One year later: How COVID-19 Changed Digital Marketing
Mar 31 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic threw the world a curveball this time last year, requiring entire industries to adapt faster than ever before to keep up with consumer needs while working from home offices under uncertain circumstances. The changes that followed impacted the entire marketing landscape, from the average customer journey to the spike in media consumption.
Here are some of the most impactful changes we’ve seen in the digital ad-space within the past year, and how businesses can best move forward with these powerful trends.
Customer Priorities Shifted
Brand loyalties, once-comfortable routines, and buying preferences were all disrupted last March as consumer shopping habits adapted to pandemic safety measures and an entirely new set of priorities. The suddenness of this disruption caused the majority of customers to establish new shopping habits from the ground up and opened the door for brands to show their human side in a time of crisis.
In 2021, customers expect more from their unspoken social contract with brands and businesses. Nine out of ten customers now say they prefer buying from “businesses that prioritize customer and employee safety.” Nearly 80% of customers prefer brands that can clearly explain “how they are being helpful” on the long road to post-pandemic recovery.
The “Why” behind these figures is simple: customers want to see brands take a step away from exploitative self-promotion and toward more humanized messaging. Their activity since the initial outbreak of COVID-19 has reflected just how serious these priorities have become, as 45% of Americans have reportedly changed brand preferences since the onset of the pandemic.
Streaming Trend Shows No Signs of Stopping
Aided by increased streaming options and the inability for many in the U.S. to enjoy typical outdoor or public activities for the past year, home viewership on streaming services made a major leap in 2020 — and ad dollars have followed.
More than a quarter of U.S. households are expected to eliminate cable programming in favor of streaming services within the next two years, continuing a sharp trend that saw 15% of U.S. cable subscribers ditch traditional TV services in 2020. As the number of streaming consumers continues its upward trajectory, marketers have responded to the unique opportunities afforded by CTV ads.
The rise in CTV usage coincides with an expanding role for video advertising in every marketer’s game plan. According to eMarketer, more brands are discovering the advantages of CTV ads compared to traditional broadcast TV as 60% of US advertisers plan to shift ad dollars from linear TV to either CTV or OTT this year, with the majority citing increased targeting capabilities and ad spend efficiency as the reason.
Even as summer approaches and pre-pandemic activities outside of the home resume, CTV can be expected to serve as a popular method of ad-delivery for years to come.
Users Responded to Shorter Buying Cycles
The typical journey from initial brand discovery to completed online purchase saw big changes in 2020. Major social platforms introduced new tools to help connect ad partners with audiences in more easily-shoppable formats, including Facebook Page Shops and Instagram Shop. As consumers became increasingly comfortable with online shopping in the past year, these tools helped eliminate obstacles to the customer journey by offering in-app and on-site buying options.
Marketers capitalized by running shoppable ads across these platforms, giving access to quicker checkouts and removing the hassle of directing users to a branded website. That’s a positive development for both brands and consumers, considering post-pandemic customers have come to expect faster service and more efficient checkout processes in their online shopping experience.
In many ways, the average customer journey has become simplified — leaving little room for error if something goes wrong. Customer reviews and feedback are more significant than ever as users look for positive recommendations and brands seek to optimize conversions and win customers through consistently favorable interactions. Marketing trends will surely continue to fluctuate, but advertisers can have confidence in the days ahead as these trends offer more opportunity to earn customer loyalty.