Emily Smith

Digital Strategy for Current Spending Trends

shopping on your phone

A few months ago it was reported that laser eye corrective surgery was seeing an uptick in numbers. The reason? It was mainly reported that people who typically spend money on travel no longer have that outlet so they’re finding other places. Plus they have time to get it done now that other commitments have waned. This can be seen in other “self-improvement” spending trends as well.

Here’s another uptick that was recently spotted: pickup truck purchases. A study by CarGurus found that among those that bought a truck this year, 26% had not planned to before. Their reason? For the millennials or Gen Z (that same group that likes to travel big) the top two reasons were to make road trips, and because they wanted to treat themselves. And speaking of purchases, let’s not forget the increase of online buying and delivery services that are not going away anytime soon.

Staying aware of both spending habits and buying methods this year can help position your brand to offer services and products in a way that your audience will be most receptive. It’s easy to guess that soap and cleaning supplies have gone up this year, but did you know hair color was up while other cosmetics were down? Or that roller skates were an item suppliers couldn’t keep in stock this summer? 

Although the panic-buying of earlier this year has eased, the focus on at-home products and entertainment is forecasted to continue. And that includes how and where things are being purchased. Whether it’s because people are working from home, staying away from stores for health reasons, or shifting activities due to budget restraints, everything related to “at-home life” is key right now. And updating your messaging to show understanding is key to staying with the trends. 

As JP Morgan reported in September, although some categories and markets are down, the e-commerce part of their business has been up. L’Oreal is one example of this, with media and e-commerce sales seeing double digit increases from Q1 to Q2 of this year. 

In strategizing for your own brand, some useful questions to ask would be where you can fit into these trends. Can you advance your digital options to reach those who are buying from their couch? Is your current website user-friendly and efficient for online shopping and navigation? How can your services be positioned to draw in those with disposable incomes who would typically be traveling or attending live events? 

For marketing, are you emphasizing the positives that people are looking for right now? Is your media spend taking advantage of keywords your customers are searching for, and sites they are spending the most time on (e.g., social media platforms). Keeping these top of mind through the coming months can help your business take advantage of trends and boost customer interaction and purchase. 

How COVID Has Changed Brand Messaging

Back around March there was a moment when everyone thought COVID-19 would be an inconvenience that lasted possibly a few weeks. Businesses closed temporarily, people began to stay home, and the advertising industry seemed to spin new ads overnight for companies that wanted to keep their voice heard during a confusing time. 

Initial Messaging

With time constraints, budget considerations, and a whole lot of unknowns, these ads started to sound a little similar. Someone took notice, and created a parody ad that could have easily ended with almost any brand logo and still made sense. 

Commercials weren’t the only place similarities existed. We helped our clients craft messages for their websites, emails and other digital platforms to address the situation and ensure their customers that they were doing everything they could to keep everyone safe. 

The strategy wasn’t focused on originality, it was to get a straight-forward message customers could quickly see to ease stress or worry. And it worked. Customers needed to find information quickly, understand how the brand was affected and what they were doing to continue forward–and that is exactly what they found. 

Current Messaging

Now that we have all come to understand this pandemic is lasting far beyond those first few weeks, or even months, messaging is shifting again. Things like social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitizer are infused into pretty much every person’s daily life. In addition to the “new normal” we’re growing accustomed to, brands have had more time to stop and think about messaging that can be more tailored to their company and their customers.

The result shows just how nimble the advertising world can be, and the need for companies to shift and adapt quickly. For some brands that has meant cheeky campaigns or clever ways to present their content–while still being something that can be quickly produced and budget-sensitive. 

Take this most recent KFC commercial. Sure, it doesn’t address all the seriousness of the coronavirus, or even really make literal sense, as some viewers point out in the comments. But it does give KFC a way to join the conversation, and to make you stop and think about their brand slogan (and finger-lickin’ good chicken). 

