The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly changing consumers’ shopping habits, brand engagement and media consumption behaviors both now and in what will be our “new normal.”
While much of life has changed due to social distancing, the temporary closure of businesses and apprehension even as restrictions are lifted, it’s important for brands and marketers to connect with customers in meaningful ways.
Rather than pulling back on marketing or pausing engagement efforts, marketers have an opportunity to engage consumers in powerful ways by tailoring campaigns to new needs and priorities.
During this unprecedented time, recent research from Valassis shows consumers value communication – with an astonishing 90% saying they appreciate brands that go out of their way to deliver relevant and timely information during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time, consumer behaviors are shifting and it’s essential for marketers to understand the current landscape to deliver messages that will resonate, even if those messages don’t promote a product or service.
While daily life has changed dramatically, consumers continue to crave a sense of normalcy. They are still engaged consumers with many of the same desires, interests and needs, despite behavioral shifts.
Throughout these uncertain times and into the future, consumers will continue to consume – just in different ways.
Our research found that 57% of consumers are shopping online more, 51% are leveraging social media more and 55% are spending more time on streaming TV platforms than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social media and connected TV (CTV) are both valuable channels for creating personalized, measureable marketing across devices.
Considering these shifts, leveraging social media and influencer marketing can be a valuable way to stay engaged in more personal ways with consumers while offering information, resources and creative entertainment.
The speed and efficiency of social media also allows for real-time communications and an open platform for feedback between brands and their followers.
A CTV advertising approach offers the ability to engage with digital precision, connecting with consumers based on their specific interests and purchase needs in a highly engaging medium.
A recent survey on consumers’ use of streaming TV services found that more than half (52%) of consumers are more inclined to research or purchase a product/service they see on streaming TV versus traditional cable viewing.
As traditional TV has been disrupted due to production and live event cancellations, CTV can be a valuable channel for increased brand visibility that integrates with other online and offline engagement efforts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also introduced a newfound appreciation for traditional direct mail and daily trips to the mailbox. A recent consumer survey Valassis conducted found that 37% of consumers say they are now more excited about receiving mail and 30% of consumers are spending more time reading marketing and promotional materials.
Interestingly, the interaction between younger generations and the mail shows even greater engagement with 53% of 18- to 24-year-olds and 57% of 25- to 34-year-olds more excited about receiving their mail during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marketers have an opportunity to lean into this traditional form of outreach in new ways, combining modern marketing approaches using predictive intelligence to identify the right consumers to engage while delivering tangible marketing with in-home staying power.
In addition to expanding multichannel approaches, it’s also important for brands to understand that in times of uncertainty and economic challenge, consumers also become more value driven. As shoppers tighten purse strings, decisions are often made based on where they can get the best product at the best price.
Valassis research shows that almost half (46%) of consumers are more interested in deals, coupons and promotions since before the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing to 58% for 18- to 24-year-olds and 65% for 25- to 34-year-olds.
Consumers are looking to brands to offer real value. Marketers need to ensure products and services are as accessible as possible, exploring new opportunities for promotions and incentives that align with consumer needs
Local regions are experiencing different impacts from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – each with unique societal needs, government mandates and timelines for when businesses will reopen.
As states lift orders, it will be important to develop hyper-local engagement strategies driven by real-time data and insights that consider the current economic state and changing consumer behaviors.
Meaningfully engaging with consumers requires a rich understanding of individual needs. Using rich intelligence — in-market signals, past purchase behavior, media preference, demographics — while delivering localized messages, incentives will be important in the short term as consumer needs and patterns differ across the country.
In addition to localized messages, it’s also important to ensure all creative and messaging resonate. Valassis’ findings show that 84% of consumers appreciate the way brands have changed their advertising and tone due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative to strike the right tone with creative and to ensure that the right messages reach the right consumers. Supportive and empathetic communications can help personify brands – driving increased awareness and positively impacting future growth.
For example, if the timing is not right to push product, brands can still benefit from efforts such as regular updates to loyal customers, corporate social responsibility initiatives or investments in content to provide entertainment or support during these times.
As businesses facing the economic impacts of COVID-19 consider cost-saving measures, history has proven that it’s a mistake to stop marketing and speaking to your customers during difficult times. This strategy will impact not only short-term sales, but also long-term market share, which is much harder to recoup.
Marketers must consider communication channels that will provide the highest impact and provide timely, relevant offers, anecdotes or advice/tips that connect with your audiences during these difficult times.
Now more than ever, marketing is not optional and plays an essential role in maintaining market share of voice – and delivering value to consumers when they most desire and need it.
Carrie Parker is vice president of marketing at Valassis. Carrie has more than 20 years of experience spanning marketing and brand strategy. At Valassis, she leads a team of content, brand, and product marketers, responsible for driving the company’s positioning and go-to-market execution.
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