While COVID-19 may have dampened what was predicted to be a year of astronomical growth in the eCommerce industry, it has also sparked unprecedented adoption and innovation among businesses and consumers alike.
In the previous edition of our COVID-19 post-mortem series, we delved deeply into these various facets of changing consumer behavior. This next phase of our COVID-19 dissection examines the other half of that equation: shifts in eCommerce marketing and advertising strategies.
The most successful marketing and advertising strategies carefully study and reflect the most minute changes in consumer needs and expectations. The same holds in today’s digitally-driven retail world, but the challenge is much more daunting. Our current climate is much more than just a public health crisis; it is a complex and congested landscape rife with civil unrest, political upheaval, unemployment, and widely varying cultural attitudes towards the virus and its severity. The United States, in particular, is an environment riddled with radical change on all fronts. From racial injustices and police brutality to a looming Presidential election to spiking COVID-19 cases, selling to consumers has never been more fraught with difficulty and conflict.
This article will breakdown the most significant challenges of digital marketing and advertising since the emergence of COVID-19 and walk through the most notable (and useful) adjustments to company strategy that have arisen in response to the pandemic.
Challenges of eCommerce Marketing and Advertising in a Post-Pandemic World
The most obvious pitfalls in the age of eCommerce marketing and advertising strategy are three-fold: conflicting cultural views and staggering recoveries from the virus, a much denser and more saturated marketplace, and unknown long-term economic impact.
eCommerce marketers, who have always navigated global marketplaces, now face the unique challenge of marketing and advertising to consumers in countries and regions that are all in differing states of virus containment and recovery. While countries like New Zealand, Japan, and Iceland have nearly eliminated COVID-19 and made massive strides towards open and recovered economies, countries like the United States and Brazil are still struggling with record-high COVID-19 cases and continuously volatile markets. Beyond the number of confirmed cases and recovering economies there are widely varying cultural and social attitudes towards COVID-19. Many eCommerce shoppers do not believe in the severity of the virus and will not respond to the same marketing and advertising strategies as others. The bottom line? There is no one-size-fits-all marketing solution.
The challenge of appealing to various states of economic recovery and diverging consumer attitudes towards the virus is not the only roadblock in marketing and advertising strategies. With almost every organization diving headfirst into eCommerce, the marketplace is much more saturated and competitive than ever. Developing effective strategies that cut through the noise and connect with consumers has never been a murkier process — or more critical.
Finally, the longterm economic impact of COVID-19 has just begun to unfold. The pandemic will inevitably ripple through our local and global economies for years to come in a myriad of unexpected ways. Because COVID-19 has permanently altered the way we work, shop, interact, and communicate, there is no precedent for recovery. The fiercest competitors in the post-COVID-19 eCommerce landscape will be the ones who implement thoughtful, original marketing and advertising strategies that can rapidly adapt to the changing environment.
Company responses to the pandemic have inevitably evolved since the virus’s initial outbreak in March. The initial spread of COVID-19 caused a sudden halt in ad spending, with one early study revealing that 24 percent of those surveyed paused all advertising spending for the rest of the first and second quarters. Another statistic showed that an overwhelming 29 percent of ad executives did not have a marketing and advertising plan in place in response to the novel Coronavirus outbreak.
Since then, the economy has dipped sharply and rebounded slightly. Data indicates that U.S. ad spending was at its lowest point in May, and will continue to recover in July and beyond. While marketing and advertising spending and success has certainly had bleak moments throughout the Coronavirus evolution, innovation in strategy has not stopped. It is not a matter of when companies should allocate resources back into marketing — there is no doubt that ad spending is crucial for eCommerce brands. Instead, it is a question of how companies move forward in effective, revolutionary ways to combat the radically different landscape.
Increased Personalization, Communication, and Transparency in eCommerce Advertising and Marketing
As consumers spend more time shopping from behind phone and computer screens, the demand for greater personalization, communication, and transparency has increased. From small businesses to massive conglomerates, every company has felt the strain of this shift in shopper priority.
Pepsi-Co launched PantryShop.com and snacks.com, which are platforms designed to allow consumers to order various Pepsi-Co products directly. This kind of strategy alleviates some of the demand for food and drink products in the pandemic. It makes the company much easier to access and curates a more personalized experience for online shoppers. This level of consumer engagement for Pepsi-Co, a company that has traditionally worked in B2B markets, is unprecedented.
Another effort in more humanistic approaches to marketing and advertising in eCommerce has been live-streaming commerce, which has been massively successful in countries like China. Live streaming commerce is a method of online shopping where brands host virtual events and meetings that allow customers to ask questions, interact socially, and make purchases in real-time. Live streaming commerce harnesses the power of technology in new ways. It expands the potential for online marketing and advertising strategies— and it has proven effective in increasing consumer engagement and improving sales.
There are notable broader shifts in eCommerce messaging. An IAB study reports that 38 percent of companies adjusted in-market tactics at the start of COVID-19. Even more telling is the study’s report that 42 percent shifted to mission-based marketing, and 41 percent pursued cause-related marketing. This crucial repositioning of brands in the marketplace reflects consumer priorities. People care about how much humanity, charity, and social-awareness companies bring to their operations.
Now more than ever, marketers and advertisers are reimagining their industry practices. Many companies are currently focused on gaining new customers as brand loyalty falters, and the central theme of marketing strategy must be in communicating directly, openly, and honestly with consumers. The changes in company advertising and marketing strategies throughout the pandemic have all been rooted in bringing humanity, connection, and transparency into eCommerce.
Strategies Grounded in Agility and Adaptability Come Out on Top
Perhaps the most overarching lesson learned from the COVID-19 eCommerce evolution is that marketing and advertising strategies grounded in agility and adaptability are the strongest, most effective ones. The virus has altered much more than consumer spending habits; it has fundamentally reshaped global dependence on technology. As other iterations of our COVID-19 eCommerce examinations have found, about one-third of people ages 65 and older have increased their online purchases since COVID-19. Generation C also has become an influential force in eCommerce spending.
More than that, 2020 has shown the influence of politics and social revolutions on spending. Consumers expect brands to react and align with current events in real-time, and brand choices impact whether or not they choose to shop there. Making space for flexibility and speed within corporate marketing structures can be tough for large-scale businesses. Crafting marketing strategies that are nimble enough to respond in real-time to the economic, social, and political climate has resulted in more considerable technology investments among brands. One expert claims that 36 percent of CMOs have increased their technology investments throughout COVID-19, and 12.5 percent have expanded their media budgets.
Some organizations are even leveraging layoffs to streamline their marketing and advertising team. There is an increased reliance on freelancers to pick up any extra slack. While this strategy compromises some of the advantages of an entirely in-house marketing team, it proves more cost-effective and concentrated enough to ideate solutions and implement them well much faster.
Whether eCommerce is one stream of sales and revenue for a company or its entirety, investment in digital marketing and advertising techniques will continue to be a critical step for businesses recovering from COVID-19 and charting a path forward.