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What 2020 has taught me about sudden change on human behaviour

Change can often take a lot longer to eventuate than we first anticipate, says Dan O'Connor, the sales director for South East Asia at Quantcast. Covid-19 has forced many businesses to change rapidly, a lot will also return to normal and change will be more gradual. Regardless of the pace of change, advertisers will want their brands seen by the most relevant people and bought.

It is fair to say life is a little different than it was six months ago when I arrived with my family in Singapore. We landed at Changi Airport, not a mask in sight, shook hands with the lovely taxi driver who took us to our apartment. The next morning, I would head into town and join thousands of others in a 56 level tower full of office workers. Fast forward to today and that has been replaced by zero office hours, minimal in-person meetups, masks at all times in public, and certainly no travel.

The first half of 2020 may not be a period I will likely look back on with the fondest of memories, but it will certainly be the period where I have learnt the most about our industry and the impact of sudden change on human behaviour.

Performance is important but don’t forget about brand

The shift from brand budgets to performance budgets has been an obvious one. With the uncertainty around how Covid-19 is going to affect different regions in Asia, each market has a different approach. What is consistent is that every media dollar spent is watched with an eagle eye and measured solely on driving a strong ROI. We have seen some sectors show strong growth including tech, telco, finance, QSR and e-commerce. As an example, you can see below the performance of Quantcast’s broadband clients since lockdown was announced in Singapore in late March.

Brands that do not continue to engage with their customers during the tough times will be the ones left exposed. If performance is the only focus for 2020, brands will lose touch with their consumers and risk falling to their competition. This highlights that advertising alone cannot be considered as a direct ROI but as an investment for the future.

The sectors that have suffered during Covid-19 have been travel, entertainment and automotive.

Unfortunately, the travel sector isn’t showing signs of coming back as yet but we are starting to see some positive indicators. This is a very different story to Australia and the US, where domestic travel makes up a large proportion of flights and hotel occupancy. For example, 77% of flights out of Sydney Airport are domestic, a grand total of zero flights in Singapore are domestic. Airline operators will also be now considering what the new world of international travel looks like for their customers once airports are open. This video from the Wall Street Journal is a great snapshot of all the considerations needed going forward.

The travel sector is such an enormous industry in Singapore and South East Asia and seeing the GDP of Singapore shrink by 41% in Q2 shows its impact on the economy. The good news is that the desire for travel is there, we are just waiting for a green light.

If you look at Quantcast’s keyword planning tool, a tool enabling us to tap into Quantcast’s real-time audience behaviour data, and the term “flights”, people in Singapore are desperate for an international break and are reading up on where to go. Airlines may, however, need to spend more on highlighting their safety aspects to reassure some potential passengers as found in our recent travel insights study.

The same keyword planner a few months ago showed that the main associations with the term “flights” were refunds, Covid-19, safety and quarantine.

More and more advertisers want to make sure they are advertising topically and thinking more laterally about real-time advertising and consumer sentiment. We predict programmatic advertising will flourish faster than what is forecast to for the next few years in Asia.

Staying connected can be challenging, find creative solutions that work for you and your teams.

Sadly, I have not been able to spend nearly enough time with our team due to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. To ensure we stay connected, we have daily check-ins. The key to ensuring everyone remains engaged is to have a different purpose for each catch-up. I learnt very quickly that a “daily check-in” was going to lose steam very quickly! The daily catch ups can be anything from a sales meeting to a virtual drink or joke of the week. What is most important is that everyone attends and contributes, and we are all on the same page of what we are aiming to achieve. Connectivity to your team is so important for keeping everyone motivated and also for mental health.

What I have learnt is that the office isn’t such a bad place after all. For a large proportion of us, home is simply not the most effective workspace.

The most important learning is to let people have flexibility in doing their job to the best of their ability. This might be at home, in a coffee shop, in a park OR in an office. I believe the office is where great ideas are formed, bonds are formed with colleagues, and teams work together to drive the business forward. Spending time together as a team in person is better than seeing each other virtually.

Where to from here

Change can often take a lot longer to eventuate than we first anticipated. One of the best quotes is from Bill Gates who said: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” Whilst Covid-19 has forced many businesses to change rapidly, a lot will also return to normal and change will be more gradual. Regardless of the pace of change, advertisers will want their brands seen by the most relevant people and bought.

Dan O'Connor is the sales director for South East Asia at Quantcast

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