Season 2 | Episode 9

Preparing for a New Normal in a Changed World

In a world grappling with the effects of COVID-19, we are in uncharted times. In this special episode of Paid Media Coffee, our host Kelly Mancuso, discusses appropriate messaging, the buyer journey, and media placements that all advertisers need to consider now and throughout the remainder of the year. We are joined by Nebo president, Kimm Lincoln, paid media strategist, Oliver Brantley, and senior strategist, Haley Malgieri.

Stream or download this resourceful episode today!

Kelly: Welcome to a special episode of Paid Media Coffee. Today, we're going to be discussing some considerations and recommendations for running paid media. Obviously we are in a time of COVID-19, quarantining, and just general uncertainty. As just an update, we are recording this episode remotely, so please excuse any audio issues that we may have or just general weirdness because we're all in different places. So with that, I do want to introduce my guests for today. 

First, we have Oliver Brantley joining us again. He is a paid media strategist at Nebo. Welcome back to the show.

Oliver: Thanks. Happy to be back.

Kelly: We also have Haley Malgieri on the show for the first time.

She is a senior strategist on our Intel team here at Nebo.

Haley M: Thanks for having me.

Kelly: And Kimm Lincoln is joining us again. She's Nebo's president.

Kimm: I'm excited to be back.

Kelly: Awesome. So, let's just jump right into it. So right now is a very weird time, obviously, you know, with everything going on and, um, so many businesses and just daily processes, in general, have been impacted and interrupted.

and we're really seeing that industries have really been impacted in different ways. There are some companies that are seeing an actual surge and demand, and then others have experienced. Brands, the exact opposite and, and are going through a lot of challenges right now. there's been somewhat of a learning curve and one that we're actually still in.

Things are changing from day-to-day. And we're all just kind of trying to figure out the best way to navigate it during this time. From a brand perspective, I think the first step in navigating the current climate is really thinking about what's appropriate right now. You know, as we're in this crisis, but also as we've been adjusting to this new normal, and even as some businesses start to reopen and some states start removing their shelter in place orders.

My first question for you all is, how should brands evaluate what's appropriate right now when it comes to their marketing and their advertising. And I want to think about those who have been negatively affected, but also those who have seen an increase in demand. you know, how are they going about this and, and how do they meet that demand without being predatory?

Kimm: I can start. So, this is definitely an interesting time for brands. At the time of this recording, we are about seven weeks in, at least in the U.S. so the initial brand responses have already been, or should have already been made, but. Now, as you said, people are somewhat adjusting to this new normal, and I think a lot of brands are really wondering, is it okay to resume their marketing?

And, yes, you should maintain some form of interaction with your audience, but you definitely do need to be mindful of the situation. They may be in and you can't just, you know. Go back to normal because even though we're all calling it the new normal; it is not normal. There is nothing normal about what's happening.

Most of all, we just have to remember to be kind, you know, kind to ourselves and to our team, but also to our audiences and we can't really put the same expectations on them that we had before. You know, we can't be in that direct response mindset right now. Like you said, sure, some people have been more impacted than others.

That for the most part, we've all been experiencing these huge changes and there's so much uncertainty, and I don't blame people for not. Maybe caring about buying certain things right now and we're not going to change that, nor should we maybe be trying to. But that said, I am seeing a lot of studies that different marketing engagement rates are up pretty substantially from pre-COVID days for things like click-throughs or email opens. People have time and are willing to interact with brands. I do think there is an opportunity to stay engaged with your audience, but brands need to continue to respond very authentically and mainly just consider, is your message going to be helpful for your audience. 

You really need to think about the audience. Put yourself in their shoes. You know, what would you want to hear right now? It might not be a direct response message. That's okay. Maybe you can stay engaged with them by providing valuable or educational content or tools or uplifting news.

In general, people are going to remember how brands responded during this period and if you're able to stay engaged and not necessarily in a salesy way, but in a helpful way, I think it's going to go a long way for brands in the future.

Haley M: Kimm, I think that that's a really good point because we've all at, as you said, seven weeks in, in the US we've all reached a little bit of a, a COVID fatigue moment where every brand has sent us some type of message, email, about COVID. And a lot of times it seems to be about them and not necessarily applicable to how that impacts customers in their audience as humans.

