Digital Marketing Strategies in the Age of COVID-19

covid-19 and online sales

If there’s one thing that is certain during the global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that we’ll never truly get back to ‘business as usual’ as consumer behaviour and preferences continue to evolve over the difficult months we have ahead of us.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on how businesses operate, and we’re not just talking about things like directional arrows stuck on the aisle floors of grocery stores or face mask requirements for customers and employees alike. There are many behind-the-scenes changes that have occurred as a result of the effects of COVID-19, and this includes how businesses choose to market themselves online.

In this article, we’ve compiled several of the most important digital marketing trends that have been emphasized during the COVID-19 public health crisis, and how you can use these trends to help your business succeed online in these uncertain times. First, we will look at several recent shifts in online strategy and digital tactics. Then, we will look at how the messaging itself being put forth by these businesses is evolving alongside these changes in tactics and strategy.

Changes in Digital Marketing Strategy & Tactics

Our experiences in managing digital marketing campaigns for clients during the COVID-19 pandemic have shown that a more aggressive approach to digital traffic acquisition is needed to help combat increasing competitor behaviour across all channels, from search engines to social media.

Significance of Search Marketing

Now, more than ever, dominating the search results pages is critical to online marketing success. While we have always been fierce advocates on the importance of using a blended approach to SEO and SEM, the shifts in competitor actions have made this strategy absolutely essential.

During the early period of the pandemic, amid lockdowns and quarantine restrictions, many customers who would typically prefer to shop in-store were naturally driven to online shopping to obtain the products they needed. To grab the attention of these shoppers, a robust SEM strategy provided significant advantages for clients as it allowed increased exposure across a more diverse range of keywords and phrases with immediate results. For our clients, E-commerce business increased drastically in a very short period of time, and paid search campaigns were responsible for driving a large portion of revenue and new customer acquisition.

While search advertising strategies provided immediate impact for businesses, the long-term benefits of SEO certainly paid big dividends as well. Those businesses who had invested the time and resources in a comprehensive SEO strategy prior to the pandemic were in an excellent position to acquire significantly higher volumes of highly-qualified traffic as search activity soared across many different industries. Furthermore, by quickly deploying content such as blog posts and video content that spoke directly to important factors concerning COVID-19, like safety measures, curbside pickup, and direct delivery, savvy businesses were able to rise in the ranks as search volumes for these terms quickly took off.

In addition, it became extremely valuable to update static website content with relevant messaging and key callouts to help bolster rankings and deliver a cohesive user experience across all the entry points where organic search traffic might arrive to the site. These factors become even more vital to consider when you look at the vast new array of long-tail search queries that have appeared as a result of COVID-19. For example, many businesses may never have needed to rank for terms related to ‘safety’ or ‘curbside pickup’ as they are connected to their products and services before, but now terms like this are of critical importance in search engines, both on the organic search side and on the paid search side.

Surges in Email Marketing

Email, although considered by many to be out-of-fashion when compared to some other newer digital channels, nevertheless continues to prove its value as a means of informing customers directly, and with immediate results, especially when it comes to building your subscriber database. During the early days of the pandemic, being able to communicate directly to customers digitally was crucial, and the value of having your customer’s email addresses became clear to even those who previously had held the most skeptical view of it.

As business practices changed in response to evolving COVID-19 conditions, email was a perfect tool for clearly communicating these details directly to customers, regardless of the time of day or their location. Many business who perhaps had abandoned email for other ‘new and shiny’ marketing tools were now looking at it with renewed enthusiasm. Those businesses that had maintained a strong email strategy and nurtured their lists with valuable content were in a prime position to leverage email with astounding effectiveness.

Essential Activity in Social Media

Social media has long since proven its value for connecting with customers and engaging with them effectively, however during the COVID-19 pandemic it has been elevated in the marketing plans of many businesses to become an absolutely essential strategy. As concerns related to COVID-19 rose to the top of everyone’s newsfeed, the need for clarity and direction among the confusion became a top priority for businesses. Social media allowed for real-time updates on what businesses were doing to keep customers safe, and many other details that helped to answer customer questions and prepare them on what to expect as the situation continued to evolve.

