Short-Term Digital Marketing Strategies to Help Online Retailers Through COVID-19

Short-Term Digital Marketing Strategies to Help Online Retailers Through COVID-19

Let’s be blunt: this is not business as usual. The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a pandemic. With the virus galloping around the world and taking a hit on the global economy, the impact on retailers continues to unfold.

There’s little doubt COVID-19 presents a set of challenges to many businesses—from event cancellations to supply-chain disruptions—but it’s important to also look for the nuggets of opportunity that exist for shopping. A crisis can be an opportunity to change how you market: the moves you make today can provide real, long-term value over time and position your business for further success. 

In this piece, we outline some short-term guidelines on how to tweak your digital marketing strategy in light of COVID-19.

Look at your short-term messaging

Know. Your. Audience. Customers need and want to hear from your business right now. 

A few things to consider in your digital marketing campaigns:

  • Will it support your shoppers during this time—and, if so, how? Does this have the potential to be buried or disregarded as irrelevant in this climate?
  • Does it make sense to announce this new promotion or product now? Is there a better time to launch without delaying your progress and your ability to get it done?
  • Does your message seem appropriate and considerate of the context we're in? Keep in mind that, while most countries have been affected, some are feeling the pinch more than others.

Proactivity and transparency is key when connecting with your customers. There’s little doubt that many things are disrupted: major events canceled or moved online, employees may be working remotely, demand for products is constantly changing, and supply-chain challenges exist, including delays and out-of-stock products.

It’s important to have empathy for what shoppers are dealing with in order to continue to build trust with current and potential customers. This could include proactive updates through email, your website, or your digital ad campaigns, depending on the changing situation. Below are some need-to-knows as a general guideline:

  • Do events or store operations/locations need to be moved temporarily closed or moved online? Communicate these changes on your site and/or via email as soon as possible. Turn off or revise any ad campaigns associated with the event.
  • Are you expecting delays in shipping products? It can be helpful to let prospective shoppers know before they enter your store. Add a line in any relevant ad campaigns, and then again on your site and shipping terms to help make sure customers understand the delays.

Review your short-term digital marketing spend

When things get rocky, it might be tempting to slash your paid marketing budget—particularly in light of cashflow concerns in an uncertain future. Your tendency might be to stop, dial down and save. But it’s important to fight against this instinct. A few points to consider: 

  • In light of this growing audience, many businesses are boosting their digital ad spend on Facebook and Google. But it’s still a crowded space, so consider other options, such as advertising on podcasts or video games. Both are growing in popularity and are reasonably inexpensive, compared to the saturated Google and Facebook ad platforms.
  • It’s expected that COVID-19 could lead to more favorable ad pricing and reduced competition for consumer attention. If you want to build your brand over the long term, it’s beneficial to keep your presence, but with appropriately modified messaging.
  • Retailers should consider advertising any specific shipping deals, and/or gift card deals. Companies like office-supply store Staples, and fast-food restaurant Chipotle are offering free delivery.
  • It might be time to re-allocate spending, in light of postponed/canceled events and trade shows. If possible, hold your events online, which can help you increase engagement globally and promote your virtual event through digital ads.
  • Measure, optimize, improve. Are your ad campaigns working? Keep them on or optimize them.
  • If your ad campaigns aren’t working, start thinking about how to scale them down or stop them altogether. Review your advertising to see what campaigns are generating sales and which ones aren’t. While it’s important to keep an eye on a drop in sales, it’s important to not look at them in isolation as there are many other factors at play. Other indicators, such as changes in search volume as well as conversion rate fluctuations, will also factor into your digital ad performance. Above that, a drop in online shopping across the board due to COVID-19 will also have an impact.
  • This is a good time to experiment. Test, learn, move on, and experiment with something new. Leveraging your digital channels more aggressively is a move you make today, which can help you strengthen your online presence over the long term.

Create geo-specific audiences in your digital marketing campaigns

Also consider your different geographies when deciding on your audience for your digital advertising campaigns. Every country is on a different trajectory with COVID-19 and it’s important to take that into account when it comes to messaging.

China can serve as a crystal ball for what we might see ahead. Unable to leave their homes, many turned to meeting online, and app downloads boomed during the COVID-19 outbreak—around 40% higher during the first few weeks of February than the average for 2019.

Your short-term digital marketing strategy will make a difference in the long run

Stanford economist Paul Romer said “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” and he’s right: It’s a good time for you to focus on the health of your business, while also not losing sight of your long-term plan. Challenging times can help shine a light on vulnerabilities, help drive large-scale change and allow you to try new things when it comes to your digital ad strategy.

The next few weeks and months might be bumpy. The silver lining? The changes you make today will help strengthen the foundation of your business and position it for long-term success.

About the author