Effective Go To Market Strategies During COVID-19 Pandemic

As critical as it was to act rapidly to protect your business during the onset of COVID-19, it is just as important to be ready to rebound. If you simply pick up where you left off, you’re headed for failure. Read on this article for guidance on how to go to market in the most effective way possible in this new climate.

COVID-19 Rebound Strategy Guide
COVID-19 Rebound Strategy Guide

In this article we’ll share insights on:

  • Developing new goals & strategies
  • Redefining and discovering new audiences
  • Creating authentic messaging and content
  • Utilizing measurement and testing
  • Finding growth potential within changing environments

Content Summary

Goals and Strategy
Audience and Targeting
Messaging and Creative
Measurement, Testing, and Learning
Acceleration and Optimization

In times of crisis, it’s human nature—not to mention, good business sense—to act defensively and ride out whatever the world throws at you.

For marketers in the time of COVID-19, that has meant adjusting spend, pivoting messaging, rethinking your audience, and, in some cases, pausing programs or having to re-evaluate your go-to-market.

Many went into survival mode. As critical as it is to act rapidly to adjust to protect your business, it is just as important to be ready to rebound. As tempting as it is to think of this as simply turning things back on, the reality is consumer behavior before COVID, during COVID, and post-COVID are not the same.

The consumer journey has changed. If you’re trying to pick up where you left off, you’re headed for failure. In many ways, your year starts now. As marketers, you need to hit reset on your investment thesis, attribution model, how you’ll test, and learn differently now and how you begin to ramp your new program.

At Tinuiti, we turn to our periodic table of performance—GAMMA—to ensure brands are going to market in the most effective way possible.

Be Rebound-Ready with GAMMA.

Goals and Strategy

Across industries, 2020 goals and the strategies to achieve those goals were impacted by COVID-19. From businesses impacted by supply-chain challenges to predominantly brick-and-mortar brands shifting online, entering a post-COVID-19 world will require a fresh perspective to define what is truly possible in 2020.

Oxford defines goals as “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.”

As businesses start to work through the information needed to define a post-COVID-19 marketing plan, it is important to remember that the actual goals pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 will likely be the same: To find customers, to sell products, to improve customer perception, to grow the business. The 2020 forecast of goal achievement will change, but the foundation of intended outcomes should remain largely intact.

In addition to forecast adjustment, changes to the strategies needed to achieve goals are where most marketers will need to spend the bulk of their post-COVID-19 planning. When revisiting pre-pandemic strategies, leveraging the SMART principle is the strongest place to start. A principle with many applications that are sometimes used for goal setting, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) as a filter to planning new or adjusting previous 2020 strategies can help define specific plans of action to achieve goal success.

Leveraging SMART considerations for post-COVID-19 strategic planning

Specific: The time to achieve 2020 goals (even if forecasted) is limited. Because of this, all strategies should be as detailed as possible; not only detailing how the strategies ladder to goals, but also the tactical methods in which the strategy can be brought to life.

Measurable: To ensure implemented strategies are swiftly moving toward a shortened goal achievement timeline, measurable strategies should be prioritized when rebounding from the pandemic. The specifics of how to measure will be discussed, but knowing this measurement is possible is a key filter to whether the recovery strategy is sound.

Attainable: From revisiting staff to budget realities, business operations took a significant hit during COVID-19. As such, the resources and tools many had in their toolkits before COVID-19 will likely not be the same tools available in post-pandemic recovery. When planning how to execute post-COVID-19 strategy, interrogating if the strategy can be achieved with the resources available should be an important part of the strategic planning process.

Relevant: As with all planning, determining the relevancy of the strategy will be very important. A drive to hit company goals should not distract from ensuring the corresponding strategy and the subsequent tactics continue to align company vision and mission. In addition to strategic brand alignment, the strategy should also continue to align with audience insights (more on this later).

Timely: Plotting near-term versus long-term strategies will help determine areas of focus. With only six months left in 2020, align on the near-term strategies that can be implemented quickly as well as the strategies that can achieve a measurable goal impact by the end of the year. While long-term strategic planning should continue, the success of 2020 goal forecasts will come from a near-term focus.

