• Heather Lodge

Pivot, Adapt, Evolve: Digital Marketing in a COVID-19 World


It’s not business as usual right now, that’s for sure.


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a time of unprecedented change (and challenges) for millions of people across the globe. For many organizations, it’s not only a shift in the way they work but a fundamental shift in the way they market their business.


The marketing landscape changed overnight, and some are scrambling to keep up.


Adapting Your Strategy


CMOs must re-evaluate their marketing strategies and budgets to mitigate lost opportunities and adapt to our current reality. That often means shifting focus (and dollars) away from in-person events and turn to digital strategies.


It’s not about what you could lose in the short-term. You’re playing the long game now. You can make really good short-term decisions today that will help your business in the long-run. 


Here’s the reality: Your brand can’t just disappear for three months. In times where funds are tight, it’s all about pulling the right levers. What’s working in your current marketing strategy? Double down on what converts, and de-prioritize the things that don’t. Then, sit down and map these strategies in a 30-60-90 day interim marketing plan.


Be sure to prioritize initiatives that will help you serve customer needs. Focus on building your brand reputation, retaining your customers and gaining loyalty. Trust that the leads (and sales) will come later.


Changing your focus doesn’t mean throwing your marketing goals out the window. Instead of reimagining your KPIs, reimagine how you spend your time. The most resilient companies will shift to areas that are surging, and that means prioritizing digital. 


Embrace Virtual Events


Live events are a staple at many B2B companies. With more than $738 million spent on face-to-face events each year, digital often takes a backseat. But with widespread event cancellations, many companies are forced to dive head-first into digital.


You can’t get back those months of planning, but what you can do is pivot. With remote work now the temporary ‘new normal’ for millions of Americans, your customers and prospective clients are much more amenable to (an entrenched in) virtual events.


Before you start planning (or re-planning) your event, revisit the overall purpose of the event. What is your end goal? How does it connect to the rest of your marketing strategy? What is your audience getting out of this? Will this add value to their day or just serve as another distraction? Is a virtual event even the right format, or can you accomplish your end goal using other digital approaches? Just because you can do a virtual event doesn’t always mean you should.


Once you’ve answered these questions, think about what functions and features you will need for your event. Do you need to host a large broadcast or something smaller? What about a Q&A feature? The answers to these questions will help you determine the best virtual platform.


Zoom, GoToWebinar and Google Meet are great for small events or one-on-one sales meetings and presentations. If your event is much larger, consider platforms like LiveStream where you can host hundreds of participants at a time.


For event promotion, consider what benefits online events bring to your audience, from saving money and time traveling to events to unlimited event capacity to health and safety. Don’t miss the chance to highlight these benefits!


Finally, if you can produce a high-production-value event at home, great. If not, just do what’s practical, and work with what you’ve got. What’s most important is bringing a sense of meaning and community to your audience. That’s what customers will remember most.


Remember, online events should not just be an emergency fill-in but a key part of an integrated marketing approach. ‘Cause virtual is here to stay.


Focus On SEO


Step back and take stock of your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. How are you tracking against your goals? What keywords are bringing the most traffic to your website? Have those keywords shifted in the wake of COVID-19?


Do you even have an SEO strategy? If not, now is as good a time as ever to develop one. Ease yourself in with some basic keyword research:


Step 1: Brainstorm a High-Level List of Keywords


  • Develop a list of broad topics associated with your business

  • Narrow your list to 5-10 of the most important keywords.

  • For each keyword, specific phrases that someone would search for within that topic. These are called “long-tail keywords.” For example, one of your broad topics may be “data governance”. A good long-tail keyword might be “healthcare data governance solutions."


Step 2: Find Adjacent Search Terms & Industry Whitespaces


  • Once you have a solid list, paste each one into Google and scroll to the bottom of the page to the “Searches Related To…” section. This is a simple way to find additional long-tail keywords to broaden your list.

  • Don’t forget to Google your competitors. You may find terms they are ranking really well for that you are not. These are areas of your website you will want to focus on for optimization. You may also find they aren’t ranking for certain keywords at all, which is a great opportunity for you to fill that whitespace and own market share.


