5 things COVID-19 might change in marketing, perhaps forever. Maybe.

Posted: January 5th, 2021

Words: Gus Chalmers

OK, possibly not even five things.

The truth is nobody really knows what the world will look like in a month’s time, let alone next year. Maybe we’re about to see a second wave of the pandemic. Or maybe the virus has mysteriously ‘weakened’ and the increase in cases won’t track though to hospitalisations or worse. 

And maybe we’re about to enter an epoch defining recession unseen for almost a century. Or maybe things will recover pretty quickly. Certainly, historical precedent seems to suggest a quick rebound is possible. Take a look at the infamous Spanish flu pandemic that killed around 50 million people worldwide; in spite of that devastation it was followed by the ‘Roaring Twenties’, a period of sustained economic growth ending only in the stock market crash of 1929. Might we see a similar recovery?… You guessed right… nobody really knows!

With so much uncertainty how can we therefore be remotely confident about forecasting the impacts on marketing? We can’t … but there are some developments that are so obvious (or overdue), that this crisis might just be the catalyst for change. And apologies if some of these fall into the ‘you would say that, wouldn’t you?’ category;

Increased importance of direct to consumer brands: Starting with the boringly obvious I know, during lockdown almost everyone turned to online shopping. According to research for Waitrose, 77% of us do at least some of our grocery shopping online now, up from 61% a year ago. The big question is whether this increased dependence on online shopping will persist after the crisis has receded – Waitrose’s research suggests that 40% will continue shopping online long term. Time will tell if this trend is sustained but you’d be brave to bet against it.

There will be an increased focus on data and analytics: Stands to reason, doesn’t it? Firstly, budgets will be under pressure so ensuring that your spend is targeted at the best opportunities to maximise returns will be the focus. Secondly, as we’ve already noted, online activity is going to generate heaps more consumer data.  And all of that data surely needs analysis to interpret it and drive strategy. Some analysts are forecasting exponential growth, even during the pandemic, with one suggesting a compound annual growth rate globally of 15.5%.

Direct mail should see a renaissance: OK, stick with me on this one. Direct mail volumes have actually declined during the crisis, down a whopping 63% in the second quarter according to Royal Mail. To some extent this is understandable – it’s an expensive medium compared to digital in a cost-per-contact way. However, those brands that are pulling out of it, or reducing volumes, are maybe missing a trick; stats from industry measurement body JICMAIL demonstrate that during Q2, compared with last year, frequency (the number of interactions each piece of mail generates) was up 11%, reach (number of people) nudged up 2% and lifespan (length of time before being binned) was up 9%.  All of which bodes well for direct mail performance and ROI figures. So when I say DM ‘should see a renaissance’ I used the word ‘should’ to mean that it ‘ought to’…

Printed daily newspapers will die off: With people’s use of public transport much curtailed (even out of official lockdown) and many shops shut during lockdown it was almost inevitable that printed newspaper circulations were going to plunge and plunge they did, by up to 39% in April. As lockdown has eased, circulations have improved but are still significantly down year-on-year (for example the Daily Mail was down 14% in July, the Daily Star down 22%). A lot of that is down to fewer people commuting but it must be significant that Sundays are down too (The Sunday Mail down 16%, The Observer 11%). Newspapers have been fighting falling circulations for many years so perhaps Covid-19 may soon add some to its growing list of victims. It’s not all bad news for news though – the Press Gazette have reported growth of at least 15% for many newspapers’ digital subscriptions. 

Delivery vans will start carrying advertising: OK, I have absolutely no evidence for this. But surely, with everybody getting everything delivered to their doorsteps the bare panels of the nation’s fleet of white delivery vans are an advertising opportunity waiting to happen? It’s my idea, OK? So back off…

There you go, I managed five after all. Off to order some hummus online now.




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