We rang in 2020 at parties with friends, family and strangers. Crowds packed Times Square in New York City. Concerts thrilled audiences watching in-person and at home. For the next two months, we shopped at grocery stores without a second thought about how many people were in each aisle and bought household supplies as we needed them. Fast-forward to late 2020, and our mindsets have flipped. Thoughts of how many people are around us and what we touch are rampant, all due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No industry is untouched. Now, adapting to our new world is not a choice but a necessity. For businesses, the biggest takeaway we’ve learned throughout the pandemic is that no matter the company, it is critical to double down and look to new distribution channels to reinforce branding and develop relationships built on consumer trust.
Advertising revenues have dropped throughout the pandemic, as budgets shrink due to economic difficulties. In fact, Google‘s parent company, Alphabet, reported its first revenue drop in history, in part, due to a decline in advertising revenue. For many brands, these have been trying times. Cutting through the noise with a reduced budget has proven to be one of the biggest challenges. Now is the perfect opportunity for many to take a step back and evaluate how their brands relate to the current situation. How can each brand help a business or a consumer during COVID-19, and how can it best engage with customers moving forward?
Clothing companies have been able to pivot by making masks. Even luxury designers, like Louis Vuitton, have produced their own masks and face shields with their logos to help their high-end customers adapt. For cable and internet companies, 2020 has been the time to show how connectedness brings families together. While advertising has dropped, this simple change in messaging has presented an opportunity to reinforce branding. For all brands, it is a lesson to read the room and to be responsive, no matter what happens in 2021 or in the years to come.
Another key takeaway has been to leverage partnerships already in place. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, 2020 e-commerce sales grew 31.8 percent during Q2 from Q1 alone. Media outlets have cashed in on the explosion of e-commerce, with affiliate links for sites like Amazon and Walmart driving dollars, rather than traditional advertising. While many of these outlets already had e-commerce plans in place, they have increased the usage of affiliate links. There is no sign of e-commerce slowing down as lockdowns continue and consumers get used to the idea of buying goods online, rather than in-person. GQ and Cosmopolitan even launched their own products during this time. While increasing revenue opportunities, the brands have also helped to promote products that align with their content. Brands like Good Housekeeping and Consumer Reports rigorously test products. Both outlets have built their reputation upon their review process and have become a trusted source of information for consumers. For magazines newer to the process, product promotion uses that trust in a new way. Cosmopolitan is known for advising young women on many facets of life, so utilizing that expertise in a new way helps to drive new revenue streams. It is beneficial both financially and to the brand.
In 2020, most brands have a digital presence, but that is not enough. With so many consumers spending the majority of their time at home, companies have more opportunities to reach them through different channels, also adding more opportunities for advertising in the future. In 2019, Deloitte predicted the podcast market would grow to surpass $1 billion in 2020. Podcasts provide unique value by engaging consumers with branded content in an increasingly in-demand format: audio. Despite fewer commuters this year, podcasts should continue to thrive as people turn to road trips and camping activities. The New York Times announced late in 2020 that its biggest business became digital-only subscriptions driven by demand for food, cooking, games and audio. The New York Times is already a trusted brand, and by expanding its content to meet consumer interests, the paper furthered its reach.
Additionally, newsletters and email blasts have dominated throughout COVID-19 and the election. While newsletters are not a new content delivery system, they serve consumers by informing, and sometimes entertaining, while giving brands another way of interacting with customers. They help position brands in a way that relates to current events, holidays or the changing seasons. Not only do newsletters allow brands to control messaging – delivered straight to consumer’s inboxes – they provide access to key metrics (open rates) that help guide content, copy, and insight into consumer interests. Brands need to take advantage and get to know their audience to improve their own products. And the newsletter provides the perfect opportunity to connect with readers on a more relevant level.
All in all, communication is key for all brands. When COVID-19 lockdowns began, companies sent emails to customers, reminding them of store hours and mask policies. While the avalanche of emails became somewhat of a joke online, there is an important message that will take us through the years to come: consumers are paying attention. Companies must adapt and meet the needs of their customers, especially when times get tough. A brand that provides superior service or content during the pandemic will register with consumers for years to come and maintain the level of trust customers have come to expect.
This new decade has not started on a positive note. While we can’t change the situation, we can remember the lessons gleaned from one of the most harrowing economic and health crises the world has ever faced. This year has allowed us the opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate what is important. As we live through the stress, companies play a role in making life easier for their customers. Brands can reevaluate where they stand and leverage the credibility they’ve already built with consumers to provide the best information possible. Whether it’s going back to basics, realizing there are new distribution channels or changing strategy entirely, brands can only benefit from the 2020 reset as they look toward a changed but happier future.