Step 3: Refine Your Keywords Using Search Trend Data


  • Take your long-tail keyword list and place them into the Google Ads Keyword Planner (this requires setting up a Google Ad account).

  • The Keyword Planner will help you see search volume and competition for each keyword. The sweet spot is “high volume, low competition,” but that can sometimes be a rare find.


Step 4: Add Keywords To Your Website Content


  • Just be sure you have a healthy mix of keywords, and you are using them in your content and website metadata, and you’ll be set.

  • Infuse your content with these keywords to maximize your visibility in search results.


Reinvigorate Your Content


If you’ve de-prioritized content marketing in favor of quick-win tactics to generate sales, now’s the time to rectify that.


Content is the fuel that keeps the marketing engine running. It permeates every marketing channel. Without it, your marketing plans will sputter out.


Start with the content you already have. Maximize your content investment by optimizing and amplifying high-value content, particularly content that eases anxiety, builds trust and provides a sense of intimacy with your customers. Authentic, relevant content will pay dividends in the long run. 


All great content plans start by uncovering the perspectives, pain points and motivations of your ideal customer. These may be different based on the buyer’s age, education, life experiences or socioeconomic status. These nuanced descriptors are called buyer personas. Start by identifying 2-4 top personas that you can develop content around.


Pro tip: Like a good wine and cheese, a solid SEO strategy is the perfect pairing for your content plan.

From here, you’ll want to develop a piece of content that serves as the cornerstone of your persona-based content strategy. This is most commonly known as “pillar content,” a comprehensive asset that can be broken down into many smaller supplementary marketing materials. These materials could include emails, blogs, website content and video that ladder up to and expand upon the theme of your pillar content. 


Finally, map your content plan to the buyer’s journey. What content formats and marketing channels align to each lifecycle stage? For example, you may want to break down key components of your pillar content into a blog that serves to educate buyers at the top of the funnel. Or, you might serve up components of your pillar content as an email nurture sequence for those in the mid-to-bottom stages of the funnel. 


The most important thing to remember is to be strategic. Every piece of content you produce should have a clear purpose and work complementary to and in concert with other elements of your marketing plan.


Prioritize Your Mobile Web Presence


With adults spending an average of 3 ½ hours a day browsing the internet from their phones, marketers should already be taking a mobile-first approach to digital. In the COVID-19 era where quarantine screen time is up, mobile is more important now than ever.


Prioritize any on-site fixes you’ve put off. Take steps towards increasing page speed on highly-trafficked pages. Experiment with new (or new-to-you) mobile platforms like Facebook Live and LinkedIn Live to build a much-needed sense of connection with your customers.


Invest In Digital Advertising


If history has taught us anything, it’s that when times are good, you should invest. When times are bad you must invest.


Think of digital advertising like the stock market. When stocks are down, it’s a great time to buy. Your investment now will pay dividends when the market inevitably rises.


Digital advertising follows a similar model. It’s a bid-based system. With companies decreasing their marketing spend, advertising competition is low and the supply is high.


Despite this, many companies are reducing their ad spend. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, marketers anticipate spending 28% less on digital media in May and June. This is a golden opportunity to take advantage of the whitespace in the market.


Pro tip: Leverage the tracking pixels on your website. Set a longer-than-average remarketing window to capture high-value activity. When things go back to normal, you can capitalize on your efforts with a heavier sales message.

To sweeten the pot, Facebook and Google are offering ad credits to small- to medium-sized businesses that regularly advertise on their platforms.


Taking Control


There is no doubt that these are challenging times. While you must be sensitive in your marketing approach, now is the time to pull ahead, not fall behind. Companies that put their foot to the floor and go all-in on digital will come out the other side at a considerable advantage.


We may not have the same budgets and resources, but what we do have is time: time to reset, refresh and focus on long-term digital strategies. And when this is all over, make sure digital is a mainstay of your integrated marketing plan.