Foreword On Entering a new Digital era
As a digital marketing and performance agency, we have a front row seat to a variety of businesses and how they’ve been impacted by trends over the last 7 years. One of our main skill sets is our ability to know what people are buying, how to attract them to buy, and why they buy what they buy.
The new wave of Covid-19 has thrown the entire world on its head. We’ve observed some of the most fascinating buying patterns, shifts in market focus – and we’re certain we’re only seeing the beginning of it.
Like a pebble thrown in the water, the ripples are only just beginning.
The following series was constructed in part built on our experience running ads for businesses, and managing hundreds of millions in ad spend. We’ll be updating this living article as we go over the next few months as our insights expand.
We hope it serves you well.
POCO: Entering a New Era Of Marketing
We’ve experienced a decade of prosperity since the end of the GFC. In terms of digital marketing, we are literally in the golden era. The reach is wider, the tools we use are the equivalent of lightsabers (compared to what we had just over 10 years ago); there is a wider population with disposable income for marketers to sell to, AND the Chinese industrial machine is pumping out more products across all verticals faster than the rate it can be consumed.
In this era of wealth and prosperity (generally speaking of course), there’s a deeper focus on being a better version of ourselves and find out more about the meaning of life, how to run a business, ‘hustle’ and a focus on bigger, better, faster, more efficient outcomes…
Agencies like us (as well as the people and networks we work with) know and understand our audiences better than ever, We know their behaviour, we know what they like, what they watch, what they buy, where they go, and where they lurk (thank you Facebook, Google, Instagram, Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest, Tiktok… and friends).
Until Q1 2020.
When everything changed.
Enter world stage – COVID-19…
For the first time in recent history, we got a front row seat to how humanity responds to a global crisis. The results have been fascinating. We’ve seen panic manifest itself as toilet paper hoarding. New conspiracies have emerged. The stock markets are showing growth while millions lose their jobs. Basic freedom to walk your street, go to the park have been legislated to the point that in some countries, the law is you are ONLY allowed out of the house to buy essential products/services.
We’re told this is temporary. How long is temporary? 3, 6, 12 months? Even though it’s too early to know the long reaching effects of this, we can know for sure that the world will never be quite the same.
It’s more and more probable that the children of the world today will grow up with very different interests, focuses, and priorities – all impacted by this global experience.
People are pivoting into asking “How do I become more self-reliant? How do I keep myself and my family safe, fed, and healthy during this time?”
These questions amongst others are some of the early precursors that point to where we’re headed as an economy, and a species.
Industries that have stood the test of time collapsed with millions jobless overnight, strict population movement controls in place (home lockdown), stock markets crashing, massive drops in revenue across the board, and others surreptitiously have found themselves at the right place/right time and are capitalising on the events unfolding.
As a performance marketing agency that runs ads for our clients, we’ve had a direct view of the early impact this experience is having in different markets.
Here are some of those questions we’ve fielded over the last few weeks from our customers, colleagues, partners and yes…we’re not perfect. We had some of them too. We are human too (albeit really cool ones).
- What the hell do I do now?
- Shall I scale back my spend?
- Shall I cut my ad spend?
- How can I pivot?
- Is it called CoronaVirus, or Covid-19 (seriously, they’re both a punch in the neck)
- Where are the opportunities in this market place?
- What should I avoid?
- What products should I promote?
- What products should I drop?
- What are my customers feeling, going through?
- What do my customers need?
- Can I help?
- Did MC Hammer predict this – and sing about it in ‘Can’t touch this’?
In this multi-part series, we intend to address these questions (mostly) and others that will emerge as we go. We’ll cover a range of human age groups, and try and understand their general changes of behaviour, patterns during and post COVID-19. Historical events, trends, and data will be studied, and overlaid with Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy as a solid framework to understand the psychological angle of human behaviour.
Ultimately, we’re here to walk alongside you as we identify the POCO (Post Covid) New Audience, understand new markets and opportunities, and perhaps learn more about ourselves in the process.
Why the heck are we doing this? As a digital agency led by curious troublemakers, we find that proactive exploration leads to interesting insights and opportunities.