Audience and Targeting

The fundamental goal of marketing remains “to find customers, to sell products, to improve customer perception”, thus, figuring out which customer to focus on is the challenge. For many marketers, the behavior and performance of their most reliable audience segments pre-COVID will not be as reliable post-COVID. Retargeting pools may be lower than normal. In-market and intent-based data sets may not be as robust or accurate. The type of consumers interested in product categories may have shifted.

Here are three ways to refine your audience approach in a post-COVID world.

First-Party Data Segmentation: Talking to Audiences Consistently Across Channels

Whether you have a CDP, DMP, and/or partner pixels in your tech stack, the fact remains that your site visitors are not simply one audience. More than likely, your site visitors and purchasers are an incredibly diverse group—treating them all as a single audience is a very common mistake. Delivering a personalized experience is even more critical during the post-COVID rebound. Consider customer experience when creating your dynamic retargeting ads across Shopping, Social, and Display. Do all products belong together? If the consumer shops a certain product, what other items make sense to present alongside them?

Another big mistake seen from marketers is restricting “retargeting” programs to under 30 days, while most platforms allow for up to 180 days of retargeting. Brands must use the first part of this window to drive immediate conversions (up to 30 days for most categories), but then consider how to include these audiences into the marketing calendar for the rest of the year.

Opportunities from First-Party Data Segmentation:

  • By season (eg. retargeting Winter shoppers with a Spring offer)
  • By basket value
  • By lookback window
  • By category or product shopped
  • By channel of the entry (ex. Brand Search vs Affiliate)

Leveraging Triopoly Insights: Gaining ‘First-Look’ Access

As consumer behaviors continue to be altered by the pandemic, the triopoly of Facebook, Google, and Amazon will have a unique perspective into what consumers are looking for. These platforms will be visited first as the economy normalizes, so it is vital to use research tools like Google Trends to devise an overarching strategy. Understanding rising or declining keywords in this ‘new normal’ are incredibly important for retaining or retargeting consumers—especially honing in on buying trends within sub-verticals. Now is the time to target fresh, in-market segments using Facebook’s Custom Intent or Broad Audiences tools.

Utilizing Third-Party Data: Defining New Audiences

Advanced advertisers will continue to analyze current and post-coronavirus audiences to determine how much of their original strategy needs to be changed. Tools like LiveRamp can help brands understand the movements of the ‘new’ consumer. Figuring out who has been newly acquired and how they differ from the pre-COVID audience will be a key to success for most brands. Understanding these new consumer tendencies and motivations can help redefine rebound messaging and product offerings.

When looking at the Audience, the key is understanding your consumer: who it is, who it should be, and how to effectively grow them through paid media. The COVID-19 rebound will be a period of intense competition amongst brands but those who best understand their consumers’ evolving needs and how to identify new audiences with personalized messaging will be in the best position to succeed.

Messaging and Creative

While we’re slowly moving beyond the mayhem, consumers are looking for brands to bring them something other than phrases like “we’re in this together” and the “someday soon” messages. They want us to provide more than just hope, but a connection back to some sort of normalcy. Now is the time to begin to move forward—double down on what makes your brand special and focus your creativity on building back those deep bonds between your brand and your customer.

The Journey from Emotion to Promotion

There is no denying that the everyday lives of almost everyone have changed drastically over the past two months. And while it’s critical to be mindful of that, it’s also imperative to understand where the consumer is along their journey and deliver the perfect piece of creative for that stage. So how do we determine what to say and when? Through a creative connection plan.

It starts with defining each stage of the journey — awareness, inspiration, consideration, conversion, cross-sells or engagement. Wherever they are, we need to make sure we have something tailored for the expectation at that stage. For example, in the inspiration stage for someone who might be looking for jeans, you need to not only define the emotion you want them to come away with when seeing your creative, but also the friction points that may prevent them from feeling that way. The consumer might be thinking, “I want to look cool, BUT are jeans even the right style for me?” So your creative at that stage needs to answer that question for the consumer to connect at that moment, perhaps with a video showcasing all the different types of styles you have and the different types of people who wear them.

As they move through the journey, the consumer conversation shifts from inspiration to consideration, with them comparing which jeans are best, and we now change the creative to meet that expectation. It’s a deeper way to tell the story and ensures that no matter the mindset, we have the perfect creative at the perfect moment.

