Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Covid-sparked consumer behavioural change is here to stay

Dramatically evolving consumer behaviours make the need for integrated marketing efforts more urgent than ever, warns Simon Barnes, Group Commercial Director, tmwi.

The word ‘pivot’ has become part of our everyday lexicon and something of an overused buzzword. But language changes to reflect the world we find ourselves in – and it’s hard to find an alternative word which encapsulates the ways in which businesses have been forced to reinvent their models, at pace, over the past year.

This turbulent backdrop for business – not least shuttered bricks and mortar retail stores – has made the most recent weeks and months challenging like never before. Indeed, John Lewis – often regarded as a barometer of the high street – has announced that it is to close more stores as the crisis continues to impact overall profits but harden and accelerate online revenues. The department store group has recorded well over £500m in losses at a time when thousands of other retail stores have entirely collapsed.

What’s more, amid store closures and the need to shift online, marketers have also been struggling with announcements from search giant – and advertising behemoth – Google about the demise of third party cookies that have long relied upon to track consumers online.

This comes at a time when data-driven marketing efforts will be needed more than ever before. Marketers will be expected to back up investment in a climate in which budgets are squeezed, and increasingly complex inter-relationships between channels make decisions as to where to invest more challenging than ever.

The fragmented media landscape, with consumers moving across devices, and visiting stores more infrequently – together with a myriad of disciplines at marketers’ fingertips such as search, social, TV, display, VOD, OOH and DOOH (we are an industry that likes acronyms, after all) – certainly do not make achieving a holistic view and granular understanding of evolving habits easy.

Nor will the reopening of high street stores mark an end to the impact of COVID-19. Many of us will have discovered new ways of living, and shopping, that they prefer, and that are here to stay.

Therefore the digital customer journey is now predominant, and looks set to remain that way. Marketers will need to harvest demand from the top of the funnel, but take a data-driven approach in order to provide a foundation of robust and appropriate content throughout the entire customer journey.

And, with cookies on the way out, we will also see an evolution in the way we measure. An integrated approach can enable marketers to find growth, to shed inefficiencies, and to implement effective measurement frameworks, amid the need to review and optimise spend more frequently. First-party data and postcode or cohort level insight make granular targeting possible, but creative and contextual approaches will be needed, too.

Marketing over this next decade will require creativity, skill, knowledge, and experimentation as well as the creation of bespoke formats to complement customer journeys: Tailoring creative to platforms; activating through dynamic campaigns; creating audience clusters; and continuously enhancing and refining. A tiered approach is needed, from the upper funnel through to mid  and then lower funnel, with quality traffic and engagement; ultimately leading to conversions. There is no getting away from the complexity of this, with multiple sets of audiences per tier and multiple sets of creative per audience and per channel.

tmwi was working with Furniture Village, for instance, as the country went into the first lockdown and it was decided that the retailer’s partnership with celebrity NHS doctor and sleep ambassador Dr Ranj could enable it to focus on wellbeing at a time of crisis and embed itself into the national conversation. A broad campaign was then designed which leveraged PR, content, social, search and paid media to create a brand story which drove coverage, awareness, and, ultimately, sales.

Authoritative messaging was communicated across ecommerce, video, audio and content, via a truly integrated strategy. As a result, Furniture Village successfully bucked the trend for the furniture retail category and was named Bed Retailer of the Year 2020/2021 by the National Bed Federation.

In this way, marketers must explore creative solutions that provide audience scalability and efficacy in a post-cookie world and which cut through the noise.

Now is the time to seek out timely insights about audiences and the content that works best for them, whilst adjusting strategies towards marketing based on first-party data achieved through user consent.

Now is also the time to consider a data audit: To ask yourself what you have access to across your business, both on and offline; to consider what you are currently collecting; and what you need to know. Key data points can include current geographical hotspots for converters; attitudinal and behavioural identifiers; and demographic data – and this must all be mapped out against your customer journey and purchase funnel.

GroupM, WPP’s media investment wing, estimated that global retail ecommerce rose more than a fifth in 2020, with Chief Executive, Mark Read, claiming that the height of the pandemic led to five years’ worth of innovation in five weeks. To keep up with this rapid change, the ad industry must also adapt. Agility and data are key for recovery, at a time when every penny counts.

Flexible buys, an ability to switch out messaging, dynamic creative, and direct-response that shows positive return-on-investment, are now in high demand. New consumer behaviour is here to stay, and marketers must be brave enough to choose ‘pivot’ over the safe ‘status-quo’.