Last week was one of the strangest I can remember.
At Receptional’s team meeting on Monday morning, we discussed our coronavirus action plan. And by Tuesday morning – bang – we needed it. Our world had changed.
Throughout the week, I tried to speak with as many business people – clients, agency owners, and other friends – as possible. To gauge their reaction. Sadly, there wasn’t much good news around. Several friends told me they felt in danger of losing their livelihoods.
By comparison, I feel very lucky. Receptional is financially solid, we have a highly skilled team, and we work in a sector (digital marketing) where business is possible. Necessary even.
And I feel very strongly that we should be using our skills to help our clients and friends through the challenges they face.
As marketers, it’s important we understand:
The events of the past few days feel unprecedented. Yet, there have been similar events that we can learn from. So, what we can learn from previous economic downturns?
After the 2008 financial crisis, Harvard Business School studied 4,700 businesses. The aim – to understand the best approach to dealing with a downturn.
They divided companies’ responses into four categories:
The companies that favoured cost-cutting (Prevention) fared least well.
The authors were clear, “Firms that cut faster and deeper than rivals … have the lowest probability of pulling ahead of the competition when times get better.”
On the flip side, those that increased investment (Promotion) across the board also fared badly.
The more successful firms were either Pragmatic (a combination of cost-cutting and investment) or Progressive. The Progressive firms made changes that delivered operational efficiency in both the short- and long-term.
The authors conclude, “Progressive companies stay closely connected to customer needs”.
Which is why keyword research is so useful. The team and I have spent the weekend poring over search data to see how consumer behaviour has been changing. Here’s what we found.
Clearly consumer habits have changed. And we want to understand how.
Our friends at Google tell us they’re seeing more searches than ever. In fact, most marketers expect to see an increase in searches as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
A Marketing Week survey found that 88% of marketers expect to see an increase in the use of online services. While 86% expect to see an increase in the use of social media.
Which makes sense. Those trends were already happening; they’re now accelerating.
So, where are we seeing rising numbers of searches?
Here’s the Google Trends data for searches for ‘coronavirus’. As we’d expect, there’s been a big increase since the start of 2020:
Last week, the government announced that all pubs and restaurants should close.
There was an immediate change in search behaviour – here’s the data for ‘beer delivery’:
You’ve probably seen that we’re looking for toilet roll …
Silly examples, perhaps. But if we look more broadly, we see consumers looking for information about supermarkets – here’s ‘Sainsburys’ data, as an example:
Pharmacies too. A big increase for ‘Lloyds Pharmacies’:
Which simply shows the importance of brand. And how important it is to continue investing in our brands so we’re well placed for the inevitable recovery.
Inevitably, there’s greater interest in ‘home working’:
Which means we’re not only spending more time using online collaboration software, such as Teams:
But also setting up our home offices – and buying products, such as ‘computer mouse’:
And while at home, we’re watching more ‘Netflix’:
There’s little doubt consumers are feeling uncertain. Which may be why, since the start of the year, we’ve been seeing more searches for ‘life insurance’. The finance sector is seeing a variety of changes:
And, of course, more people are looking for work – here’s the data for ‘jobs hiring near me’:
There are some obvious losers.
The travel sector has been badly hit, with more consumers searching for ‘flight cancellations’:
And fewer searches for ‘sun holidays’ – we’d expect to see more traffic at this time of year:
With similar patterns in other affected industries, such as ‘sports betting’:
In uncertain times, we expect fewer people to be making large purchases. Which is why we’re seeing falling searches for estate agents – Rightmove is the proxy here:
The same for cars. Falling searches for Volvo, for example:
With a similar drop for second-hand cars:
Some of the changes may be unsurprising. But there’s clearly lots of change.
I’d suggest you revisit your keyword research, so you better understand how your sector has changed.
Clearly, generic figures are fairly meaningless. It’s important you understand how your conversion rates have been affected.
If search is converting less well, you may temporarily want to switch some budget towards brand building. Either prospecting or remarketing, using display and video campaigns.
More than ever before, we need to be agile. Which means understanding the data. And in particular:
Decisions should be based on data. Consider the following:
With 20+ years’ marketing experience, Justin has worked with many of the UK’s leading businesses including AVIVA, MENCAP, Ladbrokes, Freshfields, PWC, and the Foreign Office.
Justin loves spending time with his daughter, going to the theatre, sandy beaches, decent wine, and Manchester United.
20 January '21
3 December '20
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