What to Expect from Digital Marketing in the New Normal

We recently had a (virtual) conversation with Chris Ferris, Vice President of Digital Strategy at Pierpont Communications about how digital marketing will change in the wake of COVID-19 and its aftermath.

Chris, who also teaches a digital marketing class at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, discussed how digital marketing will evolve, recommended best practices for businesses, monetizing platforms like Zoom, and much more.  

How do you expect digital marketing to change?

As explained in this Barron’s article, advertising spending is expected to keep falling, even once things return to something close to normal. This provides an opportunity for aggressive and ambitious companies—that have the means—to capture market share from their less proactive or financially stable competitors. The bidding cost to be shown first in Google Ads, for example, will likely fall, making it easier for companies to increase their impressions share, as noted in this CNBC story.

Although people are more connected and plugged in overall, online advertising has already begun to bottom out because of the pandemic and subsequent economic crisis. What do you recommend for companies trying to navigate the industry moving forward?

As noted above, the opportunities to get more bang for your advertising buck are there. So, if you have the budget to do so, I would look at this as a chance to capture more online market share at a potential bargain price.

A big difference between advertising on TV or in print is that those agreements are usually made weeks or months in advance. That means advertisers are locked in. Online advertising is (usually) much more fluid, allowing advertisers to pull the plug on their online campaigns almost immediately. This puts companies like Google and Facebook in much more perilous positions because they can’t count on guaranteed ad revenue.

Still, I expect in the long term they’ll do fine since more and more people seem to be going online during this phase of our response to the pandemic.

Do you expect companies to begin monetizing digital platforms like Zoom? (i.e. banner ads when using free services)

The “freemium” model has been used for years (Spotify and Pandora are good examples) and it would not surprise me to see other online services switch to this as well.

Zoom already uses a model like this, where it limits your time on a given call to 40 minutes if you are not a paid subscriber. But there are ways around this (like just scheduling hour-long calls into two 30-minute blocks—not that I condone that!).

As more and more consumers game Zoom’s system, they may have no choice but to start putting bumpers or other kinds of ads—especially for home users of Zoom (businesses are more likely to be willing to pay for unlimited Zoom calls).

There has been a fundamental shift in how companies are perceived, with more people tuning into corporate responsibility. How should companies alter their marketing plans to cater to this shift in perception, while maintaining authenticity?

As I mentioned in a recent interview with Teen Vogue, consumers are increasingly savvy about detecting insincere or inauthentic marketing from companies. If you are going to market yourself as a business that is committed to corporate responsibility, you have to actually be committed to corporate responsibility.

It’s easier, of course, if you’ve always had that reputation—like Patagonia. So, if you are relatively new to corporate responsibility trends, start marketing slowly. The cognitive dissonance between your current reputation and your aspirational reputation can make for rough sledding, especially on social media, where consumers will take great glee in pointing out what they see as corporate hypocrisy.

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