How to prepare for marketing’s permanent shift

Michael Mothner / July 2020

From real-time attribution models to dynamic ad studios, digital marketing tools have helped businesses find creative ways to be more flexible. While that pace of evolution has been encouraging, there’s no on/off switch for a worldwide economic shutdown. And with new consumer behaviors persisting and likely becoming permanent, we have to consider how our new tactics and best practices will apply post-pandemic.

The health crisis underscores the importance of understanding how digital channels can impact a business or misconstrue its return on investment. As we all prepare for the road ahead, there’s no better time to embrace the opportunity for a digital transformation. We must invest in nimble and measurable marketing strategies for this new reality.

One of the defining aspects of this disruption is that it’s not restricted to one industry or part of the market. It’s universal and indiscriminate. And while the challenges of each business are unique, we are all being affected in some way.

Available data paired with creative and measurement tools are essential to making smarter decisions.

When people’s needs and behaviors are constantly in flux, digital gives us the flexibility to transform quickly, improvise, and experiment, as well as carve out new ways to serve our customers. We can test new ad formats and scale the results, follow search interest and product demand in real time, and develop hundreds of creative variations for different audiences in minutes. The abundance of available data paired with creative and measurement tools are essential to making smarter, informed decisions in dynamic environments. During these past few months, my teams worked with three brands that are getting this digital-first formula right. Here’s how they did it.

Stay agile to be relevant in the moment

In the wake of the outbreak, it was clear that the spring catalog creative featuring travel scenes for our client Soft Surroundings was unusable. However, Google search query data indicated a surge in loungewear-related traffic in February and March. We also observed an 18% increase in Soft Surroundings’ loungewear revenue in the same time frame. Those two data points prompted us to quickly pivot to create a new, home-appropriate campaign using YouTube’s Video Builder. The tool allowed us to rapidly launch four new variations of an existing video ad with different color schemes, music, and ad copy, which helped us achieve 6.5X return on ad spend in the month of April alone.

Value relationships over sales

Now is the best time to be helpful and responsive to your customers’ needs while gathering insights and fostering long-term connections. While travel and tourism companies are taking big hits, the savviest brands are focused on building relationships over driving sales.

Luxury luggage brand Briggs and Riley, for example, immediately extended its free return policy from 30 days to 60 days for a period to support changing travel schedules, and quickly adjusted the tone of its site content, creative, and email communications to be sensitive to their needs and concerns.

The company also launched a road trip-themed campaign, suggesting that an adventure is even closer than we think. And driving home its brand identity as a family-run, community-centric business, Briggs and Riley’s CEO published a message of support on the company’s website and offered a 30% discount to first responders and medical staff.

Get comfortable with the new discomfort

Serving and speaking to consumers’ needs takes more than surface-level changes. To position yourself for long-term success, consider how your current operations and strategies can complement, or even replace, past structures and best practices.

One especially inspiring example is Polywood, an outdoor furniture brand that’s seen higher demand and search interest as people spend more time at home. The company has enjoyed strong digital growth year over year, primarily from new customers discovering it online or through retail partners. But that also meant Polywood was forced to meet a level of consumer demand it hadn’t planned for — at least not on such a tight timeline.

Rather than scale back, Polywood doubled down. It bought new machinery to keep up with demand, added more than 200 jobs, and secured land for expanded production. Meanwhile, the brand continues to openly communicate fulfillment delays on its website and social channels. In the midst of this health crisis, Polywood’s leaders say their biggest win hasn’t been selling more products or running a new business model under tremendous pressure. Instead, it's been forming deeper relationships directly with their customers by helping them set up safe spaces to relax in their own backyards.

Brands need to get comfortable with the new discomfort.

No one had contingency plans in place for this new reality. By this point, the smartest companies recognize they’re not simply taking reactive measures until things go back to normal; they’re proactively building for a new normal that’s already here. Just as individuals are being forced to embrace the drastic changes prompted by the pandemic, both challenges and silver linings, brands need to get comfortable with the new discomfort. If they reassess how they're operating, reorganize, and reinvent themselves now, they'll emerge much stronger on the other side.

The Update: How 2 brands adapted in the early days of the pandemic