As brands reevaluate their media plans and adjust to the latest market disruptions, changes in consumer sentiment and shopper behavior, and the new realities of retailing, they’re looking for guidance.

Many are coming to us with questions about the most effective — and cost-effective—ways to leverage paid media now and in a post-pandemic world. They want to know how to prioritize and optimize their spending, establish new success metrics and apply insights and data to paid media and search strategies.

Here’s how we’re answering the most frequently asked questions around paid media and search:

“How should paid media plans shift to reflect new realities?”

Many brands are asking whether it makes sense to cancel, pause, accelerate or revise their current media activity. Though longstanding best practices around precision targeting, optimization and measurement still apply, the current upheaval that brands are facing has prompted the need for new media strategies. An effective response now hinges on several factors: rapidly changing media consumption habits, purchasing activity shifting online and supply chain and inventory realities.

Consider these circumstances:

  • Scarcity — If you’re experiencing supply-chain challenges, pausing paid media may be necessary until inventory has been restored. We’re working with our clients to employ real-time geo-specific in-stock/out-of-stock data to help guide how pauses are implemented and lifted with precision. And as supply chains adjust, shifting campaigns to reflect new online restocking behaviors can ensure that your brand joins the digital cart in the future.
  • Audience-based targeting — If you’ve seen a large bump in sales, these may be attributable to new buyers switching as a result of inventory realities. Applying data sources to identify those new buyers will allow you to potentially re-message these new shoppers to retain them and build loyalty.
  • Community support — If you have goodwill messaging to share, consider switching from promotional or product-centered ads to messages that spotlight those efforts with a focus on the tangible progress that your brand is contributing to.
  • Consumer benefit — As your marketing and brand teams innovate to meet new consumer priorities, paid media support can be redirected to promote new usage occasions, product benefits and simplified purchase options that promise real utility to consumers facing multiple new challenges.

“What does media success look like right now?”

An effective media strategy relies on how accurately your plan and messaging reflect your consumers’ current needs and priorities. How does the brand fit in their lives in this most unusual time of change and uncertainty, when shoppers’ day-to-day lives may look radically different than only a few weeks ago? If your brand can be a source of meaningful assistance, tap into a new priority and solve a problem, media success hinges on showing up with the right message in the right place to communicate these benefits. In short, an agile approach to consumer understanding will ultimately guide how you allocate dollars in such a rapidly evolving environment.

A few other considerations are:

  • Baseline metrics — To track effectiveness now and moving forward, identify a set of pre-COVID-19 baseline media metrics to assess and measure changes as behaviors and marketplace dynamics in your category change over time.
  • Vendor insights — For additional insights, tap into your media vendors, many of whom are tracking channel-specific consumption, traffic and engagement trends.
  • Agile research — Partner with your internal insights team and external research partners. Consider a quick and efficient online survey of your consumers to gauge their mindset and explore needs that your brand may address as they adapt to new realities and plan for the future.
  • Purchase behavior — With shopping behaviors widely affected by both stay-at-home orders and newly transformed in-store experiences, messages may need to be shifted to reinforce options such as curbside pickup and other transaction-focused changes.

“How should I be considering the use of search advertising now?”

Given its effectiveness at driving conversion and its reputation as a measurable tactic in marketers’ toolboxes, we expect search to remain an essential part of brands’ media plans in a wide variety of categories. With the shift toward e-commerce, search advertising capitalizes on consumers’ increased time researching potential purchases. In categories where scarcity is not an issue, search can also generate awareness and capitalize on consumers’ current openness to trial. And as restrictions on retail ease, an effective localized search strategy will be essential in many categories as more shoppers opt to return to store environments.

Also consider:

  • Optimization — With a shorter buying cycle, search advertising strategies can be easily pivoted — a benefit in such a volatile environment. Take time to assess current trends on search and social-related channels to update your keyword, copy and bidding strategies based on new and quickly changing consumer behaviors.
  • New opportunities — Beyond assessing already-in-place, search-related activity to adjust your current spend up or down, identify new keywords and searches to test on specific platforms using tools such as Pinterest TrendsGoogle Trends and Google’s recently launched Rising Retail Categories data collection. We know these sites provide a window into consumers’ pursuits and interests in the moment and, therefore, are essential sources of insight for a forward-thinking approach to search advertising.

We’re also providing our clients with a perspective on longer-term trends we believe brands need to be aware of and act on. Here are three to focus on:

1. The TV ad upfront marketplace is forever altered. With the traditional television upfronts disrupted, sports halted at least temporarily and production studios empty, many are asking what’s next for the TV and video marketplace. A recent Nielsen report shows streaming increased 85% from March 2019 to March 2020, with Netflix in the lead, while Google reports that YouTube TV saw a 300% increase in viewership. The behavior shift these stats spotlight and the expected consumer reliance on streaming video moving forward have buyers considering an approach that includes more impression- and audience-based buying of digital video in addition to traditional linear TV. We expect brands will continue to allocate more dollars to digital video leveraging attribution methodologies and audience-first buys based on brand-owned data and publisher data.

2. Consumers’ desire for content that assists, educates and inspires will accelerate brand and publisher partnerships over the long term. Recent pandemic-driven, stay-at-home experiences have prompted consumers to seek out new hobbies or rekindle past pursuits. Sites like Skillshare, where consumers have access to thousands of online teachers, have seen site traffic double over the past several weeks. And seizing on the need to inspire at-home entertainment for busy families, Ikea recently released a clever campaign with instructions (no tiny Allen wrench needed) for a variety of furniture forts, including a castle, wigwam and more. We expect brands across all verticals will act on new consumer expectations for richer content, capitalizing on this opportunity to connect in new and relevant ways.

3. “Test and learns” are now table stakes. During periods of extreme marketplace disruption, brands may be tempted to scale back innovation-focused budgets and initiatives. Yet, right now consumers have been open to new technology experiences as evidenced by the increased usage of online grocery, live streaming and contactless payment across demographics. They’re also encountering brands in new contexts with fashion brands showing up in Nintendo’s wildly popular new game Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Superstar rapper Travis Scott recently created a new model for music releases when he partnered with Epic Games’ Fortnight for a three-night virtual concert tour.

The proliferation of novel experiences such as these and accelerated adoption of newer technologies should spur brands to consider a test-and-learn budget as must have versus nice to have. Future-forward brands will continue to win over consumers as they adopt new behaviors. We believe that flexibility and experimentation will reap benefits in a period of rapid change.

Jeff Daniel, vice president, media, social and performance analytics for Advantage’s consumer, shopper and away-from-home agencies, contributed to this blog.

Brad Robers
Associate Director of Intent Marketing

Brad Robers joined Upshot, an Advantage Marketing Partners agency, in 2017, specializing in paid search, SEO and media. He previously served in roles focused on paid search and SEO at Sears, Milestone Internet Marketing and Rosetta.

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