Article updated October 19th 2020

It’s a volatile time, to say the least. The coronavirus pandemic is impacting and changing user behavior, forcing a re-evaluation of our priorities, particularly when it comes to spending money.

This has contributed to many marketers and agencies experiencing a wide range of changes to which they need to adapt. Concurrently, the same effects are being felt by their clients, particularly in the travel; retail and eCommerce (FMCG) arenas. It begs the question, ‘what can marketers and agencies do to retain their customers? It all comes down to acceptance of the situation and foresight in order to adapt online marketing strategies to current user behaviour.

Social distancing has changed the marketing dynamic almost fundamentally for many industries. In essence, users have more time to consume more content across a plethora of platforms, including social media and on-demand entertainment streaming services. Therefore, moving budget to targeted content creation and the promotion of this content seems logical.

The effect on industries

Some of the hardest-hit industries include travel (from the airlines to the destinations themselves) retail and fast-moving consumable goods (FMCG).

There is a dichotomy facing particular industries at the moment which has resulted in a critical need for adapted marketing strategies. An example of this polarization is found in social media: Rob Sanderson from Loop Capital Markets predicts that Facebook’s ad revenue is going to take a significant knock due to the decrease in ad spend by travel brands. However, Facebook has also seen a massive increase in its messaging apps – more than 50% in hardest-hit countries during the past month.

So, advertising with social environment-centric content on Facebook can be an excellent option for hard-hit industries. The old saying, 'go where your customers are' holds true.

Choose the right messaging

In terms of messaging, agencies need to hold a balance between current user behavior while remaining sympathetic to the fallout of the pandemic.

One of the main obstacles is that the majority of people are creatures of habit; change is avoided at all costs. However, when complete freedom of choice is not an option, user behaviour sentiment becomes emotionally charged and transforms to deal with the uncertainty of the times. This type of behavior can be irrational because there is no plan or direction. There are some assumptions which do hold true, though, and solid data is starting to back that.

Content is being consumed online at record levels and at this pivotal juncture, digital marketing is actually very well positioned to provide businesses with a resilient approach, once adapted to the present conditions and the resulting user behaviour. A trend which looks set to persist for the next few months at least.

Budgets are moving online

The reality is that the majority of industries are being impacted, and the effect on non-digitally native companies specializing in services such as field marketing or trade shows, for example, will take a heavy toll. The graph below, provided by Marketing Charts, shows the industry’s current attitude towards shifting budget into digital marketing.

Coronavirus Trade Show Budget

As you can see, a whopping 46% said ‘We will not reinvest that budget’, while 14% said they ‘will shift money into content creation’ and 28% that they ‘will shift money into digital advertising.’

So, right now, an agency with non-digitally native clients can look to shift them into the digital realm quite quickly through services such as targeted content creation, video and design. All this, tied together with a sound SEO strategy, can propel these companies from online obscurity into a visible arena they would not have considered before.

So how do I retain my clients?

Digital marketing is creating new opportunities for businesses right now – especially in the hardest-hit industries. At fio agency, we've been fortunate enough to retain and even gain new clients, by implementing proactive marketing strategies that promote the clients' value and maximize visibility in what was perhaps a previously unfamiliar environment.

Here are four ways to keep your current clients and attract new ones.

1. Double down on SEO

In an article written by Michael Davis, Content Director at On The Map, Inc., he explains two pertinent points. If your client has an online presence, cutting – or eliminating SEO budget may be one of their cost-cutting solutions. They're definitely not the only business with this idea, and as such, it presents an opportunity for you to help your clients oust competitors by using contrarian thinking and advise them to increase their SEO budget.

The benefit is that Google’s algorithms will pick up sites that have stagnated, making the ‘golden’ page-one placing more attainable which will enhance your clients’ visibility even during a time of crisis – now that’s how you prove the value you bring to the table. Increased visibility during volatile times solidifies consumers’ authority and trust in your brand.
He comments, ‘Remember, you don't have to knock ten competitors out of the organic search results to get on page one. You only need to take out one. Then you can begin working on that final climb to the top.’

2. Relevant content creation and updating of existing evergreen content

The creation and updating of content work in synergy with SEO. During a time of crisis, developing proactive content and SEO strategies will put you ahead of the curve. Businesses who metaphorically shut down their online presence will be in a reactive position once restrictions are lifted.

Keeping in touch with your existing customer base is an essential ingredient that adds flavor to a tactical, effective marketing plan.

3. Drive conversions cost-effectively

Positive customer experience is vital to your success. Consider advising clients that small incremental design changes to their website that will provide a faster, more personalized service can increase conversion potential.

4. Understand key consumer behavior thresholds

A few days ago, through applied insight as well as preparedness, Nielsen, a global measurement and data analytics company, identified six key consumer behavior threshold levels that tie directly to concerns around the COVID-19 outbreak. The thresholds offer early signals of spending patterns, particularly for emergency pantry items and health supplies, and we are seeing these patterns being mirrored across multiple markets.’

The article further explains, ‘threshold levels 1-4 are beginning to show predictable signs of spending from consumers. To help markets understand what's to come as they enter the following thresholds, we've spotlighted several markets to showcase the key trends that have defined purchasing behaviours as businesses look for guidance on what is likely to happen.’ This direction creates measurable stability.

Six key consumer behavior threshold levels

The beauty of digital marketing is that it can assist the 46% who will need to find new channels to connect with prospective and existing audiences if they want to maintain awareness as well as relevancy when the industry picks up. These channels may include but are not limited to, social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn Live, as well as top-of-the-funnel sales marketing methods.

This means that digital marketing agencies can potentially add revenue-producing value to 87% of the coronavirus-affected trade show industry. The scope for a tangible return on investment is a strong incentive for this industry to opt to retain agencies’ services.

Embracing digital transformation

During these uncertain times, companies are embracing a move to digital channels to reach their audience. Research has shown a spike in companies requesting the updating of websites, launching new e-commerce channels and creating targeted social media campaigns to keep in touch with their audience.

It can be deduced that there is a window of opportunity for agencies to show businesses the real value and revenue growth that the right digital channels can bring. If successful campaigns are actioned, digital marketing will likely become a part of the business' long-term marketing strategy.

So if agencies can show businesses the benefits of moving online, and reap the rewards, it will change their perception of online being an emergency quick fix. The value can entice them to make digital marketing a permanent part of their marketing strategy.

To achieve this goal, it's the duty of marketing agencies to act as a role model, calming the storm of irrational user behaviour through appropriate, well written, researched and actionable strategies to safeguard client retention and at the same time, generate quality leads that convert.

It's your time to shine

As an agency, this can be your time to become a thought-leader. By providing informed insights and strategies, you can gain your clients’ trust and confidence by increasing brand awareness and growing revenue regardless of shifting landscape. This is an opportunity to demonstrate the potential of online to a whole new market while providing a service which helps businesses to weather the storm and make it to the other side.