We gather and dissect data to help our partners and clients to help with pivots, with their long term strategy, and with new growth.
And we harness that spirit when we scale their businesses through media buying and strategic sessions – and we’re using that spirit here to explore new possibilities in advertising with you.
This is a historic event – so far beyond the scope of marketing alone.
We figured we’d take a wider brush and share the results with everyone so we can all benefit. In these unprecedented times, if we learn to understand what we’re dealing with at a human level, we’d be better prepared to work through it and emerge strongly within the new paradigm that we all have a hand in forging together -rather than trying to fight an unseen battle.
In our next post, we’ll start by digging into what we’ve built up together globally, what impacts we’ve uncovered so far, and where we see to be heading.
We’ll aim to update this weekly. If your business has any immediate needs and you feel our insight might help you out in a more personal way, then head here – https://blog.cubatica.com/media-buying/– scroll to the sign up link, tell us about you, and we’ll see how we can best help.
Half a Century of Prosperity Steps Into The Void
To get a glimpse of the future, it helps to understand the conditions that lead up to the point just before the pandemic hit.
Whether it seems apparent to us as individuals or not, we’ve been living in a time of economic prosperity.
Since the end of World War II, the human race has plowed it’s way forward in economic growth from 9.25Trillion Total Global Output Per Annum to a staggering 108Trillion in 2015 – that is a whopping 11 times grown in just 65 years (It was only 3.4T in 1900).
The general human population has got more disposable income now than ever in history.
This drives commerce as people buy products and services to feel more fulfilled, to solve problems, and sometimes to keep up with ‘the Jones’.
To add to that, in 2020, we are also more connected than ever.
- The internet is the backbone for all things business and personal
- Almost 45.12% of the population owns a smartphone, essentially, the internet in their pocket
- Technological advances in air travel, flying further, safer with more regularity has also seen humans move at an accelerated pace over the last 70 years going from 25 million tourist arrivals in 1950 to 1.4 Billion in 2018. That is a 56 fold increase!
Then, in Q1 2020 – The whole world came to a slow grinding stop.
A highly transmittable microscopic pathogen cropped up in Wuhan, China with the characteristics of a nasty influenza type respiratory infection. It rapidly spread, and within 3 months, declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation – infecting 733,00 globally with 35,000 deaths around the end of March – and now as of mid April- 2,620,000 infected and 180,000 deaths and growing.
Hello Covid-19 – code name for Coronavirus… you’re the guest who wasn’t invited to the party, but came anyway.
Our clear path forward as a global economy has come up to an uncertain crossroads, plans tossed in the air. We are living in the middle of that upheaval, attempting to make sense of what we’re all experiencing, building towards a tomorrow that remains obscured in uncertainty.
How have different markets reacted so far?
We’ll start by sharing some overall data perspectives on different industries that we’ve dug up.
The higher cost of face-to-face interactions will go way down, but the relatively lower cost of electronic interactions will go up, and that will force a shift in spending toward IT.
And, of course, multiple trends in security threats all point to a need for increased spending on security tools. A global recession incentivizes cybercrime. Coronavirus fears will be exploited for social engineering and phishing attacks. Widespread layoffs and company closures focus the attacks on the employees and companies still working. It’s less expensive to pay for the right security infrastructure than to pay the costs of the coming breaches.
Enterprise IT and security departments suffered from a skills gap before the pandemic. They’ll suffer a gap during the pandemic. And it will continue after the pandemic.
The luxury goods market is not immune to recession or pandemics such as the COVID-19. In 2008-2009, the industry lost 9% of its value. Sales in high-end department stores declined by 25% in 2009. This, in turn, led to markdowns of 70% and excessive stock. Among luxury brands, heritage luxury brands tend to perform better than the rest. The revenue of LVMH was flat while Richemont’s revenue increased by 2.4%. Kering’s revenue declined by 5.6% but one of its brands, Gucci continued to do well. Despite the hit on revenues, the luxury goods industry recovered very quickly after the recession due to increased spending from Chinese consumers in the following years (Arnett, 2019).
