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Covid-19: How it changed marketing and will continue to do so

November 19, 2021

Almost two years ago, we set out our predictions for how the coronavirus would impact marketing in the UK. It’s been a long road since then, and despite a returning feeling of normalcy, there’s a way left to go before we can really announce this crisis is over.

That said, after 17 months, the era of Covid-19 consumer behaviour is beginning to take a definite shape, and so are the marketing strategies built around it. So, once again, let’s look at how the marketing world has been affected so far, and our predictions for the future.

The state of traditional marketing

The decline of traditional OOH marketing strategies certainly came about for a period. As expected, these forms suffered considerably during lockdown, with data from WARC indicating that the amount spent on offline media in 2020 dropped by about 20%.

However, what we did not consider is just how long the lockdowns would last – and how they would change what consumers want. After a year of spikes and quarantines, people are now eager to return to a feeling of normality.

Data from the United States indicates that traditional advertising spend is currently seeing its fastest period of growth in almost a decade – after shrinking 5.3% in 2020. In the UK, both ITV and the BBC have been enjoying performance that is significantly stronger than predicted – with ITV in particular benefiting from hosting the UEFA Championship.

Whether this will endure is another question. Even at the height of the lockdown, television viewership has stagnated. It seems probable that the burst of prosperity that returning consumers are providing will soon stabilise, leaving brands to deal with the significant fallout of the 2020 dry period.

Organic and online traffic

In the end, the drop in organic traffic was far more dramatic than we could have predicted, way back in April 2020. At the time, official opinion was that the virus would be defeated within a few months. That turned out not to be the case. Instead, lockdowns continued into 2021, meaning brick and mortar businesses were closed for much, much longer than expected.

Some industries did experience unexpected benefits from this. Retail companies, for example, have actually seen a period of definite growth in sales since the beginning of 2020. To a great extent, this is due to a rise in the popularity of online retail, which increased to make up 27.9% of sales in July 2021, an almost 10% increase from 19.8% in February 2020.

The online retail trend corresponds to a broader pattern of people becoming more online over the last two years – something we expect is here to stay. Data from Hootsuite suggests that the average individual in the UK now spends six hours and 26 minutes on the internet every day – almost an hour more than back in 2020. In addition, there are 1.5 million more people using the UK internet now than 12 months ago.

The companies that have weathered the pandemic most effectively are the ones who adapted to this change early, and were able to integrate new technology into their strategies. The exponential rise of video call services like Zoom is perhaps the best example of this, but there are many smaller success stories as well.

How has the consumer changed?

If you’re thinking that all of this likely indicates major changes in how consumers think, you’d be right. People are even more engaged with their technology than before, with mobile phone usage being way up. Average time spent in apps in Q2 2021 has increased as much as 45% since 2019, and in the UK people now use them for an average of 3.8 hours every day.

This shift has been partly driven by a drive (both by the government and private companies) to integrate apps more thoroughly into people’s lifestyle. The most downloaded apps in the first two quarters of 2021 were the NHS App and the NHS Covid-19 app, followed by Greene King and Wetherspoon Order and Play.

Consumers have also changed in less foreseeable ways. They’re eager to return to live events, and the kind of experiences that they had access to before the virus, but how they view themselves in relation to companies is different from how it once was.

Brand loyalty has declined significantly, something many believe is likely to endure, and yet customers are now also expecting more from companies. Many companies have engaged in corporate social responsibility (something we recently talked about here) to help however they can during the pandemic, and consumers have proved to be receptive to this. Now, 65% of consumers place the trustworthiness of a brand as the top reason for recommending them, a positive trend, given that previously, there was concern that the public was not fully connecting with CSR policies.

Some examples of companies doing what they can to help during the pandemic include Nike providing outreach and helping to manufacture PPE, Amazon expanding its hiring and increasing their wages, and Complex Creative’s own pro-bono programme to help support small businesses.

What’s happened to social media advertising?

Across the board, the spend on online advertising has exploded, with the digital sector reaching £27.7 billion by the time we reach 2022, a record 18.2% growth. This means online advertising now makes up more than 40% of UK marketing budgets – a massive increase from previous years.

This increase has been spread across all aspects of online marketing. Social media and online video advertising is up 17% in 2021, and Google Ads’ revenue has grown 69%. Unfortunately, the return on investment seems to be stagnating, with data from Skai indicating that social CPM (cost per thousand impressions) has increased 41% in 2021.

Also interesting is that Facebook, the largest social media platform, and where the most advertising money is spent, seems to be stalling in the US and Europe. DAU counts in these regions are receding, despite continuing to add new users – and raising its ad prices. The declining userbase could be due to many reasons, but it seems likely that it corresponds to a well-documented dislike of social media among millennials.

What all of this means for advertisers is that prices are going up, while the social media platforms are becoming oversaturated with ads, and therefore becoming less effective. If you’re a small company, without the big budget to compete with the major brands, that means it’s becoming important to get everything you can out of your online spend.

What has been the impact on influencer marketing?

At the start of the Covid-19, influencers were in a precarious position. As we predicted, a large amount of work vanished, leaving content creators suddenly adrift. In an interview with Forbes back at the very start of the lockdowns in June 2020, influencer Elma Beganovich claimed that the pricing of influencers dropped as much as 30% to 40%.

Since then, though, the surge of online activity caused by everyone being stuck in their homes has resulted in an explosion of popularity for influencers. In many cases, they have been able to adapt faster and more effectively to the new status quo than large marketing departments. Their success in this can be seen from the average number of likes on posts increasing by 67.1%, and comments by 51.3%.

Marketing departments are aware of this trend, and so there has been a major shift towards influencer marketing over the last year. As a result, post pricing has already recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and seems set to continue to rise. This doesn’t mean smaller businesses are priced out of the market, though – only that they have to be careful about where they spend their money.

Conclusion

In 2020, we predicted that the coronavirus would essentially see the creation of a whole new market. We said that the shift to digital would accelerate, and those companies who looked to online solutions, rather than shutting up shop entirely would be the ones that benefited – and we have seen this come to pass.

Though governments are pushing a return to normal, the habits that consumers have learned over the last year are here to stay. High internet usage, and a greater focus on e-Commerce, aren’t going anywhere – even though people are certainly eager to also participate in the same physical experiences that they once had.

That’s why we think that the most successful brands going forward will be the ones who are able to balance both aspects to construct effective omnichannel marketing strategies. The lessons of the last year have been hard ones – so make sure to remember them going forward, as you work to capitalise on the strengths of both the digital, and the physical.

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Coronavirus
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