Has Your Marketing Adjusted for the Current E-commerce Surge?

Pandemic lockdowns across the nation have turbocharged e-commerce, with online sales growing by triple-digits since social distancing went into effect. Many predict a longer-term change in buying habits that will continue after the crisis has passed. The new environment is pushing some AccuList’s clients, especially retailers, to up their online game. Is your marketing ready? Most marketers are not, according to a recent Profitero and Kantar survey of 200 brand executives, which found that only 17% believe their organizations are leading competitors in e-commerce.

E-commerce Marketers Need to Prioritize Key Strategies 

E-commerce marketers need to quickly prioritize key strategies, advises a recent post by Forbes magazine’s CMO Network contributor Sarah Hofstetter. A problem identified by the Profitero and Kantar survey, for example, was that only 11% of organizations have functional-level e-commerce goals in place. Hofstetter urges organizations to make e-commerce a part of everyone’s job, from building e-commerce KPIs into bonuses to accountability for quality content on retailing websites to cross-functional e-commerce goals to overcome internal silos. Next, marketers should recognize that, because online consumers are likely to shift among brands in a time of limited inventory, delay and hyper-competition, they need to boost online profiles and product discovery efforts. That includes targeted SEO and SEM, strong ratings and reviews, engaging targeted content, and aligned multichannel outreach. Third, e-commerce’s new hyper-competition requires a shift from offline to speedier online tactics, such as algorithmic matching of competitor price changes and real-time tailoring of product assortments and promotional strategies by audience. Fourth, organizations can beat competitors by boosting online agility. Note that 63% of brands do not test and optimize their content to improve sales impact (Profitero and Kanta survey), and 61% do not use digital shelf analytics or shopper panel data to test, measure and improve digital execution. So brands that digitally test new products, new traffic-generating variables and new marketing messages can get ahead of the curve.

Messaging and Media Mix Can Adapt to New Realities

Janet Balis, a principal of Ernst & Young LLP, recently penned a Harvard Business Journal article offering broader advice for marketers as they lean into today’s new buyer realities. The nuances of creative messaging and brand voice have become more delicate, she notes, warning that commercially exploitative brands will not fare well. An example of smart messaging comes from Guinness, which shifted its usual St. Patrick’s Day focus from celebrations to longevity and well-being. Plus, organizations that promote doing good, from food bank donations to repurposed manufacturing for PPEs, enhance brand image for the longer term, as long as contributions are perceived as material and not solely for commercial benefit. Next, since the mix of consumer-preferred media platforms has changed during the crisis, marketers may want to modify their media mix, for example with more ad-supported premium video streaming to take advantage of spiking digital entertainment, or advertising around peaking news consumption (broadcast or digital). Finally, marketers will want to put a greater emphasis on behavior trends and response tracking to better adapt messaging and targeting. Closely observing trends on social-media platforms and e-commerce product pages can help more quickly spot opportunities and looming problems.

Even Small Retailers Can Use Google Tools to Boost Agility

Google is the lead search engine for e-commerce players, and it recently offered advice for using its tools to improve results during the pandemic and beyond. Even smaller, less sophisticated retailers can take advantage. For example, the online agility advised by Forbes and Harvard Business Journal articles requires staying informed of market and customer changes. Tools such as Google Trends and Google Alerts help users stay up-to-date on local conditions and customer mindsets, while retail-category metrics for Google Search and Shopping campaigns help spot shifts in product category demand. In the overcrowded e-commerce space, transparency and accuracy also loom large in capturing fickle visitors and buyers, so Google advises not only updating the customer-facing website but also the Buyer Profile on Google Maps and Search, for example to show changes in hours, extra safety precautions, shipping timelines, delivery or pickup options, etc. Finally, online customers now expect companies to rapidly adjust. So, within Google Ads, e-commerce efforts should update campaigns for any product or policy changes, and retailers should also enable automatic item updates in the Google Merchant Center to keep inventory and product data current, especially for price and availability.

Amid Virus Disruption, Direct Mail Has ‘Optichannel’ Advantages

As the majority of American adults hunker down at home, with all but essential businesses closed or working remotely because of the COVID-19 crisis, AccuList reminds marketers of the unique advantages of targeted direct mail, which takes promotions right into homes, has the highest response rate of any channel, and has the ability via print technology to connect with digital, too.

Direct Mail Can Rise Above the Current Digital Noise

Direct-response agency SeQuel Response notes that since the majority of American have responded to state lockdowns and virus fears by increasing their online shopping, many direct marketers have flooded the digital zone with new e-commerce sites, digital advertising, social media promotions, and e-mail. With online channels increasingly overcrowded, direct mail offers an alternative way to reach consumers in their homes and an opportunity to rise above the noise. The agency provides some good tips for direct mail in the time of COVID: 1) Ensure creative elements and messaging align with consumer sentiments and promote social responsibility and even national pride for positive brand awareness; 2) reconsider mail frequency and timing if warranted for a particular product/service, but make sure not to lose touch with the audience; 3) solidify existing customer relations, with increased focus on retention and brand awareness to help survive on the other side of the crisis; 4) integrate direct mail with digital marketing, a proven way to boost campaign performance and reduce CPA, including print technology, such as QR, AR and VR; and, finally 5) plan for the post-crisis world, recognizing that a campaign takes six weeks from list development to creative production to mail drop, and make sure messaging and brand positioning can evolve post-crisis.