It is really important to think about how you provide value to your customer, or sensitivity in your messaging to your customer, right? You don't need to send an email message about the protocols you're taking to keep your business clean if you've always been, a primarily remote business whose customers don't come and interact with you in person, etc.

It's really important to think about that kind of value piece or the usefulness piece in the messaging that you are putting out there.

Kelly: I agree with that. And you know what's interesting is that you don't have to be providing value in the regular way that your company normally does.

And in terms of the services or the products that you provide, I've seen a lot of really interesting tactics that brands are doing and kind of pivoting in order to meet the current climate. We're seeing fashion brands pivot and they're starting to make masks, so that's the way that they're providing value in today's time.

Or, you know, even brands that are just providing content and information to keep people up to date or entertained, so that's really cool.

Oliver: Kind of going off of that, you know, in a lot of cases, companies can use their product as a value proposition of its own, especially if it's appropriate right now.

You know, a lot of the impacted people and businesses are local businesses and small businesses in these communities. I think now, especially if you are one of these businesses and you do have something to offer, you're still in business or you're able to deliver or offer to-go food or anything, This is a good time to take advantage of that and let people know that you are open and use that as a selling point for people.

Haley M: I also think at the beginning of this, especially a lot of brands were afraid of making mistakes because many of them hadn't been here before.

Nobody has been here before, but it's brought a human side to a lot of brands if they've kind of screwed up or misstepped and owned up to it. One example I can think of off the top of my head is Rothy’s, the shoe manufacturer.

They originally offered to donate five masks to healthcare workers only with the purchase of shoes. That received a lot of backlash. They were aiming to help, but it actually received a lot of backlash from their customers who said, why do we have to make a purchase in order for you to be making these donations? They owned up to it on their social media and apologized. 

They were upfront about the changes they were wanting to make in terms of donating directly to those healthcare workers, taking out that purchase requirement, and it actually brought this human side to the company and built additional trust with their customers. So, it's really important. We're all gonna make mistakes in messaging and marketing and navigating this, but owning up to it can really actually help you foster those relationships with your customer longer term.

Kimm: Yeah, definitely. I think that it's really important to own up to those mistakes. I also think that as a whole, people are being a little bit more forgiving, maybe not so much in inappropriate messaging, but in production value. You shouldn't be afraid to maybe do something and get your message out there, even though you don't have a whole professional crew to shoot a commercial. People understand that that's not the world that we're in right now. They're a little more forgiving of production, in general, as long as the messaging's there.

Oliver: Also to that point, I think for this moment, if you're able to create something that's really compelling and resonates with people, this is the perfect time.

Things are magnified in terms of how memorable they are right now, just because this is unprecedented for everyone. We're all kind of holding onto every moment because it really is, it's something to behold.

Kelly: I want to shift and talk a little bit more about the buyer journey. You know we've been talking a lot about how the brands had been impacted, but we have all been impacted as consumers as well.

We're in somewhat of a delayed response era. People are looking and they're seeking information and they're looking for products and services, but a lot of times we're seeing that action just not happen. Maybe people are looking, but they're waiting to buy or waiting to take action until things are a little bit safer or things are more stable.

Or waiting until maybe they're just able to since a lot of businesses have slowed down on production or shipping and things like that. Even in some areas where businesses are able to start opening back up, there's been somewhat of a mixed response. Those that are on board with that decision will likely still change their behaviors and their processes on a day-to-day basis.

So, I wanted to hear from you all and what your thoughts are on this? General change in behaviors based on what COVID and this pandemic have done. What should advertisers be keeping in mind as it relates to this behavioral change?

Haley M: Sure. I can kick us off on this. There are really a few key considerations that are important for brands and marketers to keep in mind as we talk about the buyer journey right now.

The first is that the entire world right now is in this highly reactive state, right? Consumer opinions are much more fluid than ever, and because they're in such a volatile situation, we have to remember that. Really, any data that we're getting or information that we're gathering about our audiences today can't really be indicative of a future behavior because it can change, you know, at the drop of a hat depending on so many variables. 

