on PPC as well as the need for managing these channels. A great place to do that is Google Data Studio. We have actually built an Ad Spend Calculator on this platform that we use internally.
As a digital marketer, you will need all the firepower at your disposal to convince a stakeholder – whether that’s a client or someone in your company in charge of the budget – to keep the ad spend at the pre-coronavirus level or even increase it. These reports are a mine of insights that will help you prove your point. As we say at Ladder: Without data, it’s just an opinion.
Tactic #16: Build a robust reporting system in order to ensure you aren’t omitting any insights from your funnel. This builds more trust among your stakeholders and provides you with ammo for any budget-related discussions.
At Ladder: Every client has their own individual Google Data Studio report. They can access it 24/7 for transparency, and our team is using it to evaluate our efforts to help our customers grow. We build our strategies and tactical plans around these reports too.
Predicting the future is impossible, but you should try
Convincing stakeholders to commit to an idea will become more difficult. The reason is the same as it is with maintaining or increasing their budgets: How can we know we will profit from this? We should be saving money now, not spending it. Your Coronavirus marketing strategy should definitely focus more than before on modeling the possible outcomes of your marketing efforts.
There must have been times when a boss or a client asked you something like “how fast will we achieve this goal?” or “how much return on ad spend will you generate?”. Having been through that myself, I know it’s difficult not to give an exact answer. I used to gallantly give a figure I either felt comfortable with or one that they wanted to hear. In both scenarios, I most likely regretted my answer. It was either too low and they did not like it, or it was too high and proved difficult if not impossible to achieve.
Even Dr. Strange can’t predict the exact future.
Both sound bad now because I know the right answer to these questions: It depends! The very favorite answer of all economists. Except I have data-backed proof that I can use to show what it depends on and by how much.
We built the Monte-Carlo Simulation for this exact reason. This lets you play about with the factors that affect the bottom line of the funnel (values like spend, CPM, CTR, CVR, etc.) and show how their changes will affect the CPA and conversions, as well as what ranges the CPA can fall into given the listed variables.
It is fully interactive, so you can give it to your boss to try. Once they are done playing with it and claim to have found the winning formula, ask them how they want to achieve such a high CTR, CVR and low CPC (I am fairly confident that they’ll ask you to come up with that!). This will help you find areas to focus on and prove that this is not a simple task.
Tactic #17: Build a Monte-Carlo Simulation to estimate the future results of your marketing efforts. Use it to explain to your boss or client how each element affects the bottom line.
At Ladder: We use the Monte-Carlo Simulation available to us whenever we need to support our argument with additional data.
What better way to make a positive impression than by helping others in need? The help you can offer may be different based on your audience’s problems, but the most common forms of assistance I’ve noticed in the B2B sphere are webinars and free consultations. They both provide value and are a two-way conversation, hearing the need and answering it as best they can. We all live in a global economy and should help one another. Adapt your Coronavirus marketing strategy to be helpful too.
Companies that can afford it have been donating resources to hospitals and their communities – including face masks, which are in short demand all around the globe. General Motors has been ordered by the US government with the Defense Production Act to produce respirators and Ford and Tesla are also joining the fight by switching their production plants.
Some businesses are preparing research and data on what has happened up to date, as well as what companies have done to counteract an economic crisis in the past and how it applies today. Other companies are offering free courses to help people change careers and adapt to the new economy.
Tactic #18: How can you help your audience? Prove helpful in a dire situation and they will remember you forever. Reach out to them and ask if you need to. You might give advice on how to deal with this new situation, a temporary discount to help them cope with financial issues, or maybe a simple reassurance that you are in this together because they need a friendly word in these tough times.
At Ladder: We’ve prepared this post in order to help digital marketers across the world make the best out of the current situation. If you believe we can help out more with a webinar, Q&A or something else. You can submit your questions and more topics for us to cover here.
Adapt to survive
Ultimately the outcome of this situation is in your hands. The reality has changed so we need to adapt to it. Either by pivoting the efforts to better answer the needs of the economy, or if you are lucky enough to accommodate the explosive growth to turn it into a sustainable business advantage.
You can ask more questions and bring new topics to be covered by filling out this typeform. We want to be helpful to the digital marketing community in this difficult time. The above topics are based on our thoughts and research. I am sure that there is more that we can do to help you and we need you to voice these needs.
The next part of this depends entirely on you – what topics will we cover and what format will it be in.