Leverage Mail Strengths With Modeling, Digital Alignment

Given the coronavirus disruption of buying processes, “optichannel” campaigning, meaning supporting a prospect’s or customer’s shopping and buying process using the channel that is best for them, becomes essential for ROI. Direct mail adds special advantages to an optichannel mix, especially when combined with modeling and digital integration, argues a recent Target Marketing magazine article. Among the article’s examples is Galileo Learning, which operates 75 children’s summer camps across parts of California and Illinois. The company used tight response-lift customer modeling to identify higher-response prospects on external lists and then used the resulting savings to create even better creative. As a result, response surpassed expectations by bringing in 155 new campers and $66,000 in new revenue. Another Target Marketing case study is especially relevant for nonprofit fundraisers trying to help the most vulnerable in the current COVID-19 crisis. It comes from Meals on Wheels in the Diablo region of California, whose mailed holiday donor appeal garnered $230,000 in donations and 43% new donors. The charity attributes the 75,000-piece mail campaign’s success to, first, defining more-responsive list segments for existing donors, lapsed donors and prospects via demographics and customer-look-alike modeling, and, second, adding targeted digital advertising (e-mail, social and online display). The added digital effort not only delivered a 600% increase in campaign impressions over the mail-only control, the donors acquired by the “optichannel” campaign gave an average of 169% more than mail-only donors.

COVID-19 Crisis Alters Tactics for Fundraising Success

In a previous post, AccuList joined other experts to stress the importance of nonprofit clients staying the course on fundraising despite the coronavirus crisis altering the social and economic landscape. But fundraising tactics will need to alter to navigate that landscape, of course. Recent fundraising pro articles highlight some smart ways to approach existing and potential donors during the crisis.

Adapt by Expanding Digital Communications & Events

In a recent NonProfit PRO post, for example, C.J. Orr, vice president, and Katie Nichols, senior associate director, of the Orr Group fundraising agency, put together some quick tactic shifts for fundraisers, especially those that had been counting on events to tap donors. First of all, don’t panic and cancel events, they advise, but reschedule or repurpose. If an event can be postponed, a nonprofit may be able to transfer tickets/table buyers to the future event instead of giving or issuing a refund, and can add touchpoints with donors and prospects along the way. Or, the fundraiser can switch to a digital event, perhaps with livestreaming. Indeed, this is an opportunity to go digital in multiple targeted ways, they suggest, starting with more social media ads, paid search ads and SEO efforts aimed at the target audience. For example, now is a good time for a digital forum, such as a virtual “fireside-chat” with a subject matter expert discussing COVID-19 and its impact on the mission and incorporating a fundraising ask. Or the nonprofit can tap top-of-mind concerns and promote itself as a thought leader with an article on the COVID-19 impact posted on social media as well as e-mailed to donors and prospects. Plus, remember that over 80% use smart phones, so that mobile-optimized promotion is essential. And don’t forget old-school, nondigital communications, such as direct mail and phone calls. The authors suggest building out a phone-call list of top funders, with strategic talking points, for example.

Seize the Opportunity to Increase & Improve Social Media Efforts

Michael Wasserman, CEO of the stream fundraising platform Tiltify, used another NonProfit PRO post to stress how the current crisis should push fundraisers to boost use of social media as people naturally turn to social platforms to replace the lack of in-person interaction. The potential audience is huge: almost 80% of the population uses social media, with Facebook and YouTube having over 2 billion users per platform. Even newer sites like TikTok boast 500 million, Discord gets 250 million, and Twitch attracts 15 million daily visitors. Note that the Facebook Fundraisers tool has already raised over $2 billion, Wasserman points out, while even newcomer Twitch has raised over $115 million for various charities. So charities that still use elementary fundraising pages with a simple donate button, some text and an image are missing big opportunities to compete for attention in a space that the crisis is making even more crowded. He urges nonprofits to focus more on enticing content, such as video, which can leverage YouTube, the No. 2 search engine in the world with 2 billion registered users. Nonprofits should also consider using social livestreaming events for fundraising. An effort of a few hours can generate more than a campaign of months, he notes, citing the example of a group that raised in a week the amount it costs to run St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for a day, which is about $2.7 million. As an example of how to gin up donations, he imagines livestreaming a music celebrity connecting and interacting with fans online, perhaps asking people to donate in order to choose songs or get signed merchandise giveaways.

Social Distancing Doesn’t Stop Creative Outreach to Major Donors

What about the impact of “social distancing” on the traditionally face-to-face connections that engage major donors? Suzanne Hilser-Wiles, president of philanthropic consulting firm Grenzebach, Glier and Associates, offers some tips in a recent piece in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Start by showing you care and reach out quickly to ask how the donor is faring and discuss how the nonprofit is responding to the crisis. Enlist top executives to communicate with major donors about plans for moving forward, with consideration for the appropriate communication channel; for example, e-mail can quickly provide a direct but formal assurance, while social-media platforms offer a more human touch. Ad hoc “investor calls” may be appropriate for smaller groups of donors. For major donors and prospects, consider developing a specific message with a more in-depth perspective and request for their input. Highlight the nonprofit’s expertise and how gifts support efforts relevant to the COVID-19 crisis. A museum might share national media interviews with staff members, or an academic medical center might point to resources on the university’s coronavirus webpage, for example. And don’t abandon events; get creative with virtual format substitutes, such as a conference call or webinar to let donors stuck at home see a presentation about a gift opportunity. For example, instead of a brunch with a scholarship recipient, donors can have a phone or video call with the student, she points out.