Because of this, I really think the second consideration is that it's more important than ever for brands to be flexible and responsive because of the fluidity, in consumer opinion. 

At Nebo, we talk a lot about how the typical buyer journey isn't this linear funnel.

I think that also applies to the new COVID journey. It's important to meet your customer where they are in their journey, whether that's in this kind of anxiety and fear-laden stage or there's some kind of optimism and customers wanting to buy products, again, it's really important for you to meet your customer where they are. 

A few examples I can think of are Planet Fitness, creating those quote-unquote work-ins instead of workouts for those who were adjusting to the new reality of working out from home.

Or I recently read about a travel agency, I think they're a British travel agency who has actually created flexible packages that don't have specified dates. People who are dreaming of going on these vacations can actually book something without having to agree to an actual date to go which provides some confidence and some solace there.

Kelly: We're all dreaming of vacation at this point.

Haley M: Exactly! Yeah, and you want to inspire that kind of dreaming and looking forward to that day where you can go on that excursion. 

Ultimately though a third consideration is that it really boils down to building trust and establishing a relationship with your audience during this time because as you mentioned, consumers are really waiting to see what happens but really going to notice brands’ actions now and remember them later. Making those kinds of short term sacrifices for the greater good is really gonna benefit, I'm thinking, you know, Cottonelle running campaigns, encouraging people not to hoard toilet paper, to not overbuy toilet paper.

Or Thai airways has recently rewarded folks with miles by staying home on their app. So going kind of against what they stand for typically, in order to build trust and relationships.

Kimm: It's been really interesting to see how brands respond and the creative ways that they respond. And in some ways, I feel like those responses or advertisements are getting more attention than they would if it was just a traditional ad that they're putting out this promoting buying toilet paper. 

It's also interesting is that because CPMs are falling so drastically and we've seen this with a number of our clients who used to compete against Amazon on Google, and now pulled back their spending.

There is a case to be made, depending on what industry you're in, that now might be a really good time to maintain your current spend with different messaging or even double down on spending so that you have that pipeline, filled when things are more back to normal.

I think the most important thing is you need to be very deliberate and creative with your messaging and your targeting. And, I also think for some companies, shifting funds around might be something that is a great opportunity for them. You know, people are at home, people are watching 60% more content now than they did pre-COVID-19.

So shifting funds to something like advanced TV or other advanced targeting efforts may be a really big opportunity for brands who can't afford to just target everybody anymore, especially with CPMs being lower. The buyer journey is changing, but it comes down to knowing who your audience is and the best way to stay engaged with them, knowing that we have to shift our mindset from that direct response mindset to more of like Kelly said a delayed response.

Oliver: Kimm makes an interesting point that CPMs are falling, so it is really a good time to buy. It's a really good time to focus on content.

Right now people are researching a ton.

Obviously the consideration phase is really long right now. I think anything that I've bought on the internet, I've read every single one of all 1,322 reviews on Amazon. 

While people are cooped up, there's obviously an extended consideration phase. It's a great time to focus on your content and what you are giving people, why you're giving it to them, and then what they can do with that content. Ideally giving people resources, so that when this is all over, eventually, you're able to kind of move forward and make more educated decisions and your brand is remembered as an important piece all along that buyer journey when people were locked down.

Kimm: Definitely. I mean, I'm not really buying clothes or the things that I might normally buy, but I have bought a new desk chair, outdoor furniture, and I bought paint. There's definitely some industries that are probably doing pretty well.

It's a good time for them, especially because costs are so low.

Haley M: A lot of times we think about new customer acquisition when we're talking about marketing or advertising, but this current climate is really a good example of when you should also be focusing on retention and customer loyalty.

Because those are ones that are either in the funnel already or are current customers, whether that's a subscription model or otherwise. Those are going to be the customers that are going to be really important to maintain and to continue to build that relationship with. I think about subscription services that I subscribe to that made it really, really easy for me to pause my subscription, during this pandemic whether that was because I quite literally couldn't go to my gym or because I was trying to cut costs otherwise. But by making it easy for the short term, I'm going to be a loyal customer for a long, long time after this. That's something we also want to think about is maintaining those customer relationships as well. 

