Post-covid is the word of our times. For the unquantifiable changes it birthed, its prevalence in the minds and bodies of the human population, and the havoc it wrecked at the height of its powers, covid-19 has rightfully become a historical and contemporary baseline, in a manner more similar to attitudes such as modernism, than to analogous phenomena like the “Spanish” flu.
In the days of its novelty, however, SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, saw aeroplanes grounded, streets deserted, restaurants and public places closed, as hospitals and healthcare workers all over the world were stretched beyond their limits. Anxieties and fear were also rife, and the growth that many industries and economies had experienced in the recent past, was either contracting in real-time or was forecast to do so in the coming months. Like the virus, a feeling of dread and doom was pervasive.
Meanwhile, in the advertising industry, the advice from some quarters was to “take a step back and be ready for the future” — that is, that marketing executives and media agencies should put a hold on fulfilling action plans, and should instead focus on rethinking and redesigning their strategies. At the time, this seemed like the obvious, if not wise thing to do, with companies tottering on the relegation line of insolvency, trying to survive.
But it didn’t stop there.
During this period, the more prominent message circulating within the industry was that consumers were, for the time being, not looking at brands as personality tools to help them reinforce or project their social identities. Threatened by potential job losses, and the possibility of untimely death, it initially seemed that the majority of consumers were more interested in “survival” and a pseudo-ascetic contemplation of their mortality than in buying non-essentials like fashion accessories and the latest tech.
But regardless of hearsay, in that moment of a thousand uncertainties, companies had to stop their traditional communication to focus instead on connecting with the urgent needs of their customers, as well as that of the larger public. Above all, they had to prioritise building a new, timely and effective communication strategy that could cater to covid modalities and even more, chart a viable course into what appeared to be a very uncertain future.
Now, for media agencies, the reality of the global health crisis was a brutal halt to advertising investments across all media, as well as a sharp decline in revenue. The entire advertising ecosystem found itself under a sky of unanticipated pressures and was with great trepidation, awaiting a resolution to the doomsday-like plot that was unravelling in a rush.
In particular, three scenarios played out during this period. The first was that businesses halted advertising investments for the wrong reasons: reasons involving cost-cutting measures instituted by top-level management personnel. And this was predominantly out of collective fear and news-induced anxieties about the future.
The second was the discontinuation of advertising investments for good reasons: this involved terminating advertising campaigns that were too outmoded, as well as stopping advertisements that were in temporarily defunct media, such as in-flight magazines.
The third scenario was one where there was no halt in investments. For the brands — such as food retailers and e-commerce platforms — that did not stop advertising, they either continued because they were still operational, or because despite their non-operational status, had decided to adapt their message to the prevailing situation; and these messages were mostly in form of expressions of gratitude to employees, customers and frontline healthcare workers.
And speaking of scenarios, one notable effect the pandemic had on the advertising industry was the accelerated drop in the value of pay-TV — a situation that greatly benefitted ad-supported streaming video services.
Ironically, however, before there was ever a pandemic, advertising on pay TV had been seeing a global increase over the past decade, in stark contrast to the medium’s decreasing viewership, fuelled in part by the widespread adoption of mobile devices. And although television advertising is anything but dead, the ever-increasing consumer demand for ad-supported streaming video services that the pandemic has secured should be instructive enough to big advertising spenders that would once have, as a matter of tradition, prioritised pay-TV over other media for their campaigns.
In all, the pandemic saw a major shift in consumer behaviour, and in the way media agencies perceive consumers. Today this new perception is being applied in a variety of ways, especially in the optimising of marketing campaigns — in the key areas of content, community and convenience.
As a media agency skilled at navigating the African terrain, with the added experience of managing companies’ covid-era crises, one of the things we learnt at Red Media Africa, from the time of the pandemic, is that utilising customer segmentation and personas can go a long way in providing insights to media strategies and creative marketing approaches.
To be very effective, marketing messages need to attain relevance on a personal plane, paralleling an individual’s situation and values, as opposed to being based merely on demographic data. Achieving human connection within any brand message requires delineating consumers into segments that cater to the multidimensionality of the individual, without losing sight of the chief goal of stimulating purchasing behavior. This is the key to making adverts more “meaningful” to their audience.
Another important thing we noted is that consumer expectations — in terms of what companies could do for them — have skyrocketed. Consumers have aggressively transitioned from hoping companies have what they want, to expecting companies to have exactly what they want.
With technology seamlessly integrated into their lives, consumers have been conditioned to expect highly personalised experiences, and this moreso as companies have their personal data. This is why, from retailers to subscription sites, the implementation of interactive feedback loops will be very crucial to meeting and surpassing heightened user expectations.
But beyond new knowledge acquired, the coronavirus crisis also brought about nascent changes within certain areas of the global advertising industry. Learning about and taking advantage of these changes has been very crucial for brands intent on seizing a larger share of their respective markets this year, as well as those that are looking to plant themselves in the fertile plains of the future. Of the bunch, a change in third-party data policies is arguably the most important.
Since January, when key browsers started implementing changes in their third-party data policies, marketers have gotten even better at engineering their online campaigns, learning the new ways they need to harness and utilise the power of data, and developing new strategies to partner with publishers. But even as strategies morph with these new policies, it will be important for companies to not focus on brand marketing — which is usually slow-burning and more enduring — at the expense of performance marketing, which emphasises achieving quick leads and increasing sales. Both are important. And it is companies that learn how to balance the equation that will gain a greater fraction of the consumer market — now and in the future.
In the insight segment of the industry, we expect to see a significant shift in the parties involved in conducting research activities in the coming years. This is because, as a result of increasingly user-friendly technology, as well as spillover effects of the covid-19 pandemic (in terms of a metamorphosis of consumer behaviour and in the rapid development and deployment of corresponding technologies to track the same), the barriers to market research have drastically diminished in height. This means marketers, designers, and other professionals will be able to not merely use data but also actively generate it from now on.
Furthermore, in Nigeria, the most populous nation on the African continent, and one of the countries where Red Media Africa operates, we have seen how, aided by the pandemic and the synchronous rise of social media apps like TikTok, the influencer marketing segment has been further legitimised as an avenue for advertising, making creators/influencers of even more important to companies’ marketing mix. A survey conducted by the Nigeria Influencer Marketing Report (NIMReport) revealed that more than 30 per cent of advertisers now value influencer marketing as part of their marketing strategy; and this trend, we believe, is bound to keep proliferating until it has been adopted as a choice medium of advertising at all levels of the consumer market.
Finally, while companies should be more inclined to engineer the customer journey in such a way that the disconnected elements of marketing, sales and logistics, are invisible to the end consumer, media agencies will have to shift from a number-based, purely remuneratory approach, and take on a more value-based role as they look to extend the lifespan of their partnerships with brands. This is especially as research shows that about half the money companies spend with online publishers is lost in the programmatic advertising supply chain, while 15 per cent is unattributable. This underscores issues with the advertising industry’s business model, in which there can be great traffic but with revenue figures that are not commensurate. These incongruences, worsened as it were by the pandemic, gives the idea that, in the advertising supply chain, greater transparency is needed.