Heightened Demand for E-commerce

It should come as no surprise that with sweeping restrictions stemming from reducing physical contact and preventing the spread of COVID-19, the demand for e-commerce solutions ballooned to staggering levels. Many businesses without ecommerce capabilities were placed in a very difficult position, and those who were e-commerce-enabled were faced with a flood of orders that overwhelmed resources and stretched capacity to the breaking point.

The effects of this were two-fold. First, many businesses who previously had no immediate plans or need for e-commerce were scrambling to implement a solution as quickly as possible. Second, many of those businesses who did have an existing ecommerce solution realized that it was not capable of delivering the level of efficiency or the positive customer experience that was demanded of them.

These changing trends in ecommerce have driven many businesses to invest heavily in online stores to ensure that business continues to flow regardless of whether physical retail locations are open or closed. Plus, with such a surge in ecommerce websites, it’s of utmost importance to ensure that your online store delivers a best-in-class user experience in order to win more business in an increasingly competitive digital marketplace.

Of course, it’s not just the tools and technologies that have shifted from the impact of COVID-19. So too has the messaging that these tools and technologies are used to deliver to customers.

Changes in Marketing Messaging

For many, the mix of information contained in marketing messages has changed significantly. While features and benefits of products are still of critical importance to differentiate one option from another, several other factors have risen from what would previously have been considered ‘nice-to-haves’ to the status of ‘absolutely-must-haves’.

Increased Emphasis on Safety

As you’d expect, safety is the number-one concern at the top of customer minds these days. As such, it is often seen dominating the conversations taking place on many brand social media pages. In addition, emails, websites, blogs, and even printed materials, direct mailers, and flyers are all featuring plenty of information regarding safety measures that have been implemented in physical businesses to protect both customers and staff from potential exposure to COVID-19.

As an example, we’ve helped our dental clinic client significantly revamp the key messaging in their dental clinic digital marketing channels, including SEO, paid search and social media to prominently feature safety measures, protective equipment, and patient information related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  As a business operating in the healthcare industry, patient safety has always been a priority, however there has been a notable increase in the attention that people are giving to patient safety.

To address these factors in their digital marketing, we have implemented a plan for our dental client that includes fresh, SEO focused content on their website and blog that has been specifically engineered to rank in search for valuable COVID-related search queries, as well as an updated SEM keyword list, and focused social media campaign effort to help educate patients about how the dental clinic is working hard to keep them safe.

Even for retailers of consumer goods brands, mentions of safety measures that at one time would have simply been relegated to the ‘About Us’ section of websites are now front-and-center across digital channels and sit at the top of consumer minds when considering where to shop.

Importance of Clarity & Transparency

Connected to the increased emphasis on safety is the need for total transparency and clarity in all messaging. Customers place a great deal of value on clear communication from businesses, and this has become even more prevalent. When your business attempts to explain how you’re doing something, why you’re doing it, and how it impacts your customers, it pays to ensure that you’re being completely open and honest about it. This is especially true of any safety measures or protective protocols your business has implemented during COVID-19. There is no longer room for interpretation or errors when it comes to education and informing customers, therefore great care must be taken in providing clear and transparent communication in all channels.

Universal Adoption of Pickup & Delivery Options

Much in the same way that many businesses would not necessarily have put safety as a main component in marketing messaging in the past, delivery and pickup options have become a major value proposition for businesses of many different types. Some retail businesses may never have even offered delivery or curbside pickup to customers in the past, simply because there was never much demand for these options. Of course, this has changed now, and these options are now becoming standard issue as customers have quickly come to expect this level of convenience, hence why these are now important callouts to include in marketing messaging.

Adaptation and Evolution in Digital Marketing

It cannot be overstated just how much things are different for everyone now as we all work to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic as best we can. For businesses, this means things can’t be done the same way they’ve always been done, and this is particularly apparent from a digital marketing viewpoint. Digital tools that were once optional are now essential. Messaging that was once secondary, or even tertiary, has now become primary. It’s a rapidly-changing marketing environment that is in no way settling down any time soon.

As your business looks to adopt a new approach to social media, email, content marketing, or search engine marketing, or perhaps take the next step in updating your website to a best-in-class ecommerce solution, you need an agency partner that understands the nuances of marketing in a post-COVID-19 era.

At WMT, our team of experienced digital marketing professionals is ready to help your business with all types of digital marketing assistance during this difficult time. Contact us today for a complimentary consultation to learn more about WMT can help your business achieve success online with winning COVID-19 marketing strategies and tactics.

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