By James Leonard, Director of Digital Activation, tmwi
Never has advertising had to endure such uncertainty as over the past seven or more months. Not only is consumer behaviour unpredictable day-to-day, but the future is looking no more clear as we face further lockdowns in the short term, and a certain recession in the long term.
When crises hit, many business leaders’ immediate reaction is to close ranks. Despite the fact that history teaches us that brands should try and maintain marketing spend in tough economic times, the unchartered waters led many to cease anything but essential spend and hope they could ride out the storm with minimal collateral damage.
However, when it became apparent Covid was going to be around for the foreseeable future, those marketers who had paused their ad spend began to gradually ease back out of their bunkers and start rethinking their strategy.
And today, while Covid rumbles on and we are no clearer when it will end than we were in April, CMOs are having to adjust their business objectives and, more than ever, turn to data to inform their decisions.
The key is to use a combination of measurement metrics and ‘test and learn’ to see what has the most impact on your main objectives. But what are the key steps a CMO can take to ensure their message retains its impact?
- If in doubt, simplify
Pre-covid, measurement data was pretty reliable. We knew, by and large, how many commuters would see our ads on the London Underground, which sports events would be the most-watched, which radio breakfast shows would be tuned in to as people got ready for work. But with the change in behaviour, all consistency has been lost, and so we must stop taking the data for granted and start working hard to analyse the stats, gather meaningful insights and mitigate against any unwelcome surprises.
By simplifying your ad strategy, you will have a better chance of understanding the shifts in performance and make changes inline with data and insights.
- Optimise or die
The increasing availability of measurement data is driving a transformation in advertising effectiveness, and with external powers dictating our movements, and local lockdowns coming into force overnight, campaign optimisation is key. Ensure your agency never stops examining the data to see how and where your campaign is – and isn’t – performing, and adjust the media plan in real time to counter that.
Through measurement and learning you can assess the impact of adjustments to your targeting and message, allowing you to adapt existing ads and achieve stronger results. But effective optimisation requires good quality data as a foundation, therefore how you measure your campaigns is crucial.
- Distract and disrupt
Just because we are in the midst of a complex and unpredictable situation, brands should not lose sight of their principles – or standards – when it comes to ad campaigns. Slow and steady does not win the race when it comes to advertising; disruption remains a powerful tool when it comes to grabbing consumers’ attention. Now more than ever you should be aiming to break through the clutter, make your own noise and reap the benefits. Disruption is a mindset, and a powerful one if executed effectively.
- Play to your strengths
Different sectors are facing distinctly different Covid realities, with some experiencing high demand and others struggling to shift product. Advertising must also be adapted considerably depending on geographical location and target audience, so it is important to stress there is no one-size-fits all approach when it comes to the measurement framework. Brands with an e-commerce presence moved to focus their attention on ecommerce/ D2C during Covid, but for many businesses their physical retail offering had to remain the priority.
- Know your creative limits
For many industries the messaging has had to change, ensuring it is tonally appropriate and sensitive to the mood of the nation. And for every sector the physical creation of ads has had to adapt – the UGC work from the likes of Halifax, Tesco, Co-op and McDonalds shows how brands got around social distancing but retained their presence on our screens.
Even now shoots are being held up by new restrictions, and creatives have had to be creative with the way they make broadcast ads. But that does not need to mean ads are unengaging or dull – if anything it forces brands to think differently about the way they approach their advertising, and test out new formats with which they have not previously engaged.
Make measurement matter
Brands typically reduce marketing spend during a period of recession and then make up for it when the uncertainty has passed by investing heavily later on. This pattern has proved to be ineffective, with a consistent but tailored presence a far more beneficial option.
With the right approach to measurement, it is still very possible to achieve effective, impactful advertising throughout tough times. The key is to make measurement your friend. Listen to what the data and insight is telling you and respond accordingly. Seek expert opinion and heed the advice.