The swift and dramatic impact of COVID-19 has created tough challenges for brands but keeping consumer relations on ice isn’t a viable solution.

As carefully laid strategies and plans continue to be derailed, brands must remember that the way they respond and interact with consumers today will affect perceptions and performance far into the future.

While the world waits to see the full impact of the pandemic on businesses, the next steps marketers take are what will separate the wheat from the chaff for brands. Being remembered for the right reasons is going to mean adopting the right set of smart and flexible tactics.

Here are four of the biggest factors they need to consider:

1. This is no time to put a stop on advertising

Even as the clouds are beginning to lift, there is still a temptation to hold off on advertising until the crisis has passed entirely. But with this approach comes a strong probability that brands will fall behind competitors.

Nielsen analysis has shown that brands typically reap almost half (47 percent) of the rewards their marketing efforts generate after one year. As a result, those cutting advertising now may face significant negative effects downstream. Alongside smaller market share, it’s likely their long absence will mean advertising messages are less impactful when they do hit the restart button, making it harder to capture attention and drive sales.

To maintain their position and place on the consumer radar, brands must resist the urge to stop all advertising spend. Instead, they should be seizing the opportunities current turbulence brings. For example, the decline in CPMs triggered by the outbreak offers a chance for brands to engage new audiences at a lower cost. The added advantage being that as well as amplifying their immediate reach across varied digital media, harnessing reduced CPMs will increase the likelihood of greater long-term returns.

2. Sudden change can create greater opportunities

The huge disruption to everyday life has fuelled massive changes in normal habits, especially media interaction. With many consumers homebound, consumption levels have soared for both online and offline media.

For brands this shift creates greater scope than ever to bolster exposure and build deeper consumer ties through meaningful advertising; particularly as a high proportion of consumers already plan to make their new behaviours permanent. But it’s also worth noting the potential to evolve standard practices.

By reassessing their usual media channels and spend allocation in line with changing viewing patterns, brands can uncover new opportunities to connect with target audiences. Put another way, they can break the cycle of ‘same as last year’ marketing and cover new ground; whether that’s moving into TV or leveraging premium video-on-demand platforms.

3. Navigating a crisis requires careful messaging

No matter what their sector, most brands have had to swiftly adjust marketing strategies and messaging in the face of COVID-19. Unsurprisingly, this has largely meant an uptick in activity based around the pandemic; according to Nielsen data, 90 percent of all Q1 ads referencing coronavirus occurred at the end of March, with the number of mentions growing particularly fast across the UK, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

But as brands continue to re-orientate, it will be crucial to do so with care. Consumers want the ads brands deliver to not only provide much-needed stability, but also authenticity and real empathy. Broadly, this involves creating ads to fit one of five central themes: assistance for frontline workers, charitable donations, championing public health advice, promoting the benefits of the business’ digital reinvention, and supporting consumer needs.

4. Every good campaign needs a firm data basis

Guiding decisions with precise insight has never been so critical, which makes analytics an essential investment. Nielsen’s own modelling data has shown analytics platforms more than pay their way in the long run; with the right mix of reliable data, sound methodology and activation, the returns platforms produce average at seven times their initial cost.

Accurate analysis of data is particularly important in today’s unpredictable climate, which has seen the value of agility soar. Opting for analytical tools capable of rapidly evaluating diverse new data is vital to drive rapid yet well-informed pivots, if needed. Better still, implementing platforms with the ability to use custom insights will enable brands to gain even more granular insight into what the next best move is to achieve their specific goals.

The future has been permanently changed by the pandemic, with many more changes are still to come. Advertisers that strive to continue building and implementing thoughtful and effective marketing plans will maintain awareness for the right reasons, placing them in a powerful position in the long term. By understanding the opportunities of the current situation and relying on a strong data foundation, brands can weather the storm and come out the other side stronger than they were before.

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