Coronavirus: Marketing Decisions Made Now Will Have A Lasting Impact

Michael Costin

March 23, 2020

UPDATED – March 25th 13:09

Wow…

What a week for us all, hope you’re all pulling through okay so far.

At Local Digital we count hundreds of businesses across Australia as our clients, so we’re getting a lot of feedback from the “economic frontlines” as to what’s happening with businesses right now.

Of course, for us, there’s a lot of feedback on how businesses are approaching their SEO, Google advertising and social media advertising.

Some businesses are taking a machete to any costs they can find, others are increasing their investments. What’s right for one might not be for another, and we all have to make our own (tough) decisions right now.

That’s why I wanted to put together this article. 

I’ll outline a couple of different approaches businesses have been taking with their digital marketing and reveal what we’re doing with our own as some food for thought.

But first…

Alright, so that version is never going to be printed on wall decals and t-shirts.

But the sentiment is what matters.

I know it’s probably tough to be too pragmatic right now and keep a measured head.

It’s pretty hard with doom & gloom in the headlines and a non-stop negative feedback loop everywhere you turn.

But it’s important to remember that this is just a particularly shitty moment in time.

It will pass.

The economy will recover.

And decisions made now will have an impact (both good and bad) when times are good again.

The companies that make it through this in decent shape, and that make strategic decisions with all aspects of their business will come out the other side much stronger.

Of course, certain industries like travel, events, hospitality and the like are being hammered right now – there’s no hiding from that and my heart goes out to our clients in the space and the broader community dealing with this fallout.

In other industries, there are still plenty of opportunities to make some strategic moves now to try and come through this in the best shape possible.

What not to do right now

"A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time."

Heny Ford

The above quote has been true in both prosperous times and in downturns, and it remains true now.

I’m not by any means suggesting you keep the advertising dollars flowing as if nothing is happening – we all need to be smart with where we spend our advertising dollars and tighten our belts where it makes sense to do so.

But it’s also important to remember that advertising is a vital cog in the success of every business. So, if you can avoid it, don’t stop all together.

For what it’s worth, we’re scaling back our own advertising in some places and keeping it going in others (more on that later).

But before we look at that, I want to start with the obvious mistakes not to make.

First and foremost, don’t use COVID-19 as a marketing opportunity. 

For example, running an ad like this just absolutely misses the mark right now. Unfortunately it’s from a business promoting digital marketing services (we’re not all like this, promise) but I’ve blurred the company details so as to not call them out too much:

Facepalm.

That ad is never going to end well in this climate.

In fact, it already had outraged comments posted on it:

In 99% of cases no one is going to care about your COVID-19 coupon code or related marketing message, and at worst they will become enraged like the example above, so it’s probably best to stay away from it.

Instead, focus on over servicing your customers, communicating clearly and being there for them where and how you can. This will be remembered when the pandemic is behind us.

Try and also steer clear from sending pointless update emails about your business and COVID-19. 

Let’s face it – we’re all being swamped with them at the moment. 

Realistically, no one cares what the company they bought their mousepad from has to say about washing your hands.

However, if you have communications that help your customer and provide some value or additional benefit to them at this time, then absolutely, keep those lines of communication open.

It’s also important not to make short term decisions that will hurt in the long term. 

Yes, it makes sense to cut the fat from your expenses where you can to get through this.

But in order for the economy to rebound and normality to resume we all need to do our part and keep spending where it makes sense to do so. I’m not blind to the fact that businesses and people are hurting financially, so of course, this has to be within reason. If you have the funds to spend and something to spend them on, and it will benefit your business, then try to do so.

Yes, it also makes sense to remove advertising spend that may not be driving ROI in this climate.

But, if as a business you have the cash flow or funds on hand to support it, investing strategically, for example, in long term channels that create strong ROI, will be the difference between businesses that thrive on the other side of this and those that have to start from scratch.

What to do right now

“Be Fearful When Others Are Greedy and Greedy When Others Are Fearful

Warren Buffet

The above quote is related to financial investing, but it really is relevant to your marketing too.

Until a week or so ago channels like Google Ads, Social Ads, SEO etc have been extremely competitive and a constant battle to generate strong ROI from.

Everyone has been aggressively promoting their business and trying to grow via these channels.

But now, and in the coming months?

A lot of people are going to be fearful.

In the main, a lot of your competitors are going to scale back their spend.

But some won’t – some will see the opportunity to set themselves up for future growth.

The businesses that can “be greedy”, so to speak, and invest in channels for future growth will reap rewards, if not in the short term, certainly in the longer term.

Now I am not suggesting this is the right approach for everyone. We all have to make our choices based on our unique circumstances.

But I did say this article was about “food for thought”, so here’s some food.

Let’s look at the two main digital marketing channels advertisers use:

1. Paid Media – Google Ads, Facebook Ads
2. Organic / SEO

I want to keep these analogies front of mind – your paid media is traffic you “rent” from Google & Facebook. Your organic/SEO channel is traffic you “own”.