Right now, several luxury department stores in the US have started discounting more items, leading to an uptick in discount penetration of more than 10 percentage points from the previous week. The other European countries in the sample have more or less remained even from previous weeks’ levels. If you weren’t on sale, you were likely a handbag, where only 10% were on sale (versus 34% of apparel – data not shown.)
For the beauty industry, the shutdown in cities and social distancing measures is causing retail closures. Large beauty retailers such as Sephora, Ulta Beauty and Benefit are shutting their stores temporarily. However, both Ulta Beauty and Sephora are continuing their online sales. Instead of typical sales techniques that were being used by retailers such as tester stations, one-on-one beauty advice and makeovers retailers are adopting techniques to become more online-friendly. Sephora is offering various schemes such as the waiver of standard fees and extension of return policy to 60 days. Also, retailers are encouraging consumers to follow social media accounts for tips and use makeup try-on services (Repko, 2020).
In countries such as China, cosmetic consumption reduced only by 4% from Feb 2003 to June 2003 in comparison to other non-SARS periods in the same year. Moreover, the consumption of makeup and skincare products recovered completely after SARS (Bi, 2020).
In the current crisis, China’s advanced e-commerce and online sales model is enabling the beauty industry to thrive. This is because of the way consumers shop in China and how brands market their products. In China, live streaming is used for shopping and brands use short video campaigns for their marketing strategy. The system of live streaming sales has become more popular during the lockdown and helps marketers reach millions of consumers. Platforms such as Douyin and Little Red Book are booming with funny and creative makeup tutorials. The lockdown period also buys consumers time to browse online for their beauty essentials (Bi, 2020). With changing consumer habits, the online model is expected to benefit beauty retailers in other countries as well.
According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of US adults getting news from social media grew from 47% in 2018 to 55% in 2019. Moreover, eMarketer has estimated that US adults will be spending 54.56 minutes every day on social networks in 2020. In the current situation, the time spent on social networks could increase further as these platforms also allow people to connect with their family and friends (eMarketer, 2020). Even in China, social media is followed widely by people due to its higher credibility than traditional media. People rely on social media for quick updates and getting unfiltered information (Nielsen, 2020). This was observed during the coronavirus pandemic as well.
With a large number of employees operating remotely, companies are looking for ways to connect their employees seamlessly with each other. As a result, teleconferencing startups such as Zoom have seen increasing demand. The Zoom app is currently the top-ranked free application in the Apple app store (Pearl, 2020). Also, since February, the shares of the startup have grown by 50% due to increased investor confidence in the firm. Furthermore, the company’s active users have increased by 2.2 million in the current year surpassing its total active users of 2019 (Pandey, 2020).
Entertainment: Streaming video services
Streaming video services are not affected by the virus not only due to their nature of service but also due to low price points that can be a setback in recession. Also, as the current environment sees massive declines in travel and out-of-home entertainment, these services offer the perfect solution to consumers (Vena, 2020). Streaming video services are expected to benefit from the pandemic as more consumers will seek out entertainment and news in their homes. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video are expected to see more subscribers. Netflix is expected to add 7 million more subscribers to its user base in the first quarter itself and analysts expect better than expected performance in the second quarter due to the coronavirus pandemic (Vena, 2020). Service providers such as Roku Channel and Pluto TV are also expected to see a surge in subscribers as they offer more “lean-back viewing” experience and new content (eMarketer, 2020).
Other media platforms that are expected to see a boost include those dedicated for kids and teens. Disney+, TikTok, YouTube, Twitch and Fortnite are expected to do well in times of school closures (eMarketer, 2020). Chegg, an education technology company, offering digital book rentals and online tutoring is also expected to grow during the pandemic (Business Insider, 2020).
Gaming platforms are seeing a record number of global users in the wake of the pandemic. On 15th March, Steam (a global PC gaming platform) saw a record number of 20.3 million concurrent users, which was the highest in its 16-year history. The company broke the record again on 20th March with 21.3 million concurrent users. As people start spending more time at home, gamers are finding more time to play. Counter-Strike, a popular game on the platform also reached a record number of simultaneous players recently. As consumers change their lifestyles to slow the spread of the virus, the gaming industry is expected to perform well (Hillier, 2020).
