How to market when your audience is in isolation

Coronavirus brings a new point of focus to the effectiveness of Out of Home (OOH) messaging – with reduced social contact and travel, what happens to awareness-raising activities?

I live in the centre of a busy city. When I stare out my living room window, I see the block of flats across the street, at faces staring back at me. When I look out my bedroom window, I see the patchwork of tenement gardens and a builders’ yard.

What I can’t see are billboards, nor ads on buses, nor indeed any outdoor advertising. This will be my view for March and ‘til who knows when? This is the kind of view much of the general public will face in the weeks and potentially months to come, and it made me think: how do business-as-usual brands stay top of mind?

Coronavirus has not only brought turmoil to markets; it has changed the way we work and the way we live. Now it brings a new point of focus to the effectiveness of Out of Home (OOH) messaging – with reduced social contact and travel, what happens to awareness-raising activities?

Billboards, bus stops and transit ads have long been mainstays of ATL advertising and ensure a physical presence in a crowded world of messaging. Despite the universal rise of digital advertising, OOH creatives remain very effective: they prompt thought, guide people to search out more information, and remind commuters to purchase an item or make that phone call.

This presents a problem for companies who face the challenge, not only of business continuity, but of also keeping their brand top of mind at a time when people are in isolation, working from home, and generally not travelling any further than their local supermarket.

OOH messaging will simply not be seen in volume.

However, inventive and forward-thinking companies will have already started investigating alternative routes, such as increasing television and radio advertising or programme sponsorship, but (necessity being the mother of invention), digital content marketers could be propelled to find new and even more creative ways to reach their audiences as people seek out ways to fill their time, increase their knowledge, make important decisions and stave off boredom.

While media binge activity puts pressure on servers, long-form content might be about to have its shining moment in the spotlight.

At the same time, consumers and businesses are finding they have the time to fully engage with issues they may have put on the back burner.

Suddenly the sluggishness of an internet provider becomes all too real when remote working, and the bank with few digital services becomes a place for just storing your money. The investment event that helped shape your decisions for the year ahead is gone, along with important networking opportunities.

Any company in the knowledge economy and service sectors who has neglected digital innovation in online and mobile activities and now found themselves short on customer help and service, will potentially suffer. 

We are not in a permanent state of isolation. Things will get better. But Coronavirus has highlighted the insecurity of a traditional ATL to BTL marketing funnel. Whenever life – and marketing – returns to ‘normal’, will there be an explosion of outdoor advertising that will reset the funnel? Or will we see a very different marketing world?

Right now, how marketing and media budgets are allocated will be in a state of flux. Awareness must start its journey ‘indoors’, in rich content marketing, beginning at social and email and filtering through to engaging, thought-provoking blogs, whitepapers, infographics, articles, podcasts and videos.

This includes ensuring a great user experience and customer journey – all the hub and hygiene content a customer could ask for – and readiness for frequent one-to-many and one-to-one messaging. Marketers must maintain the correct tone throughout their communications, and content is needed to ensure B2B and B2C journeys are calm, simple and reassuring.

Marketing is not cancelled, and in most cases, it will be business as usual for financial brands, but websites, emails and social feeds will come under increased scrutiny as people seek help and answers. How will your business re-align its marketing focus during this period of unprecedented flux?

Alex Burden

Alex is an experienced content specialist and qualified journalist, who is also trained in research and marketing. She’s worked as a specialist editor and marketer throughout her career, and now applies the range of her multi-discipline experience to crafting content strategy. Her favourite question is ‘why?’, and uses it to dig deep on briefs and explore new directions for clients and audiences.