Tips for Effective Ad Messaging Post-COVID-19

If you told me three months ago that the term “contactless” was going to be a trending term, I would have thought it was a new way of saying “wearing glasses” or maybe a new Lasik surgery procedure. I used to have to pour my margarita in my child’s sippy cup when a meltdown forced us to leave the restaurant early. (We’ve all been there.) Now, they have margaritas to go or they just might even deliver the margarita to your house.

Messaging and Terms have changed:

Delivery > Contactless Delivery

Dine In > Curbside Pickup

Birthdays > Birthday Parades and yard signs, OMG the yard signs

Graduation > Graduation Parades

Employees Must Wash Hands > Everyone Must Wash Hands

Why are they wearing a mask > Don’t forget your mask

Not only have our conversations and the way we search for information online due to COVID-19 changed, but there have also been fundamental changes in our daily lives and behaviors. No routine is the same. No behavior is the same. And for advertisers, this requires a change in tactics to communicate more effectively with consumers.

Finding the Right Messages and Content to Resonate with Potential Customers

Conditions will vary depending on which state you’re in, but with states taking a phased approach to re-opening, campaigns should be rolled out in a way that is aligned with the targeted state’s status; however, to be effective, audiences must be segmented in many more nuanced ways than just who is in a lockdown state, a partially open or fully open state. We look at segments such as past converters and examine unique messages that re-engage these customers and entice them to come back. We also take a look at a brand’s products and services and evaluate new messages that might be able to reach all prospects who may be willing to consider a new brand or business now that certain conditions have changed in their life. COVID-19 has created new audiences and new opportunities, and we’re working with many of our clients to aggressively explore new ways to capture a new set of future customers.

Strategy can be visualized in phases. The first phase is focused on a heavy, multi-message approach to help determine what resonates. Next, the best performing messages are aligned with the current customer base to re-engage them and capture their attention again. And finally, the right message for a new, growing audience segment is dialed in. We use data to validate the strategy while continuing to optimize and energize our clients’ businesses back to pre-COVID levels.

Relevant Messaging is a Moving Target

When the virus first started to change our world, many advertisers began pulling campaigns that would not resonate in that climate. Some advertisers quickly pivoted to more sensitive, timely ad copy while others struggled to figure out their messaging.

When the quarantines began, it was important to be mindful of these changes and make necessary adjustments. We recommended being more sensitive to those adjusting to life at home. There was worry about others and the uncertain future ahead. Clients’ messaging changed in order to show they were still there for customers and their needs. During high-stress times, brands benefit by staying true and authentic to their values and reassuring to customers. A financial client, Ameriprise, used this time to change their display messaging to assure prospective clients that they will help them navigate through market volatility challenges.

To help consumers get through this, focus shifted to what specific products or services made the most sense for each client’s target audience. For example, for our restaurant or QSR clients, messaging was adjusted to let their customers know they were still open for business, even if in a different capacity through curbside pickup, drive-thru, or delivery.

We wanted to avoid being salesy and keep the focus of our messaging on the value our clients provide. It was also important that CTAs made sense as to not imply a sense of urgency during a pandemic.

With many states being in the process of re-opening, finding what messaging best resonates with customers now is a goal everyone should be working towards.

Test, Test and Test Some More!

Being open to experiment and continually monitor targeting performance is important, as we adjust and evolve to the very sensitive nature of our marketing climate.

We believe that most brands and businesses are in a clear shift away from the crisis and “here for you” ads. Instead, they are moving into communications that are meant to engage and remind consumers that their favorite stores and restaurants are still here and that they’re excited and prepared to welcome them back. “Open for business” is the rallying cry.

With our clients here at Mindstream Media Group, we have been reevaluating and testing the messages placed in front of prospective customers to determine if they are well aligned with this new normal due to COVID-19. The usual “come see us” type of advertising to encourage customers to visit our clients’ stores and purchase their products, for instance, may not be the best while certain businesses remain closed or partially closed to foot traffic and states are maintaining different “open” standards. “Come see us” means many things now.

