How COVID-19 has changed marketing forever
In early 2020, marketing and media companies prepped for a busy year ahead, including the Summer Olympics and a contentious national election.
And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In the marketing world, businesses scrambled to distribute goods and services in new ways. TV and film production paused. In-person events were canceled. And many brands put the brakes on advertising.
Although marketing and advertising ticked back up in the second half of 2020, businesses looking ahead are asking whether the trends of the last 12 months—the accelerated shift to streaming video, online shopping, curbside pickup and casual clothes—will be permanent or temporary.
What can the marketing world expect during the next twelve months? After a year like 2020, it can feel daunting to make predictions, but in Ad Age’s new trend report—“2021 Forecast: Has the Pandemic Changed Consumer Behavior Forever?”—our experts offered thoughts and analysis to guide marketers and their agency partners as they navigate the rest of this year and begin thinking about 2022.
The following excerpt from “2021 Forecast” shows how consumer media consumption shifted during the pandemic, with the jury out on what parts will be permanent:
For brands disenchanted with some of the media options, particularly traditional linear television, the notion of “marketing” may shift, especially in the near term. Rather than analyzing media choices and shifting ad dollars from medium to medium, GroupM Global President of Business Intelligence Brian Wieser says, “Maybe the changes brands make this year are not media investments, but investing in product, customer service and the customer experience.” He thinks some companies will opt to invest marketing dollars in improvements or expansion of distribution strategies, and their own ecommerce platforms, websites and apps.
Restaurant franchises caught unprepared by the need for curbside pickup, takeout and online ordering, for instance, already have tried to catch up by streamlining menus and optimizing websites, apps and delivery partners. Industry analysts think restaurant spaces may change too, with more focus on drive-thru and pick-up areas and less seating.
Forrester analyst Jay Pattisall says the pandemic “flipped everything on its head. It used to be that branding communications was the constant, and we’d look to technology for opportunities. Technology used to be the differentiator. The priorities have flipped. Now technology—marketing technology, data, analytics, ad tech—will be the foundation.”
Jane Ostler, global head of media effectiveness for the insights division of Kantar, says one byproduct of the pandemic and the shift in how consumers shop “is the expectation that brands deliver their brands and services in ways that meet consumer needs. Those that don’t will be left behind. That means more rapid movement toward direct-to-consumer sales—an approach no longer confined to upstart brands.”
Creating the best customer experience is critical to reinforce or rebuild brand loyalty. The past year’s business closures, product shortages, supply chain disruption and household economic constraints often have left consumers unable to purchase their first-choice brands. Kantar calls this “forced trial.” In its LifePoints U.S. consumer surveys during 2020, for instance, diaper buyers told researchers they were forced to try a different brand because of product shortages—and only 43% said they would return to their regular brand when available. Similarly, 36% of pasta purchasers said they were forced to try new brands, and only 37% said they’d return to their usual brand.
As Scott McDonald, president and CEO of the Advertising Research Federation, points out, “Throughout our history, every major disruption that we’ve studied leads to some reshuffling of brands. Even in normal times, when there are big changes in normal households, it tends to shuffle the brand loyalty deck.”
Ad Age Insider subscribers can download the full trend report—and more exclusive member content, including case studies, other trend reports and the in-depth white paper "Downtime Opportunity," examining innovation in economic downturns from the 1930s to the present—here. Learn more about Ad Age membership levels and benefits here.