The headlines are grim: Public Life Curtailed as Nations Step Up Restrictions, Corporate America Races to Respond to a Crisis That Upends Work, Coronavirus Closes School for Nearly 30 Million Children in U.S. 2020 is only 11 weeks old, but it feels like it’s already lasted a decade.

The COVID-19 pandemic is upending economies around the world as consumers change their routines to protect themselves from the virus. Some of those changes will be temporary and others will be permanent. But an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty, and for enterprising marketers, the changes happening now are an excellent opportunity to refocus our efforts to get ahead of the curve. 

Coronavirus is Catalyzing Broad Changes in Behavior

Experts are already predicting a major structural shift in work and leisure habits as a result of the pandemic. 

Since most of the world has gone on lockdown, hundreds of millions of people from Shanghai to Seattle are forced to do more of their shopping online. As of 2018, Retail Dive reported that up to 87% of shoppers begin product searches on digital channels, a change that will be catalyzed by recent events. The Wall Street Journal reports that while airlines are reducing staff by 80% and 90%, is adding 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers to keep up with increased demand.

Consumers aren’t the only ones changing their behavior. The current crisis is  forcing companies to build out the capacity to allow as much of their labor force as possible to work out-of-office. Once that infrastructure is in place, you can expect that the realized cost savings will make these changes permanent.

More distanced, online activity means more people will be looking for answers and solutions online. Companies that have invested in providing those answers and solutions will be the winners when the pandemic has abated and economic growth returns. 

Digital Advertising Budgets Won’t Escape the Global Economic Meltdown Unscathed

Already signs are emerging that traditional and digital marketing is going to take a hit with the rest of the world economy. CNBC reports that  “channel checks show lower spending in travel, retail, consumer packaged goods and entertainment, which together represent 30% to 45% of Facebook’s total revenue” due to the spread of coronavirus. Analyst Rob Sanderson at Loop Capital Markets expects a 15% year-over-year decline in Google’s travel ad revenue in Q1 and a 20% drop in Q2 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Even companies outside of travel and leisure who won’t be affected by a breakdown in global supply chains have expressed concern that they may pull back their digital advertising budget in the face of a broad-based, worldwide recession. Certainly, companies that rely on in-person events like trade fairs and conferences to generate leads will take a hit as those events are canceled for the remainder of 2020. 

James McDonald, Managing Editor, WARC Data has recently predicted, “a prolonged disruption and a risk of lower consumer spending will result in many advertisers delaying big brand work, instead favoring a tactical retreat into performance marketing.” This makes sense when companies need to conserve their budgets to pay for operations in the face of a revenue shortfall. But it also means there is an opportunity to make headway on building online search as a way to get customers with intent to buy without spending a lot of money on expensive ad campaigns.

Investing in SEO Pays Long-Term Dividends

SEO-focused content is a clear winner for marketers in a challenging business environment. It is less expensive to produce than other types of marketing initiatives (like a trade show or a Superbowl ad), it builds brand trust and brand equity, and it meets your customers where they are — on their laptops.

Conductor’s Pat Reinhart says, “In the coming weeks, we will see businesses start to become more conservative with their budgets and look for cost-effective ways to invest.  Search and content are two of the most cost-effective and impactful avenues to weather economic storms as they require a lower investment and don’t have an on/off switch like traditional paid media.“

Industries and sectors hard-hit by the coronavirus can use their SEO content teams to marshal information that will educate and inform their customers. Airlines that have been forced to reduce ad spend for flights that have been canceled to reassure customers that the air on a plane is filtered and as clean as in an operating theater.

SEO content will be important to soothe the frazzled nerves of customers by giving them the information they’re looking for, and it will build (or rebuild) trust that has been shaken by the anxiety-producing avalanche of events. A study from Conductor shows that brands that provide consumers with educational content are considered in a more positive light and more trustworthy than brands that don’t offer educational content.

An Opportunity for SEO Marketing as Social Distancing Increases Time Online. According to Pat, “Businesses can continue to create meaningful content that helps their customers through times of uncertainty by answering questions and providing guidance while growing their visibility online.  Search and content have both short and long term benefits and during times of uncertainty are two of the best marketing investments that businesses can make.”

Want to see how much your business can benefit from investing in SEO? Download the Forrester Total Economic Impact Report of SEO & Conductor.

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