In Uncertain Times, a 'Play It Safe' Strategy for Brands Will Be Anything But

In Uncertain Times, a 'Play It Safe' Strategy for Brands Will Be Anything But

Because even as some areas of consumption and demand may slow, the behavioral habits driven by the pandemic—more streaming, gaming, ecommerce, podcasting, voice—aren’t going backwards.

“Because even as some areas of consumption and demand may slow, the behavioral habits driven by the pandemic—more streaming, gaming, ecommerce, podcasting, voice—aren’t going backwards”.

Marketers cannot afford to simply cut ad spending to the bone and lean on historic direct response channels

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By Anna Bager

Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard said it best: It’s time to “double down.”

That sentiment may feel counterintuitive right about now. Indeed, as we head into the back half of this year, there seems to be little doubt that the advertising industry, along the rest of the U.S. economy, is bracing for some headwinds. If nothing else, marketers are likely to face uncertainty in the coming months—and it’s natural during such times to seek out advertising strategies that promise some semblance of certainty.

Yet I’d argue that 2022 is not the year to dust off old belt-tightening playbooks. While it’s tempting to stick with the tried-and-true and lean on media plans that promise accountability, this year in particular is not the time to duck and cover—because this period of unpredictability happens to coincide with ongoing, massive shifts in how people consume media and interact with advertising, along with a corresponding set of changes in how brands can expect to reach and connect with customers.

Clearly, it will be tempting to simply direct budgets on search ads or retargeting ads on the web. Yet marketers cannot afford to simply cut ad spending to the bone and lean on historic direct response channels. Focusing primarily on what’s most “provable” (such as media that thrives on last click attribution) or on reaching existing customers by tapping into established email lists will do little to expand your brand’s appeal. Not only will marketers risk missing an opportunity to grow, but they’ll also more than likely fall behind.

That’s why Pritchard got it right. The classic argument against cutting marketing spend during previous periods of upheaval was that the brands that kept spending were able to gain share. This time around, I’d take it a step further—the brands that double down will be much further ahead in evaluating new media mix models, mastering new forms of targeting and data usage and developing new muscle memory for the coming high-metabolism, more reactive ad spending future.

This will require finding a balance between driving outcomes and storytelling—ideally through emerging media channels, which promise to dually achieve both goals. Ideally, that will consist of channels that deliver high-value ROI as well as a media mix that is complementary and builds upon itself.

Perhaps surprising, in my view this approach warrants going out of your way to ensure that your media plan has a balanced mix of new and proven vehicles, with an emphasis on tactics that both work in concert and can achieve both branding and direct response goals. This strategy will help brands get through near-term uncertainty while still keeping an emphasis on long-term growth.

Because even as some areas of consumption and demand may slow, the behavioral habits driven by the pandemic—more streaming, gaming, ecommerce, podcasting, voice—aren’t going backwards. With that in mind, here are four areas where I’d recommend marketers lean in.

Out of Home

Historically, the world’s oldest ad medium has been viewed as a perfect awareness medium, often to complement big campaigns. But as out of home becomes more digital—in terms of both how ads are purchased and delivered to locations—it’s becoming far more data-friendly and creatively nimble. Plus, the pervasiveness of mobile devices has helped make out-of-home advertising live beyond its physical locations, both in its ability to drive people to social media as well as sending them to brick-and-mortar stores—all of which is far more trackable. Thus, this is an area where investment during times of volatility can pay off in spades.

Influencer Marketing

The growth of the creator economy has impacted how millions of consumers perceive media, content and advertising. That certainly won’t change, even if the broader consumer sector becomes less stable.

Witness 50,000 in-person attendees at the most recent VidCon event: While this space is continuously evolving, there are more and more products and initiatives being launched to help marketers both gauge ROI and deploy campaigns more efficiently. Now is a great time for brands to deepen their connections and relationships here rather than pulling back.

Programmatic Audio

This is perhaps a less-hyped category, even as the audience for music streaming and podcasts continue to surge. That’s because many brands are still figuring out where to “place” this vehicle in their current structure and how to fund it.

The good news is that, thanks to the emergence of new startups such as A Million Ads, marketers can produce dozens, if not hundreds, of audio ads at high speed, allowing for optimization that mirrors the open web. In addition, thanks to investment from streaming-first platforms like Spotify, the targeting options for programmatic are expanding rapidly. This is an ideal medium for brands to invest and learn how audio can help drive both awareness and response.

Connected TV

This fast-emerging channel has had more than its share of hype and exuberance over the past year or two, as consumers have shown a perhaps more-than-expected affinity for free, ad-supported streaming. However, that high-speed growth has brought with it numerous growing pains, from technical to measurement.

Even more concerning are reports of suspect viewership data and outright fraudulent schemes. Clearly, at this moment, the medium lacks the established benchmarks and standards that brands are accustomed to with traditional TV—so there is plenty of reason for caution here.

Still, CTV promises the ultimate combination of sight, sound and motion, blended advanced targeting tactics along with a potential new suite of creative formats. But this is where a new generation of consumers increasingly starts their TV viewing experiences—and the brands that figure this world out now will have an advantage going forward.

Again, it’s understandable that many marketers will be tempted to take the conservative route over the next few months. But the unique moment we’re facing requires fiscal responsibility coupled with daring vision. Brands need to be forward thinking and focused not on survival but building business. The companies that win during this time are the ones that seize the opportunity presented by upheaval rather than trying to ride things out.

Because when you double down, you double your chances at a big payoff.

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