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How COVID is Changing Media Planning



COVID-19 has changed the world, likely forever. From initial panic to digital pivots, media planning has been somewhat lost in the woods since early 2020. And we still have a way to go to see the sun again – but we’ll get there.

Here we look at how the pandemic has changed, and continues to change, marketing and media planning. To avoid speculation, we will leave health, mental health and economic investigations to experts in those industries.

How the media planning industry reacted

Coronavirus caused a justifiable panic when it first appeared as a pandemic in early 2020. Many organisations went into crisis mode almost immediately. Marketing budgets were slashed across the world, a lot of the time to zero.

Soon after, when it became clear the world would face an ongoing up-and-down battle with the virus, early adopters reversed the decision and pivoted to a new paradigm of media planning.

MarTech investment rose. Brands built a following. Online engagement became the focus. And in the competitive media landscape, brands and agencies who experimented early are leading the charge towards a predicted advertising resurgence.

What it looks like now

When we published our 2020 marketing industry outlook in February (right before COVID emerged as a global issue), we foresaw four significant trends shaping the media planning landscape:

  • Machine learning (AI, marketing automation and chatbots)
  • Multi-channel digital campaigns would become commonplace
  • Authenticity, purpose and personalisation predicating brand success
  • Consumers choosing experiences over things

Fast forward a few months and trends are starting to emerge in media planning that shows our crystal ball was at least three-quarters accurate – possibly even faster than we expected.

  • 56% of businesses surveyed by Marketing Charts say chatbot investment increased
  • 45% are consciously more consumer-centric in their marketing
  • 39% added a new marketing channel

And the marketing industry seems to be looking inward, rather than chasing new business:

  • 32.6% of CMOs surveyed by Marketing Charts said retention was a priority (14% said acquisition)
  • 84.2% of marketers said social media is being used for brand building and awareness

Global ad spend is recovering after a swift and severe decline. According to the World Advertising Research Center (WARC), positivity among advertisers is spreading and the majority (54%) are no longer putting off launching campaigns. Actual ad spend across the marketing industry is still down year-on-year, but investment is up for online channels and video especially.

What does this mean for marketers? We are not out of the woods yet, but innovation and strategic investment are helping media planners find the path.

3 ways COVID is still changing the media planning landscape

1. Fewer traditional channels

Marketers are abandoning traditional campaign rulebooks, replacing them with an inventive digital-first strategy that preferences audience loyalty and online engagement over eyes on a page.

This is partly due to a decline in traditional media consumption. But for the most part, media planners are following consumers as they spend more time and money online.

2. Campaign planning is getting smarter

50% of businesses surveyed by Marketing Charts reported trying new marketing technology or features to facilitate the rapid shift to online advertising. Disruption, rather than necessity, is proving to be the parent of innovation.

Here at Mediatool, we have seen a 10.35% increase in web traffic between February and September (compared to the previous 8 months), and 19.8% more requests for demos of our comprehensive media planning tool.

3. Data is a force for change

We are in the middle of a data revolution. Media planners are harnessing the power of proven data to make faster, more insightful decisions. Google’s marketing department noted the irony in this back-to-basics approach: marketers have always had the data available, but it took a pandemic to realise the potential of real-time information access.

Businesses need a confidence boost. That means knowing when media planning is working and using data to alter ad investment for mid-campaign experiments.

Getting ahead of the change to come

Global media markets are showing signs of recovery. We are not there yet, but hope is glimmering on the horizon for marketers and agencies alike.

Now is the time to make a bold (but well-researched) decision and invest in the technology that will enable better decision-making and more thoughtful media investment. Nobody knows for sure what the world will look like next week, next month, or next year.

But with Mediatool, marketers can plan marketing campaigns faster, track real-time results, and optimise investment based on accumulated data. And it’s this potential that is powering confident media planning for global brands and agencies in an uncertain world.

Find out how Mediatool will change the way you plan, deliver and optimise marketing campaigns. Book a free demo or explore some of the powerful features.