Making More with Less

As brands struggle to get new shoots, whether it be photo or video, created for their campaigns, it’s time to rethink how to bring all of your old assets to life. This includes turning stills into simple animations, adding new layers of design, or recutting videos with new narratives, new VO, and new intro and outro frames. These simple edits will allow you to make the old seem new again — and give your brand new elements to your story that you may not have realized you had. Plus, as you truly begin to plan across the consumer journey, you can be sure that each piece of creative meets the exact objective it’s trying to fulfill. This type of thinking can also be applied to planning your new shoots — ensuring you’re getting the most out of every shot possible.

So instead of focusing on the “new normal”, your creative and messaging can reflect the deeper storytelling your customers are craving. And in the end, showcase your brand better than ever before.

Measurement, Testing, and Learning

One of the foundational elements to all marketing success is the measurement, testing, and learning; post-COVID, it is even more essential than pre-COVID. If pre-COVID you were able to get away with simply looking at Return on Advertising Spend (ROAS) and vanity site metrics to run your business, you’ll need to completely rethink what metrics you’re looking at, how they truly impact your business, and how you’ll continue to evolve them in the coming months and years.

What to consider for measurement:

If you weren’t sure of the accuracy of your data pre-COVID, now is the time to take action.

  • We often hear from marketers something like “we have our web analytics platform, but I’m not sure how much I can trust the data” or “we have data in silos, so we aren’t sure which numbers to believe”. This is common, so know that you’re not alone. That said, this is the perfect time to try and fix these issues. Here are some starters to get you on the right path: Link your AdWords and Search Console to Google Analytics. Turn on Bot Filtering. Check your time zone settings. Do you see PII in page URLs (names, email addresses, etc.)? Get with your dev team to fix it immediately. Consider an audit of your web platform to ensure that you have the cleanest data possible and that it will sustain you in the short-term as well as the long-term. Similarly on the data silo side, establish a unified view of your marketing data, that you can accurately build on overtime. Your current metrics are likely skewed and you’ll need to account for this.
  • With many of your team working remotely, where you may have had filters in your web analytics to account for people coming to your site, browsing, and purchasing (or not purchasing), these filters don’t work with everyone working from home. Your vanity metrics for web (bounce rate, conversion rate, etc.) will need to be compared via INDEXING them as opposed to looking at % change numbers as you might be used to.

Your old measurement plan should be thrown out – start with a new way to look at your business.

If you were looking for a $4.50 ROAS, a $75 CPA, or metrics similar to this, because of the change in consumer behavior and the fact that your brand either had more or fewer sales/revenue/visitors/leads during COVID, your old metrics and how they came to be are now moot. You need to be able to come up with new metrics. They could be just “new” ROAS, CPA numbers… That can’t hurt. But when was the last time you leveraged CLTV or EBITDA or Propensity to Churn number as part of your marketing strategy? These extra layers that run more deeply to the core of your business will keep you sustained post-COVID and beyond.

Testing and learning take on a whole new meaning with shifts in consumer behavior post-COVID. Consumers aren’t sure how their non-essential spending will be impacted, although eMarketer has some compelling data to help you forecast your end of 2020:

How long do US adults think it will take for their spending on nonessentials to return to normal post-coronavirus?
How long do US adults think it will take for their spending on nonessentials to return to normal post-coronavirus?

If COVID “ends” late this summer as many predict, many consumers will be ready to spend (and spend big) this holiday season in part due to “missing out” on many of their normal shopping behaviors during the quarantine period in the US.

To be prepared for this possible surge, testing and learning are crucial in the months leading up to the holiday shopping season. Here are some things to consider:

Be prepared if there is another stimulus payment in calendar Q3 or Q4.

When the first stimulus payments hit in April 2020, we saw a 37% increase in consumer spending the week checks arrived among our retail clients (see below). You and your marketing strategy MUST be prepared for this. There could be significant money and customers left on the table by hamstringing your budgets—we’re not talking about just the week of stimulus payments. You need consumers to be aware of your brand before stimulus hits, even if that means lower than ideal returns leading up to the payment.

