Lessons from lockdown: 5 ways European brands have navigated the crisis

Carolyn Scott / July 2020

The coronavirus outbreak and lockdown restrictions forced businesses around the world to adapt their core value propositions. Marketers had to quickly re-invent the rulebook to keep up — and to keep going. Here is how they adapted five new principles and ways of working.

1. Understand customer behaviour in real-time

With the lockdown policies that came into effect, consumer behaviour is shifting. This is especially relevant for e-commerce companies. As the crisis is developing, Google Trends revealed how consumer interest in fashion and apparel is declining, while ‘quarantine life’ categories such as home office equipment and sewing machines are on the rise.

Advertisers are using these trends to prioritise their marketing efforts. At the start of lockdown, Finnish fitness and leisure retailer, IP-Agency Finland Oy, was struggling to identify which product categories they should focus on following changing demands. “But once we established the highest growing product categories globally, we were able to quickly respond to the emerging demand by scaling automated solutions which resulted in record high sales,” says Pyry Puurtinen, the retailer’s E-Commerce manager.

Similarly, subscription-based language learning app Babbel identified a pattern of behaviour connected to public restrictions for each of the countries they are active in. As consumers stayed at home they had more time to focus on learning new skills, however, they preferred short-term subscriptions to the traditionally more popular annual ones. Babbel accurately predicted the significant increase in demand, adapted their messaging to the situation, and increased their reach exponentially through all paid online marketing channels. In some channels they achieved 8X more reach compared to a normal second quarter.

Consumer behaviour is changing rapidly and unpredictably amid the coronavirus pandemic. It is becoming even more important for advertisers to understand which retail categories are rising fast and adjust their offering accordingly.

2. Be fast and flexible

The pandemic saw many companies having to swiftly adapt by moving into new areas. For example, delivery platform Delivery Hero quickly pushed through changes in their apps mainly to implement contactless delivery and accelerate the roll out of delivering orders for grocery and pharmaceutical products. They introduced ‘quick commerce’ to ensure consumers received the necessary household goods in less than 15 minutes.

They established best practices to adapt messaging to the new market context, and launched YouTube campaigns focusing on groceries. Being active in over 40 markets across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, Delivery Hero had to deal with highly volatile and diverse market situations, including curfews. They adjusted their performance campaigns to promote next-day grocery deliveries during curfew hours when restaurants were closed. They also tailored campaigns to market context and delivery categories to ensure they showed the right creative at the right time.

Being fast and flexible is not only relevant and useful during the pandemic but also helps advertisers be more ready for any change in the future.

3. Think online, and offline too

For a while now, the gap between online and offline has been shrinking — and the lockdown certainly accelerated this trend. Even brands that traditionally generated most of their sales offline had to review their online properties.

For example, during COVID-19 lockdowns, Norwegian retailer Match Fashion had to close all its physical stores which, until then, drove over 90% of their revenue. Working together with agency Precis Digital, the fashion brand pivoted towards online sales using weekly category search data to show demand in their market. In addition, they lowered their return-on-ad-spend (ROAS) target to increase sales in the most important categories. Engaging brand managers and executives that typically don’t see online sales as top priority was key to success, ultimately helping them to outgrow their own sales targets by 80%.

Even as lockdown is being lifted across Europe, we expect e-commerce businesses to continue exploring how online and offline can work together. As digital channels are becoming the primary storefront, brands should focus on ways to optimise their digital assets, measure their online-to-offline effectiveness, and provide correct information on stock levels, operating hours, and more.

4. Re-imagine your business model

In a dynamic environment, advertisers must continually find ways to capture fluctuating demand and derive even more value from their spend.

As businesses across the Benelux region also had to temporarily shut their doors, Manutan, a workplace product supplier, saw their orders decline significantly. To ramp up efficiency and increase return on investment, the retailer analysed how competition and search volumes were changing by market. Upon discovery that Belgium — generally a more traditional market — was less competitive, they decided to shift their focus and marketing efforts towards this country. A move that, despite a decline in overall market demand, resulted in a 43% SEA revenue uplift.

“Using market and consumer insights, Searchresult, our agency, helped us quickly and efficiently respond to the changing country dynamics — improving the quality of our paid marketing activities, at a higher return-on-ad-spend (ROAS),” confirms Jeroen Poelman, digital manager at Manutan Benelux.

Automation can be a useful tool in capturing demand in the most efficient way, not only during uncertain times but also during any period of fluctuating demand.

5. Connect with consumers and communities

Changing times provide a great opportunity to evaluate your engagement strategy and communications, and connect with your customers in new and meaningful ways.

With audiences in lockdown, Dutch online ticketing platform Tiqets hosted a one-week cultural ‘festival’ featuring virtual tours of museums and attractions around the world. Each day focused on a specific topic such as art, history, or nature, and the virtual sessions brought a sense of community to the world at a time when in-person events were cancelled.

Take action now to be part of the change

All businesses and marketing teams are being impacted to varying degrees by the coronavirus and lockdown measures across the world. We are in an intense period of turbulence, and brands are quickly learning how to adapt to this new situation, and connect with their customers in innovative ways.

While these changes are sudden and decisions are often difficult to make, they aren’t entirely unexpected. The move towards understanding consumer behaviour real-time, online and offline integration, automation, more flexibility, and a refocus on community values have been bubbling away in the background for quite some time. With the global pandemic, the need for these changes is surfacing and advertisers are focusing more on implementing them at an accelerated pace.

COVID-19 has accelerated digital adoption — the time to transform is now