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Fearless Digital Marketing for Retailers: Ways to Engage Your Audience in COVID-19

Published: April 1, 2020

Author: Devon Lehmann

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 channels and audiences through the lens of the current times – and how to adapt them to fit the changing consumer behavior.
Whether online demand for your products has increased or decreased, keep these facts top of mind: people are in front of their screens more than ever and consuming more digital content than ever. Even if search volume is down, there are lots of opportunities to engage your target audience. This post will examine how to consider devices and technology, channels, and audiences as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic roll out.

Devices and Technology

Now’s the time to set up more frequent monitoring of device trends and performance. With so many people at home and in front of their phones, laptops, tablets, and TVs, even slight shifts in behavior can have big ripple effects. Since users are home and have plenty of time to research and explore, consider advertising your app (or building an app) to get in front of new customers.
Moreover, look for tech that can help bridge the gap between offline and online shopping experience – a good example is Hero, which allows otherwise idle store associates to use their customer-service skills and merchandise knowledge with online customers (a win for CVR and employees looking to pivot and provide value to their companies).


If your direct response and demand are booming, keep the budget flowing into brand search, and look for opportunities to capture demand increases in non-brand search and shopping campaigns as well. 
If your direct response and brand search have decreased, it’s time to divert some budget to higher-funnel channels including non-brand search, shopping, and Facebook/Instagram.
We’re seeing extremely low Facebook CPMs (in some cases, almost a 50% decrease for some retailers), which presents an opportunity to drive awareness with new users. Advertisers whose dried-up demand leaves them unable to hit their budgets on search or DR channels should immediately look at Facebook to take advantage of a unique market opportunity.
It’s also the time to double down on shopping optimization. Improve the relevance of your shopping ads by adding high-volume, relevant, and converting queries to the end of your shopping descriptions to increase the likelihood of them serving. For example: 

A final point on channels: media consumption (YouTube, Snapchat, etc.) has increased significantly (Facebook has reported messaging and app usage up more than 50% in countries heavily affected by COVID-19), so now is the time to test and invest in places where reach and available views have increased.


We recommend re-examining your audiences on two levels:

  1. Addressing shifts in budgets and goals;
  2. Combing through query data and engagement with various creative and messaging to understand new needs/desires your products can meet.

Let’s say that your goals have shifted from direct response to building an audience for future remarketing. Create audiences for users who are still interacting with your site and not actually purchasing. Another scenario: your revenue goals remain intact, and you need to get creative to meet them in an age of decreased demand. If you’ve historically excluded current customers to focus on prospecting and building your new-customer base, consider including current customers to drive as much revenue as possible. Conversely, if you’re clinging to performance or AOV goals but willing to shed revenue, look at your lower-performing audiences and turn down spend to save costs.
As for possible new audiences, your query data and creative testing (you should absolutely remain aggressive in testing new creative and messaging) will show you opportunities to meet emerging audience needs. For instance, a major clothing retailer I work with shifted focus from new spring items to loungewear as more and more people went into isolation and began working from home, and a food delivery service has shifted budget from business delivery to residential delivery, expanding its locations to serve a broader swath of customers as geo volume dictates.
If demand for your brand and products is increasing, you’ll have the benefit of more data volume; besides new audiences emerging, look for audiences that may have been too small to pursue in the past that may represent more of an opportunity now.
The most important things to remember are to ground your decisions in data and empathy, as we’ve been saying in just about all of our COVID-19-related content. Keep the customers’ unique needs and emotions in mind, and react to relevant data, not the latest market swings. And stay safe!

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