COVID-19 Marketing Impact

What will the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic be on your marketing strategy?

APRIL 1, 2020 update – Wow…three weeks can really change everything! There were a lot of questions and uncertainty when I first wrote this which are now common practice and in some cases, enforced, (e.g. working from home and using video meetings) and saying that Netflix will have increased subscriptions has now become a streaming issue as they are overwhelmed by demand.  Please keep that in mind when you read this because the correct response now will be “Well yeah! Duh!”. Stay safe. 

MARCH 11, 2020 – First and foremost, the COVID-19 pandemic is a human tragedy resulting in terrible worldwide loss. But the global economy obviously isn’t immune to it either. This article delves into a few areas of marketing that are affected.

Digital and Traditional Advertising

With general concern around the impact of COVID-19 and added volatility in the markets, some companies are cutting back on advertising campaigns. One anonymous marketer and media buyer cites a sudden 15% drop in online conversions so in response, is cutting their Facebook advertising budget by 10%.

Needham analysts expect decreases in Facebook ad spends  and other ad platforms. Advertising revenue is expected to drop “in the mid-teens” for the NY Times.

Brick and mortar retailers and restaurants are likely to decrease ad investments due to the anticipation of loss of foot traffic as people avoid public places and even possible retail location closures, regardless of advertising.

My insight: Apprehension about the stock markets and concern about corporate bottom lines due to lost revenue may lead to a decrease in ad spend, but I still believe there an opportunity in Digital Marketing (despite the anticipated advertising declines for Facebook listed above).

We’ve already seen dramatic decreases in travel, postponement of concerts like Coachella and Stagecoach, outright cancellation of events (many conferences and sporting events), the closures of museums (Louvre), theme parks (multiple locations in Asia), casinos, festivals, religious assemblies and decreased attendance at public gatherings like movie theatres and shopping malls.

Due to these factors, there has been a surge in a stay-at-home mentality. This means increased time at home, the number of hours online and screen time in general for all demographics (this “cocooning” effect leading to increased Netflix subscriptions). The increase in online consumer activity and employees working from home can be an opportunity to invest in digital advertising and pay-per-click campaigns for certain businesses.

Experiential MarketingExperiential marketing

With less in-person contact including the loss of sales and marketing efforts from conference cancellations, companies will see a decrease in face-to-face interactions.

Employees will be expecting increased capabilities to work remotely. Google has asked all of its North America employees to work from home to prevent coronavirus spread. Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, Square and others have made similar requests.

My insight: Brands need to focus on how to connect through an increase in online experiential marketing. Find creative digital ways to keep your target markets engaged.

Have a work-from-home policy whenever possible. If you don’t already have a corporate video conferencing software available to as many staff as possible, it’s time to get one. Consider outsourcing to third parties and consultants who are already set-up to work remotely.

Branding and MessagingBranding and messaging

The Purell brand has had an enormous amount of discussions around it since the virus started making headlines, including stories of $149 bottles on eBay. However, they are unable to mention coronavirus in its marketing and social media due to being regulated by the FDA rather than the EPA. The FDA classifies hand sanitizers as over-the-counter drugs, and they have no scientific evidence (yet) that proves it reduces the likelihood of viral infections.

With efforts to contain the coronavirus leading to the lockdown of an entire country,  the brands in the hospitality industry (airlines, hotels, restaurants, etc.) are the most impacted by Covid-19 with some predictions of the impact costing $10s of Billions.

My insight: Get in front of your messaging and your brand’s position is critical. Companies can’t brand the virus away but a proactive communications approach can help build loyalty. I’ve seen grocery stores install free hand sanitation stations, I received a WestJet email detailing their emergency response and enhanced airplane cleaning procedure and is waiving certain commissions and expects partners to waive cancellation fees. Supporting your clients and communicating to them effectively is never been more important than in unstable times.

Be prepared to react quickly. Your 2020 marketing plan likely didn’t anticipate the full extent of the events so far this year. Things are changing rapidly so campaign strategies need to respond rapidly as well. Bring in additional support to ensure you can respond accordingly.

But if your business and customers aren’t directly affected by the virus, stay the hell out of it! If your message isn’t truly beneficial and in the public’s interest, it will come across as tone-deaf and can have a hugely negative impact on your brand’s perception. That being said…there are probably very few businesses that aren’t affected by it.

Event Marketing CalgaryEvent Marketing

Major marketing events around the world are being cancelled or postponed (Intel, Microsoft, Facebook’s F8 and Global Marketing Summit, Collision, Mobile World Congress, etc.). Adobe and Google, amongst others, have cancelled their live events and instead, are hosting them online.

My insight: These cancellations can end up being very expensive for the hosting companies since most event cancellation insurance policies include things like natural disasters, labour disputes and acts of terrorism…but not infectious diseases (COVID-19: Is Your Event Covered). Sadly, it will have a huge impact on the travel and hospitality industries as well as the local economies of the host cities that will miss out on visitor business.

The shift to online hosting conferences will, however, bring an opportunity for to host virtual events using webinar software providers such as Adobe Connect, WebEx, Zoom, GoToWebinar and ezTalks. Virtual events have the benefit of being less costly, less risky and give added flexibility. The content can also easily be repurposed by making the presentations available via platforms like LinkedIn Slideshare or recording made available via YouTube and other Social Media platforms.


Most importantly, stay safe, stay healthy and for the love of God, wash your hands!

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