Kimm: Yeah, I definitely agree. I'm sure we all have in this process found companies that we will be more loyal to you in the future and then some that we may avoid in the future based on how they responded.

Kelly: One thing that is really interesting that we've seen a lot of our clients do is offering virtual alternatives to temporarily replace in-person actions that they try and get people to do.

That might be an in-person meeting or training, information session, or a tour. And we've seen a lot of our clients shifting to offering those virtual alternatives. But, that this is not something that should just be temporarily placed. I think they should really be thinking about, how are they going to maintain this and continue to roll out those virtual options because people are going to be more hesitant to go in and do things in person and interact like that.

We're going to be seeking more of those virtual options for sure.

Oliver: A perfect example of that happened this week. The Travis Scott concert within Fortnite which was really interesting to me, both a fan of his music and, not a fan of Fortnite, but just an interested party.

There's a ton of events this year that are going to be canceled. Not even necessarily just as a conversion action for B2B businesses, but people’s free time is going to be spent in very different ways. That opens up a lot of placements for advertisers and moments, in general, to connect with consumers.

Kelly: We've talked a little bit about placement and channel opportunities that advertisers can be leveraging right now, but I want to talk about what we can be doing now and also thinking about the future. 

In terms of the current landscape, how are you guys seeing clients and advertisers shift their paid media strategy from a channel and a placement perspective? And then what are your recommendations for how they can start preparing for the future as things start slowly going back to normal?

Oliver: I can kick this off. As far as what clients are currently doing, what we've definitely seen a lot of is a pulling back on upper funnel spend. Right now, a lot of people are just concerned about the moment and where they're showing up, sort of the context of what their message is.

A lot of brands are really hesitant to prospect new users and bring people to the site just given a lot of uncertainty about where people are. That being said, people are increasing investment, if possible or at least maintaining investment, in branded search and retargeting, and things like that just to stay top of mind for current consumers.

In my opinion, branded search should be unaffected. If people are looking for your brand, that's definitely not the time to seed any search position.

People are still bidding on keywords. Your competitors are likely still betting on bidding on your brand name. It's definitely a time to ensure that you're owning all of your branded search terms, because the spend is going to increase, and eventually we will be on the other side of this. One day and people will be spending a lot more.

It's important to maintain your investment in that period.

Kimm: It's something that I've seen with clients that's been pretty interesting, especially a couple of clients that we've put a lot of work and research into a highly targeted device bid strategy or dayparting strategy is that that's kind of getting somewhat thrown out the window. I think most people's days are looking entirely different than they did seven weeks ago.

So, before where maybe you knew your audience was definitely on a device at night, and that's where you could reach them. Well, now that might not be the case. Or they're at work, so we should target them while they're sitting at their desks at lunch hour. I don't even sometimes eat lunch because I don't know what time it is in the day! If I didn't have cats, I might not know when dinner was. 

That's been interesting to see; that kind of stuff kind of getting thrown out the window. Also generally some more tactical things that we've seen are obviously you want to revisit your messaging, very consistently.

Every day it feels like it's different and new. And you just want to make sure that you're reacting to any breaking news and being sensitive to that. And we've also seen messaging shifts from “find a store” to things that are more focused on what you can do digitally, shop online or different evergreen content opportunities.

And then another thing that we've been doing pretty much across the board is looking at expanding retargeting windows. Because as we've been talking about for most of this episode, there's going to be a delayed response for a lot of industries.  Making sure that if you are engaging with people now, you're increasing that retargeting window so that you continue to reach them as Oliver said, when we're more through this.

Haley M: One of those opportunities from a retargeting perspective is the increase in online video consumption, especially YouTube videos, that we've seen during this pandemic. That really provides an opportunity, a pull-through opportunity later on down the line to build those retargeting audiences on YouTube and retarget to our audiences as they start to get through this or start looking to make purchases. Again, building up those audience pools to use later on down the line.

One other thing I was reading about recently that was interesting is this idea of nontraditional placements to align with where our buyers are right now. I don't know if you guys have read about this, but did you read about, I'm not a big gamer, but did you read about Dennys247? Denny’s created an account on various different gaming platforms called Dennys247. There's been such a surge in gaming, right? There’s an account that's been created on these different gaming platforms and provides the opportunity for discounts through their online ordering, to get discounts on Denny's food.

