Coronavirus and marketing online: How COVID-19 Affects Marketers

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Chris McDonald
Chris McDonald

Right now, the world feels like it’s crumbling, especially for those who’ve sadly lost a close one to the savagery that is coronavirus (COVID-19) and for those on the frontline.

As I try and find comforting words to send to loved ones, at time of writing (April 22nd 2020) out of over 290,000 confirmed cases, there have been nearly 13,000 deaths. That’s a mortality rate of 4.4%, with these figures rising daily as the incubation lag hits.

Despite the data crunchers working overtime to try and accurately project the severity of the current situation, without scare-mongering the public, it’s really hard to know how long the world’s going to be affected by this and how many lives will sadly perish.

You don’t need to even follow the news to know how broken certain sectors are right now, but what’s the coronavirus and marketing online prospect like?

Well, amidst what feels like the end of the world for some, there are some winners, and there are some things you can do to reduce your risk while still marketing online.

Coronavirus and marketing online

Now, I’m most definitely not a fan of social media—despite what it can do for us online marketers—and the current fearmongering and negativity is no doubt impacting too many people.

However, whether intentional or not—and I’m sure most of it isn’t—there are online marketers that are going to prosper from this massively.

My local gym is one of these. It hasn’t been set up long, and the owners could’ve easily closed the doors, taken the losses and accepted fate, but they’ve done two things:

  • Adapted
  • Pivoted

Social distancingAs social distancing became a thing and the strong arm of closing social-central establishments kicked in with the UK government, the shift to online training in the last week has been huge.

By already using social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram, entrepreneurs like my gym owners, as well as other local yoga instructors, have been able to effectively pivot toward marketing online more.

For them, coronavirus and marketing online has become a thing, and all they’ve tried to do is help people.

They aren’t running Facebook ads; they’re simply looking out for their current customer base, and a lot of them are doing it FOR FREE.

It’s also incredibly heartwarming to see so many rich establishments doing their best to keep their employees going, upscaling their philanthropy levels and making sure the world survives this:

  • Professional footballers donating large sums of cash
  • Corporations shifting to aid in the production of ventilators and test kits
  • Hotels only opening their doors to healthcare workers that can’t go home
  • Coca-Cola donating $2 million

The list goes on.

Sure, it’s marketing, and of course, there are skeptics out there who believe that they have an ulterior motive, but nothing but good can come from these kind acts.

COVID-19 and marketing: the media show?

You can always count on the media for tilting our opinions on the world, and right now, this is so prevalent it isn’t funny. With the public needing more regular updates than central governments can give, we turn to the media even more for advice and support on what to do.

But it isn’t always good advice.

What goes through journalists’ minds when they ask questions such as one UK reporter’s to Boris Johnson’s this past week asking if he was going to see his own mom on Mothering Sunday when he’s telling the world to socially distance.

Then we have the allegations that Trump came out with an idiotic comment along the lines of, “People are dying who have never died before.”

People are dying today that have never died before.

The media jump all over this and slant our viewpoints around the real situation, all vying for our attention and money and trying to get one-up on their competition.

Instead, we need the online media channels to be relaying us information on what we should be doing right now. If China and Italy are anything to go by, it’s clear that online marketing is working.

But it could work better, despite some winning and some losing.

Coronavirus and marketing online: the winners

Let me make this very clear—there are some extremely immoral people out there that are deliberately capitalizing on the current situation. They recognize the need for certain commodities and services and are taking them away from others.

I’ve seen it myself, and it’s disgusting behavior. As this first kicked off and the advice on hand-washing came out, morally defunct people bought up the soap and anti-bacterial handwash supplies to then sell them on to those in need at higher prices.

When confronted, the justification was, “I’m just hustling and looking out for my own.”

Don’t be that guy. They aren’t winners.

Although this is subject to change as the markets react and businesses close, people lose their jobs and get rehired elsewhere, I view these as the current beneficiaries for online marketing through COVID-19:

  • Homeschooling
  • Finance blogging
  • Food bloggers
  • Work from home/freelance platforms
  • YouTubers/Streamers
  • Meme pages

1. Homeschooling

Best online homeschool programs during the CoronavirusParents are in dire straits right now.

As schools around the globe close to stop the spread of this awful disease, the need for education continues. Their kids are at home, and they have this crushing urge that they need to meet the incredible abilities of teachers to continue their children’s education.

I know this because I’m one of them! HELP!

What I have seen, though, is a massive surge of homeschooling communities opening up their, usually paid, services to mainstream school kids and their parents.

