Marketing through COVID-19: Responsible decision-making in uncertain circumstances

Andrew Miles

Managing Consultant, data2decisions

Marketing through COVID-19: Responsible decision-making in uncertain circumstances

As we head into winter and face the potential for ongoing regional lockdowns, uncertainty in the UK abounds. Individuals face uncertain futures. Businesses and brands may struggle to forecast the effect of the next six months. And the scale of the looming recession remains problematic to predict.

And that’s just the position in the UK. No two countries are the same. Some are recovering well – New Zealand for example – while many European nations are facing stark winters.

Perhaps one of the only consistent facets of marketing in 2020, has been the presence of one question. Should brands go dark from advertising? And if not, how can they justify that spend and ensure that they are making responsible decisions in an ever-changing landscape?


Scenario planning can help you make the right decisions

Data has always been essential to define the ROI of your marketing strategies. While modelling based on 2019 data for example, would be the natural approach for 2020 campaign decision making, what is your approach when the world is turned on its head?

How can you then make use of this data? You still can. If it is continually refined and tweaked to meet the ever-changing requirements of today.

This is a key challenge we’ve been working on with a number of our clients. Which has led to the development of an agile, informed approach to ensure data is used to make decisions responsibly.

First, quantitative data is integrated. This includes:

  • Econometric model outputs
  • Media forecasts for consumption and market pricing
  • Sales channel data

Secondly, it is then supplemented with qualitative insights. For example on creative applicability in the current climate, as well as the perceived mindset of the target market.

This methodology is driven by objective assumptions, curves and timing, but is also backed up by agile strategic planning tools that deliver due diligence. And as the market changes, so must the data. The following will be monitored and tweaked on an ongoing basis:

  • Base sales continually adjusted
  • Demand driving factors continually reviewed
  • Market channel consumption & pricing continually revised
  • Assumptions continually revised in line with the constantly changing world

While nothing in the world is stable, decision making simply can’t remain rigid. And through this agile approach to data, responsible marketing investment decisions can be found.


Strategic questions that must be considered

So, how does this work in reality?

Every brand is facing unique challenges. Customer demand is changing, sales channels are volatile, and existing creative might not strike the right tone with a consumer that is expecting brands to align with their shifting values.

Crucially, there are key strategic questions that must be posed:

  • Country Opening: What phase is a specific country in and when will businesses be open?
  • Sales Channels: What proportion of your ROI was from online trade?
  • Seasonality: When is your key seasonal period? How can you make the most out of the key months left in 2020?
  • Creative: Does your existing creative have an appropriate tone?
  • Media Costs: Do you need to risk returning activity at cheaper CPT before the media market resets or experiences significant inflation?
  • Media Channels: Which channels have increased usership and which have decreased or have no audience?
  • Market Demand: Will there be a similar number of buyers in the marketplace with reduced consumer income?
  • Consumer Demographic: What is the core demographic for your product?


Opportunity amidst the uncertainty

Let’s return once again to the key question facing marketers. Should they go dark? And are they?

In 2020, UK marketing budgets have been slashed to their lowest levels in 20 years. Specifically, the Q2 2020 IPA Bellwether Report illustrated a dramatic increase in the net balance of firms that have cut marketing budgets – from 6.1% in Q1 to -50.7% in Q2.

This suggests that some businesses may be going dark, or more likely that they are realigning priorities and conserving budgets. Marketers that are running campaigns have to be diligent, effective and agile.  

And as ever, the answers – or the answers for today – lie in the data. And with the ability to review and realign objective and subjective data, comes the opportunity to respond and thrive in uncertain circumstances.

If there is anything to learn from 2020, it is that there is always opportunity amidst the uncertainty.


If you would like to find out more about dentsu's methodology, please contact Andrew Miles.