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Key insights to plan for growth after COVID-19

by Peter Buckley and Andy Childs

April 30, 2021

It’s hard to imagine, but as recently as last November, there was no fully-tested vaccine for COVID-19. We didn’t even know if a vaccine would work against this virus. Or what the future would bring.

Here we are, just a few months later, and how fast things have changed! 130 million doses of the vaccine have been given out across Europe.

This past year has seen sweeping shifts to how we live, work, communicate and shop and in some countries we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Companies are now looking forward to a new, post-coronavirus retail environment with new growth opportunities.

Back when we started Facebook Insights Live in March 2020 over 70% of the UK approved of hearing about brands COVID-19 response but by February this year this figure had shrunk to just 6%. Business has stopped communicating about COVID-19, too. Back in April 2020, when we analysed CPG and retail ads using the Facebook ads library, over 50% were related to COVID-19. We ran the same analysis in March—now only 3% do.

The question many are asking is: what’s next? Which new consumer behaviours will persist in a post-COVID world? And how, as marketers, can we set ourselves up for success in the long-term?

We have identified 3 ways to help business growth in a post-Covid World:

From caution to ambition

The first growth strategy is about moving from caution to ambition to capitalise on a truly unique moment. Consumer behaviour insights suggest that, after a period of caution, many people are now ready to look ahead to a brighter future.

Not only has the savings rate hit a historic high in the world’s major economies like UK, US Japan, Germany, France, Spain and Italy—meaning that the ratio of savings to personal income has increased—but most people with additional savings have not allocated a role for the money.

Over the last year a staggering $2.9 trillion additional household savings have been saved. It’s easy to glaze over with massive numbers like this. But to give some context the entire smartphone market globally is worth just over $714bn, the entire home appliances market is worth $331bn, the entire global box office for the movies is worth $136bn.

Combined with research showing around three quarters of adults globally have delayed a large purchase like a holiday, smartphone or appliance due to the pandemic, this suggests that many people may be ready to move from being relatively cautious to becoming more ambitious shoppers.

From intent to discovery

We believe one of the shifts is about moving from focusing on harvesting intent to driving growth through discovery. Bringing new audiences in, opening up new geographies, using new channels, finding new distribution will all help aid discovery and build growth.

There is clearly opportunity. While economies have struggled, cross-border commerce has boomed with 21% growth year on year (Ipsos 2020). In fact, over a third of online shoppers now report buying products from other countries.

People are also more open to trying new brands. While the shift to doing more online shopping is well documented, this is the second biggest shopping change people have made over the past three months, with a third of people trying more new brands and retailers.

What’s more, while customers searching for a product or visiting a retailer’s website may already have a specific purchase in mind (intent), social commerce gives them a chance to discover new products and buy.

Globally discovery has shifted. For years, TV was the number one channel for product and brand discovery, yet in Q4 2020 social media took over as the biggest channel for brand and product discovery globally.

47% of people globally (GWI Q1 2020) typically found out about new brands and products from social media—more than from TV (45%), search (34%) or retail websites (26%).

At Facebook, we call this approach—where the product finds the customer, rather than the customer seeking out a specific product—discovery commerce.

Discovery commerce can help brands respond to changing consumer behaviour. In the summer of 2020, when some travel restrictions were lifted in France, a Facebook and Instagram campaign sharing a special €30 ticket deal resulted in 43,000 ticket purchases for rail operator SNCF’s low-cost OUIGO offer—constituting a 29.39X return on ad spend.

Tools like Facebook’s cross border catalogue can also help companies reach new customers across different markets.

One campaign by sportswear retailer Under Armour used cross-border tools to dynamic show ads and sales catalogues in local languages and currencies, increasing return on investment by 2X and leading to a 35% increase in conversion rate and 35% decrease in cost per sale.

Nor is a discovery commerce approach limited to larger brands. In fact, social media advertising, which allows brands to carefully select which audiences to advertise to, can help smaller companies with a lower media spend punch above their weight and democratise e-commerce.

From communication to transformation

In this new post-COVID world we’re entering marketing and the role of the CMO will need to evolve also. While once CMOs focused on communication, now there is a clear need to shift their attention to transformation—as long term growth relies on transforming your products, your distribution, and indeed your entire business model.

Department store chain John Lewis has long been a staple of the British high street, and more recently is particularly well known for its Christmas TV adverts.

It’s a sign of a broader shift towards digital excellence, then, that John Lewis has announced plans to pivot to being a 60-70% digital company, investing in e-commerce, customer analytics and data analysis.

Additionally 300 years of British retail heritage salvaged by 2 digital companies with a combined age of 36. As digital companies: Boohoo has bought the Debenhams Dorothy Perkins, Wallis and Burton and Asos bought Arcadia's other leading brands, Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge.

Meanwhile, retailer Nike has hit three quarters of 80% digital growth (Nike Annual Report 2020) by focusing on a digital-first shopping, direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales and building a strong loyalty/rewards program.

These are just a few stories which highlight something many companies already realise: long-term, sustainable brand growth now comes from digital transformation, as opposed to communications alone.

This article is based on the Insights Live session, 'Three growth strategies for a post-COVID world'. Click here to watch the full session.

To learn more about discovery commerce and access actionable digital growth tips, sign up for the next Facebook Insights Live session.


Online Advertising
business growth
Insights Live
consumer behavior
COVID response
brrand growth