Adapting media planning during a global recession

The IMF predicts global GDP to shrink by 4.4% this year, and according to Zenith, advertising spend will be hit even harder by a 9% decrease.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on global markets, we are seeing traditional advertising channels disappear overnight and a unilateral pivot to online engagement.

So how do B2B marketers, who are traditionally reliant on offline conversion funnels, adapt for these conditions? It seems the most effective media strategies are based on three things:

  • Rethinking the sales cycle
  • Data-driven decision making
  • Virtual, in-person engagement

Before you send another email that opens with “In these trying times…” read our practical suggestions for B2B marketing in 2020 so you can close out the year on a positive note.

Medium-term media planning

In response to uncertainty, it might be tempting to redirect marketing budgets to achieve short-term ROI. We all need positive numbers right now. But by dedicating efforts in short (if successful) bursts, marketers are missing an opportunity to exit the recession in a stable position.

Rethinking the sales cycle

Uncertainty exists on both sides of the sales equation. While marketers are trying to ramp-up fast, customers are spending longer in the consideration period and shopping around for the best deals.

This means valuable sales will take longer to close than last year. And customers will enter the sales funnel from a different place, as offline introductions are all but eradicated.

Consider how online engagement draws people into the top of the funnel and nurtures them without consuming a disproportionate amount of internal resources.

  • Automated email campaigns
  • Online demo booking systems
  • Retargeting across multiple digital touchpoints
  • Creating content like an FAQ or User Guide to answer common queries
  • Scheduling longer campaigns

We think this represents the most significant adjustment to media planning in 2020. In many cases, B2B marketing requires a complete strategy refresh, rather than tweaking here and there. It depends on how behaviour is changing within customer segments, which leads us to the value of useful data.

Use data to inform budget decisions

We talk a lot about the importance of data for media planning decisions. But another area where raw numbers become the basis of smart investments is the budget allocation.

Marketing budgets are tight in a pandemic. It’s easy to advocate maintaining momentum when others are backing off marketing spend; however, the more complicated question is where to spend the budget. Because it won’t be the same platforms as previous campaigns.

  • Use customer behaviour data to inform budget breakdown
  • Set clear targets
  • Monitor progress closely
  • Consider investing in new online engagement methods
  • Make mid-campaign adjustments to reallocate investment

In the early stages of setting a media planning strategy, the budget question will be an important one to answer. Make sure you have the insight going to the discussion, by capturing and cultivating data from historical campaigns and real-time consumer behaviour.

Focus on loyalty, not leads

Developing a loyal audience is critical for media planners in 2020. When the economy starts to recover, those companies who invested in brand building and redefined their sales cycle will stand to benefit most.

Brand building is often seen as conflicting with, or separate to, attributable sales and marketing activity. In reality, this just means that marketers haven’t gone far enough to understand the data they have available.

  • Position impressions/engagement alongside conversion data to establish a correlation
  • Find new ways to engage with leads virtually
  • Host online events and invest in community growth
  • Look at data in different ways by filtering and comparing figures
  • Understand how data can tell a story beyond point-in-time reporting
  • Use retargeting, automation and CRM software to track the customer journey

It’s true that non-converting engagement is indeed harder to attribute. But in the long term, an engaged audience is worth much more than a short-term sales target.

Track results closely

Now, more than ever, set-and-forget media campaigns are an exercise in throwing good money after bad. B2B marketers need to keep a close eye on real-time results because, despite the best intentions, budgets will continue to be tight and scrutiny high.

  • Adjust activity based on historical data and marketers’ insight
  • Use a marketing dashboard to integrate all campaign data
  • Set meaningful and measurable media planning targets
  • Ask your data to work harder
  • Invest in tools to manage feedback and reporting on a leaner model

Of course, tracking complex campaigns can be time-consuming. By using Mediatool, you not only have access to a powerfully collaborative media planning platform, but your team is also updated in real-time thanks to intuitive data capture capabilities.

Mediatool is helping B2B marketers to navigate the pandemic more confidently. As an end-to-end media planning and marketing campaign productivity tool, set up for agile and remote teams, Mediatool enables savvy brands and agencies to achieve everything we’ve talked about here – and much more.

Explore the features on our website or get in touch to book a hands-on demo.

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