It’s been more than eight months since the U.S. went into some form of quarantine. There’s still no sense of when the country will fully return to “normal” with children back at school in person, employees heading to a physical office, and all types of businesses able to safely reopen. Overseas, the situation is not looking as rosy as it was over the summer either, with COVID-19’s resurgence in Europe prompting reimposed curfews in Paris and inter-city travel restrictions in Germany, among other measures to contain the continent’s second wave.
The virus’s unrelenting human-to-human spread means it has been impossible to create lasting plans for in-person marketing. In part 1 of this blog series, RampUp looked at some of the ways the pandemic is causing macro changes in marketing. Now, let’s look at the effects on in-person marketing, from trade shows to in-store shopping experiences.
Scaling back on travel
“The new normal is here to stay,” said Vicki Brakl, SVP of Marketing for media planning and targeting agency MNI Targeted Media. Take two mainstays of the old normal for business-focused marketers: in-person trade shows and frequent travel to pitch new prospects.
“A lot of the industry’s dog-and-pony shows, huge events, excessive travel for pitches, and other unnecessary costs will no longer be tolerated” once the pandemic recedes, she predicted.
Most trade shows and pitches have had digital components for years, but they’ve become almost exclusively online and via email for now. While Brakl sees the pendulum swinging more toward the digital components, others think there’s a natural limit.
Randi Barshack, CMO of account-based marketing/sales platform RollWorks, said that in-person events can “create phenomenal buzz and generate net new contacts.” She noted that one permanent effect of this pandemic-compelled downtime is a new mindset that looks for ways to compensate for the lack of in-person events. As an example, RollWorks devised a digital ad campaign that offered a gift certificate for dinner delivery to targeted contacts at high-value accounts in an effort to connect with companies they wouldn’t otherwise reach without trade shows or in-person travel.
“The overall cost per individual was significant because the campaign was limited to high-value contacts within high-fit accounts, she said. “[But] the overall ROI was off-the-charts high.”
The future of brick and mortar
With wide swaths of consumers now conditioned to rely on digital channels, brick-and-mortar locations are reinventing themselves to entice people to come back. Scott Moore, Global CMO at in-store marketing provider Mood Media, said he expects there will be a new focus on “visible safety measures” that address the continuing “general nervousness” as consumers venture out, such as a promotion of the location’s cleanliness and how their staff handles products and services.
This, he added, will be balanced by “small moments of joy and levity” that help physical locations maintain the loyalty they’ve built during the pandemic–and will help create experiences that make in-person shopping trips worth the effort.
But perhaps the biggest factor in how the pandemic will permanently affect marketing is how long it lasts, Pund-IT Marketing Analyst Charles King pointed out. The longer the pandemic crisis extends, he said, the more likely it is that pandemic-inspired adaptations will remain, because they will be ingrained in the businesses that survive.
For instance, restaurants that have beefed up their remote ordering, curbside pickup, and outdoor dining may be the only ones that survive a long pandemic. Post-pandemic marketing for the restaurant industry may reflect those contours.
While the virus remains uncontained and a vaccine is still countless months away, people remain stuck in limbo, not knowing when they will resume activities like vacation planning, gym visits, college campus drop-offs, and more. This will undoubtedly have a lasting impact once the virus is contained. The longer it takes for consumers and businesses to overcome this impact and freely venture out again, the more businesses will have to change to survive.
Modern society is so accustomed to quickly changing “viral” trends that it’s difficult to assess the impact when a real virus hits. But as the coronavirus pandemic has made painfully clear to marketers faced with the growing presence of the digital world, the real world is still very much in charge.