Now I’m fortunate enough that my kids’ teachers are AMAZING, and within hours of recognizing school closures, they’d already honed in on a home-learning app whereby they can upload all the topic instructions, tips and advice.

But the pressure has still been there, so the extra advice from the homeschooling experts has been incredible. And just by creating something like a “Top 10 tips to homeschool your kids during the coronavirus” post is incredible online marketing. The likes, shares and comments help skyrocket their businesses now and in the future.

There’s no doubt that we should see a surge in homeschooling apps, blogs and Facebook pages to recognize this need.

Perhaps some mainstream teachers are even considering setting up a blog on how to homeschool their kids?

NUDGE, NUDGE… WINK WINK!

2. Finance blogging

When picking up some emergency groceries earlier—no, I didn’t panic-buy—I realized just how much I’d usually pick up but didn’t. It was due to simply not needing it and that the cash equivalent was more important right now.

I’m automatically saving without deliberately doing it, and with so many losing their jobs unexpectantly, knowing how to save in a crisis is super important.

Don’t believe me? Look at this Google Trends image, showing the search interest of “saving during coronavirus.” The 100 score indicates that is the highest relevance possible.

Source: Google Trends

This saving need is going to continue far beyond when infection rates start to drop, especially since individuals will see the need to keep a nest egg for emergency situations.

Already established bloggers are already active in showing people how they can save money right now, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more competition online.

Why not reach out and help others if you have some beneficial ways to save some money?

3. Food bloggers

Food & nutrition bloggersPeople are flooding to food bloggers for advice and support on what to eat to strengthen the immune system, just in case they contract COVID-19.

These clued-up foodies are also pumping out content to encourage their audience to learn how to eat on a budget. This is so important since we’re being encouraged—and now TOLD, in the UK—to only go out if it’s to shop for food or to buy medical supplies.

The key here is to make sure you create dishes that you wouldn’t even have thought of before, and only then to go and buy more. Food bloggers come into their own here, and boy have I needed their help!

4. Freelance platforms

Only two days ago I posted in a Discord community to help those who are being laid off in from their employers. I told them to go to these freelancing platforms to see if they could pick up any work that aligns with their expertise:

  • UpWork
  • Guru
  • Freelancer
  • PeoplePerHour
  • Fiverr

The good news is that I had someone come back to thank me to say they picked up some work the very next day. How awesome is that?

And how beneficial is that for the platforms? While I haven’t seen any of these platforms outwardly marketing themselves more, they’re bound to see an influx.

The only slight marketing I’ve seen is from PeoplePerHour telling me I have a free credit on my account, which is an email I don’t remember seeing when I joined them.

What is obvious, though, is that there are more people bidding for work on these platforms than usual—I always look out for that client that wants to pay me $10 million to write a 2,000-word article… and it still hasn’t happened 🙁

5. Work-from-home bloggers

This links directly in with the freelance platforms in that now is a very good time for people to make that change from traditional office-based corporate life to a more entrepreneurial lifestyle.

Many hands are being forced to do this, as world leaders advise companies to close their doors and get their staff to work from home. While this is clearly much easier said than done, bloggers in the “work from home” niche should be licking their lips:

How to work from home during the Coronavirus
Source: Google Trends

Now, just to reiterate, I’m not saying that this is the chance to greedily capitalize on the situation, but those bloggers should have first-hand knowledge on how to work from home.

But by combining their knowledge into the coronavirus and marketing online, they can give free information to those in dire need who are trying to make the transition.

6. YouTubers/Streamers

With so many people at home, either remotely working, made redundant or kids being off school, YouTubers and streamers—like those on Twitch.tv—are seeing a crazy amount of extra viewers.

Twitch logoFull-time gamers worldwide were rubbing their hands as their regular followers started to be around more, with floods of new viewers and traffic hitting their regular streaming slots.

Due to YouTube and Twitch’s policies on adverts, impressions and revenue are bound to go up, both for the platform and the streamers.

While I’d like to say that Twitch streamers are also seeing an increase in subscribers, since individuals are worried about their income, it could be the case that their subscriber base drops, despite the increase in traffic.

It’s not even the gamers that are prospering; lifestyle vloggers on YouTube are making their content more relevant to coronavirus, offering tips and advice, engaging with their audience and ensuring their content keeps going.

Just this morning I tuned into a live fitness class with PT guru Joe Wicks on his YouTube channel. His intention is to provide a daily fitness class for kids across the world, to ensure they’re getting enough exercise since they aren’t at school and are isolated in their homes. This is pure coronavirus and online marketing at its best—by focusing on others’ needs, combined with his expertise, the guy’s just massively elevated his online presence.