Health and Wellness
The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented anxiety among consumers. In such times, people are increasingly resorting to meditation and apps that enable meditation are witnessing a spike in downloads. Some of these apps also provide coronavirus programs and free resources for healthcare workers. Apple’s App Store is featuring a Guided Meditation section on its homepage where users are advised to take some time out for self-care. Among the most-downloaded health and fitness apps in the store are meditation apps such as Calm and Headspace that rank second and sixth respectively. Other apps such as Breethe have risen 31 spots in their rankings to reach 40th position while BetterMe has jumped 70 spots to reach 26th position in the health and fitness apps rankings (Pearl, 2020).
Recreational marijuana is another popular way in which consumers are reducing anxiety. As seen in growing industries, the sales of the industry in 2020 have surpassed those of 2019 across all markets. But the sales have grown dramatically in the US in recent times. This is due to the fear of closure of cannabis stores which is driving consumers to stock up on products (Schaneman and Mcvey, 2020).
With an already stretched healthcare system, telemedicine providers are enabling healthcare professionals to provide virtual consultations to patients. Moreover, the US government is also encouraging consumers to use these facilities and limit their exposure to public settings. Companies such as PlushCate have seen a 40% growth in the booking of appointments since December. In comparison, the company saw a growth of 10% during the flu season. As consumers start becoming more comfortable with telemedicine services, the growth of telemedicine is expected to sustain even after the Coronavirus pandemic subsides (eMarketer, 2020).
The demand for fitness has increased due to greater concern for one’s health. Companies such as Peloton that enable consumers to carry out a healthy lifestyle are growing in value. The company makes exercise bikes and also offers online fitness classes. As the virus spreads, more consumers are expected to reduce their visits to gyms and opt for fitness providers that can help them in maintaining a healthy lifestyle from the comfort of their homes (Pandey, 2020).
The restaurant industry is hit extremely hard in periods of recession. The 2008 recession had started showing early signs of impact on the industry in late 2007 as consumers reduced their budgets for eating out. Moreover, with the deteriorating housing market and pricier gas, consumers were left with less disposable cash. Within the industry, the casual-dining sector was the worst hit. These sit-down chains offered pricier food items in comparison to fast-food chains and also required consumers to leave a tip. As a result of the distressed economy, Bennigan’s, Steak & Ale and Village Inn filed for bankruptcy in 2008 (CBS, 2008; Caplan, 2008). Companies such as Ruby Tuesday Inc. Cheesecake Factory Inc. also saw a huge erosion in its value. In comparison to this sector, fast-food chains or restaurants that offered good deals did better. The shares of McDonald’s and Darden grew by 5% and 1% respectively in 2008 (CBS, 2008). Waiter-free fast-casual brands such as Panera Bread and Chipotle also did well during this period (Caplan, 2008). The period also saw spikes in commodity costs of wheat, flour, rice and corn (CBS, 2008; Caplan, 2008). As a result, restaurants were forced to raise menu prices to protect profits (CBS, 2008).
The social distancing rule as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic has led to government clampdowns on restaurants. This move is aimed to protect people from infections. One change since the 2008’s crisis has been the role of technology in the food industry. As seen in China during the lockdowns due to the Coronavirus, online food ordering helps sustain residents. Furthermore, since China has a large population that uses smartphones, online food ordering is part of their lifestyle. Food ordering companies such as Meituan went a step further to provide contactless delivery where couriers would drop meal orders at the doorstep (Financial Times, 2020). Thus, companies or restaurants that provide online food-deliveries are expected to survive the current crisis.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a huge surge in demand for e-commerce. Companies such as Chewy, an online pet food retailer, Lowe’s and Home Depot are seeing increased demand from consumers (Allabaugh, 2020). The demand for retail can also be gauged by looking at digital visits. From March 9-March 15, there were a total of 779 million visits to Amazon, Walmart and Target’s websites, higher than any other week in 2020 (Comscore, 2020).
