Why Will the COVID-19 Crisis Boost Digital Marketing in the Future?


The coronavirus crisis may seem like a huge threat to businesses and jobs as well as health, but digital marketing may in fact take a great leap forward as a result of Covid 19.

Major events that can affect whole populations can transform lives in more ways that one; it does not just have an effect on the duration but can act as a catalyst for significant changes thereafter.

This is a recognised reality of life that was observable from the 20th century; the First World War saw social changes such as universal suffrage. The second was followed by the setting up of the NHS and a new social and economic model about which there was such strong consensus that it lasted over 30 years.

Many people are also speculating whether the Covid 19 crisis will have a similarly transformational effect on social attitudes, lifestyles and how people work and shop.

How does online working keep some firms going?

A central issue as the UK and other countries emerge from the emergency will be the economy. While a recession is all but inevitable, steps taken by the government to effectively place much of the economy in suspended animation will mean that, in due course, people will be able to return to their jobs and firms and start the recovery.

That is far from the whole story, however; alongside firms that have had to place staff in the ‘Furlough’ scheme are those who have been able to go on working – such as firms where staff can work from home – and those who have actually gained from the crisis, such as supermarkets, takeaways and online retailers.

A key differential lies between firms who rely on staff and services to be in the same place as the customers – from pubs to planes – and firms able to market, communicate and trade online.

What this has done is demonstrate just how much capacity some firms have to do the latter. Crucially, what may be transformational is the extent to which they have now adapted to do so. This is an extent which they had never previously set themselves up to do.

Clearly remote working has its benefits during the Covid 19 crisis:

  • It maintains business continuity when work premises are out of use / cannot be accessed for any reason.
  • It offers flexibility for staff who may need to be at home one day, such as waiting on a delivery or having an appointment.
  • It means staff who have any sort of illness (not just Coronavirus) can work in isolation from their colleagues and not pass their bugs on to them.
  • It brings environmental benefits from less travelling.

All this requires, of course, that staff are more IT-literate and it may require some staff to become a lot more efficient with using IT and the web.

The usefulness of acting remotely has not just applied to the workplace, however, with a growing number of people finding that it equally applies to their lives as a whole:

  • Ordering everyday shopping online is a practical alternative to venturing outside and enduring long queues at busy supermarkets.
  • Non-essential goods and services can be bought online, which makes this a busy time for eCommerce firms.
  • The internet can provide a source of entertainment while others are not available.
  • The internet – especially social media – is increasingly a useful tool for staying in touch with friends and family who cannot be visited in person.

How can digital marketers respond to Covid 19 in the short term?

If ever there was a time for digital marketing to come to the fore, it is now. Billboards that would usually have been seen by thousands now stand beside empty streets, fewer people are venturing out to get newspapers and nobody is holding events.

In the meantime, with so many more people online and for longer, the chances of seeing ads on social media or interacting with content marketing blogs are greater.

There are some obvious targets digital marketers can focus on, with many goods in greater demand just now:

  • Social media – as this will be all-important for maintaining links
  • Websites with sport-related content, which will be popular in the absence of live sport
  • Emphasising ethics – firms that act ethically in retaining staff and paying suppliers, or helping in other ways like supporting food banks, will be able to highlight this in content marketing, while some may suffer reputational damage for not doing so

All this will focus on the key changes that have occurred as a result of the crisis. The buyer persona marketers need to consider the change, specifically in terms of their needs, which will be common to most people due to nearly everybody having to adopt approximately the same lifestyle. The key is then to market goods and services as the solution to this specific need.

What legacy will this bring?

Of course, when the restrictions are lifted the initial reaction of many will be to jump offline and do things that they couldn’t before – visiting friends and family, visiting museums and theatres, returning to pubs, restaurants, sports grounds, places of worship, gyms and libraries. However, digital marketers should be aware that many economists expect the recovery to be gradual, rather than a strong rebound.

That also means the marketing strategies outlined above that will apply to the crisis will become obsolete.

However, it is likely that for many, using the internet more for shopping, gaming, keeping in touch and other activities will have become something of a habit.

In addition, it could well be that consumers emerge from the crisis with some very different priorities, values and attitudes – all of which could impact how they want to spend their time and money.

For these reasons, it is important for marketers to research how consumer habits are changing. The growth of eCommerce and the use of the internet has already been a major feature of life and economics, but this crisis may serve to accelerate that growth.

This means that the importance of digital marketing – already crucial for small firms that have seen traditional marketing bring ever weaker returns on investment – will be even greater during and after the Covid 19 crisis.

As the world goes increasingly digital, so will marketing. What marketers need to do is respond with updated strategies and buyer personas for a different, post-pandemic world.