This is especially important because many turn to these online funnels for an outlet; it’s their escapism from a hectic real life, which is even more needed with this pandemic.

7. Meme pages

There are some pretty phenomenal memes popping up all over the place. Now, I’m not a massive fan of these pages since their sole intention is to build a social media imprint, drive traffic and make money, through ad revenue and flipping those pages. They offer little in terms of online value; however, they do offer an outlet for humor and daily life relevance.

It’s fascinating how we crazy humans can find humor in others’ sadness and ill-fortune, but I do feel it’s needed, as long as it’s tasteful. All you need is an original and catchy meme, and your page can easily take off.

Social distancing, I think I'll give it a miss (Jack Nicholson The Shining )
You need to be pretty savvy on Facebook marketing, though, and social media marketing in general, so don’t think this is a flash-in-the-pan fix to make money online.

COVID-19 and marketing: the losers

These sad times are going to impact so many far and wide; far more than they already have.

As countries closed their borders and started to restrict travel and commerce to/from China, the travel industry was the first to take a hit.

The closest comparison to make was with the SARS virus back in 2003, which saw a six-month drop in travel globally. There’s no doubt that this is, and will continue to be, worse for the travel industry.

Retail companies have tried to stay afloat, but when the likes of Amazon decide to only ship essential household and medical items, it’s a clear signal that the retail crash has already happened. With so many online marketers focusing on Amazon Associates for affiliate marketing income, this has dire consequences for many.

With uncertainty surrounding the economic situation, the manufacturing industry reported that nearly 80% of companies are expecting a financial hit. This is likely to be much higher, as the UK government announced on March 23rd that all non-essential businesses are forced to close.

While the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced a massive $398 billion equivalent bailout for such businesses, this doesn’t stop the long-term impact of COVID-19 from hitting global enterprise. It’s thought that the US is only slightly lagging the UK in terms of the outbreak, so the expectation is that Trump will and should invoke martial law.

Personally, I find it mind boggling that the drinks company that owns the Corona beer label—Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV—has witnessed a severe decline in its share price since the outbreak. China first announced its coronavirus case to the World Health Organisation on December 31st, 2019, but despite there being no clear relevance, the brewing company has only recently seen some form of recovery.

Corona beer shares

The whole situation has a massive pull on these industries’ online marketing campaigns, to the point where everything stops for them. Some campaigns that were already rolled out have continued, but so many have slashed their budgets as they firefight to save their businesses and employees’ jobs.

For me, though, apart from those that have sadly lost their lives, their families, friends, and the currently sick, the real losers in business are the frontline workers, especially those in healthcare that are risking their own lives and those of their families to treat the victims.

The economy will recover.

Some businesses will recover.

Most businesses will have to adapt…

But we can’t get back the lives that have been lost.

The worldwide problem and how it is affecting digital marketers in general

Fear and uncertainty are rife, with those businesses that have managed to keep going—if they haven’t already been forced to shut—operating in a self-survival mode and focusing on staying afloat.

To do this, they’re reliant on the spending of the public, which brings about its own problem in that the public doesn’t have the money to spend, nor invest, especially since many have lost their employment and are seeking benefits.

This means, for a long time to come, that Joe Bloggs is going to be more interested in saving in case such a similar situation repeats. And what’s to say it won’t?

For us online types, this means less investment from bloggers and online marketers to pay for content creation, SEO optimization, Facebook and PPC ads, and the like. But for the global economy, a more fiscal impact is there being less liquidity in the market. If Joe’s sitting on his cash, there’s less in circulation.

What happens then? The Federal Reserve, Bank of England and similar monetary powerhouses will drop interest rates—which is already happening, with the Fed dropping to 0%!—to encourage spending and borrowing but will likely need to print money in the short-term, which will contribute to a rise in inflation.

Sure, that’s basic economics, and nobody knows what’s really going to happen, but these acts are all in an effort to protect individuals and reignite the economy.

So, should I stop my online marketing?

My initial answer to that is a big fat “NO!”

But then I don’t have the same personal situation as you, and nor does my pal Steve three doors up, who invested all of his money into an online travel agency.

On the flip side, Doris McTavish in the next street over was clever and stuffed all her money in a violin case, so she hasn’t witnessed the drop in her shareholdings like others have.

However, for many, they’ll only realize losses if they pull out of the market, and this is a sentiment that the likes of Warren Buffet and John C. Bogle have been singing for so long.

