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As part of our thought leadership to help marketers navigate the COVID-19 age, we recently published Fearless Digital Marketing: The Retailer’s Guide to Navigating COVID-19. In today’s blog, we’ll cover how to examine your messaging through the lens of the current times – and how to use data and empathy to strike the right tone. Director of Creative Strategy Becca Debono contributed to this post.

We’ve been preaching comprehensive testing frameworks for a while for your creative and messaging. If you’re late to the game on that, it’s go time on two fronts a) proactively remove or edit any tone-deaf messaging or imagery; b) test for themes that resonate as consumer needs and behavior change. And the stakes are high: according to a recent Edelman study on COVID-19 purchase behavior, 37% of respondents have already started using a new brand because of the innovative or compassionate way that it has responded, and 71% said that companies prioritizing profits over people (which goes far beyond messaging but should be considered) would lose their business permanently.

Questions to ask as you evaluate your ads:

  • Are they still relevant? Ads that play on a social setting or vacation, for instance, should be paused immediately.
  • Are you being sensitive to the current situation? Imagery of hands, physical connection, outside adventures, etc. may trigger fear or resentment in users, and any reference to things like “virality” or “survival” should be removed ASAP. 
  • Are you playing on fear in your ads, e.g. “Don’t fall behind!” or “The chance of a lifetime is over soon”? In good times, playing on fear can be effective, but it’s a potential PR nightmare in COVID-19 when there are far more serious issues afoot.
  • Are your main product focuses all of a sudden untimely and need to be shifted? For example, pushing a new line of office furniture should be tabled in favor of residential solutions. Maybe your best-selling product feature or key differentiator doesn’t apply in the age of COVID-19, but does that apply for everything you offer? This could be the time to test out those new key value props within your messaging- you may discover a completely new use case or even a new audience for your product.

  • Are you taking advantage of opportunities to connect with your users? Consider updating or using location ad customizers to create a connection with users in specific locations with relevant offers: delivery, drive-up, contact-free checkout, etc. And consider how messaging around new or existing product lines should be modified to meet the times. Here are some examples of ads that speak directly to what users are going through:
  • Are you aligned with big shifts in your business? Share a copy of all live ads and extensions with your company leaders so they can double-check that the messaging you are using aligns with any recent decisions or pivots the company has made. If sales are soft, but branding is still a focus, you might change your evergreen brand messaging to be less sales-centric and more geared toward company values.
  • Is your messaging aligned on all touchpoints and mediums? If an email subject line is getting a great open rate, there’s a reason; make sure that’s incorporated into your paid media messaging as well.
  • Are you all in on mobile? We’re living in a mobile world, now more than ever! Prioritize vertical assets that take up the most real estate on a mobile device. With increased consumer screen time, brands that optimize towards the smallest screen to provide the best viewing experience will spend most efficiently.
  • Are you playing the long game? Your products and services may not be relevant at this time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plant the seed for when they are. If you’re shifting your marketing strategy to invest in branding, consider focusing on more upper-funnel creative strategies like brand education, demonstrations and use cases.
  • Are you using time to your advantage? Is your ad spend completely halted? Use this down time to develop net-new ad creative when you do restart your campaigns. Creative bandwidth and resourcing may be more available these days, so use it! If you have current projects on hold because of the pandemic, challenge yourself and your team to come up with the next top-performing ad creative or disruptive creative concept when your campaigns come back online.

Along with your messaging and creative, consider your offers: if you’re selling casual sneakers, throw in a fun, vibrant set of shoelaces to help cheer up your customers. If you’re selling home office equipment, throw in a discount on an ergonomic back pillow. Little gestures that don’t cost you much but show empathy for consumers who need a pick-me-up can earn genuine goodwill now and loyal customers for the future.