Few can deny that the year 2020, and likely the next few years as well, are a changed landscape for global business. Already, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic fallout have proved to be an acid test for businesses, where some flourish while others fold. Fortune favors the nimble company that can adapt to this new market quickly.

The new economic landscape and its uncertainties have made it necessary to stay strategic in two aspects when it comes to digital marketing:

  • How we reach out to consumers
  • What our message is when we do

When it comes to ad spending, many companies find themselves thinking twice about their expenditures. There are so many unpredictable factors that come up. For example, the Muslim pilgrimage “hajj” has been canceled this year due to coronavirus precautions. Normally 2.5 million people all over the world make this pilgrimage, which stimulates the economy all over the Middle Eastern world. This economic blow is bound to have repercussions on global markets yet to be felt as of this writing, and yet it’s just one more shock in a daily torrent of economic swerves.

It’s this kind of uncertainty that freezes up non-compulsive spending. Yet, some markets are flourishing, because money tends to go somewhere. For people who would be taking summer vacations, getting married, or spending the weekend at a casino, that same extra cash is going towards material goods they can order online and enjoy from home, or digital leisure activities.

 

Answering Digital Market Demand

Movie theaters may be closed, but are we streaming more content from home than ever before. This is also a fantastic time to be in the video game market. As for alcohol sales, apparently a lot of you out there have a daily cocktail hour, especially going by online order sales. Market signs like this shift our expectations and plans. Normally, your average consumer would be packing up the kids for a summer trip to Disney World about now. Instead, they’re all binge-watching old TV shows, tackling home renovation projects, playing through their digital game library, or getting a little tipsy.

Consumers are also online in greater numbers for more hours. This actually means that your ad spending dollar gets you more impressions than ever before. So, in spite of the sour economic news elsewhere, this is a great time for digital advertising. But is your business digital-ad-ready? Let’s help you prepare it, then!

 

Start with a Website Audit

Before you make any new investments into digital advertising, you need to make sure that your website is up to date and reflects your current business operations. If your industry is impacted in any way by the pandemic (most are), it’s better to at least have a message on your site addressing this.

For most of you, your digital presence was quickly updated and accurately reflects your current hours, services, and new offerings. Other business owners may have opted not to update their website, hoping that this would pass quickly. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s our reality as new cases continue to swell in parts of the U.S. So, if you haven’t updated your website yet, now is your chance.

Some businesses may even want a full landing page, addressing changes in hours, business procedures, or product or service interruptions. You can implement pop-ups or temporary banners at the top of each page on the site, linking visitors to the COVID-19 page with information on updates to your business flow as needed.

If you find it necessary to go the popup route, OptinMonster is an easy way to implement popup mechanisms on your website. You will also want to update your Google My Business listing, especially if you have a storefront with changes to hours or service policies.

In your COVID-19 messaging, you should be informing visitors on points such as:

  • Changes to your hours
  • Changes to service or product availability
  • Optional services you’re offering, such as teleconferencing, remote services, delivery, or curbside pickup
  • Extra health and sterilization policies where applicable
  • Changes to company policies, such as limiting in-store service or requiring patrons to wear masks

Even if you don’t have a major change to report, a cheery little “we’re all in this together” message with an inspirational perk never hurt. People are emotionally fragile right now, so be extra sensitive in your messaging.

Now, let’s get back to your ad campaigns. You want to be sure that your marketing messages are consistent with the rest of your online content. You don’t want inconsistencies between your advertising and what you’re actually able to offer. This also might be the time to adjust your advertising tone, in light of increased struggles your customers might be facing.

If you’re looking for more recommendations on how to adapt your website and ad campaigns for the coronavirus pandemic, you should read our article “Strategies to Optimize Your Google and Facebook Ads Budget.”

 

The Right Way to Reduce Ad Spend

When it comes to your ad spending, we’d like to interject this healthy note of caution:

This is not the time for hasty, rash changes based on premature assumptions. After all, when the unemployment rate spiked earlier, many businesses assumed that they’d never have customers again. But the market is settling back down, people are returning to work again, and it’s turning out that some people even still have money to spend.

On a side note, remember also not to focus on just the United States in terms of available economic liquidity, or on any one country for that matter. The global gig economy is growing every year, taking some knowledge workers into its fold. Even when the American market is stalled, a remote gig worker might be able to pull together business from Australia, Canada, and the UK and ride out the economy like nothing ever happened. Meanwhile, they have money to spend and fewer places to spend it.

Reduce Budget Not Pause Campaigns

Avoid the impulse to end or suspend ad campaigns until you’re reasonably sure how your specific market is responding. Pausing your Facebook or Google advertising campaigns can prevent you from developing more effective campaigns in the future. When you pause a campaign, you’re cutting off your opportunity to analyze your audience’s new behaviors, which allows you to target your advertisements more effectively. It also takes time for ad networks to learn about your target market and accurately place your ads. When you stop them for a while, then restart the campaigns, it’s like you’re starting at square one. The ad network has to relearn your audience, which takes more time and money.