For me, the same applies to marketing online through this coronavirus pandemic—do the opposite of the masses and continue to develop your sites and brands. This gives you a distinct advantage over the competition, who only pick up their online marketing investment when the global economy seems to pick up again.

You see, many online marketers don’t see the long-term picture. If you’re constantly looking to flip sites in the short-term, you’re going to hit a brick wall in times like these. But if you can extend your vision into the future, you’ll know that it’s pointless to bail out of the market now.

Only invest if it’s safe to do so

Saving & investment during Covid-19 outbreakI realize many of you have gone, “Phew! Ok, thanks, Chris. I’ll stop investing in content creation.” But the major caveat here, though, is to pursue your internet marketing endeavors only if it’s affordable to do so.

If your online income is secondary and you’re one of the unfortunate ones to lose your prime source of funds, focus on keeping your health and family safe.

There’ll always be an opportunity after we’ve gotten through this ordeal, especially as people jump on the bandwagon of the latest trends—more on the future of Coronavirus and online marketing coming up!

How to continue your online marketing for free through the COVID-19 scare

Even if you’re barely connected to your emails and social media you’ll have seen some free offers, ranging from the small-time health guru to the big corporations.

So why not follow suit? Why not give more stuff away for free and move closer to your customers than ever before? You’re being given a guide of exactly what to do, and there’s no need to do anything wildly different.

For example, if you use an eCommerce WordPress plugin for subscriptions, why not switch your basic subscription to free for the next three months? Your current customers will be very grateful and you’ll likely attract new ones, too.

How about setting up a community group on your site or on Facebook? There are plenty of these popping up in towns for people to band together and help those in need. There’s zero cost involved in doing this apart from your time. Without even intending to do so, you’re marketing yourself and going against the grain of the current worldwide problem.

Coronavirus and online marketing: How will the world change?

It’s already changed.

I really hope the work-from-home camp increases and employers finally realize that it is possible to function without staff on-site all the time. Many industries have been crying out for it for years.

Perhaps we’ll also see a permanent increase in the freelancer pool linked in with this, especially with how some employees have been treated during the pandemic—businesses not sensibly closing for profit reasons, with their employees forced to work and not able to claim any compensation.

People will look for a more passive income as they realize that spending time with friends and family is much more fruitful than slaving away for a boss that doesn’t value them. As you know, this is where internet marketing and affiliate marketing can make up some ground!

Rock-bottom promotions and offers are bound to exist for a while as businesses want to boost their profits once more, so keep an eye out for those online content creation offers and SEO tools discounts.

Perhaps we’ll see the end of tangible money, or at least a significant drop, as the world is finally aware of how gross money really is—reported to be dirtier than a toilet!

Of course, personal hygiene will remain a focus for a while, but folks will also slip back to their bad habits.

Perhaps we’ll see the end of tangible money, or at least a significant drop, as the world is finally aware of how gross money really is—reported to be dirtier than a toilet!

Chris McDonald - StartBloggingOnline.com Tweet

Post coronavirus marketing—think about it now!

What are you doing right now to track your site traffic? If you aren’t already doing this, you really should be!

Is your traffic stable but conversions are dropping? That means your content is still needed and relevant, but the commerce drop is a result of current spending habits due to the virus. Perhaps this is a good time to reduce prices and offer discounts and freebies?

You need to adapt and see what you can do to your site, but do it now! Waiting for the pandemic to disappear will be too late since the competition will already be ahead of the curve.

Start doing split tests and analyze your traffic by geographical location and keywords. If you usually get a significant amount of traffic from a specific country and it’s dropped, look to see whether it starts to pick up as that country starts to recover. This may apply to traffic from China, as long as your site hasn’t been blocked there.

The short of it is, if you don’t analyze your data, you won’t know what steps to take to minimize the problem and potentially capitalize. When the global market picks up, what are you going to do to spread the risk?

Are there certain products that you wanted to launch before but couldn’t? Perhaps now’s the time.

Coronavirus and marketing online: key takeaways

In time, we will see a recovery from this horrible situation. While some online marketers are already managing to survive amid the chaos and sadness, others will already have had their traffic drop through the floor, with a reduction in conversions, sales and ad revenue.

However, now is an excellent time to do the exact opposite of everyone else and keep investing to beat the competition.

Sure, there’s a risk this won’t pay off, but there was also the risk when you first started your site/business that it would never work, but it did, didn’t it?

If you’re reading this and you’re a frontline worker—I know those chances are slim—I thank you for your tireless effort to save the lives of others.

To everyone, please stay safe and do as the experts advise. Stay indoors, and focus on your own health and that of your loved ones.

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