How to Adjust Your Paid Media Strategy During the COVID-19 Crisis

Ben Otfinoski CEO, Sentic Technologies

With social distancing and shelter in place orders in effect, customers are online more than ever. Because people are spending more time online, now is an important time to think about your paid digital media presence.

Of course, some businesses have decided to pull back on media spend in light of current events. For many brands that need to cut costs in order to protect jobs, prevent layoffs, and ensure their financial well-being, this is the right move. However, that doesn’t mean that the paid media landscape is at a standstill.

In fact, because search ad spend has dropped, digital advertising costs have also gone down significantly. Across the board, I’ve seen CPCs drop 30-40%. There are also resources like Google’s multi-million dollar ad credits for businesses. With CPCs and CPMS lower than they’ve been in years and new resources to leverage, this is an interesting moment to make your paid media dollars work harder.

For brands that can afford paid media budget and are willing to be patient and stay the course of investing in a paid digital presence, there’s a huge opportunity to gain brand awareness, grow relationships with your audience, and drive conversions. Here are my tips for how paid media marketers can adjust their strategies during the COVID-19 crisis and leverage this unique opportunity.

Patience Is Key for Paid Media Marketers

First things first: If you’re not sure if your brand should invest in paid media right now, you should look to the data. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for which businesses should pull back on ad spend and which businesses should invest more. Check out your performance across channels. If you’re still driving clicks, engagement, and ultimately the conversions you’re looking for, then keep investing.

That’s not to say that you should expect to see the same results from your advertising now that you saw before the crisis hit. Take this time to zoom out and think about the KPIs you’d like to achieve based on how COVID-19 is impacting your business. Keep in mind that performance will fluctuate based on your industry.

For example, say you’re in an industry where consumers are still searching for keywords that you bid on and clicking on your ads but they’re not ready to make a purchase. Then you should consider adjusting your KPIs and advertising strategy to align with goals around CTR and other engagement metrics on your site, instead of emphasizing conversion rates. You can use this time to expand your audience and retargeting lists and engage with them via other channels like email. Then, when your consumers are ready to buy again, they’re already connected with you.

For all businesses investing in paid media right now, patience is key. During times of economic uncertainty, the brands that are willing and able to be patient and play the long game have a great opportunity to gain market share if they can “hold the line” while other competitors get skittish and pull back.

I strongly believe that the marketers who focus on maximizing brand visibility and engagement with consumers today will propel their business up the leaderboard significantly over the coming months.

How to Adjust Your Paid Media Strategy Right Now

In addition to adjusting your KPIs and expectations, you need to adjust what you’re actually doing. After all, there is no “business as usual” anymore. This is a totally unprecedented time, so that’s why I recommend that marketers highlight how their business is addressing common consumer concerns within their paid strategy.

That’s where adjusting your messaging comes in. For example, if your business offers financing options for customers, incorporate ad copy that highlights how your brand is understanding of the economic climate and emphasize these flexible financing options. Or, if you’re an essential business that has important information to communicate about your business hours or delivery/pick-up options, make sure you highlight these updates in your messaging.

On top of updating your messaging, you need to be nimble. Because CPCs and CPMs have dropped rapidly, marketers can take advantage of these lower costs and improve efficiency by reviewing their keyword portfolios and identifying where to pause or lower bids on low-volume keywords and where to increase bids on top performers. And don’t let your keyword groups go stale. As the crisis evolves, consumer language and their search queries will continue to evolve, too. Make sure you expand your keyword portfolio to adapt.

You can use a call tracking solution to get attribution into what keywords are driving calls from ads and what keywords are driving calls that are converting. (And in addition to getting insights into the actual voice of your customers, call tracking platforms allow you to optimize your bid strategies for the keywords that are converting).

I also recommend leveraging automated bidding capabilities to maximize efficiency and stay agile. Because the paid media landscape continues to fluctuate daily, these changes impact many of the optimization levers that marketers pull like location, device, and demographic targeting. By using automated bidding solutions, you can let the technology adjust accordingly.

Overall, your overarching paid media strategy should match your business’ updated customer acquisition strategy. If your business goals are about brand awareness over everything else, make sure your paid campaigns reflect this. If you’re in an industry where customers are still buying and driving conversions is key, ensure your paid campaigns match up here. No matter what, paid media should operate in lock-step with your brand’s high-level goals.

Thinking Beyond Paid Search

For some brands, paid search might be where to put money right now — but don’t forget about other channels. Because CPMs are cheap and you might want to focus on top-of-funnel messaging, look to channels like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.

Because consumers are stuck inside and consuming social and video content at increased rates, testing ads on these platforms brings your brand to where the people are spending their time. Also, I recommend changing up your thinking and backing away from bottom-of-funnel messaging to solely focus on a sale.

Now is a great time to open up your messaging, speak to the top of the funnel, and get aggressive on channels you might not be used to. A few months ago, YouTube and Facebook video ads were expensive and typically saw lower conversion rates. Now, with cheaper costs, it can be the right move to allocate budget to these channels, test creative messaging, and get your brand in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

Using Data to Guide Your Strategy

Every marketer should keep close tabs on ad performance and industry trends — and keep in mind that optimizing around historical data won’t cut it right now. We’re in a totally unique time, so historical data has very little bearing on performance today, tomorrow, or next week.

That’s why it’s important for marketers to capture real-time data points to guide strategy. By aligning paid media strategy around the real-time drivers of consumer behavior, marketers can ensure that they’re connecting with consumers in the most timely and contextually relevant way possible. Plus, using this data means you can maximize performance quickly.

For instance, you could tap into conversation data and insights from phone calls — like DialogTech’s COVID-19 analytics — to see what callers are asking about and what language they’re using and use this information to inform your advertising.
Other signals like trending social conversations and breaking news can also be leveraged in your optimizations. Platforms like Sentic and DialogTech close the loop between external social and industry trends, the voice of the customer, your martech stack, and ultimately the ad strategy you roll out.

Knowledge (and data!) is power. In a time when you can get more for your money in paid channels and reach consumers where they’re spending a majority of their time, leveraging all the data you can makes for a powerful digital media plan.

Interested in learning more about how you can optimize your media strategy in times of crisis? Sign up for our upcoming Mission-Critical Marketing webinar where experts from Resolution and DialogTech discuss how to plan your paid media strategy in these unprecedented times.

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