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Coronavirus Advertising Analytics

Welcome to the new era of real-time relevance

By Harmony Murphy

June 19, 2020 | 6 min read

Behaviours are frequently changing among consumers, who are adapting to the restrictions they face due to Covid-19. Harmony Murphy, head of UK Advertising at Ebay takes a view on how marketers are now viewing data in real-time to keep up.

Computer screen with data

Image by Stephen Dawson via Unsplash

We’ve always aimed for relevance in the online advertising industry. We’ve studied consumer behaviour, analysing data and identifying trends. We’ve predicted how, where, and when consumers will engage with advertising and aspire to purchase products and services. We’ve created and lined-up campaigns. All of this to reach the much-touted holy grail of the right person, in the right place at the right time – and, of course, with the right message.

But the pandemic turned the advertising world upside down. Campaigns linked to real-world life quickly became passé and creative with images of people hugging became awkward. Meanwhile, budgets shrank, and targeting and brand safety strategies became out of sync with sudden shifts in content and consumer behaviour. The world changed rapidly, and relevance with it.

Whether brands have paused spend, pivoted campaigns or ploughed ahead, the resounding need voiced by marketers now is for new, fresh data insights. How can they ensure their campaigns are relevant amidst upheaval and scrutiny on budgets? How can they protect the brand while continuing to drive equity and awareness?

Historic data lost its value during this pandemic, and real-time relevance became king. As lockdown eases and the full effects of the crisis remain unknown, fresh data insights are no longer a nice-to-have for brands. In 2020 at least (if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that predictions will only get you so far), real-time data is a must-have for marketers.

No more predictions

We’ve seen this first-hand at eBay. As physical businesses shut shop and strict social distancing measures came into force, online became a vital lifeline for people across the UK and we saw a seismic shift in consumers’ shopping behaviour and interests.

When supermarket shelves became scarily empty during the first week of lockdown, people turned to eBay to get their essentials – that week we saw year on year searches on for ‘cat food’ jump 633%. And with gyms closed, people looked to get their physical fix at home, with searches for ‘dumbbells’ surging 1,003% YoY. No wonder fitness fans found stocks were low in the following weeks.

As lockdown rules relax over the coming weeks and months, we still don’t know how shopping behaviours will change. But it’s become blatant that assumptions about who consumers are, or what or when they’ll buy, is only half the battle. With human behaviour more unpredictable than ever, real-time consumer insights are not just helpful; they’re essential for marketers who want to have meaningful interactions with online audiences.

And with the art of predicting trends being near impossible, brands need to be prepared to continually pivot their approach in order to remain relevant to consumers – using the freshest, most relevant, data possible to inform their creative and brand safety strategies, and feed into their targeting strategies in real-time.

Relevance = efficiency

But brands don’t have unlimited resources to try and test new avenues. Budget cuts during this current period of uncertainty have forced marketers to be resourceful and do more with less. And while we should hopefully start seeing some more promising signs of recovery in the industry over the coming weeks, budgets will remain under scrutiny.

At a time when every business function needs to earn its keep, marketers can’t afford to waste spend by serving ads to audiences that won’t be interested in them. Brands need to nail relevancy; it goes hand in hand with efficiency.

Meanwhile, marketers need to have full control over who they’re engaging with and the messages they’re sharing. Getting this wrong at this sensitive, highly inflammatory moment could put a brand’s reputation at risk. Along with relevant messages, targeting and creative, an informed brand-safety strategy is another crucial ingredient in maximising ROI.

In this way, “fresh” data is playing an increasingly critical role in driving campaign performance, helping marketers to understand their target audiences and environments, and know how, where and when to engage with audiences for maximum impact.

A new era for real-time data

With brands now relying on the latest insights for nearly every aspect of their online ad strategy, effective marketing depends almost entirely upon the “freshness” of data. And it’s not lacking. There is abundant data available within the advertising industry, and it has the potential to push pure guesswork to the brink of extinction. Brands, publishers and agencies just need to shift their approach to, and appreciation of, data and insights.

Historic, or pre-Covid-19, insights aren’t a total write off. They still do have value and can be a helpful research tool – especially for key events such as Black Friday or Christmas. But while these insights help point us in the right direction, they can’t show the exact path we need to take.

Let’s say we want to target consumers who might be looking to buy the latest PlayStation or Xbox consoles later this year. Historic data can advise us on who shopped where and when people shopped. But this year there could be vast new numbers of people in market for these products and compatible products. To maximise ROI, brands need to know who’s in market in that moment, whoever they are.

In this new reality of real-time marketing, even day-old data could be considered out of date. Brands need to harness the latest insights to help them understand how consumer behaviour is changing in that moment, and to ensure they’re able to engage with the right people, with the right message, in a brand-safe environment.

The good news is that we already have the technology and expertise available to provide these real-time insights and put them to work. And, now that marketers have a heightened need to prove efficiency and ROI, this will only accelerate its uptake.

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