Why COVID-19 Is Driving a Marketing Revolution | ANA

Jeff Sporn

As the pandemic forces consumers to spend more time online, brands must adopt a digital, data-driven approach

COVID-19 has forced people to rely more on digital tools and apps than ever before. Whether for work, school, or play, online time has led to a 47 percent surge in data usage in the first quarter of 2020, according to research from OpenVault.

This staggering shift in personal behavior is forcing marketers to rethink their strategies and add more digital tactics to the mix. But simply reallocating marketing budgets toward digital media isn't the answer.

Marketing teams need an integrated, customer-first strategy that aligns with short- and long-term digital behaviors. The strategy should combine digital and traditional tactics, leverage data to personalize campaigns and maximize reach, and be flexible enough to adapt and scale over time.

The Shift to Digital: The Short- and Long-Term Impact

More than six months into the pandemic, consumers are clamoring for normalcy. According to GlobalWebIndex research conducted in May of this year, 76 percent of global consumers indicated that businesses getting back to normal is extremely, very, or quite important to them.

While consumers are ready for a renewed sense of normalcy, the shift to digital remains. For example, a survey commissioned by William Mills Agency found that 73 percent of U.S. adults said they're more likely to use digital payment and banking methods rather than banking in person during the pandemic. Meanwhile, 53 percent of U.S. financial services executives in an April study from Deloitte intimated that they will be rethinking and digitizing their client interactions even after the pandemic ends.

Digital tactics are now key for keeping businesses going through COVID-19 and beyond. A company's success during this digital acceleration depends on its abilities to learn and adapt to customers' needs and preferences. To stay competitive, companies will need to begin doubling or tripling down on digital channels, including digital display ads, email campaigns, and social media promotions.

Now more than ever, customers are open to new ways to engage. Marketers responding to the CMO Survey "Highlights and Insights Report: Special COVID-19 Edition" said their audiences are more willing to try digital offerings introduced during the pandemic (85 percent) and place more value on digital experiences (84 percent). Selecting a hearty mix of channels and tactics, and using data to personalize and optimize these experiences, is key for driving engagement throughout the pandemic and beyond.

The Right Data Can Enrich a Marketing Mix

When digital marketing tactics are paired with data, companies can become more focused and relevant, which is vital for building customer relationships through digital screens. Data also allows teams to maximize their campaigns' reach and impact, helping them track performance and make necessary adjustments over time.

But marketers must use the right data to make a tangible difference. The right data can help companies evaluate how their multitouch attribution programs work, learn what will help optimize return on investment, and identify new prospects, even less obvious ones, potentially.

Successful companies are using different types of data to get the insight they need, including third-party data, which can be collected from a variety of sources, such as directly measured data, offline data, websites, social media networks, exchanges, and first-party data, which companies collect on their own customers and remit to marketing for their use. All of these aforementioned data sources might be connected to cookies or mobile IDs, which can also track customers as they move through a site. A combination of these data types can help teams better understand customer behavior and craft campaigns that align. As companies increasingly rely on data to bolster their marketing efforts, there are three fundamental considerations to keep in mind.

  • Data expertise is just as critical as digital expertise. Companies must do more than understand what makes good data. They must know which data to use to be successful without affecting customer trust.
  • Applicable regulations need to be followed. The U.S. Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) were created to enhance data privacy rights and consumer protections. Brands need to follow these regulations, when collecting, selling, or processing personal data.
  • Proper permissions must be sought to obtain data. Brands should be transparent about how customer data is collected and used. If customers have a request about their data — whether it's to exclude it, delete it, or change it — marketers will need to respond to those requests as soon as possible.

Deepen Digital in 2021: Final Best Practices

For a company to develop, evaluate, and improve its digital marketing strategy in 2021 and beyond, it will need to follow these four steps:

  1. Define how the company will measure success. Success is the sale at the end of the journey and a satisfied customer. What other key performance indicators will be crucial as the company measures success and validates the return of its investments?
  2. Avoid analysis paralysis. Some companies have months-long assessment periods before they make a change. This doesn't work in the current world, where customer behaviors and needs are constantly changing. Brands should start small and focus on one area or function to analyze.
  3. Test. Marketing teams won't magically conjure up the perfect mix for their audiences. Teams should test different campaign channels, messaging tactics, and data sources through micro campaigns and A/B testing. To do this methodically, brands should roll campaigns out, measure performance, and then adjust or scale as needed.
  4. Research potential agencies for partnership. Companies don't have to ramp up their efforts alone. Onboarding a partner with data expertise can help a company get on the right track. Marketers should review candidates' histories and track records to understand how they collect data and then consider running a few pilot programs with a small group of finalists. A good partner will be able to explain how they collect data, what they do with it, and how to deal with personally identifiable information. A great partner will also be able to explain which data is and is not a good fit for the business.

Although the digital acceleration will continue, marketers shouldn't say goodbye to the traditional tactics that have served them well. Instead, they should test different combinations of digital and physical channels to find the perfect mix for their customers. For example, if a financial services company typically relies on traditional mail to make credit offers, they can review their response model and prescreen lists to execute a strategy that also includes email offers, social media promos, or display ads. This allows the company to be "seen" multiple ways, engage with audiences across channels, and even get discovered by new or different audiences.

COVID-19 has forced people to rely more on technology to connect with the outside world. It's also forcing marketing organizations that haven't fully embraced digital to act.

Success today and moving forward requires an agile, adaptable approach to marketing — something data and digital channels support.

If companies can successfully leverage data and combine traditional and digital marketing tactics to create a seamless experience, they'll not only better engage their current customers, they'll expand their audiences and maximize revenue opportunities.

Jeff Sporn is the chief digital officer for data-driven marketing at Equifax, a partner in the ANA Data Tech Partner Program. You can email Jeff at jeff.sporn@equifax.com.

This blog post was initially published on Forward 2020 by the Association of National Advertisers.
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