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Relevancy in a time of uncertainty

Recent events have reshaped consumer behavior, and left a lasting impression on the ad industry.

Covid-19 has sparked a massive shift in how we approach advertising. It created a reality where rapid adjustments of process, budget and time are essential. Now more than ever we must rely on data that helps understand context, time and location to be able to communicate on a 1-to-1 basis with your consumers; if you don’t, you lose that relationship.

While many industries have flourished as a result of the pandemic, retailers specifically have been presented with the unique challenge of finding different methods of engagement and creative tactics that allow them to reach new audiences and maintain relationships with existing ones.

Oz Etzioni, chief executive of Clinch, will share some key learnings from brands who are navigating these uncharted waters, and highlight how others can adapt their strategies to stay relevant in an uncertain future ahead.

No one could have predicted a global shutdown, however, smart CMOs understand that their tech stack and creative resources need to be prepared to take on anything. Brands that were able to quickly assess their supply chains, and customer needs, and take a creative risk were much better positioned than those who continued with business as usual.

Staples, a brand synonymous with back-to-school shopping, managed to pivot their strategy to overcome roadblocks faced by its entire industry, but it wasn’t easy. Like any other year, they began planning their 2020 back-to-school season media campaign at the start of the new year. Yet, when the global pandemic hit, it sparked a nationwide debate on when and how schools should resume, and suddenly, their entire media plan was turned upside down.

“The pandemic created an uncertain and overwhelming reality for our customers, from their own work schedule to their children’s back-to-school plans,” said Marshall Warkentin, chief merchandising and marketing officer, Staples US Retail. “Our approach to back-to-school marketing this year was one that required deep empathy and real-time flexibility – in our value proposition, advertising vehicles, timing and messaging. We needed to be able to pivot on a weekly, almost daily, basis to keep customers up-to-date on what we were doing to support them, from new ways to shop to added products and services.”

Under pre-Covid circumstances, Staples ads featured classrooms full of students, and workplaces buzzing with activity. In today’s climate, showing that type of interaction wouldn’t really resonate with consumers.

“As a key destination for back-to-school supplies that so many rely on to gear up for the season, we couldn’t ignore our customer’s new reality. We had different messages to share – school goes on. Work goes on. Customers wanted to know what we were doing to keep them healthy and safe in our stores and what products we offer to keep them safe everywhere,” Warkentin said. “Luckily for Staples, our nimble creative team and tech partners worked quickly to develop new, concise assets to get our messaging across. What we ended up with was completely different from what we ever envisioned, but that’s the reality of retail in 2020.”

Consumer behavior was already shifting towards a greater demand for efficiency from retailers, but that demand quickly became a necessity. Even something as simple as how you enter a grocery store now requires a certain degree of preparedness. When customers spend less time in stores (and more time at home) retailers must invest more in digital channels to connect with their audiences. Anheuser Busch InBev (AB Inbev), one of the largest multinational beverage companies, knew that when the pandemic hit earlier this year, they had to quickly adapt their response to the fast-changing consumer needs and behavior.

“For channels, we temporarily pulled back on out-of-home and used digital out-of-home around groceries stores, gas stations, and convenience stores to be top of mind when people stock up and double down on e-commerce” said Paolo Provinciali, head of US media at AB Inbev. “We increased our spend in digital and connected TV as people were consuming content on-demand, and focused on live streaming, social, and gaming to address the new ways people were passing time indoors. Finally, when sports came back, we made sure to align our content with consumer passions.”

For AB Inbev, flexibility and speed became of paramount importance. Paolo added, “For the most part, we couldn’t shoot new creatives; we had to re-purpose and re-size the assets we had available, and because we were trying to figure out what was working and what wasn’t, we had to iterate fast. We leaned heavily on our media and creative partners that allowed us to execute with the flexibility and speed we needed to communicate with our customers and retail partners in the most meaningful way possible.”

Particularly on social and e-commerce, AB Inbev was able to execute successful campaigns by identifying multiple consumer sub-segments and dynamically optimizing their creatives and messages at scale, which drove up engagement and ultimately sales. AB Inbev attributes their significant growth in e-commerce to an uptick in customer demand, and their ability to scale fast, made possible thanks to an early investment in this channel several years ago. They were also able to aid “on-premise” operations, with their multiple initiatives aimed at supporting bar and restaurant workers at the national and local level.

Now more than ever, data is the lifeline of any successful brand. The more data they have and can leverage to create personalized experiences, the better off they are. Pepsi is another standout brand who is investing heavily in its data analytics capabilities to stay ahead of the evolving consumer marketplace by digitizing its marketing and consumer insights efforts.

Pepsi has invested a lot in integrating their CRM data with other consumer data sources, and the results are paying off. In a recent earnings call, Pepsi’s chief financial officer, Hugh F. Johnston said, “By capturing and analyzing more granular consumer-level data, we can understand the consumer in a more individualized way to both customize communication and execute in every store with precisely the right products in the right location at the right price.”

E-commerce is playing an increasingly significant role in how the company is approaching their growth strategy, as many of the insights from eComm operations are being applied to other areas of the business. The majority of consumer engagement with the brands these days is happening online, via multiple touch points, channels, devices and formats. This creates a huge opportunity for brands to implement a bi-directional data flow to better understand consumer needs and preferences for long term relationship and loyalty.

Recent events have reshaped consumer behavior, and left a lasting impression on the ad industry. As time progresses, consumers will place a greater value on efficiency, and personalized experiences. Desire will be replaced with expectation, and the personalization from the online world will start to be mirrored in the offline.

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