For two of our clients providing “need-based” services, we adjusted search ad copy to let their customers know they are still open for business, but also to make customers aware of the extra precautions they are taking to ensure their safety.

We are working with our clients to explore shifts in messaging and continuously adjust as state and city guidelines, as well as human behavior, evolve. Being successful in unprecedented times requires evaluating many new types of messages and targeted audience segments.

What’s Next?

As states gradually reopen and remove restrictions, audiences are beginning to change and have differing attitudes toward the current state of the country. Be mindful that life isn’t going to bounce back to normal for everybody. Everyone is adjusting and ad messaging will need to continually evolve. We understand our clients’ businesses and are working with them to advise their customers on their safety measures. As stay-at-home orders are being eased, we’re staying on top of the guidelines to properly promote our clients’ products and services to help them rebound successfully.

The 5 Ws of Paid Search During COVID-19

While some parts of the country have started to open up, many of us are still at home – working from home, schooling children from home, exercising from home, shopping from home, doing nearly everything from home.  With daily routines disrupted, it’s no surprise that consumer behaviors have changed as everyone attempts to adapt to their “new norm.”

Now more than ever, it’s important for businesses to stretch their marketing dollars by adapting their paid search program so that it’s relevant to their customers’ new reality.  Here are the five Ws we keep top of mind when making adjustments to clients’ paid search campaigns.

WHO Are We Targeting?

While every industry has been affected differently, they’ve all been affected. For some businesses, their target demographic has completely changed as a result of this pandemic. Consumers who may have been less inclined to buy their products or use their services in the past may now have a sudden interest or need for them. Other businesses have completely pivoted just to stay afloat. They’ve started offering new products or services that are suddenly in high demand since they already have the necessary infrastructure in place. We review targeting for each client to ensure it aligns with any changes they have made to their business and adjust settings and bids accordingly.

Geo Targeting – Some clients are unable to offer their products and/or services where they had been historically. Others may be expanding their geo-targeting to cover additional areas during this time. We’re adjusting geo-targeting as needed, while taking into consideration any restrictions within each of their target locations.

Demographics – We expect to see shifts in who is searching for some clients’ products or services.  In some cases, it may make sense to open up demographic targeting to reach additional audience segments.

Audiences – We expect to see some volatility with certain audience segments, so we’re reviewing performance and adjusting as needed.

If search interest for a client’s business has been down or we’ve seen a decline in conversion rates or purchases, we’re lengthening the membership duration for some of their audience segments, especially those with shorter durations. This will provide more time to retarget those consumers who didn’t convert once the dust settles.

We’re also creating an audience composed of visitors to clients’ Coronavirus FAQ page on their website. There are a number of ways this audience can be leveraged to aid in rebound efforts, giving us the opportunity to tailor ad messaging specifically to those consumers who didn’t convert while the country was shut down.

WHAT Are They Searching and WHAT Are We Saying?

Keywords – If not already included, “open near me” or “open now” are being added to the target keywords for brick and mortar clients that are open. Search term reports are reviewed regularly to identify other keyword opportunities, as they will continue to be important as more and more businesses begin to open their doors again. We also utilize search query reports and the keyword planning tool to identify any new COVID-19 related keywords to target.

In addition to looking out for new keyword opportunities, we also keep a close eye on each client’s search terms report to ensure their ads aren’t generating irrelevant impressions. Negative keyword lists are expanded where necessary.

Ads – Ad messaging is being reviewed to ensure it’s sensitive to the current situation and still relevant to the state of the client’s business and the new reality of their customers.

If there are any safety concerns that would make consumers hesitant to purchase a client’s products or services right now, messaging is being altered to explain the changes that have been implemented to help alleviate those concerns. For example, Papa John’s has implemented a “no touch” policy where they ensure no pizza is ever touched once it comes out of the oven AND they’ve implemented a “no contact delivery” on all app and online orders to make sure their customers feel safe. These types of operational changes are important to include, as they may help consumers overcome any hesitation in placing orders.

