We’re still at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, absent some unexpected vaccine coming available in the next few months.
But even before the crisis created havoc in the marketing world, we were monitoring the shifts in digital spending and allocation from brands, particularly the budget tied to influencer marketing, social media and digital ad sales and channels.
This black swan event is going to change how consumers see the world and that means that marketers are going to have to change with them.
The early results on digital spending in this crisis are changing rapidly and the numbers contradict each other. Display advertising and social media seem to have been hit harder than search marketing dollars. Traditional media is doing even worse. But all that varies by day and by source and this is, as they say, a developing situation. Many contextually critical brands are dumping tons of ad dollars into the market. Social connection tools, all sorts of entertainment options and online shopping are having field days. But businesses that suddenly seem inessential have cancelled massive amounts of planned spending.
We could read too much into trends and data points that may be completely different a month from now but what seems obvious is that some kind of macro change is coming. As many have observed, crises of our current magnitude have a way of bringing our focus back to what’s essential and causing significant shifts in how we live.
With respect to marketing, let’s fast forward a year or two for three predictions about where we’ll end up on the back end of this crisis.
1 – Brands will finally demand real value for their marketing spend
We’ve never been an impartial observer of brand spending on things like influencer marketing and social media advertising, as so much of it has seemed to us – and many of the brands we’ve spoken to and worked with – as low-value vs its cost. Are you really building enduring brand value with all those social media ads? Are you really engaging customers in a way that will make your brand essential in hard times? Do you think consumers are going to pay as much attention to your brand after this once-in-a-century crisis?
In the 2020s, an era that seems likely to be marked by conservation (of all kinds) we predict brands will finally stop paying real money to reach fake followers. They’ll scrutinize outsized audience sizes promised by all media, and increasingly will stop allocating budget to marketing channels just because their peers are doing it. The initial rush of digital marketing will give way to a more measured second wave. We’re headed for a consolidation.
The result of all this will be brands with much more bespoke portfolios of marketing investments, ones more tailored to their specifics objectives, needs and audiences.
2 – Purpose-driven brands will thrive – if they truly live their values
In this crisis, the majority (63 percent) of advertisers have adjusted their messaging, including increasing their mission-based marketing (up 42 percent), and cause-related marketing (up 41 percent). This is on top of many brands looking to help out their communities with entirely new social impact initiatives and offers. With a lot of brands, as with a lot of people, the crisis has not turned us into riotous combatants or war profiteers. Instead it’s created a moment where many of us are at our best and most empathetic.
If we’re all collectively reassessing what matters most and this global shock reverberates through the next decade, it stands to reason that the brands with authentic missions and purposes will appeal most to consumers. It will require those brands to articulate and then abide by their principles. This seems inevitable now but even pre-crisis, there was a growing collective hunger for more meaningful connections that was starting to play out across industries.
And, correspondingly, in this new world that awaits us, brands that regularly greenwash, cause-wash and otherwise prove themselves to be inauthentic, will be punished by consumer contempt. Bad actors will be jeered off the stage.
3 – Community will be every great brand’s key differentiator
If we’ve learned anything in the last month, it’s how important community is to all of us. It is amongst the most foundational human needs and we are all going to great lengths to satisfy it despite being forced into various levels of isolation. That essentialism is why community will become so important to brands. The truth is, it probably already should have been. But many brands haven’t focused on it the way they need to.
It’s a longer process to build community than to create a one-time transactional relationship, but it’s infinitely more valuable. Many brands are suffering from utter consumer indifference as their revenues crater. Other brands are seeing their communities step up to save them. Because they’ve built community through deliberate ongoing efforts. Because they’ve proven their values and their value to their audiences. Because they played the long game.
Community is going to be reinforced across society and marketing is going to reflect that. There is no longer any reason for a brand to sideline community-building. From marketing, to sales, to research, to sustainability, community will become THE lever for smart brands.
And those that fail to rise to the challenge? Well, as we predicted a few months ago, we’re entering the brand extinction era. Only the smart will survive.
But this is now. So, let’s focus on now.
How many brands wish they had a committed group of fans to pre-buy future products and services, or spread their messages on social media (without being paid) right now?
How many wish they had a legion of fans totally committed to them – because they’ve been totally committed to their fans?
Probably all of them.
Most of them don’t.
But that’s going to have to change after this crisis subsides.