Why Digital Marketers Must Adapt to Avoid the Impact of COVID-19

by Vihan Sharma, LiveRamp

Vihan Sharma, Managing Director Europe of LiveRamp, discusses the current landscape for advertisers and publishers, and how coronavirus is changing the status of online marketing.

As the world waits in a state of flux, businesses from startups to multinational corporations are scrambling to balance their books, attempting to forecast for a financial year very different to the one they predicted just a few months ago.

Unfortunately, in times this uncertain, digital marketing and advertising budgets are reduced significantly. During the current health crisis, it is estimated that the advertising market could contract by £4.2 billion this year.

In the adtech sector, the COVID-19 outbreak has been a double-edged sword. In addition to heavily affecting advertisers, the impact has not been kind to publishers either. Despite record-high readership, widespread use of “blacklisting” technology, which prevents adverts running beside articles mentioning the virus, is contributing to the fact that newspapers alone are set to lose £50 million in the next few months.

It is clear that, to succeed during this time, marketers are going to have to radically rethink their strategies and quickly learn to navigate this new landscape.

Despite the challenges, the brands and business who stay stoic and commit to their advertising budget will be rewarded. With the vast majority of people spending more time on the internet than ever, publishers are seeing record-high visits to their websites. There is an opportunity for publishers to build a unique value exchange for the consumer and for the brand to be highly visible, build strong relationships with publishers that will continue after the outbreak, and realise the value of customers’ changing habits while in lockdown.

Budgets will, however, be under increased scrutiny, as marketing teams will undoubtedly be required to justify their spend. The key for success in this period will therefore lie in being smarter and more strategic than ever before, and focusing your spend on measurable outcomes.

This time is a great opportunity for brands and publishers to innovate and create a new path forward. Brands and publishers alike must make use of the opportunity to test new customer engagement models, and work to bring trust back into the digital ecosystem. Having a transparent advertising identity infrastructure is key to building this trust with customers.

Public distrust in customer data and targeting has been heightened in recent years, but the dramatic changes caused by the crisis are reinforcing the benefits of connected data, both for consumers and marketers. From Tesco identifying vulnerable people for next day deliveries, to closed businesses keeping connected with their customer base, customer loyalty has never been so valued by both parties. In this new world, ensuring we have accurate insights into buying habits is crucial. To maximise value creation brands and publishers need to focus on developing and adopting new first-party data connectivity technologies to support transparent advertising and outcome-based measurement.

First-party data has already proven itself to be a valuable resource. By making use of data platforms, brands can leverage trusted data partnerships to gather new insights about their customer base – insights that reach much further than the use of their own first-party data. Through this collaboration, brands can leverage these advanced insights to provide a better customer experience, while simultaneously honing their strategies and budgets at this challenging time.

The relationship between customer and brand is perhaps nowhere more pressing than for the UK high street. The crisis has hit an already struggling sector hard, as the lockdown has forced the closure of stores nationwide. The once thriving clothing stores of Oasis and Warehouse have been forced into administration – a devastating blow for the high street as we know it and a wakeup call for many. Survival will rely on these more traditional retailers taking the digital challenge head on and innovating rapidly.

Customers have a loyalty to well-known UK brands, but they need the right engagement and customer experience in times like these. Working smartly with data connectivity platforms can enable brands to compete with the online retailer giants and generate customer insights comparable with the walled gardens of Facebook and Google. High street and brick-and-mortar retailers will need to make lasting changes and learn to rely on high-quality data in their digital marketing strategies, in order to to survive.

As COVID-19 continues to put new pressures on the industry, marketers will need to stay nimble and brave, reacting to sudden shifts rapidly and with confidence. This entails committing to advertising strategies, being open to data partnerships, and engaging honestly and proactively with publishers.

COVID-19 has been a catalyst for change – and it is likely our ecosystem will be altered forever. To survive, we must accept the new reality, and commit our focus in turning it into an opportunity for progress and innovation in our sector.