As society is starting to accept the new “normal” with staying at home more and entering shops with masks, companies began to recover from an economic downturn half as severe as the 2008 crisis. The game of business has changed, and to win, you need to start with the consumer. In Netherlands online sales in May 2020 were 50% higher than in May 2019, showing that people prefer shopping at home. In February 2021, clothing and clothing accessory store sales in the United States fell by 14.9 percent, favoring the sectors of sporting goods and garden materials. Pandemic taught us to appreciate relationships, not only with loved ones but with brands, while deliberating over the need for new clothes and shoes you’ll probably wear traveling from the fridge to the sofa.
Due to the quarantine restrictions, the revenue of many companies has decreased demanding unusual strategies to cope with the loss of the consumers. Dr. Rimantė Hopenienė, a lecturer of marketing sciences, author of multiple scientific articles and books, advertising agent of KTU Faculty of Economics and Business, argues that businesses allocated finances inside corporations. “Some companies started looking for new communication channels, reduced budgets or stopped working with external agencies altogether, and tried to do their own communication and marketing work. It is praiseworthy that companies have started to develop new services, strongly rethought value propositions, and sought to respond more openly and sensitively to consumer needs than ever before. They focused less on encouraging them to buy something, more on expressing emotions such as love of neighbor, faith, care, hope, kindness, optimism”.
We observed the instances of companies supporting medical institutions, donating masks and medical equipment to nursing homes, helping needy families, increasing measures of safety to protect the employees, and delivering products free of charge worldwide. Such change has not been left unnoticed. Multinational professional services network Delloite in their 2021 Marketing Trends report states that brands who showed social responsibility responding to COVID-19 positively shifted perceptions and buying preferences of the consumers. Enterprises clearly expressed their commitment to serve the consumers in the best way possible creating an important characteristic that helps the public to decide who is and isn’t worth supporting.
Dr. Hopenienė is pleased by the business that didn’t waste money on empty ads but thought creatively about what they could offer consumers in a situation like this. “I was also fascinated by the greater sincerity and focus on social responsibility. In advertisements, companies have offered to keep their distance, wash their hands, and thrown out accents from their slogans, e.g. The FKC removed the finger-licking from the slogan, began supporting local small businesses that suffered from the pandemic more than they did, Burger King offered his Instagram to advertise smaller restaurants, etc.”
In response to the global pandemic, safety and health emerged as an important aspect of buying. Consumers tend to value companies that ensure the safety of all stakeholders, customers, employees, vendors, and suppliers. Health-promoting products and services were favored more than luxury items or electronic devices. When online shopping and home delivery reached unprecedented heights, digital marketing had to adapt to the new needs of everyday people: easy access, convenient navigation, and personalized ads. “Customers expect warm and personalized communication with them, not robotic language. I don’t know if there’s an expectation here, but I’ve noticed a trend that people want quality content and join Patreon not only to support artists or creators but are willing to pay for content without empty ads.”
Dr. Hopenienė points out that a modern consumer may not always be willing to purchase the product but still hopes to receive great customer service. “The purpose of a brand today is to be accessible to the client even if he does not buy the product. Also, simplicity is key in everything a brand does: sales processes, orders, delivery, additional services. The consumer does not need complicated diagrams, explanations – he needs easy access to the brand.” According to Streng Agency, consumers seek clear and honest messages, which a minimalistic approach to advertising conveys. Marketing specialists should use the available poster space for showing the product instead of writing about all the advantages that come with it.
The shift to online shopping encouraged brands to pay more attention to managing SEO, SEM, and e-commerce. While many companies create advertising themselves or reduced the workforce of marketing departments, the digital age did not push the advertising agencies out of the picture. Dr. Hopenienė assures that communication professionals are vital to any brand’s success. “Artificial intelligence can create texts, but a person has to manage it. I think that a great marketing specialist is very much needed because his power to create valuable communication with the user through various channels will never lose relevance. After all, communication specialists not only create Facebook texts, but they also write articles, participate in conferences and fairs where they communicate with different audiences. Even SEO needs a text that is appealing to both google and the user.”
It is no secret that social networks have become a great alternative to traditional marketing, television, newspapers, radio. Integrating already known social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and new ones, such as TikTok, into advertising communication has clear benefits. “It’s greater accessibility, it’s open and engaging communication with the consumer. The downside is that there is so much that the user does not notice. Therefore, the quality content, the consistent communication and involvement of the user in that communication is the key to standing out.”
It is evident that when consumers were forced to stay at home, many turned to their electronic devices for leisure, work, and socialization. Netflix received 16 million new users in 5 months last year, TikTok app reported scoring 200 million downloads for the first quarter of 2020, showing the marketers what activities engage regular people. Dr. Hopenienė concludes that in this time and age, consumers crave to be known on a personal level, and this means choosing the appropriate channel to target the specific audience. “Every channel is good if we know how to manage it, and bad if we don’t. The thing that encouraged me to join TikTok was the inhumanly beautiful performance of Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater soloists. If we don’t know who our target user is, where they search or find information, and don’t tailor the content to them, then no channel is good enough.”
Indeed, the key things resulting in the brand’s success in 2021 are relevant and engaging content, knowing your targeted audience and their path to purchase, being honest and aware of social changes around the world. Highlighting an enterprise’s purpose through contribution to society won’t be a quickly forgotten trend, rather a long-term value. While the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the rules of marketing, loyal consumers are still the main reward of this game. To win, you need to keep your eyes on the prize.
 Statistics Netherlands, 2020.