If ad spending is just too painful right now, you should consider reducing your budget to $5-10$ a month.

Use Dayparting

Dayparting” is a term we borrow from broadcast media. It means to segment the day into time blocks and focus on broadcasting certain media during that block only. You’re probably familiar with the term “prime time” for the evening hours when network television is assured its biggest audience. You can also implement dayparting in advertising, putting your ad campaign into time slots with a custom time schedule.

This will depend on whether your target market is sensitive to the time of day or days of the week. Your Google Ads metrics and Google Trends can help you discover when your customers are more active, or when more people are searching for a product or service like yours.

Use Google Trends to determine when people are actively searching for keywords. In this example, searches for banking drop every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

 

How to Align Your Sales Funnel and Your Digital Advertising Strategy

The sales funnel is a structure of sales process engineering that we talk about in marketing a lot. Different kinds of marketing might target different parts of the funnel. For instance, offering a newsletter to subscribers who are former customers helps retain customer loyalty and generate repeat sales, an example from the bottom of the funnel. SEO marketing is a broad-focused, ground-covering approach that is often aimed more towards the top of the funnel. However, you can focus your SEO strategy on keywords that people use when they’re in the evaluation or intent stage. For instance, a digital marketer might search for “HubSpot versus ActiveCampaign” when they’re trying to decide between two products.

Your digital advertising strategy should align with your sales funnel, which means your ad offer, copy, and graphics are crafted for that specific stage of the buyer’s journey. When it does, you’ll see better conversion rates.

Say your business is Wayne’s Widgets, sales funnel might look like this:

  • Don’t even know what a widget is!
  • Hmm, I might want a widget…
  • Hey, Wayne sells widgets, are they any good?
  • So, that’s the price for widgets, does that include a warranty?
  • I’m sold on Wayne’s Widgets!
  • Thanks, I’ll keep Wayne’s in mind for my next widget purchase.

A broad digital advertising campaign at the top of the funnel might be something you use to answer questions about a common pain point you know customers have. At this point, they don’t know about your company, but they are trying to resolve a problem and are searching for possible solutions.

In the mid-funnel, you have targets who are already customers in your industry but are perhaps customers of your competitor. Aim here when you’re entering an already thriving vertical, but you have to entice customers into giving you a try. These folks could also be new to your industry and have progressed to the stage where they are comparing vendors and solutions.

As you make your way to the bottom of the funnel, the buyers’ intent becomes more focused. They’ve determined what they need and are ready to make a purchase. When they’re searching Google, they’re often using very direct keywords aligned with purchasing, like “buy John Deere Tractor 2025R” or “schedule hair appointment near me.”

At the very bottom of the funnel, you either have previous customers. You don’t have to work as hard here. Target here with products or services in a less competitive market, or with products that have hard-baked brand loyalty.

What we’re getting at here is, you can vary your keyword targeting to various parts of the funnel to streamline your advertising budget. Additionally, bidding on keywords may be less or more expensive, depending on how in-demand they are.

 

Tips to Make the Most of Your Digital Advertising Budget:

If you need to make reductions to your digital advertising budget, you’ll want to keep the sales funnel in mind. Here’s how:

  • Reduce your ad budget for top-of-the-funnel campaigns. These folks are far from making a purchasing decision and are not ready to buy. These terms are often very competitive. Don’t waste money on these folks.
  • Increase investments in non-branded ad campaigns that target the middle of the funnel. These searchers are evaluating options and they’re searching with strong purchase intent. You also want to focus your budget on keywords that have previously resulted in high conversions. Invest in campaigns that drive new customers.
  • Maintain campaigns for your branded keywords. These searchers are actively searching for your brand and want to purchase from you. Don’t let a competitor sneak in.
  • Reduce budget or cut campaigns that have low conversion rates. If you need to save money, this is a good place to start. Analyze your ongoing campaigns and determine which ones are pulling their weight in terms of conversions, and which ones aren’t.

Now, let’s look at this advice in practice.

 

Sample Cost-effective Digital Advertising Strategy

The following is a hypothetical example we’ll cook up because it’s a fun way to illustrate this kind of point:

Hollie’s Hot-Sauce Station is a chain of brick-and-mortar stores supported by a website, Google My Business listing, and a moderate Facebook ad campaign. Hollie usually advertises her business to all parts of the funnel:

  • People who have never tried hot sauce, but may be bored with their usual cuisine
  • Hot sauce fans who have never heard of the specialty sauce, Hollie’s Habanero Hell
  • Hot sauce fans who have heard of Hollie’s but they’re loyal Sriracha fans who may never switch
  • Hot sauce fans who enjoy Hollie’s regularly and only need to be reminded to stock up

Due to COVID-19, Hollie’s had to cut back on production because the habanero pepper farm she usually relies on for supplies had a break-out of reported cases. She has a back stock of product to last a couple of months, but until she can re-stabilize her supply chain her ad budget is wasted trying to sell more than she can provide.

