The novel coronavirus pandemic has disrupted businesses around the globe, with media planners being hit exceptionally hard. In a short period of time, consumer behavior rapidly shifted, resulting in 24 percent of media planners pausing their campaigns to avoid appearing tone-deaf to the new reality set in by the pandemic. Unfortunately, this uncertainty seems to show no signs of stopping, as an entire 64 percent of media planners were unsure of how to adjust their media plans for the remainder of 2020.
Despite these feelings of uncertainty, there’s still plenty of opportunity. We know that consumers are still consuming media – and some are even consuming more content than ever before. Media planners, and the teams that support them, need to acquire the knowledge and capabilities required to learn where their target audience is, and determine what they want to hear.
Let’s examine how certain processes and technology can help your team create the most impactful campaigns possible during these changing times.
Expect Continued Changes in Customer Engagement
In the immediate weeks following the pandemic, many businesses experience a dramatic shift in customer engagement. For instance, retailers experienced instant drops in foot traffic as stores across the country were forced to shutter their doors. This unfortunately made many of their previous KPIs irrelevant, since they were often based on store visits or in-store purchases.
We recommend that every industry, especially retailers, put an emphasis on consumer behavior first and foremost. This will help them better understand how consumers are reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic, and from that point they can begin to link those feelings to purchasing behavior. Unfortunately, this is not a one-and-done process. In a volatile environment, consumer opinions can easily change on a week-by-week or day-by-day basis – and having an incomplete understanding of where your target audience is engaging or how they feel can have both financial and reputational repercussions. Consequently, marketers need to regularly reassess consumer behavior and scrutinize its link to purchasing behavior.
Given the fact that many offline channels will remain volatile for the next year or two, it’s worth re-evaluating your media plan in the context of changing consumer behavior. However, there’s no need to scrap your strategy altogether. Instead, ensure you always have a backup plan by engaging in scenario planning.
Using Scenario Planning for Flexible Media Plans
Bringing multiple departments together to engage in scenario planning will help your team determine the best way to pivot your media plan depending on uncontrollable factors like localized outbreaks of COVID-19. Start by looking forward at least two years and pick out any planned advertisements that include an offline element. So, if you were planning on advertising throughout the 2020 NFL season, you may want to research alternative ways to reach customers in the event that the season is postponed, canceled, or otherwise adjusted.
Envision the best-case, moderate-case, and worst-case scenarios for your offline campaigns so you have an immediate plan available in the event of a disruption. For instance, think about any in-stadium advertisements you may have planned for the upcoming NFL season.
- Best-Case Scenario – The season will resume as planned, perhaps with some minor limitations. Your current advertising plan will work if minimal adjustments are made to adhere to current customer attitudes.
- Moderate-Case Scenario – The season will resume, but with no live audience. Instead of planning to purchase ad space in the stadium, bid on ad space during the live broadcast.
- Worst-Case Scenario – No sports will be broadcasted. At this point, you would want to closely evaluate the interests of your target audience and determine new ways to reach them. For instance, many customers are watching live television shows or playing video games instead – ponder tactics for reaching them through these channels.
Marketers should avoid making hard-and-fast commitments to a certain scenario unless they have conducted a thorough risk assessment and understand the potential drawbacks of making the wrong decision. However, don’t wait until the last minute to purchase ad spots, either – many marketing teams will be in a similar position as your team, and it is imperative that you stay ahead of them. Otherwise, you could end up paying a premium for subpar ad placements.
Test and Learn with Your New Media Plan
Before executing on any part of your media plan, make sure that you have the capabilities in place to collect campaign data in near-real-time. With consumer attitudes changing rapidly, it’s difficult to rely on historical data that is even a few weeks old – so supplying a steady stream of new data is an effective way to lower your reliance on outdated insights.
Once you launch a campaign and begin collecting data, it’s time to engage in the cycle of testing and learning. Here’s an outline of how it works:
- Collect & Validate Data – Make sure you are basing your decisions on an appropriate amount of high-quality data.
- Understand the Data – Combine the power of human intelligence and data-driven marketing solutions to analyze raw customer data and get actionable insights about the behavior and attitudes of your target audience.
- Validate Insights – Make sure the insights from the previous step are realistic by creating a pilot campaign designed for a small segment. If it is successful, expand your strategy.
- Evaluate the Recommendations – Look at your results, and measure how they helped you meet KPIs. Think of ways to improve the campaign based on its performance. Then restart this four-step process using new recommendations for your next, improved campaign.
If you perform this analysis and are a bit skeptical of the outcomes, make sure you have access to large volumes of high-quality data. Low quality or limited data can certainly skew a campaign. If you’d like to use historical data to inform your media plan, search for a media planning platform that offers advanced capabilities like Bayesian Learning and Forgetting. This framework leverages machine learning to determine which customer insights are still relevant today, and which are not, giving you access to larger quantities of reliable data to assist with your media planning efforts.
For the next couple of years, media planners are likely to experience higher levels of uncertainty. While this is a significant hurdle that they must overcome, it is not an impassable barrier. To provide the most value during these uncertain times, media planners will need to work diligently and find new ways to plan and design ad placements.
Keep in mind that these new skills and techniques will be useful not only in the short-term, but in the long term. The world is an uncertain place, and COVID-19 is unlikely to be the last major disruption that media planners experience throughout the course of their career. By investing in the skills and capabilities required to overcome the challenges posed by COVID-19, media planners will not only continue to provide value for their organizations, they will have all of the tools they need to prepare for the next disruption.
Interested in learning more? Listen to our recent on-demand webinar, Maximizing Marketing Impact in Unpredictable Conditions.