Modify Your Advertising Strategy for Tighter Budgets

May 1, 2020
Contributor: Rama Ramaswami

Understanding the three categories of business visibility can help marketers adjust their advertising strategies to be most effective.

As COVID-19 spread in the U.S., travel was among the first industries to feel its impact, with widespread business and job losses. Sports and entertainment followed swiftly. Within a few weeks, most sectors slowed dramatically or even came to a standstill.

With the pandemic continuing to disrupt business conditions, marketing leaders are rethinking their advertising strategies. In a recent Gartner survey of marketers, the majority of respondents reported significant budget cuts.

Expected Impact of COVID-19 on Marketing Budgets in 2020

Even with limited resources, however, marketers still need to get messages out to customers, especially now that they’re homebound and engaging with media more often. The key to changing advertising strategies successfully is to gauge the level of visibility the business has and reallocate resources to the most viable areas.

“While the effects of coronavirus are felt globally, its business impact varies widely by industry sector,” says Andrew Frank, Distinguished VP Analyst, Gartner. “The lack of a one-size-fits-all media strategy means examining sectors based on their visibility.”

Tailor ad strategies to industry visibility

Depending on how active their commercial operations are, sectors can be dark, shaded or spotlit. Dark-sector businesses — such as sports, travel and hospitality, and nonessential brick-and-mortar retail — have mostly suspended operations, and their advertising and brand marketing are minimal. Shaded sectors remain operational but face plummeting demand or supply chain and capacity disruptions; automotive and consumer durables, business-to-business products and services, energy and utilities, and prescription drugs fall into this category. Most shaded sectors initially cut back on advertising during the coronavirus outbreak but are now fine-tuning their creative executions to be sensitive to its impact.

“Marketers in spotlit sectors must adopt approaches more sophisticated than simple keyword blocking of coronavirus-related terms.”

Sectors spotlit by the crisis include healthcare, insurance, online retail and delivery, and news media services. These industries are repurposing advertising channels to convey vital information to customers. Concerns about brand safety have led many marketers to use tools that block ad placement near certain keywords, such as “pandemic” or “quarantine,” to avoid association with disturbing content. To ensure that their messages get through, however, marketers in spotlit sectors must adopt approaches more sophisticated than simple keyword blocking of coronavirus-related terms. Ad tech companies are developing tools to enable ad placement in news reports while minimizing risk to brand safety.

Managing Budget Cuts

Optimize budgets and investments across marketing programs.

Match messaging to three customer needs

A key priority for marketers is to keep customers loyal during the current crisis. “When you’re heading into uncertainty, taking care of your existing customers is extremely important,” says Eric Schmitt, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “Your messaging can be boiled down to three things: The safety of your customers and employees, the conveniences you offer — such as curbside pickup, telehealth visits or evening hours  — and what you’re doing to address financial uncertainty.”

For example, even dark-sector businesses such as travel are issuing extensions for expiring membership benefits, confirming rebooking flexibility and detailing hygiene measures in their direct messaging campaigns.

Review the tone of every message and how attuned it is to geographical location. “It’s important to tailor the message to the region in which it is running,” says Frank. “Pay close attention to variations in different parts of the country and the world.”

Prepare to pivot

For maximum flexibility, consider making media planning decisions more frequently by moving to a weekly or biweekly planning cycle. Communicate regularly and openly with media agencies. In the current situation, with no historical data available, it’s critical to stay on top of conditions in different markets and keep track of what messaging works and what doesn’t.

“Marketers need to be ready to pivot quickly, particularly to make sure they’re not outrun by competitors,” says Frank. “But they also need to be realistic about the need to conserve funds in case there is an extended slowdown in the economy.”

Staying nimble and adjusting to situations as needed will enable advertisers to make the most of budgets that may shrink even further as the pandemic unfolds. A strategy of agility tempered with caution may well determine how marketers weather the current crisis.

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