Most of us have imagined life “when the pandemic is over.” In our wildest post-COVID fantasies, we burn piles of masks in ritual bonfires, hug complete strangers, and play fast and loose with vacation planning. For marketers, those fantasies involve celebratory grand reopenings, live (non-virtual) events, and seeing their customers face-to-face.
In reality though, there is no magical date for when the pandemic is "over.” The many lingering effects of COVID have left their mark on all of us, as individuals, as marketers, and as businesses. And as we continue to adapt to the new normal and the next normal (knowing full-well that none of it feels particularly “normal” at all), we will need to continue to make marketing decisions based on the way the pandemic has impacted our teams and our customers.
So as we keep an eye on the uncertainties and expectations surrounding vaccines, herd immunity, and virus mutations, we can cling to the one thing we as marketers can always rely on: data. Numbers don’t lie (unless you’re celebrating your 29th birthday AGAIN), and as we begin to see glimmers of hope that the world will slowly reopen, we can lean into the data to make smarter marketing decisions, reach new and existing customers, and build our inbound strategy.
But before we can do that, we have to address the elephant in the Zoom — er, room: the decline of data.
Dealing with the Data Deficit
After the onset of the pandemic, sales declined drastically in a wide variety of industries, which was unwelcome, but expected. In the frantic scramble to adapt or die, what many marketers didn’t realize was that falling sales wasn’t their only problem. The moratorium on spending also placed a vice grip around the flow of consumer data. As the data dried up, marketers found it increasingly difficult to reach customers via their pre-pandemic methods, like automation and AI-driven tools. The good news is that there are opportunities to be found in the data desert:
View this as a fresh start. The data you were collecting before the pandemic will no longer apply to many of your buyers’ behaviors and spending habits. Now is the time to do some digging on how your customers and their needs have changed, so you can be ready to meet them where they are.
This could be the great equalizer. If your data collection methods weren’t up to snuff pre-pandemic, this is a chance for you to restart on equal footing with your competitors. Because no matter how great their data was in the “before,” they’ve also been feeling the sting of the “not-quite-after.” Take this opportunity to look at how and where you’re gathering data, and seek out new opportunities to gain customer insights.
Look for new ways to analyze and interpret data. The tools and methods you used to break down the data and gather insights may no longer be relevant. As we work toward reopening, take this time to shop around for tools that give you real-time data and enable you to make quick decisions or focus on predictive analytics based on evolving behaviors. Adjust your KPIs as needed.
Using Data to Grow Mid- and Post-Pandemic
If you’re feeling defeated by the information on the data decline, don’t give up just yet. While the world will never look quite the way it did before, buyers are still out there, still spending, and still waiting to hear from you. You might just need to shift your thinking to reach them in the after. Here are some ways you can hunt down the data you need as you market in a COVID-influenced landscape:
Confronting the Split Personality
The customers who purchased from you pre-COVID are not the same customers you have now. Sure, they may have the same name, email address, and Social Security number, but it may feel like they suddenly have a case of multiple personality disorder. Their behaviors have been impacted by the pandemic, and their journey through your funnel now takes a different path. That’s okay, because just like Clark Kent, their developing alter ego could be the superhero you need. Since you already have their data, use it to follow the shifts in their buying habits and then redefine your personas based on what you find. This will help you tailor your inbound efforts to potential new customers whose behaviors may align with those of your current customers.
Change the Channel
The digital era began long before COVID, but the pandemic forced even the most reluctant to jump on the virtual bandwagon. The traditional methods you once used to reach your customers may now be nothing more than dead air. To be heard, you have to find them where they are right now. Take a close look at your marketing channels, and consider these tidbits:
Mobile Makeover: Nearly 40 percent of U.S. consumers report using their smartphones more since the onset of the pandemic. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to focus on mobile optimization and create mobile-specific content like SMS campaigns and digital video.
Spend on Social: Social ad spending is projected to increase more than 21 percent in 2021, as consumers become more comfortable making purchases on their favorite platforms. Social media offers you opportunities to reach new audiences, test messaging, and collect data in a whole new way, all while increasing customer engagement in a place they’re already spending time.
Small Screen Takeover: Among Millennials, 60 percent say they’re spending more time watching TV on subscription services. Meantime, YouTube’s ad revenue grew to $6.89B in Q4 2020. Dig into the data to discover the TV channels your personas are watching, and align your marketing channels to match.
Flip Your Funnel
For SaaS and Fintech companies, the old ways of growing and nurturing leads may never be the same. The data deficit means you can’t always fall back on quantity of leads, so you’ll have to take a more qualitative approach. Account-based marketing has gained a lot of steam in recent years, and while it’s traditionally been known as a sales technique, marketers can learn a lot from the method’s inverted funnel. Using a customer data platform (CDP) will also help you gather all the numbers and insights you need to make marketing decisions that will nurture relationships, increase loyalty, and ensure repeat purchasing. Taking a relationship-based approach to your customers will help you gather more relevant and meaningful data on their behaviors, opinions, and perceptions.
Learn from the Best
How are the biggest brands leveraging data as we head into the next phase of COVID recovery? They’re thinking outside the box, getting hyper-personalized, and staying ahead of industry trends. Look to them as leaders in data-based marketing, and research ways you can repurpose their methods to bring new customers into your brand. One common theme among these major players is that they used the data they already had to reach new customers, even in the midst of the current data deficit. Remember, you already have the data you need from your current customers. There’s no such thing as “wrong” data. The numbers are the numbers, so use what you’ve got to make decisions…even if those decisions are “what not to do.”
Sure, we’re all dreaming of a day we can rip off the masks and breathe a little easier. It won’t happen all at once, and the state of marketing will never go back to the way it was before. But by leveraging the data you already have and making smart marketing decisions, you can shape your post-COVID brand…no grand reopening required.