• Someday, the pandemic will end. When that happens, will the world have changed permanently for marketers and advertisers? In other words, are we now going through a big reset … or is it just a temporary bump?

    We spoke with a variety of industry observers who all point to specific existing trends that the pandemic has accelerated and crystalized—underscoring what we heard in many sessions at the RampUp: Worldwide Virtual Summit on the need to connect with empathy and restart by building something better.

    The need for flexibility in media planning

    A July 2020 report from research firm Forrester, “The 2020 COVID-19 Crisis Will Stun US Marketing,” found that 81% of large advertisers have already deferred or cut campaigns because of the pandemic. It predicted a 28% drop in marketing spend by the end of next year, including media, services, technology, and internal headcount.

    The biggest ongoing change envisioned by Forrester: planned flexibility.

    Assuming the pandemic is more or less controlled by the middle of next year, the research firm estimates most of 2021’s marketing/ad money will go to digital, including digital out-of-home, because it allows greater flexibility than other spending plans if the virus resurfaces.

    At least in the short run, the report says, an “adaptive approach” will be needed that is “continuous, relies on ongoing measurement, and has flexible budgets” in order to accommodate various contingencies.

    But given the growing use of real-time data feeds, broad-spectrum analytics, and just-in-time decisioning tools, this kind of quick-response approach could well become standard for marketers as they try to plan and execute for an evolving new normal.

    Acceleration toward streaming TV

    As for consumers, marketers now have to account for unprecedented shifts in their behavior, said Matt Barash, SVP Strategy & Business Development for mobile app platform AdColony.

    One of the most important shifts: a boost in viewing on streaming services and away from traditional broadcast and cable programming. Gartner Senior Director & Analyst Eric Schmitt likened this change to “a cinderblock on the gas pedal” as the pandemic pushed the percentage of TV viewing on streaming services from 19% before the virus hit to 25% in June 2020.

    The move toward streaming was “already going to happen over the next two to four years,” said Phillip Smolin, Chief Strategy Officer at ad platform Amobee, but now the pandemic has accelerated that progression.

    Since the largest streaming services are more reliant on paid subscriptions than ads, this boost to streaming has driven advertisers toward “more efficient channels” like mobile gaming, Barash said.

    “Humans first, buyers second”

    Adaptive marketing and more efficient advertising channels are specific examples of three major trends that Anne Hunter, Head of Product Marketing at market research firm Disqo, sees rippling through the post-pandemic marketing and ad industry.

    One of these new “foundational elements” she said, is digital-first shopping, work, and entertainment, with in-person activity adopting a second place behind Internet-enabled living. A digital-first trade show is one example, as is the order-online, curbside-pickup grocery shopping that has become common for many.  

    A recent report from The Harris Poll and Open X, “The New Normal: Marketing in 2020 & Beyond,” found that 44% of consumers have increased their online shopping, and 39% of marketers said they have boosted their e-commerce solutions because of COVID-19. 

    71% of marketers with both an online and a physical presence now offer “buy online, pick-up in-store/curbside,” the report found, and 56% said they will continue to concentrate more on digital channels, even when the pandemic is over.

    The second trend cited by Disqo’s Hunter: a relationship with trusted brands that supports customers as “humans first, buyers second,” expressed in every interaction—not just through a branding campaign.

    Since the pandemic hit, for instance, countless ads have expressed some version of “we’re in this together.” US Bank’s thanks campaign, highlighted in Marketing with Empathy in a Time of Crisis—a presentation from the RampUp: Virtual Marketing Summit—is an example. Hunter believes this trend will continue. The Harris/Open X report found that 43% of marketers “will continue to more directly address issues in the news as part of marketing,” an approach which will benefit from the more flexible model to marketing predicted by Forrester.

    According to Hunter, a focus on empathy and putting people first accelerates the third major trend: the ongoing movement for consumer choice and data privacy. Although that trend has been powered by new laws and regulations, Hunter and others see marketers’ attention to consent and transparency as part of the “humans first” emphasis that will remain post-pandemic.

    The overall marketing trends highlighted by the pandemic shouldn’t be too surprising, since they were in motion already, but they’re now in fast-forward because of the impact on in-person marketing and sales.

    In Part 2, we’ll look at how in-person marketing and sales will likely be changed, once they return fully.

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