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Marketing in a Post-pandemic World: A Conversation with Our Digital Leaders

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Marketing in a Post-pandemic World: A Conversation with Our Digital Leaders

Marketing in a Post-pandemic World: A Conversation with Our Digital Leaders

As the world begins to re-open its doors, one thing is certain: life as we knew it pre-pandemic is gone. But what does this mean for businesses that are trying to stay ahead of the curve? With Phase Three steadily underway, peak retail season around the corner, and a million questions still left unanswered, some of Arcane’s strategic leaders sat down to discuss the future of marketing in a post-pandemic world.

How Has COVID-19 Impacted Consumer Behaviour?

Tom McIntosh, Senior Manager, Strategic Partnerships

Consumers are online more than ever (of course!). This has advanced the effects of fragmented attention spans and speed of conversions, which has resulted in an increasingly competitive environment. As a result, brands now have even less time to “sell” and better do it in a meaningful way in order to garner that conversion.

Trevor Carter, Senior Manager, Digital Marketing

Not only has shopping naturally shifted from in-store purchasing to ecommerce, but opportunity and demand have actually increased as consumers are being exposed to more advertising in general. YouTube usage has skyrocketed, and therefore YouTube advertising is hitting an all-time high. At the same time, consumers are spending more time on social media, causing channels like Instagram and TikTok to explode.

Cole Mason, VP, Strategy

We’re seeing large groups of consumers spend more money online than ever before, resulting in brands with direct-to-consumer (DTC) options and digitally-savvy home-focused organizations (consumer electronics, appliances, home improvement, home services, etc.) reaping the majority of that spend. We’ll have a better pulse on consumer spending in the next couple of months, just as we head into the traditional peak retail season (it will be digital).

Anissa Viger, Senior Lead, Digital Marketing

With work-from-home mandates and a shift in daily routines, internet use and buying habits have completely changed. As individuals spend more time at home on their laptops, we’re seeing an increase in online shopping and browsing during typical “working hours”. As such, things like ad schedules within digital platforms and reprioritizing desktop versus mobile placements are more important than ever.

What Changes Have You Seen in the Industry since the Pandemic Hit?

Cole Mason, VP, Strategy

Digital marketing has been a rollercoaster the past five months, with some brands and retailers going bankrupt, big brands throwing massive amounts of money at top-of-funnel tactics with little strategic focus (sometimes driving up the overall cost to advertise), and others seemingly pausing it all with no notice to their customers.

On the flip-side, there are many organizations that have approached advertising throughout the pandemic with caution, both managing their own reserves and taking the time to understand the wants and needs of their customer. These businesses typically kept the lights on, serviced their loyal customers, levelled-up their digital presence, and in the past couple of months have ramped up their digital advertising with great success.

Tom McIntosh, Senior Manager, Strategic Partnerships

Full-price purchasing is a thing of the past. While deep discounting isn’t often the best way to optimize for profit, consumers are letting small discounts sway their decisions significantly. Tools like Honey and RetailMeNot might not always have large deals, but consumers are frothing for small discounts (even just 10%) in order to commit to buy.

Trevor Carter, Senior Manager, Digital Marketing

Many companies have needed to put marketing efforts on hold as they haven’t been able to conduct business. However, we’ve seen more focus on ecommerce as a response to that. Advertisers are following the users into channels like TikTok and Snapchat, dialling up their investment in YouTube, and relying on channels like Google search and Facebook/Instagram as their backbone.

Since the pandemic began, we’ve also seen waves of civil unrest surrounding the BLM movement and a boycott of Facebook advertising in the month of July. All of these things happening in tandem have made it an incredibly volatile few months. The ability for agencies and marketers to be agile and shift focus quickly has been paramount.

How Has Your Approach to Marketing Shifted in Response?

Trevor Carter, Senior Manager, Digital Marketing

If there is a positive, it’s that I’ve had to become more comfortable with uncertainty. The cliché of “unprecedented times” gets thrown around a lot, but in our industry, a lot of our assumptions and automations are based on precedent. Unpredictability makes it more difficult, but right now we need to accept it.

The other thing I’ve become more aware of is the sensitivity of consumers as it is impacted by the world events happening around them. There have been days when it has felt insensitive to promote products, days when the anxiety of the constantly changing, increasingly negative news cycle has made it an inopportune time to promote consumption on any level. As marketers, we need to be sensitive to this and react the right way: with compassion and understanding, and actually take a back seat in the cultural moment.

Cole Mason, VP, Strategy

Brand awareness campaigns using top-of-funnel tactics are now more important than ever, regardless of the size of your brand. With consumers spending more time at home, passive consumption platforms (such as YouTube or other social platforms) are garnering more watch/view/engagement time than ever before. With layered targeting, these platforms provide a cost-effective way to drive brand lift, further consideration, and prepare audiences for other tactics to drive action.