With your rented traffic from paid media, visitors to your website are more or less instant. Turn the ads on and you get visitors to your site, increase your spend and you get even more… turn off the spend all together and your traffic stops immediately.

These channels work fantastically when the markets are behaving normally, but right now, because there is uncertainty out there, the results generated via paid media are fluctuating. 

In some industries we are seeing the costs of conversions increasing and the return on ad spend getting worse. People are clicking the ads, but less are getting in touch or making a purchase.

However, in other industries, the cost per conversions are lowering and the return on ad spend is improving. This makes sense. With lots of advertisers being fearful right now the competition is plummeting and the CPCs and CPMs on Google and Facebook are dropping with it.

What’s right for your business? Hard to say without looking at your ad accounts, but before taking the machete to the ad spend now is definitely the time for some measured analysis of performance.

If you find your results are going backwards it means you can probably cut your media spend (for example 50%, 75% or even 100%) and instead of donating money to Google & Facebook you’ll make an instant saving in your expenses column.

Of course, the trade off is that you are also losing that traffic right away and with it your chance to win those customers. If you stop your paid media spend all together, you’re missing out on the leads and sales that will continue to trickle in. 

If your CPCs and CPMs are lowering, and CPAs are remaining healthy then that tells me you should be continuing to invest in some way shape or form. Remember, we’re going to get through this period. Doing so with as little a lag in your sales pipeline as possible is the name of the game.

What’s right for you is going to depend on many factors outside the scope of this article, but we’re here to discuss and plan for this if you’d like to speak to someone about it.

On the organic front is where things get interesting (at least I think so as an SEO nerd).

This is where businesses can set themselves up to do well once the pandemic is done and dusted.

We all know the organic/SEO channel is a long term play. Work done now has an impact months down the road.

The good news is that instead of renting your traffic from Google & Facebook in the short term, the work done now is on building an asset you own for the long term.

Links built to your domain now are there in 6 months time when we’re past this.

Content created and published now is found by Google and rewarded down the track when we’re in the clear.

Whereas the money invested in paid media might lead to sales or it might just be donated to Google/Facebook, the money invested in your organic right now is money invested in your business for the future.

And to top that off?

Others are being fearful at the moment.

The businesses that hold their nerve and continue to invest in SEO and grow their links and add more content to their site will reap rewards once we’re in the clear.

The cost of the above can even potentially be negotiated as content writers and website publishers meet the market and adjust their expectations.

Your competitors are likely stopping or scaling down their investments in organic, which means that if you maintain yours Google will pick up ranking signals for your site, and none for the other guys.

That’s why at Local Digital we are continuing to invest in our own SEO efforts. I’m not going to lie… we’re losing revenue and feeling the hurt right now like everyone else is. But we’re playing the long game and have opted against changing the monthly budget we invest in SEO.

We’re also continuing our retargeting campaigns as per normal, keeping our message in front of people that have visited our site or engaged with us.

We have scaled back our Google Ads spend and our Facebook ad spend for cold audiences right now. The ads are still running, just at a lower spend while we monitor performance. There’s just too much going on, the news cycle is changing every hour, people are preoccupied. 

We’re monitoring this and will turn them back on in the coming weeks when things settle down.

For our business this seems the right approach. For yours it might be something different.

As a bit more food for thought (I hope you’re hungry), here’s some of the approaches we’re seeing from our clients at the moment:

  • Continuing on as per usual, in some cases investing more, to try and
    get the jump on competitors who may be scaling back, or in industries set to benefit from people being at home to a large degree (training & online courses, ecommerce, entertainment)

  • Scaling back their paid media spend (Google Ads/Facebook Ads etc)
    quite a bit to focus purely on only the top converting areas as this
    traffic is “Rented” from Google and Facebook. They then keep the SEO investment going as it’s the longer term investment, the work done now is rewarded in the future and traffic there is not limited by budget.

  • Some have opted to cut paid media all together and invest a
    stripped back spend on the SEO side e.g. $1k per month for April/May and
    possibly June just to keep links ticking over, the ranking signals to Google ticking over and to not lose all momentum

  • Some have chosen to pause everything and see where things are in a few months time

No one approach is right or wrong.

What’s best for your business depends on your circumstances, your financial resources and, frankly, your risk profile & appetite to keep investing during this rocky period.

This post is just some broad stroke ideas, but if you have questions or just want to chat, we’re here to talk, even if you’re not a client of ours.

We love digital marketing, we love helping businesses achieve their goals with their digital advertising and I would love to chat to you about where things are at for you right now.

Please give us a call on 1300 896 007, ask to speak to Michael and let’s brainstorm some options for your business at this time.

All the best to you and your family and I hope to see you prospering on the other side of this.

About Michael Costin

Michael is the co-founder at Local Digital. He has a decade of experience in the digital marketing space, and is a big enough nerd that he's well practised in all the common digital marketing channels, from SEO to copywriting, paid social to analytics and tracking.

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