How Has COVID-19 Changed the Digital Marketing Game?

By: Beatrice O'Campo  |  November 25, 2020

By Beatrice O’Campo

Recently, my boss signed me up for HubSpot’s INBOUND Marketing Conference. In normal times, that would have meant staying in a hotel and spending two days in a convention center networking, visiting vendor booths, and attending seminars and Q&A sessions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, marketing and business conferences have made the jump to virtual.

For those pursuing careers in digital marketing (a field which spans from deciphering the mystical algorithm of Google Ads to making TikToks), the virtual and online worlds are already our stomping grounds. And guess what? COVID-19 has opened a lot of new opportunities and marketing techniques for us to use.

What does that mean? Three words: Risk takers rejoice. We’re seeing that ideas a boss might have called crazy last year are now on the table. With metrics flying all over the place and most people bored in quarantine, it is time for marketers to step out of our comfort zones. 

Digital marketers used to be scared to death of sending out emails with exaggerated words (for example, “it’s heeeere!!!” instead of “it’s here”), capitalized words or emojis in the subject line. Contrary to popular belief, these things won’t get your email relegated to the dark corners of the dreaded spam folder. Instead, they are likely to boost open rates as people search for new, exciting content to fill their lives. So, stop relying so much on your strong subject lines and rejecting gimmicks. It’s time to stand out.

Meanwhile, putting the word “new” in subject lines can boost open rates by 17%. People are pretty disgusted with the current time period. They want to flip the calendar forward. They want to move on from the past. When it comes to consuming, that translates to wanting the newest products. And, because it has been a hard year, consumers feel deserving to treat themselves. (Case in point: Me. Please don’t ask how many things I’ve bought on Amazon since this pandemic started.) 

Another cardinal rule of marketing and advertising that is being broken: talking about the negatives. If you’ve ever seen the TV show “Mad Men”, you probably remember Don Draper harping on this. Talking about negatives in your ads will make the customer have negative associations of your product, right? Well, not when it comes to COVID-19. Based on open, click and like rates, it seems that people want to see marketers mention the pandemic. This is especially true in Business to Business (B2B) marketing — I work for an energy management software company where 100% of our marketing is B2B. We can drive a strong response by not sugar coating the current situation and instead speaking about the effects of COVID-19. This is likely because our B2B buyers are turning around and helping their customers, and they need to be informed about what is happening right now to do so. 

However, if you are working in Business to Customer (B2C) marketing, it is best to make your mentions of COVID-19 more subtle and focus on appealing to pathos in your messages. People who have spent the past seven months seeing their co-workers’ houses, pets and kids in Zoom meetings are now expecting a more personal touch when it comes to digital marketing. They want to feel as if they know the company and the people behind the ads. As a result, marketing is becoming more and more of a PR game as marketers focus on crafting genuine, customer focused messages. This includes live streaming, webinars, and catchy DIY videos — anything human, approachable, and entertaining. 

Not only should we let our customers get to know us, we should get to know our customers. People have a need to connect and communicate now more than ever. Everyone wants to be heard and understood right now, whether it’s by our friends and family or by the guy at Golan Heights making our favorite schnitzel wrap. In the marketing world, social media polls are a great way to connect with customers. They require a lot less commitment than leaving a comment and they ask customers what they want to see. This makes the client feel heard and understood. 

These may be tricky times, but if you’re going into marketing, they’re also pretty exciting. I know that a lot of us that study marketing are doing so because we love the creativity that goes into it. Now, we have a chance to really let our creativity shine (and see some cool results). So, go out, create and have fun. (Just don’t expect the Google Ads algorithm to get any easier. Some things never change.) 

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HubSpot. 2020, September 22-23. INBOUND Marketing Conference, Virtual.