Another more guerilla tactic is the one Burger King Belgium implemented: face masks printed with your order when you place a pick-up through their app. Again, this idea hits a number of markers, but mostly it’s giving their customers a little extra something of interest, while also leaning into the norms we’ve come to know.

Burger King mask example

Or a more subtle, yet strong, approach to the current times, Nike released an ad for their Nike Membership with the slogan, “You can’t stop sport. You can’t stop us.” The ad is so typical Nike, with all the emotion and buildup that comes from sports, but weaving in the most current feelings: cleaning bleachers, playing sports with masks, without crowds, and inside your home. 

Thinking about these same strategies, and what makes them successful, can help lead timely and impactful messaging no matter where your brand is speaking to customers. Emails, social media posts, digital or traditional advertising…the truth is simple: people connect with messages that resonate. And what resonates right now are the current events that encompass us all.

As you think about what you’re putting out there, or about to put out there, first ask yourself how this pandemic has affected your customers. Not in general terms, but specifically how your company being affected has trickled down to them. That is how to leverage creative in a thought-provoking way. As Burger King showed us, it’s not just about wearing a mask–it’s how wearing a mask affects ordering their food. Or in Nike’s case, how social distancing won’t stop the sports you love. 

The Time for TikTok Advertising

TikTok now has over one billion users worldwide, with 123 million downloads in the U.S. alone. In January it was the #1 downloaded social media app, giving it a 46% growth rate from January of the previous year.

And all those stats were before entire states and countries were confined to their homes in a global effort to curve COVID-19. For all the advice brands have been given to adapt and share messaging that resonates with their customers, TikTok is leading the charge.

If you check out their Newsroom updates, they continue to have relevant topics to keep people connected with each other through the app. Starting with their standard practice, trending hashtags like the recent #HappyAtHome provide not only a place to share, but a place to watch others. 

And if you think TikTok is only known for getting Chipotle trending during the Super Bowl, or helping Lil Nas X become an overnight success, think again. On March 16th TikTok announced they had partnered with the World Health Organization to create a page to provide “trustworthy information, offers tips on staying safe and preventing the spread of the virus, and dispels myths around COVID-19.” Then again this week they started the #BuildforCOVID19 Global Hackathon, a join effort with other social platforms like Facebook and Twitter to invite developers in a united way to address needs identified by the WHO.

So, is there a place for you to advertise on TikTok? With all the data out there, the advice skews to understanding your brand and realizing the benefit (or not) for your company. For all the growth TikTok has had, it is still not a place to reach as broad of an audience, or reach certain audiences at all. If your brand cannot figure out a way to naturally connect with consumers on TikTok, your messages will fall completely flat.

One of the biggest pieces of advice for TikTok is to be authentic. That encompases not only messaging and audience alignment, but also video quality. If your content looks too produced it will not resonate well with users. Users want fun, engaging videos. They like to connect with the influencers they follow, and they don’t care about the quality of the content because their own videos don’t look like that.

Following what TikTok itself is currently doing on the platform is a great way to start. Either by joining in and supporting what is already happening, or starting your own way to communicate. For example, Branded Hashtag Challenges are one type of ad formats brands can participate in. If you have something relevant to share right now, think of how you can do it this way. Other options for advertising are more traditional to what we see on other social platforms, like In-Feed Ads. But again, if your message doesn’t resonate it’s going chances are high it will be glossed over.

As we stated in our last blog, now more than ever is the time to self-evaluate as a brand. Decide where you stand and how you want to be seen, and share that message with your audience on the platform that can connect. If you’re still unsure of which platform is best for you, we have advice about that too… But probably for another blog (or email, or phone call, if you can’t wait).

Is Your Brand Adaptable to Change?

The entire world is currently focused on a singular topic: COVID-19. This is not only an unprecedented time in terms of the epidemic we’re facing, it is also one of maybe a handful of times in history where every country is working to reverse the same global problem. Every person, every company, every government is worried about the same issues: how to keep their communities safe, and prevent their economies from crashing. 

