Why Marketers will Turn to Digital as a Result of COVID-19


By Jessica Houston – Founding 50 Member of the School of Marketing


As the UK adapts to lockdown measures enforced by the government, we see an unsurprising shift to online activity. Brands are battling with go/no-go decisions on their planned marketing activity and are going back to the drawing board to reassess their strategy. As a result, will we see more brands turning to digital channels to maximise their impact?


Changing consumer behaviour reflects the need for a digital marketing approach

GlobalWebIndex (GWI) has released a report exploring how consumers are reacting to COVID-19, how behaviours are shifting, and what that means for businesses. They found that:


  • 70% of consumers globally say they are spending more time on their smartphone 

  • 95% of consumers say they’re spending more time on in-home media consumption

  • 39% of UK consumers are reading more news stories on social media as a result of the outbreak - a primary motivator to use social media at this time. 


These trends are as expected: consumers are spending more hours a day browsing online, streaming content and connecting with friends and family via Facebook, Houseparty and Zoom. Even the baby boomer generation, who have perhaps made the most significant leap, are online and staying connected. 


This is good news for brands who are looking for effective methods of communicating with their audiences. Digital channels typically provide lower costs for entry, creative development is faster, and your ads can be in-market within days rather than weeks. You also have the added benefits of more sophisticated targeting options and audience insights, which will allow brands to test and optimise, driving greater efficiencies. However, there are a few considerations for brands entering this space. 



Understanding the new digital landscape 

Naturally, we have seen an increase in search demand for certain products and services, particularly in the food, entertainment and health industries. In contrast, other sectors, such as luxury goods, have seen a steep decline. The recommended advice for brands is to review their keyword strategies and apply negative keyword lists around COVID-19. 


Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube are doubling down on fake news to keep the public safe as more consumers switch to social as their news source. In March they released a joint statement to reassure users and flag potential misinformation about COVID-19 on their platforms. Both Twitter and LinkedIn have developed a curated news page within their platforms from credible, authoritative new sources and public health agencies. They have put in place protocols for brands wishing to advertise on their platforms during this time, restricting advertising that is considered profiteering. It is recommended that brands build in extra time for the advertising approval process.


Audiences are growing across all programmatic formats, particularly on smartphones due to its accessibility and convenience for consumers. Still, brands need to be conscious of the frequency of their messaging and ensure that their ads are relevant and useful. 


These are just some of the things we see across the digital landscape but, with everything moving at such a fast pace, we will need to closely monitor further changes in consumer behaviour and the effect that has on advertising for brands.



Delivering real value for consumers 

In a global study, Kantar found that just 8% of consumers interviewed felt brands should stop advertising altogether; the majority are happy for brands to continue promoting but expect them to be helpful and informative in what has become the ‘new normal’. With this in mind, brands need to reassess the messaging and offerings they are promoting in the short-term and focus on driving real value for their customers. The brands who get this right will be winners long into the future.