So Denny’s plays these games with different partners, but then throughout that is building this brand loyalty and dropping these discounts to go buy Denny's food. 

It's seen a crazy surge and response and engagement. It just shows the level of creativity that some brands are going to in order to engage with the buyer in these different areas that have seen this crazy increase in participation and engagement.

Kimm: That's a really good idea. And that comes back to looking at your campaign targeting strategy just in general. Right now if you're doing a lot of out of home, that might not make sense and maybe pull those dollars more into things like advanced TV because we're all sitting in our couches watching TV.

In general, it's an opportunity for us to sit down and really think about not only who are your audiences, but how they're now spending their time and what's the best way to reach them. And yeah, that Denny's example is a great example.

Oliver: With that in mind, looking forward, a lot of brands are shifting or considering shifting budgets towards esports.

Obviously live sports is a huge part of a lot of people's purchase decisions and getting cable or in whatever they choose to stream on. That's been propping up a lot of advanced TV and addressable TV advertising. Without live sports, those dollars are obviously missing.

A lot of brands are shifting to esports to fill that gap in eyeballs. Looking at brands like BMW, Subaru, Nissan. Automakers are shifting a lot of budgets toward promoting esports, whether that'd be teams, placements in-stream, video placements during events, promoting events themselves, getting on team jerseys, and things like that.

But as we potentially shift more and more activities indoors and move away from massive live sporting events with 100,000 people at them, esports are going to be a more widespread thing. Video games are getting bigger regardless of any potential future quarantines or lockdowns or anything.

Either way esports was going to be more popular in five years, but given this, I think that accelerates them and probably makes them a little bit more marketable, especially for advertisers in the short term.

Kelly: I'm not sure about the others, but I know with BMW they have been planning this shift in strategy for at least a year or so now. I'm not sure if the timing of rolling it out just worked really perfectly, or if they decided to roll it out a little bit quicker than what they were going to do given the current climate. It's great because they're also thinking longer term and getting in front of these younger audiences and establishing that brand connection with them.

As they grow and start working and having an income where they could buy a BMW. You know, that's top of mind for them; it's a long-term relationship with the brand.

I know we talked a little bit about advanced TV and those types of channels right now, it's definitely a good time to be investing in OTT. There's a lot of inventory. It's a lot more cost-effective and if you're buying on a dynamic CPM, you can capitalize on running on that inventory as it opens up and securing from lower costs, as well. I would definitely recommend that from a channel perspective if it makes sense for your brand.

All right, now in terms of measurement, because we are in this weird time, a delayed response era, there are obviously measurement implications. We're not able to measure things or track things as we were a few months ago.

We really just can't attribute success in the same way. What are your recommendations for advertisers in regards to measurement at this point in time?

Haley M: So, the previous mindset was really am I converting inquiries? Am I converting leads or online sales as kind of our key KPIs as marketers? Those really should be thrown out the window right now. To me, it's all about audience building engagement, brand protection, looking at it from that long term, not those conversion, KPIs.

Kimm: I completely agree. On top of that, Kelly, you were kind of speaking to this earlier, but it's also a good chance for brands to look for opportunities to shift some of their traditional conversions to virtual conversions.

We've had clients do things like virtual home tours or virtual fittings for furniture or home goods, or webinars; things of that nature. Long term we are going to see these shifts in human behavior, potentially long past when we're all able to freely leave our homes.

People will be more comfortable completing more of the buyer journey at home. Brands should be planning to respond to that shift by really thinking of innovative ways to adapt to that changing buyer journey.

If there's a positive to come out of this, I think that a lot of brands really will be innovating and it's going to be interesting to see.

Oliver: From a more tactical perspective, it's a great time to evaluate your attribution windows. It's a good time to look back. Do some path analysis and analysis just to see what is the ideal attribution window or even attribution model.

it's a good time to look back at what your attribution model is, but also in general, with a longer consideration phase, this is a great time to place more emphasis on future conversions and hand raiser conversions as people take a little bit more time to make decisions, are more hesitant to make purchase decisions and to get back to something that looks a little bit closer to normal.