It is also critical to ensure that your brand (everything about who you are and how you present yourself) and digital presence are consistent, aligned with consumer expectations, and optimized for conversion. It’s easy to spend more money on platforms, but it takes time and energy to ensure cohesion across all marketing efforts.

What Is Your Biggest Piece of Advice for Businesses Right Now?

Anissa Viger, Senior Lead, Digital Marketing

Don’t base your marketing decisions on what happened in the past — base your marketing decisions on what is happening today. Learn, grow, and optimize.

Cole Mason, VP, Strategy

We’re in a period of major societal change with many brands struggling to adapt and others leading the charge with progressive shifts in messaging and doubling-down on digital for both marketing and conversion. Take stock of your current state — from brand to marketing (offline and digital) to technology to fulfillment to post-sale support and all of the components in-between. Appreciate where you’ve been and where you are now, but also be ready for change.

Trevor Carter, Senior Manager, Digital Marketing

Find ways to stay connected with your audience, even if you aren’t able to provide the same service they’re used to. If you are able to maintain that connection and provide helpful information or feel-good content, your audience will stay loyal. More than ever, your customers are looking for the most up-to-date information about your business (hours, rules around COVID) directly on Instagram and Facebook, rather than hitting your website at all, so make sure you are updating those channels regularly.

Use the downtime you may have now to work on the things you may not have prioritized before: get that website mobile-friendly, optimize your content for search engines, and work on simplifying the path-to-conversion for your users. Claim and optimize your Google My Business listing (add photos, videos, information). If you can, produce video content that you can use when your business comes back online.

Tom McIntosh, Senior Manager, Strategic Partnerships

Don’t stand still and do nothing — treat the current situation like a testing period. Your audiences are online more than ever and peak retail moments aren’t bound to calendar times anymore. Keep the core tactics in play while exploring the frontier of new tactics, new messaging, and new audiences.

The pandemic has spawned a small renaissance period. Now is the time to try something new in a small, controlled manner. And like anything, gauge success, but understand it may not be the long-term strategy for growth. Enjoy the incremental wins as you can, and who knows, you may uncover a unicorn idea.

Where Do You See Digital Marketing Heading Post-pandemic?

Trevor Carter, Senior Manager, Digital Marketing

When all of this is over, the world is not going back to the way it was before: many people will continue to work from home; businesses will continue with some of the tactics they developed during the pandemic (pickup, delivery, distancing, etc.); shoppers will be more accustomed to online shopping and perhaps less likely to visit retail locations. 

Our job will be to help our partners navigate that world. Digital marketing might not change much when it comes to tactics and media channels, but our strategies will need to shift: businesses with omnichannel strategies may shift entirely to ecommerce, lead-based marketing strategies that have been on pause may need to invest very heavily in order to make up for lost momentum — who knows!

I think we’ll be entering a world where the advertising space is even more crowded, more aggressive, and more complex than ever. We’ll need to be agile and strategic, and always ready for that next big change.

Anissa Viger, Senior Lead, Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is always changing. That’s why I love it. This pandemic is just a bump in the road that we will all learn and move forward from. If you are not challenging yourself, you are not learning and this has been a huge learning curve that we will all grow from.

Tom McIntosh, Senior Manager, Strategic Partnerships

Tough to say. One thing is for sure: it’s the continued path towards declining brick-and-mortar shopping. Businesses that have never been online in the past are transforming into online operations while, at the same time, consumers are the most comfortable they’ve ever been purchasing unconventional items online — Instacart’s platform for groceries is a prime example of this.

Overall, consumers are looking for uninterrupted and as-close-to-instant gratification as possible in their buying experiences. The better you can facilitate ad content into a routine environment, with little interruption, the better. If you can then capitalize on fulfilling the conversion in a fast and seamless experience, you’ve hit the jackpot.

Cole Mason, VP, Strategy

While the initial jump in digital ecommerce revenue has calmed down, it’s still well-above typical levels, even when factoring in aggressive year-over-year growth. A new benchmark has been set and while it is not too late for brands and retailers to adapt to a digital-first experience, it’s important to move quickly. We don’t know exactly what the peak retail season will mean for revenue goals, but we do know that digital will play a larger role than ever before. Stay tuned!

If You Stay Ready, You Don’t Have to Get Ready

So, what does all this really boil down to? In short, digital marketing has always been a rapidly changing industry, the pandemic only escalated the process. But don’t panic — just keep an eye on the trends, stay ready to pivot when an opportunity presents itself, and show your customers you care.

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Charlotte Emeljanow

Charlotte is a Copywriter at Arcane. As the resident wordsmith, she knows her way around a thesaurus. Her skills include spending most of her paycheque on clothes, quoting too much Harry Potter, and making things sound good.