While this feels like the perfect time for companies to panic, it is also a time where brands can learn what they are made of. It will push every brand to realize what their top priorities are, how their customer communications are working, and how well they can adapt to change. 

Many of those in marketing have turned to past outbreaks like SARS to find patterns and data that can help brands this time around. The general consensus is to think about this in terms of individual companies. We can see from what is happening now that not everyone is being affected the same. Each brand individually must think about how their relationship with customers is changing right now, and how the health of their company is being impacted.

In a recent webinar from Nielsen, predictions about consumer attitudes showed trends in everything from grocery spending to sustainability opinions. But the underlying fact of it all was that the data is available to understand your audience, and you need to utilize it.

Analytics can not only improve your understanding of the marketplace, it can help you be nimble. Tracking analytics can help companies see a change in perception from the start, and provide an opportunity to course-correct if needed. 

Two of the largest things that’s been seen with COVID-19 is the spike in people consuming media and the amount of young people playing video games. Is there a way to use either of those discoveries for your brand? Can you find a way to connect with consumers in a way that makes sense? 

Along with data about trends with your consumers, it’s also important to track data and utilize data based on your communications. Testing advertising messages can be a great way to track audience perception, eliminating some of the guesswork. Strategic tests and implementation also helps utilize budgets in the smartest way possible, allowing brands to reach the widest and most interested audience. 

These are unprecedented times for sure, but also a time where we have so much data and information at our fingertips. Use what you have to proceed down this path with care and confidence. Find where you fit in all of this as a brand, adapt quickly and communicate clearly, and create short and long term plans based on the data you have now. But remember just like everything else going on, be ready to change plans and steer down a new path if necessary. Agility and strategy will be key.

After a Week with Akwafina, This is How I Feel

Last Thursday I boarded my normal subway and heard an overly peppy train conductor spouting off the station names. After daily commutes of mostly garbled static and apologies for train delays, this was a weird but welcome switch.

I looked around the train, few other people were laughing, and one person put in their headphones with an annoyed shake of the head. Although not normal, it isn’t entirely uncommon to have a train announcer feel they need to add their own spin on announcements. I took it as that and got on with my book. Five stops later I realized a train across the track had the same voice, and started to piece together what was really happening.

The voice I was hearing was Akwafina, and that comment about watching Nora from Queens while riding through Queens was not the random thing I first thought it was.

It was an ad, in the basic sense. But at the same time it was something so much more. Comedy Central worked with the MTA to have Awkwafina announcements on the 7 train for one week, leading up to the launch of her new show. The MTA hasn’t given a lot of details over the paid announcements, but did say it might be possible to do something similar in the future.

Awkwafina being first is just one of the reasons I loved it. Yes, we’ve heard plenty of celebrity voices over GPS systems, celebrities promoting their shows in the middle of YouTube ads, celebrities talking up their projects on social media. But before this no one had ever heard a celebrity calling out subway stops and PSAs like, “Hey fellas, stop manspreading,” or facts like “…pigeons and doves are the same thing — what!?”

From a strategy standpoint, this idea was everything. They chose a subway line that runs through Queens to advertise a show about Queens, and used an actress who understands everything about the 7 train in Queens because she was born there. Awkwafina doing a voiceover for Waze, for example, would never have hit the same audience.

The best part–the idea worked! While I admit that I wouldn’t have wanted a month of it, and by the end of the 7 days I’d memorized almost every quippy bit of her subway monologue, it got people talking. I overheard conversations on almost every train I was on. People tweeted about it, posted videos on Instagram, and wrote articles–and the majority of the feedback was positive. Plus the FOMO was real. Even celebrities wanted in on the conversation, with some offering to voice other Manhattan subways in the future. And that’s what we want from advertising in the end, isn’t it? Smart ideas that hit home for the brand and for the audience.

Engaging concepts that do more than just sell a product. And storytelling that’s worthy of listening and sharing with others.