Hollie cuts off the ad campaign near the top of the funnel, deciding not to target keywords like “ways to spice up food,” “spicy sauces,” and “Tex-Mex recipes.” She’s reasoning that it’s a waste of time trying to win new customers to the hot sauce market right now. At the same time, she’s cutting back a little on competitive keywords like “hot sauce” and “spicy foods,” but not eliminating them entirely because people are cooking at home more during the pandemic lockdown.

She is most definitely not eliminating bidding on “Sriracha” or “Sriracha alternative” because that’s a worldwide leading brand that she has to fight in the trenches of the hot sauce market every day, pandemic or no. And of course, she still budgets ad spending for her own branded keywords.

Think about your market, how your business is evolving, and what that means to your advertising strategy. What may have worked 6 months ago, likely needs to be adjusted. You may need to increase spending in new active markets or reduce your ad spend while you wait for the economy to rebound.

 

Is This a Good Time to Market a New Product or Service?

That depends on your industry. Obviously, if your industry is driven by or depends on tourism or travel, you’re taking a very hard hit. The same goes for social or leisure activities normally performed in groups, like theme parks, casinos, and nightclubs. COVID-19 has polarized business into four categories:

  • Businesses that are not affected
  • Businesses that are at a disadvantage
  • Businesses that are at an advantage
  • Businesses that have an opportunity for flexibility

Let’s focus on that last category. Some industries took a hard hit from the pandemic, but have bounced back thanks to remote and teleconference options that gave them new flexibility.

The education industry has had to decide that it likes remote learning because it’s the only option available to them. Some specialized medical fields like psychiatrists and therapists have turned to telemedicine. Movie theaters are closed, but drive-in movies are making a comeback. Restaurants and bars are partially reopening while struggling with social distancing, and honestly, some of them are coming up with creative solutions.

Now for your business: how are you adapting to the new market? Are you offering a different form of the same service? Are you offering a new service or product based on the demand that we didn’t have before this year? Is it so creative and cute that it’s like these little booth dinosaurs?

Then yes, this is not only a good time to advertise, it’s a great time! There’s a lot of needs going unmet right now for people who have new problems with no solution. If you can adjust your business, break into a new related market, adapt to the new standards, or tap a new market sector you never had before, go for it!

 

Facebook and Google Ad Efficiency Amid Chaos

You can tailor the lesson from the above hypothetical to suit your own industry. The point is that you should at least have a plan, written down, reasoning why you are advertising the way you are. Sometimes it helps to have any plan at all, and if it happens to work, so much the better.

We covered Facebook audience ad targeting before, with a handy 7-step guide that anyone should find easy to follow. We also have a Google Ads primer for the anxious beginner, with a complete overview of the process.

Those can apply at any general time. But we’re talking about the new market in the pandemic world here. The thing about a market shaped by these turbulent times is that it isn’t necessarily harder or easier for business in general, just very different from rapidly evolving rules that will take some getting used to. You have industries that are naturally doing well while others are struggling. You also have unpredictable circumstances from one week to the next.

Chaos theory is a branch of mathematics that attempts to take complex natural systems like a hurricane or a locust swarm and form accurate, predictable models to deal with them. Chaos is all around us in the form of random air currents converging into storms, or our current pogo-sticking stock market. It applies to COVID-19 too, and with it we can see ripple effects that impact the economy.

Chaos is marked by a pattern of “little shifts that produce disproportionately sized impacts.” You’ve heard of the expression that a butterfly flapping its wings can produce a sandstorm on the other side of the world. Or more to our subject, we mentioned back at the top about the Muslim hajj pilgrimage being shut down, and the possible economic repercussions.

Bringing it back to Google and Facebook ad performance, it’s good to be aware of the chaotic effects for which we have no existing model. This applies to your ad campaign strategy because you should move deliberately and objectively, rather than trying to jump in and make shotgun changes. Be less confident in your market sense than you normally would be, because there are big ripples and currents running around the global market right now.

We are witnessing a profound disturbance of economical balance, in a way that most of the world may never have seen before. During times like this, what may make or break individual companies is not necessarily being the strongest or biggest, but being the most nimble or the most patient.

 

Alex Membrillo Cardinal CEO

Alex Membrillo

Founder and CEO

Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal, a digital marketing agency focused on growing multi location companies. His work as CEO of Cardinal has recently earned him the honor of being selected as a member of the 2018 Top 40 Under 40 list by Georgia State University as well as 2015 and 2016 Top 20 Entrepreneur of metro Atlanta by TiE Atlanta, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year,and the Digital Marketer of the Year by Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).