The emergency measures put in place to combat the impact of Covid-19 meant that a number of global consumer brands decided to cut or completely freeze their marketing spend.

The Q1 2020 IPA Bellwether report revealed that budgets in the UK suffered the strongest reductions since the global financial crisis in 2009, driven by the decline in consumer and business spending.  In the US, Gartner reported cancellations of many marketing campaigns, amounting to up to USD $11B in spending lost for the advertising industry, according to the Myers report.

Not every brand, however, decided to hold back – at least not in every area of their marketing plan. Linkfluence experienced a twenty percent increase in the usage of our social intelligence platform in the last three months. It’s a clear sign global brands recognise the value and impact of social data on their businesses, and aim to leverage its key advantages, namely cost and speed, in times when traditional approaches fail.

Driven by the feedback of our customers and other industry leaders, here are the key reasons why innovative brands decided to ramp up their social data budgets.

The role of a marketer is changing

The role of a marketer is being redefined by this crisis. Not only the campaigns but also platforms and tools used to execute them are being scrutinised by stakeholders who expect results. A hunch or an intuition are not enough and decisions must be driven by consistent and reliable data.

This data must be collected and analysed at the speed of the web, and be accessible to the variety of teams across the organisations. Any barrier to implementation creates delays brands cannot afford to have, especially in times when consumer needs change so rapidly and unexpectedly.

For market research and consumer insights professionals, the landscape has changed completely. The tools and methodologies used in the pre-Covid era are mal-adapted for today.

With no possibility to run focus groups or product tests, no time to conduct traditional brand trackers and increased pressure to deliver meaningful, insight-packed recommendations, the job is simply not as it used to be.

Social data offers a single source of truth representative of audiences and tribes, no matter the location. When budgets are at risk, efficient solutions which offer both a holistic, fast quantitative overview and qualitative insight are a necessity. 

Social media usage has continued to rise, with consumers across segments and target groups exploring the digital world. Today, more than ever before, marketers can learn about priorities, needs and demands from a single source, by observing and mining data consumers share in abundance. The crisis offers marketers a unique opportunity to push through and champion digital transformation, future-proofing their structures and organisations. 

The questions every marketer is trying to answer today are: 

How will the current crisis change consumer behaviour long term?

What is the new normal going to be?

How can we prepare for what’s to come? 

In reality, the new normal starts now. Many of the trends and signals we observe today are likely to continue to evolve and not disappear. From food and beverage to sport, we can pick up indications of behaviours representing the future. 

Innovative brands like Nike have started to respond to those new needs already. In March, the premium app Nike Training Club was offered to all its users for free – encouraging the global community to stay home and stay fit without unnecessary exposure and risks. The company pushed new content surrounding fitness and nutrition to serve hundreds of thousands in lockdown, reacting to the conversations and questions spontaneously shared on social media by the curious consumer.

Solid consumer insight has the power to enrich campaigns and improve engagement. Leveraging user generated content and creating activations featuring themes relevant to specific audience groups is likely to increase, partially due to budget efficiency reasons. M&Ms latest activation asking the audience to color their next commercial caters to the community of consumers who took up coloring in quarantine, as well as their traditional target audience. 

Leapfrog the competition and get ready for what’s to come

Operationally, investing in new technology might seem aggressive in a time of contraction, particularly for global brands whose teams are spread across the world. In fact, now is the perfect time for a large-scale onboarding and implementation of an insights tool. The relevancy and value of social data has never been easier to demonstrate, with stakeholders across the business guaranteed to discover use cases crucial to their success. 

The 20 percent increase we’ve seen in the usage of our tool demonstrates that smart solutions are designed to service users at scale, when the demand is high. Apart from projects focused on specific consumer groups, the interest in what the competition and key market players are doing is on the rise as well. A well designed brand health tracker enables global organisations to review and act fast on changes happening in their markets.

“This is not a time to go off-air” – invest smart, don’t cut

There are industries which were brought to a near standstill because of the outbreak, with the travel sector one of the hardest hit. Others, like CPG, reported not only expected but unprecedented growth due to the shift in consumer needs and priorities. In April, the industry giant Procter & Gamble announced a 5% YoY increase in sales and their commitment to ensuring their brands “maintain mental and physical availability to the greatest extent possible”.

This demonstrates the long-term thinking and strategy to remain relevant and top of mind during and after the crisis. Clever marketing, based on consumer insights and data representing target segments empowers P&G to confidently ramp up its marketing budgets knowing that the return will justify the decision to spend.

Disappearing today might mean a tougher comeback when the lockdown is over. Early research shows that consumers are likely to continue to use brands whose response and actions during the pandemic reflected their needs in the circumstances.

While this reasoning might be well understood within organisations, the reality is budgets for most have shrunk and, as a result, adjustments have been unavoidable. Finance teams may not be able to increase revenues, but instead of freezing the spend completely, shifting investments towards solutions best suited for today’s crisis has been the responsible response for opportunistic leaders.

With consumers indulging in comfort foods, it’s no wonder industry giants like Unilever and Mondelez decided to increase their digital ad spend.

A similar trend has been observed in the entertainment category where leading brands including Lego and Playstation capitalize on new found hobbies of the stay at home audience.

To ensure success, the new commercials must reflect current reality and needs, with messaging which is empathetic and timely. Consumer insights powered by AI-driven technology make this process seamless and fast.

The consumer insights industry is on the rise

Insights-driven businesses have been forecast to earn $1.8 trillion by 2021. Their ability to use the voice of their community to innovate and grow gives them competitive advantage needed now more than ever.

Some of the world’s most successful and loved brands, including Nike and P&G, understood that the voice of the consumer is what makes them different and unique, and making it a part of their digital transformation has set them ahead of the competition.

Ania Crisp is VP Marketing at Linkfluence.