By: Mike Scarpace

COVID-19 has dramatically shifted business trends and consumer behaviors and priorities.  Behaviors that would previously have been thought of as excessive will now become the new societal norms, similar to the “post 9/11” world that brought us tighter security measures at airports, entertainment venues and large office buildings.

Businesses are being forced to quickly adapt and respond to fast-changing consumer behavior and weekly fluctuations in demand. This includes re-thinking their marketing fundamentals and strategies to help position themselves in the post-COVID-19 world.

Adjusting the Message

As advertisers have increasingly become more concerned about the long-term economic outlook, you’ve seen them adapt and adjust their messaging.

An SMB panel conducted by our friends at Borrell Associates asked, “which of the following has your business done related to marketing messages as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?” It revealed the following:

  • 60% – Informed customers of new precautions being taken
  • 51% – Adjusted creative messaging
  • 46% – Offered new or different options for customers
  • 33% – Replaced hard sales message to a more emphatic message
  • 31% – Cut back print advertising
  • 30% – Increased brand awareness
  • 25% – Cut back digital forms of advertising
  • 21% – Stopped all advertising
  • 17% – Cut back outdoor advertising
  • 12% – Other
  • 10% – No changes to advertising

Knowing your customer base as well as consumer needs and concerns is always the best way to beat out the competition. Now that we’re past the initial shock of the pandemic, local businesses understand the need to effectively communicate with their customers.

We’re starting to see slight signs that they are beginning to strategize how they will market to consumers as Shelter In Place (SIP) orders are lifted. Local companies looking to stay ahead of the curve will need to adopt a proactive approach and prepare to adjust their products, services, and strategies to quickly meet current and future customer needs.

Phases of Consumer Re-Entry

While every state will have different phases of re-opening, each industry will also have their own unique strategies and timing for when they resume their business operations. Throughout the re-opening process, consumer behavior will also evolve.

Phase I – Apprehension

In this first phase, consumers will most likely still have anxiety about how to return to their “day-to-day” life. They may have a fear of not knowing what is safe. What’s proper protocol?

Both consumers and employees initially will have higher sensitivity to germs and the risk of potentially spreading the virus. This behavior alone will change many industries. You can already see local businesses adapting how they provide services and deliver products.

Phase II – Expanding Horizons

Eventually we will transition to Phase II, where consumers will begin to feel a little more comfortable interacting with the outside world. When everything continues to progress positively, consumers will be more at ease and willing to receive services and purchase products as they did before the pandemic.

Phase III – Back to the “New Normal” of Everyday Life

Our “new normal” may vary, depending on location and industry, but consumers will begin to acclimate and get used to the new ways of doing business. The list of changed behaviors and their impact will surely be long and continue to evolve as COVID-19 runs its course.

Throughout each phase, it will be imperative to stay on top of the latest consumer and industry trends, analyze the data for insights, and track consumer behavior. It is more important than ever to truly listen to your customers to ensure you are meeting their new needs. This will be key to driving successful marketing strategies going forward and also in securing more business.


COVID-19 Messaging

As SIP orders are gradually lifted in each state, local businesses will begin to adjust to new messaging. During COVID-19 we’ve seen typical messaging progress from “We’re Open” to “Curbside Pickup,” “Contactless Delivery,” or “We’re COVID-19 Compliant.”

Morning Consult conducted a survey of 2,200 U.S. adults about what messaging they want to see by local businesses during the pandemic and it revealed the following:

  • 44% – Services Adjustments & Updates
  • 24% – Indicating what they’re doing to help
  • 16% – Compliance (clean, social distancing, etc.)
  • 13% – Explaining actions to protect employees
  • 10% – Empathizing
  • 8% – Focus on Safety (e.g., Stay at Home)
  • 8% – Offering Deals
  • 4% – Community Effort

As we inch closer to normalcy and the economy starts to rebound, expect messaging to shift from service updates and compliance messaging to deals and promotions. Once we reach the later stages of recovery, people will most likely not want to be reminded of the COVID-19 time period, and will want messaging more focused on what the business has to offer.

Post-COVID-19 Marketing Needs

Once local businesses re-open there will be a re-assessment of their marketing needs and potentially a reallocation of marketing funds.

Here’s a chart from Borrell Associates which shows how local businesses might allocate funds in the post-COVID-19 world:

Source: Borrell Associates, April 2020

Notice there might be an increased investment going to on-property messaging and website improvements. The biggest takeaway from this chart is that local businesses are going to lean in on reps that can provide more of these services.

Comprehensive Marketing Plans Upon Re-Open

We certainly don’t have all the answers for navigating these disruptive and unprecedented times, but as local businesses re-open they’ll be leaning on their local media companies and agencies for effective marketing strategies. In the post-COVID-19 world, the messages will initially need to:

  • Be sensitive, clear, and action-orientated
  • Outline safety precautions they are taking, and
  • Embody unique selling proposition

As mentioned previously, local media partners will likely need to include a more comprehensive package in addition to the mass media they offer. This may include:

  • Audience Extension
  • Website Improvements
  • Professional Video Creation
  • On-Property Signage
  • Email Marketing

The media industry will need to be creative by offering unique value-add or extra services to help attract businesses and ultimately close deals in the future. Examples include:

  • Sidewalk Sale Saturday (Hosting events for local businesses)
  • Easy to Share/Social Media Chain
  • Media company coupon/discount for future ads
  • Lead-gen/appointment-setting software
  • Facemask Offer

With many businesses relying on Payback Protection Programs (PPP) to help them through this crisis, it’s no secret that budgets will be tight when businesses re-open.  These businesses will likely be looking for some flexibility when it comes to pricing.  Here are some ideas on what media companies are already doing to help their customers (source: Borrell Associates 2020):

  • Tiered pricing
  • Stimulus package
  • Deferred payments
  • Liberal credit/cancellation policies

The COVID-19 global pandemic has been unprecedented in our lifetime and has created a great deal of uncertainty for everyone.  To ensure future success, businesses need to take a proactive approach, adapt to the changing environment, and identify opportunities for the long term. In the immediate future it will be vital to be empathic, use creativity, and ensure you are listening to your customers effectively—businesses that do will be up for long term success in the new world.