Pedestrians wearing protective masks walk along a road in Hong Kong, China. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/BLOOMBERG/PAUL YEUNG
Pedestrians wearing protective masks walk along a road in Hong Kong, China. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/BLOOMBERG/PAUL YEUNG

Google, Facebook and the other big platforms rely on many years of user data to inform their algorithms. Suddenly, the coronavirus and our new reality have effectively made those algorithms redundant. Nothing is the same. But in a very uncertain future there are certain things marketers can do to prepare for a post-lockdown world, and even some immediate opportunities that could help them navigate the unknown. 

 Assume nothing 

As consumers we all knew that the big platforms collected our user data. They knew when we would use different devices, what we were searching for and when. Trends based on this data are what they use to help companies reach the right target audience at the right time and over the most appropriate device. 

However, as more than half of the world has gone into lockdown, most of that insight now no longer holds.   

People’s buying behaviour has changed completely. Not only because we can only buy from a list of essential goods, but because our buying patterns, too, have changed. 

Consumers are searching for products they may previously not have bought at retailers they may not have previously supported. What’s more, as they are doing things differently, they may not be as price sensitive as they normally would be – though this will certainly change as things progress and the virus takes its inevitable economic toll. 

Data from the Bank of America on year-on-year daily consumer spending information (based on card transactions) for March shows such wild swings that there is no discernible pattern. For example, groceries bought in the US on March 16 and 22 showed a 103% variation. 

Check and change 

For marketing leaders, this means that while they used to be able to trust the algorithm, they will now need to check trends on a daily basis and tweak their response accordingly. 

It is also important for them to remember that campaigns must fit the context of each market. Each region and community is responding differently, and so national trends cannot be assumed for regional outreach.    

Shifting budgets to match shifting priorities will require marketing pros to remain agile in the way they assign funds, dependent on brand requirements and opportunities. What was right for a brand last year or even last week may not be appropriate right now.

Agencies, meanwhile, will need to listen to their clients and react to their changing requirements. They will also have to realise that their clients’ requirements will change to meet their shifting outlooks and metrics, such as lifetime values. 

Help your team help you 

Given the great unknown lying ahead, it makes excellent sense to use this lockdown time to equip your team to help you move forward. 

The opportunity to upskill individuals when they may have a little more time on their hands should be jumped at. This will include refreshing vital skills that are used from day to day. 

Now is also the time to allow your team to learn additional skills they may have expressed an interest in, as well as cross skilling. Cross training will allow teams to remain flexible as they face an uncertain future, and when unexpected requirements come from a company they will be comfortable with whatever agile response is required of them. 

Soft skills such as time management and presentation skills are usually pushed to the side in our deadline-driven normal workdays. Managers should now take the time to support the personal growth of their teams. 

Now is the time to nail career paths and skills mapping. This will allow you to see where there are gaps and opportunities for knowledge transfer from your knowledge experts, locally and globally.  

However, a word of caution: managers need to be discerning about where they choose to get their information and training, or they could waste both their and their teams’ time.    

Our reality is nothing like we have ever experienced. Our future will also be nothing like we had planned. Our customers may emerge from the lockdown with completely different priorities. 

Whatever those priorities may be, we do know that they will be supporting brands that reflect those priorities back at them. Marketing leaders may not be able to perfectly predict what’s coming down the line, but they can use the time now to perfect an agile response; to learn to check and recheck trends and to nurture teams most likely to respond to uncertainty.

  • Andrew Smit is head of data solutions and Niamh NicLiam head of learning and marketing at IncuBeta.

 

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