The big thing for me is to consider this in the context of everything else that's happening in digital advertising. GDPR and CCPA are still things that are still happening.

We're going to have to rely less on cookie and browser-based tracking, and more on first-party data and shifting to tracking based on device IDs, IP addresses, and things like that. Monitoring how everything changes as a result of this and not just as a result of COVID, but how the entire landscape shifts.

Kimm: I was thinking the other day, optimistically, how are we gonna do year over year reporting next year? It's just gonna be one big caveat, well we can't quite compare.

In general, we're all figuring this out. Different clients have updated their measurement strategy but in general, regardless of a year from now if everything is right in the world, things will still be different.

People may potentially not want to be doing things completely outside the home as we have done. Brands just need to look for opportunities to respond to that.

Haley M: I also think as we think through KPIs and especially as we talk about right now, it's a lot around building trust, building that relationship, being there long term.

There's really never a better time than now to be a good listener as a brand, and part of your measurement plan should be around listening. 

Whether that's social listening or any other tool to gauge sentiment around your brand, around the market, to understand different audience feelings towards your brand as you evolve your placement strategy, your messaging, etc. To really get an all-over feel, not only for those kind of hard KPIs, but some of those more qualitative, softer KPIs that can give you insights into how your consumer’s really feeling.

Kimm: Absolutely. I mean, we, we all, you know, need to sell things.

That's kind of what advertising marketing is, but right now we should be a little bit more reflective and realize that human lives are more important than marketing and advertising right now. The best thing a brand can do is just try to support their audience and the ways that they can. And some of your KPIs may need to change based on that.

Kelly: Yeah, and I would say definitely look to some of the outside sources as you're trying to justify performance or pull together insights on a report because the reason for that change might not make sense right now. 

Look at what's happening in the advertising space in general within that platform or with the competition. Are CPCs dropping? Are you seeing your competitors pull out? 

Try to give more context around things like that. Also, look at Google Trends to see what's going on in the industry and how consumer search behaviors have been shifting as well. And then also just look at the changes that are happening on a day-to-day basis and even on a short term, rolling trend basis within your own account and your own campaigns.

Haley M: So, one question I did have for the paid media folks, Kelly and Oliver, is around brand safety and brand safety considerations.

Obviously all types of websites and resources are posting coronavirus content. Not all of that is necessarily negative, but do you have opinions on whether you should blacklist all coronavirus terms in an effort to ensure brand safety, even if that may not be necessarily the best way to go, or should there be more of a nuanced approach?

What are your thoughts and recommendations there?

Oliver: Yes, that's a really good question. At the beginning of all this, we pretty much took the approach of, let's block any content or sites that might have any coronavirus related content on them.

But you need a much more nuanced approach. And as this has gotten more widespread and has become a little bit of a day to day pervasive issue, it's really safe to assume that anything you run is going to show up next to coronavirus related content.

Even if that's branded search results, you don't know what structured snippets are going to show up. You have to assume that no matter what the context is, whether that's a CNN display ad or a search ad for a branded term, you pretty much need to assume that your messaging is going to be inappropriate overall if it's inappropriate next to that content.

Kelly: Yeah, I definitely agree with what Oliver said. It's different for every advertiser and for every strategy, and you really need to think about what that message is that you're getting across there. And as Oliver said, assume that it's going to be next to that content, regardless of whether you're proactively trying to block it.

But that can also be a good barometer for your messaging. Just assume it's going to be there and think about whether it's appropriate or not. If the answer is no, then you should probably be rethinking your messaging.

All right. That wraps up all the questions that I have. I want to thank my guests Oliver, Kimm, Haley. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Haley M: Thank you.

Kimm: Thank you. 

Kelly: I hope this episode brought some advice, recommendations, or even just some entertainment to you, our listeners, I hope that everybody is staying safe during this time. I know it's not easy and here at Paid Media Coffee, we are just hoping the best for all of our listeners and everybody out there. Thanks so much for listening to us. And as always, you can reach out via email or via Twitter.

Our email address is 

Our Twitter handle is @paidmediacoffee and we're always looking for any comments or questions, questions or requests on future content. 

Again, thanks so much and we will be back next time.

Posted by Paid Media Coffee on May 7, 2020


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