Medialab COVID Tracker | 23.04.20

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If reports from last weekend’s papers are to be believed, we are now approaching the ‘Red, Amber, Green’ zone of the crisis. Still actively adjusting to the needs of Q2, but slightly more able to look ahead to Q3 and Q4.

For many marketers, the adjustment in the short-term has been significant. A survey of almost 900 UK marketers by Marketing Week/Econsultancy found that 55% have postponed or are reviewing ad campaigns. The latest Bellwether report of UK-based companies found that a net balance of -6.1% of businesses cut their budgets in the first quarter. This is a sharp change from the previous Bellwether when a net balance of 4% of marketers reported an increase in budgets.

However, as studies from the IPA, Brand Z and Harvard Business Review have shown, businesses that find the opportunity to think medium term as well as adjusting in the short-term can expect to do better. Key to the medium-term is anticipating those changes that will persist and planning for them.

Dealing with the short-term: Successful adjustments to the crisis

Five weeks into the crisis, we have observed a selection of marketing behaviours that we believe are helping organisations adjust.

Taking advantage of a cost-deflationary media market

Our guidance from our last COVID tracker remains. Now is the time to test. Medialab is seeing strong direct response campaign performance across a range of partners, from charities to financial services. Take advantage of this extraordinary media market to gain learnings and test new channels.

Solving as well as selling

There is a clear expectation that companies should play their part. We have seen ample evidence of this from banks and supermarkets, many conveying the problems they are solving in a straightforward style. Think about your organisation’s existing products and services that are solving a problem for your customers, supporters, or colleagues. Think about whether these can be used to show your organisation is doing its bit in the crisis.

Showing support and asking for support

In the face of this onslaught, we are holding on fast to the anchor points of our normal lives. Key to this is regular communication from brands about the little things they are doing to support their employees, customer, suppliers, and the NHS. In return, people are showing that they are willing to support others that show support and compassion. Captain Tom Moore being the epitome of this, with £25m raised and a No.1 charity single.

Testing substitution to online

Finally, it is clear that people are making all kinds of substitutions to online in their day to day lives. Houseparty instead of a visit to the pub. Netflix or Disney+ instead of a visit to the cinema. Contact-free Uber Eats deliveries instead of dinner out. Organisations are quickly adapting to this, taking the opportunity to test the performance of online versions of formerly offline events, or just to test new ideas.

Planning for the medium term

In a crisis, it is natural to focus only on near-term business results and adopt a pure survival strategy. The tricky issue is planning for the medium-term, for later in the third or fourth quarter when the reality of the ‘next normal’ begins to kick in.

Changes in shopping habits that follows major events

Major life events, like the COVID-19 crisis and lockdown, precipitate widespread changes in habits. What new habits will we keep? Will the growth in our communities lead to new opportunities? What is the right balance of performance to brand spend?

Considering what people have missed during lockdown

A recent report published by Kantar shows the things people are most looking forward to when the lockdown begins to ease. Some of the results were surprising, like the sheer scale of people’s yearning for beauty therapy. Others were highly understandable like meeting friends for a night out, going to the cinema, or getting out and about in nature.

An accelerated shift to online

As behaviours stick, what attitudes will have shifted permanently, and what technologies will have firmly taken root in people’s lives? Will video conferencing permanently replace some interactions previously conducted in-person? Will digital ordering displace shopping previously conducted in-store? How will attitudes change regarding healthcare, or carbon usage, or investments, or institutions, or learning and education?


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