How Brands Should Adjust Their Marketing for the Pandemic


Right now, consumers aren't shopping like they used to. So what should brands do? 

We all know that behavior has changed in drastic ways in the past two months. For one, consumers are staying home more. They are not browsing store aisles at a leisurely pace when they do venture out to shop. And shelter in place rules are only slowly reverting to normal in most states. So, understandably, many brands are being conservative and taking a wait-and-see approach. 

But, truth be told, brands need a bit of a wake-up call. Now is the time for marketers to open their eyes and open their minds — and, for the brands who can, open up their budgets, too. This terrible pandemic is a chance for brands to rethink strategies, get on a good path, and set themselves up for long-term success. Here's some advice for marketers during this unprecedented time. 

Look at the Facts: Marketers aren't looking at the hard truths of who might be responsive to ads and when. Yes, since the pandemic hit, people intend to spend less time in the store when they brave the supermarket. Naturally, people want to rush to avoid germs and other people. But a quick trip isn’t as easy as you think, and data from Aki Technologies finds that dwell time hasn't changed very much. For example, dwell time in grocery stores remained flat from March 5 through May 1, with more than 80% of visits at 40 minutes or less.

That's good news for brands who are doing their jobs right. 

Also, U.S. residents are shopping less frequently. We know this to be true, but how much less are they shopping in reality? The number of trips isn't down as much as you might think. In fact, there were still 470 million trips per week to grocery stores during the last week of April. That number is about 15% down from the first week of March, but it's not as low as many feared. Additionally, 60 million convenience store visits still happen every week. Again, that’s a slight dip, but 60 million is still a sizable number of c-store trips.

Consumers still need to shop for certain products. The trick is to make sure that one of their essentials is your brand. How?

Always Put the Consumer in the Driver's Seat: Consumers are still shopping because everyone has to eat (and clean). But they are approaching their purchases differently. 

Brands need to really consider how consumers are spending time. These days, they’re looking at recipes and planning shopping lists in advance a bit more. This can be to CPG’s advantage. After all, if there’s a list, there’s a way to get on it.

You may have noticed that shopping for groceries online has increased. About 3% or 4% of grocery spending in the U.S. was online prior to the pandemic, but that percentage has jumped to 10% to 15%, says consulting firm Bain & Co. However, consumers won’t just stumble upon your products by searching on Google or Amazon. Plus, many products are out of stock these days. 

Smart brands need to do the quick work and advertise where their products can be purchased. Let shoppers know where they can find your goods, whether that’s Amazon, Walmart or Target. Make it easy for shoppers to find them. 

Savvy brands are asking more and more for list-making programs. They should do that anyway, but even more so now. “Add to list” or “Add to cart” are good calls to action. The goal is to get on the list so your brand is bought.

Don't Overcomplicate Your Marketing Mix: You don't have to take a big risk, but try out new things. Look at how consumers are behaving and what they want, and adjust your tactics to correspond with those behaviors. 

I’ve heard more than one CPG brand marketer say, “Right now, our inventory is selling out. We don’t need to market.” But such overarching statements are short-sighted. A closer look shows that not every product in every market is selling out. Even if some of your products are essential, how will you sustain that in the long run? It’s great to regain some market share, but you have to think about how to target newly acquired customers and message them so they become brand-loyal. 

Spend some dollars, make it a frictionless experience and turn newbies into brand-loyal customers. Sustain your growth so the spike in sales isn’t a blip that disappears once consumers return to their old habits. Make your pandemic impression a lasting one by building trust now and servicing consumers throughout this crisis. 

Broaden Your Horizons to Build Your Brand: No one knows everything, so talk to a lot of people to hear various viewpoints. Talk to other brands, agency personnel and tech providers. You just might learn a thing or two. We’re all figuring this out as we go along, and by talking to other people, you just might learn something helpful as you figure out how to unlock more power from your messaging.

About the Author
Risa Crandall is vice president of strategy at Aki Technologies. As a leader in technology, she has motivated, energized and educated the industry on personalization and performance marketing. Before joining Aki, Crandall led the CPG teams nationally at Eyeview and Meredith. At Crisp Mobile, she was one of the “founding five” that built the company from a client-centric idea to a strong, robust business. Crandall is a co-chair of the ANA Commerce Committee and a frequent industry speaker. 

To hear more of Crandall's insight, listen to "The New Rules of CPG Marketing," a virtual discussion she co-hosted in May with Esperanza Teasdale of PepsiCo and Jennifer Silverberg of SmartCommerce.