Ninety-five percent of marketers have changed their 2020 marketing plans since March, according to a Dentsu Aegis Network survey, reflecting just how acutely the pandemic has heightened the need for flexibility.
“It’s either been an optimization, a budget cut, a budget increase or shifting money throughout the year to better match new consumer behaviors,” said Will Swayne, chief client officer at Dentsu Aegis Network.
The survey, conducted from April 15 to April 30, collates responses from 701 Dentsu clients across 36 markets.
Roughly three-fourths of brands (73%) said they are starting to plan for recovery. But with the pandemic changing so rapidly, marketers are putting agility at the center of their recovery strategies. That’s caused a mindset shift for marketers that were traditionally willing to trade flexibility for cost savings by committing dollars up front.
“Our assumptions about how to get in front of consumers and the best channels to reach people is up for reevaluation,” said Brad Alperin, SVP of integrated strategy at Dentsu Aegis Network.
More than half of brands surveyed cited cash flow as their most pressing challenge, putting “a greater focus on ensuring that every dollar they do spend drives a higher ROI,” Swayne said. That means it's crucial to be able to quickly move money out of channels such as out of home into something easier to optimize.
A recession is an opportunity for brands with the means to outspend competitors and retain share of voice. To do so efficiently requires real-time data and the ability to optimize quickly.
“How do you keep an eye on competition and not just spend?” Alperin said.
The 3 Cs: content, commerce and CRM
After more than half of marketers surveyed swapped out creative messages in response to the pandemic, many are now looking to invest in automated content production long term.
“We went through a period where there was a scramble to make adjustments,” Alperin said. “[Now marketers] are trying to look past the reactive to figure out what is the world going to be like and how do I take advantage of that?”
Automating production can help brands to connect with consumers over multiple touchpoints with relevant messages in real time, whether that’s about store openings or instructions for curbside pickup. It also tends to be much more cost-effective.
“We’re seeing a lot of clients lean into dynamic creative optimization, so they can be more adaptive and relevant,” Swayne said.
A real-time content strategy is even more important as ecommerce takes off and consumers seek up-to-date product information online.
Before the pandemic, 65% of businesses in the Americas did a majority of their sales offline, and 29% say that COVID-19 has had a major impact on sales. So it’s no surprise that 33% of respondents are expanding their ecommerce operations now, and almost 60% plan to invest in ecommerce as a core long-term strategy.
“It’s not just the functional [question] of, can you buy online?” Alperin said. “How do you bring that same brand experience to a different environment?”
Real-time optimization requires data, and a brand’s richest data asset is its CRM files, especially as third-party cookies bite the dust. So 32% of marketers have increased their CRM activity in response to the pandemic, while 45% plan to invest in CRM long term.
CRM is especially important for brands in categories that are dark right now, such as travel, to stay top of mind for loyal customers and protect their brand equity. Almost half of marketers surveyed have decreased their media investments during the pandemic.
“When things are tough, I want to hold on to my loyal consumers,” Alperin said. “CRM becomes a really important way to do that.”
But while 40% of respondents in finance, travel and auto have increased CRM activities during the pandemic, only 20% of data-poor CPG and food and beverage companies have done so.
“We see a real divide between the companies that have robust CRM databases vs. those who don’t,” Swayne said.
As marketers invest in content, ecommerce and CRM programs, they need to ensure they’re all aligned as an integrated strategy to ensure flexibility rather than operating in silos.
“Agility is not just flexibility in terms of money,” Swayne said. “It’s about organizational structure and how you set up to capitalize on those opportunities.”