"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Philip Smolin, chief strategy officer at Amobee.
Society has restarted, and businesses are learning a new normal in real time.
They’re adapting to changing public health measures, evolving consumer behaviors and the impact on revenue. Discretionary advertising budgets have taken a hit, forcing advertisers to do more with less. But brands that move quickly also have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shift market share.
Consumer behavior follows established patterns, essentially “cow paths” or well-worn neural connections of our brains. When cow paths are disrupted, consumers break new ground. This is a constant, gradual process that marketers always seek to understand and influence.
But the pandemic is a massive disruption across all fronts. Many of our cow paths have been blocked, forcing changes to our daily routines, preferences and even our product choices. The new normal is uncertain, but that’s not a bad thing.
How do brands restart if nobody knows how audiences have changed?
Our industry loves to frame everything in terms of media viewership patterns. Here too the cow paths have changed. Since the start of quarantine, media consumption has both increased and further fragmented. Advertisers must adapt their media planning accordingly but, at best, this is treading water, perpetuating the advertiser’s approach to the old normal.
Truly taking advantage of the uncertainty requires a reevaluation of core strategies.
Rethink audiences: With more than 40 million people unemployed and countless more struggling, once stable audience attributes such as disposable income have fundamentally changed. Likewise, new behaviors have emerged that reflect how different individuals and communities process fear and risk.
Brands can navigate this by analyzing first-party data to measure if and how their customers have shifted over the past 60 days. That means discarding old audience models and building new ones based on the demographic, geographic and behavioral patterns observed in the data. In particular, look for shifts in consumer priorities that will impact brand preference.
For example, with quick-serve restaurants, the priority for many consumers shifted from food selection to food safety. Similarly, travelers who once clamored for hotel amenities may now care more about hotel cleaning policies.
Understand evolutions in consumer behavior on a weekly basis and account for localized variations: What’s true today may not be true tomorrow, and the social distancing norms in one part of the country may not resemble the reality in another. Advertisers will have to contend with this Balkanized market for the remainder of 2020, and likely longer.
Advertisers should take two steps to address this. The first is to evaluate whether national campaigns can be restructured regionally to allow for more nuanced targeting, budgeting and messaging. Then, monitor weekly for changes in consumer sentiment or engagement patterns, and move quickly to shift targets, budgets and messages to stay in sync.
Recognize that COVID-19 is a “content umbrella” with countless subgenres: Brands must dig deep to identify and execute relevant, customized contextual targeting strategies in support of appropriate pandemic-adjacent topics.
For example, some pet industry brands have embraced the COVID-19 trend of pet adoptions (as well as some brands outside the industry) while sports and live event brands have leveraged the resurgent interest in drive-in theaters. It’s critical that brands understand how the pandemic has touched every aspect of society and find their content niche.
Mandate media efficiency: Market share is up for grabs, but most ad budgets are smaller. The problem is compounded as consumer adoption of streaming TV services further accelerates media fragmentation. Should an advertiser stick with the cost-effective, mass reach that only linear TV can deliver, or is it time to switch to the more granular targeting offered by connected TV? The short answer is both. Advertisers competing for market share at the top of the funnel should align their planning and measurement across all screens to maximize their deduplicated reach and frequency for every audience segment.
Work with media owners that are thinking creatively: Innovative packaging solutions are key to targeting strategic audiences in a converged model across all screens. This is especially true for the evolution of upfront sales because advertisers need nimble, audience-centric media plans to anchor their business objectives – whatever those may be heading into the second half of the year.
But rather than wait, advertisers should think proactively and approach sellers with specific proposals for developing bespoke media solutions together. Now is the time to negotiate the flexibility to reallocate your upfront options across quarters.
This is a massive adaptation. That’s a good thing.
Humanity’s greatest strength is adaptability. After each crisis, we rebuild to make our world stronger, better and more resilient. This isn’t just about restarting the economy, it’s about rethinking products, brands, audiences and advertising.
It’s hard to say what our efforts will yield. But we’ll meet the future soon enough, and when we do, consumers will remember the brands that rose to meet the moment with them.