There has been a surge for various products during this pandemic where fulfillment has been an issue. We’re working closely with clients to pause any efforts for products that are currently out of stock.

Ad copy and calls-to-action are being updated to reflect changes in clients’ business operations like changes to how products and services are offered or delivered.

As shelter-in-place orders are gradually lifted, it will be necessary to ensure ad messaging is appropriate and relevant to all the target areas for each client since they likely won’t reopen at the same time. Ad customizers based on the user’s target location is one way ads can be tailored to the most relevant consumer based on how a client’s business is operating in their area. Duplicating campaigns is another option we have that provides more control over spend and targeting. This allows us to have one set of campaigns targeting areas that are still closed with messaging that speaks to those consumers, and a second set of campaigns targeting areas that have reopened with appropriate messaging.

When the time is appropriate, we plan to create new ads that leverage the IF function to provide special offers or messaging to the audience we created for visitors to a client’s Coronavirus FAQ page, to get them to convert.

Ad Extensions – These typically need updated for most clients as well.

Call Extensions – We’re working with clients to ensure the number being used is still accurate and, if applicable, that it’s routing appropriately to any employees who are now working from home. If business hours or availability for answering calls have changed, we’re also adjusting call extension scheduling to reflect those changes.

Location Extensions – We’re updating Google My Business listings for clients to reflect any changes to business and hours of operation so their customers know when they’re open.

Action Extensions – We’re replacing Calls-To-Action in Bing such as “Visit Store” or “Directions” with CTAs that reflect the current state of the client’s business.

Callout Extensions – Callout extensions that highlight services clients can’t currently honor, such as “Open 24/7” or “Same Day Delivery” are being updated.

Structured Snippet Extensions – We’re temporarily removing products and/or services a client is unable to offer/fulfill at this time.

Sitelink Extensions – Updates are being made to sitelinks that are no longer appropriate or applicable. For example, extensions that pertain to shipping are being updated to reflect any changes to shipping policies. Sitelink extensions with broad verbiage pertaining to new safety measures, health and safety, etc. are being added for clients that have a COVID-19 FAQ page.

WHEN Are They Searching?

Everyone’s needs and priorities have shifted. We’re taking measures to be sure our clients are in front of the right consumers at the right time.

Ad Scheduling – We’ve all had to make changes to our daily routines, so consumers may be searching earlier in the morning or later at night. Current performance is being reviewed and adjustments are being made to ad scheduling and bids to maximize spending efficiency.  What historically may have been a client’s top converting time-of-day or day-of-week may no longer be the case. Schedules are being opened up for clients with a decline in search interest on their current schedule.

For clients with Call-Only campaigns, ad scheduling is also being adjusted to align with the changes in business hours to ensure the business is open and available to field calls.

Automated Bidding Strategies – In times of uncertainty like this, Smart Bidding strategies require additional monitoring. Changes to the competitive landscape often impact campaign performance and automated bidding strategies (especially tROAS and tCPA) may need to be adjusted to align with changing consumer behaviors. We’re reviewing any automated strategies for settings/parameters that need adjusted based on the current landscape.

WHERE Are We Reaching Them?

Channels – The impact on search volume will vary between channels, as will the performance. For some clients advertising only on Google, we’re launching campaigns for their top products and/or services on Bing to help make up for any loss in volume. For clients that are already advertising on both, performance between the two is being compared to see if any budget shifts between channels are warranted.

Networks – We’re closely reviewing search partner network performance since impression volume could fluctuate due to changes in search volume on networks owned and operated by each channel.

Devices – With many consumers still confined to their homes, mobile searches have been decreasing and desktop searches have been on the rise. We’re monitoring device performance and making adjustments as needed. As people begin to go back to work, we expect to see further shifts in device usage.

WHY These Changes Matter

For clients whose business has slowed, adaptations like these to their paid search program will ensure their marketing dollars are being maximized and that they are positioned to rebound as soon as shelter-in-place orders are lifted.  For clients in industries where interest has increased for their products or services, quick adaptations like these ensure they’re seizing the new opportunity and maximizing ROI.