Essentially overnight, a huge proportion of the advertising industry’s inventory has simply evaporated. Like a solar eclipse, COVID-19 has cast a pall over marketers across the globe, leaving many in the dark as to what to do next.
The issues and concerns are real, not hype. Inventory available for purchase has shrunk dramatically. Conferences and other live events are canceled, live sports (previously ad-supported television’s single biggest source of younger audience engagement) are canceled and out-of-home — given the majority of us are at home — is utterly worthless. Media driving to retail is rendered useless as governments begin mandating sheltering in place.
Comparisons are grim. 9/11. Katrina. Sandy. Rarely before has such an extensive portion of the market — and marketing spend — been disrupted.
What are advertisers supposed to do?
In rapidly developing times such as these, it is challenging to see through to the “new normal.” And yet, by assessing secular trends that existed previously, but are now accelerating rapidly and being pulled forward, a solution may be found in a form of marketing that existed long before the first agency ever did. Of course, I’m referring to peer marketing.
To borrow Rahm Emanuel’s words: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that: It’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not before.” With an unbelievable amount of budget and brand resources now potentially freed up for innovation (you simply can’t spend it on yesterday’s “business as usual”), marketers have an opportunity to transform their mix (and their own skill sets) — and get ahead of the curve.
To address the crisis and these trends, we brought together two top marketing minds for a special edition of our podcast, Authentic Influence: Andrew Essex (previously Global CEO of Droga5) and Mike Shields (marketing consultant; journalist for Business Insider and WSJ). Click here to listen in.
To summarize these trends:
1. Mobile acceleration
We are now going to see accelerated media trends on mobile. Many consumers are at home with little else to do but look at their phones. What’s unique: Consumers are now highly engaged on mobile, regardless of age, which will serve to accelerate engagement and consumption more in this channel than any other.
2. Declining institutional trust and increasing consumer skepticism
Spirit Airlines sent an email to customers claiming “Never a Better Time to Fly.” The airline later stated the timing of the email was inadvertent. What do you think consumers will remember?
According to Andrew Essex: “If an entity is perceived to be greedy or mercenary, it’s really going to hurt them in the long term.” And: “People generally love brands, but when they behave in a way that seems gross, that love can go out the window. Trust is going to deteriorate if behavior deteriorates.”
Simultaneously, fear among the masses has led to tremendous levels of: (1) mobile peer-to-peer sharing; and (2) trust in the words and actions of peers as opposed to brands (and politicians). As a result, peers are louder, and their recommendations are stronger than ever before.
3. Permanent behavior change
The ways people buy, and the ways brands invest, will permanently change. For instance, convenience options like free delivery, which may have been merely appreciated in the past, are likely to be stickier consumer preferences — opening the door for brands to test profitable “rundle”-type subscriptions (thanks to Scott Galloway for the term).
In addition, the aforementioned “compulsory zero-based-budgeting,” though presently painful, will drive permanent change in business processes and spend mix — and will ultimately lead to re-allocation toward new solutions that, just two weeks ago, seemed destined to remain simply “on the innovation road map” perpetually.
The way forward for marketing
So here you are as a marketer. Your business is depending on you to construct a path forward that mitigates losses in the near-term and re-imagines the future. It’s on you to leverage the current context to position your company to best reach and deliver for its target markets.
Accomplishing these goals is paired with high inherent risk — namely, your brand being categorized by Andrew Essex’s words: “greedy,” “mercenary,” “gross.” And yet, there’s a lingering truth: Doing nothing is not an option.
Here’s an idea: Let your customers speak for you. Given the above trends, it’s clear that the elements that made peer-to-peer mobile marketing smart before are now dramatically heightened. The brands that figure out how to navigate in this new context will build new relationships that will endure well after the crisis has passed. Peer-to-peer mobile marketing will prove an effective piece of the puzzle.
With hindsight, there will have been no better time than right now to try.