The boom of digital marketing during the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t news; although, how this boom will affect brands after the pandemic subsides, is of continuing interest among marketers. Over the past year, we saw eCommerce expansion across the board. Growth was not isolated to a single brand or demographic, signaling an overall phenomenon taking place – one from which both consumers and brands have benefitted. The result is an increasing incentive to maintain and expand the growing online marketing ecosystem. Here is how consumers and brands have been individually impacted and how marketers can respond accordingly.
Consumers Latch Onto eCommerce
Online shopping soared this past year. While in-store attendance will surely increase to some extent post-pandemic, the surge in online buying isn’t likely to subside significantly. Online shopping, especially mobile shopping, has made consumers’ lives easier. PwC found that 93% of respondents predict that they will maintain their increase of mobile online shopping. For many consumers, browsing the web has been and will continue to be the more efficient, safer, and more affordable option.
At the end of the day, consumers are price driven. Online shopping allows consumers to access the best options for their tastes and wallets with only a few queries. According to MarTech Series, 65% of users will shop around online for the best price before making a purchase. Many of these shoppers will visit four or more websites to find the best deal. In this way, search makes it easier for consumers to choose less costly options
eCommerce is less expensive in other ways, too. While savvy shoppers can save money, they can also save valuable time and effort when they bypass in-store browsing. For this reason, people may not rush back to the more “expensive” in-person alternative. Remarkably, brands don’t seem to be in a rush to return to it either.
Brands Bring in Bucks with eCommerce
Digital marketing reigned supreme during the pandemic because it allowed businesses to achieve flexible spending and high ROIs. Brands prioritized data and adaptability because every dollar had to count when ad budgets were tightened in 2020.
By Spring 2021, however, brands have already begun utilizing digital as a platform for growth, not just survival. Findings from The CMO Survey indicate two key objectives that have increased in importance for businesses from June 2020 to February 2021: acquiring new customers (+48.6%) and improving marketing ROI (+105.6%). Companies are no longer looking to online marketing channels such as search to stay afloat; instead, they are looking to them as tools for expansion and, ultimately, sales.
Therefore, online advertising is likely to be a trend that sticks around long after the COVID-19 is over. eMarketer predicts that digital ad spend will increase from 51.0% of total media ad spend in 2021 to 67.8% by 2025. For brands, this highlights the longevity of digital strategy in the overall marketing ecosystem.
One significant benefactor of this boom will be search. Search ad spend is expected to increase from $77 billion in 2021 to $120 billion by 2025, which is a jump from 26.8% to 30.2% of total media ad spend in the next four years. Brands will need to establish their place within the search industry as well as the overall digital marketing industry if they want to stay competitive.
How Brands Can Respond
How does a brand do this? One way is through effective and tailored user experience. Year over year, website visits have increased while average revenue per order has remained steady, indicating that consumers are browsing and making smaller purchases more often. Online retailers can take advantage of this by engaging shoppers with phenomenal user UX during their search.
The eCommerce boom during the pandemic has made digital success easy, yet brands need to up their game if they want to sustain their progress. During the first year of the pandemic, there was a 233% surge in the number of people who reported doing most of their shopping online. However, 68% of those surveyed say they’ll spend less online after the pandemic. For 51%, the main deterrent to returning to a website was poor online shopping experience. Clearly, UX can make or break a brand’s ability to succeed online.
Key to creating a great online experience for shoppers is understanding the ways their buying habits have changed since the pandemic. Buyers’ journeys have inevitably shifted. People are shopping at different hours, taking longer to buy their cart, and shopping across multiple product categories. Consumers are also connecting locally more than before. Accordingly, marketers need to tailor messages to different neighborhoods, express support for local businesses, and integrate themselves into the community network if they want to be seen by their audiences.
This is where technology comes in, specifically artificial intelligence and search analytics. The power of AI is multifold. AI software provides brands with insights and trends, opportunities to engage with audiences, and instant personalized content. Essentially, AI provides brands with real-time suggestions to tweak content and messaging in a way that provides nuanced UX for online shoppers.
Besides AI, search analytics are “the best source of business intelligence,” says Jim Yu at ClickZ. Search queries tell a brand everything they need to know about their target audience’s behavior. At Ad.net, we employ search analytics, such as dayparting, to identify customers’ needs, preferences, and willingness to buy. With this understanding of buyers’ transactional intent, we are better able to make optimizations that will move shoppers down the funnel.
Bridging the Gap Between Clients and Customers
Using search analytics to move online users further along the buyer journey translates to more sales, which is the bottom line of any digital marketing strategy. Brands expect growth – not just survival – from their digital strategies post-pandemic, so conveying and sustaining ROI is more important than ever to be successful with clients.
Moving forward, there will be greater demand but also competition as more ads compete for users’ attention and more digital agencies compete for brands to invest in their services. At top of mind should be how well agencies can take data on user intent and transform it into sustained, positive ROI.
Ad.net bridges the gap between the growing number of online brands and buyers through its technology stack. Our intent-based solution aggregates a fragmented ecosystem through the entire purchase journey, and drives performance for brands, even in the competitive post-COVID search marketing ecosystem.