Revenue Driven by Paid Search Relative to 4/1-4/14, Retail
Revenue Driven by Paid Search Relative to 4/1-4/14, Retail

Prepare to spend ~20% of your budget on testing, but the 80% left should bring in 100% of your needed results:

  • This is why testing is called testing, not guaranteeing. You want to understand your consumers post-COVID and you’re going to need to test into some things you might not have considered in the past. Never sell your wares on Amazon? There is no better time than now to consider it. Consumer spending has changed on Amazon (as you can see below) – capitalize on it. Take advantage.
  • There’s more than one way to measure success. Going back to measurement planning, just because you don’t see that big ROAS jump with your test results, maybe the test (before you run it) could be measured differently. Maybe you need to look at reach and frequency not just conversion metrics? Maybe you should invest in brand studies and surveys for consumer awareness (aided or unaided) and ask your consumers specific questions about what they want to see from your brand post-COVID.

Acceleration and Optimization

Launching a campaign successfully is only the first step — truly driving success happens when you accelerate and optimize the campaign throughout its lifespan.

All media channels have different approaches to follow, algorithms to employ as well as levers to pull. However, ensuring the cadence of optimization is an important first step for all channels to follow before media going live. A firm optimization plan leads to the ability to quickly accelerate the tactics working hardest toward achieving your goals.

A reality of the post-pandemic recovery is that it will happen at different times and in different locations. As such, ensuring a targeted as well as a broad approach to acceleration and optimization will be important. Below are few paid media considerations to help guide additional post-COVID-19 acceleration and optimization activities:

  • Continue Channel Mix Diversification: As brands resume advertising, the competition will increase for impressions. Optimize spend across the board by looking at which channels have been the most successful during the last two months. This will give a leg up on the competition.
  • Monitor Geographic Implications: No two states are rolling out the same reopening plan. It will be important to stay on top of each state’s plan and performance throughout the rollout to help inform messaging regional budget allocation, and identifying which campaigns to start to ramp up.
  • Ramp Up Slowly: For those that have been paused or running at reduced levels, be strategic in the campaigns chosen for the initial launch. Most of the optimization algorithms used by platforms rely on historical campaign data, so going back to pre-COVID-19 levels can shock the system and cause volatility. Phasing campaigns by geographic area and by campaign priority will help mitigate that volatility.
  • Stay Curious: With environments changing quickly, keeping up with trends or customer expectations can be difficult. Continuing to monitor performance, dig into consumer research, and engage with customers can help uncover buried treasures or friction points to guide optimization. If available on the .com, consider leveraging exit intent polls, user testing, heatmaps, and analytics insights to stay on top of trends and voice of customer data. Take insights gained and turn them into actionable next steps.
  • Consider Micro-conversions: To accelerate and optimize live campaigns, comparing performance year-over-year or even month-over-month may not be the best indicator of daily campaign health. Re-evaluate what success should look like over the next few months such as evaluating micro-conversions or re-assessing efficiency goals. Look at these on a rolling 7-day basis to compare and identify how performance is trending.
  • Optimizing The .Com: Use research to find areas of the .com to test and continue with an iterative testing program. Testing allows the opportunity to quickly change things and watch how audiences respond. If something doesn’t work, do some analysis. However, the test does work, there is no data to support website changes which can save time and money.
  • Acceleration Q4 Optimizations: With environments changing quickly, keeping up with trends or customer expectations can be difficult. Continue to monitor performance, dig into consumer research, and engage with customers can help uncover buried treasures or friction points to guide optimization. If available on the .com, consider leveraging exit intent polls, user testing, heatmaps, and analytics insights to stay on top of trends and voice of customer data. Take insights gained and turn them into actionable next steps.

Amazon Prime Day Prep

Although we don’t know when Amazon will launch Prime Day this year, for brands to leverage this lucrative opportunity, the time to start planning is now. Prime Day has gone from a single-day effort to drum up slow-season sales to an unstoppable weeklong marketing event—and the competition is getting stiff.

At Tinuiti, we are forecasting a significant rebound in holiday spending. Sellers should communicate and be transparent about any shipping lead time that is out of the norm. COVID has expedited the adoption of online shopping. According to reports, there’s been a 129% year-over-year growth in U.S. & Canadian e-commerce orders as of April 21 and an impressive 146% growth in all online retail orders. We encourage businesses to stay top of mind within their respective online channels that have healthy margins and a means to supply the inventory that is being demanded by consumers.

Source: Tinuiti

Thomas Apel Published by Thomas Apel

, a dynamic and self-motivated information technology architect, with a thorough knowledge of all facets pertaining to system and network infrastructure design, implementation and administration. I enjoy the technical writing process and answering readers' comments included.