According to a study by Ipsos (2020), more than half of the surveyed consumers In Vietnam, China and India were purchasing products using e-commerce more frequently due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, consumers were earlier purchasing the same products in-store. After these countries, Italy recorded the highest percentage of people who were using e-commerce more frequently.
In the USA, the daily downloads of grocery apps are also seeing record numbers according to Apptopia. As the virus spreads in the USA, more consumers are relying on online grocery delivery to minimize their risk of infection. The download activity of Instacart, a grocery delivery service, grew by 218% on March 15th in comparison to February. The brand also stated that its sales grew tenfold in the first week of March in comparison to the previous week. Walmart Grocery also saw a spike of 160% in app downloads in the same period (Hillier, 2020). Among retailers, Target witnessed month-on-month growth in app downloads for both of its apps, Shipt and Target (Hillier, 2020).
According to Nielsen (2020), the effect of SARS was seen more heavily on luxury and clothing in the short term in comparison to basic necessities such as food and beverages. However, the slowdown was significant during the SARS epidemic between April and May 2003 when the number of infections was very high. Yet, among food products, the sales of biscuits, instant noodles, bouillons and soy sauce witnessed a double-digit growth rate. Non-food categories such as household cleaning, personal cleaning and facial tissues also grew massively during this period (Campaign Asia, 2020).
As governments across the globe are asking its citizens to stay inside their homes, the demand for FMCG goods these days is quite high. Due to increasing shortages and frequent out-of-stock messages, Amazon is prioritizing, household staples and other high-demand products. The company is also accepting products from vendors for certain categories such as health and household, baby products, grocery, beauty and personal care and pet supplies (Ray, 2020).
Overall, the FMCG industry will brave the coronavirus slowdown but certain non-essential categories are expected to see more of a decline. Even in China, after the SARS epidemic, the FMCG industry grew by 9% year-on-year and did not witness any major growth pattern due to reduced sales during the epidemic (Nielsen, 2020)
After SARS was contained in 2003, the sales of certain categories declined drastically. Among these categories, sales of disinfectants reduced by 29% in 2004. Other product categories saw continued growth. Sales of antibacterial personal care products and sterilizers grew by 22% and 19% respectively. This was due to a shift in improved health and hygiene habits. Even health and nutrition categories showed rapid growth. The sales of yogurt, milk and juice grew by 40%, 20% and 22% respectively in comparison to the previous year due to healthier and nutritious consumption habits (Nielsen, 2020). While the FMCG sector will not see a hit from the pandemic, companies operating in certain FMCG categories must adequately manage their supply chain to adjust to these changes.
A major learning for the industry can be understood by studying the altered consumer behaviour of US consumers as a result of the 2008 recession. According to research, in any given category in consumer-packaged-goods, 18% of consumers switched to lower-priced brands in the last two years. Furthermore, 46% of these consumers felt that these products performed better than they had expected. As a result, 34% of these customers did not prefer the higher-priced products and an additional 41% of consumers felt that the higher-priced brands were not worth the premium price. The percentage differs widely from category to category but indicates that consumer behaviour is altered and brands expecting previous consumers to switch back to them were likely to be disappointed (Bohlen, Carlotti and Mihas, 2009).
As a result of the coronavirus crisis, marketing budgets are expected to be cut as consumers eliminate unnecessary travel and curtail spending. Companies such as Amazon have removed their Google ads and are focusing their efforts on meeting the demands of consumers. This strategy is being followed as the sales of non-essential products is expected to decrease further (Montti, 2020). However, some companies are expected to allocate more funds into online marketing as a result of several event cancellations. According to PredictHQ, there has been a 500% increase in cancellations of major events due to coronavirus concerns (Gerstenfeld, 2020). Despite this, social media marketing is expected to take a hit as the spending from travel, retail, entertainment and consumer packaged goods decline. These industries account for 30% to 45% of Facebook’s total revenue (Marvin, 2020).
So what does all this data mean?
In the next post, we’ll dive deeper into our theories as we consider the intangible challenges this global pandemic presents us all.
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