COVID-19 Accelerates Behavior Changes, Power of Digital Marketing

July 21, 2020by Hiebing

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the short and long term will undoubtedly vary by industry, but one common takeaway is the widening of a pre-existing divide among companies – specifically online and traditional businesses.

In this exaggerated economic climate, we have seen a rapid acceleration of longstanding trend towards a digital-first economy. Those who were already leaning into that are now having sizable gains, while others who have been slower to move are now struggling to get set up and spur momentum.

Digital is nothing new, of course. It’s had a ubiquitous presence in our lives for well over a decade; however, digital developments and shifts in business operations and consumer behavior have historically been more gradual in nature.

The pandemic has changed that, forcing the hastening, progression and expansion of digital-first behavior for companies and customers alike. While some behaviors and practices could trend back towards “business as usual” at some point, the swings experienced during the peak of the virus (and likely ongoing waves of infections) will likely have a lasting impact. The chart below is one example of the steady rise of e-commerce as well as the COVID-induced surge that began this spring.The implications of the surge are many. The following chart explores some of the shifts toward digital first as well as considerations for brands looking to keep pace (or catch up) as they strive to stay connected with their customers in a fast-changing world.

Category Shifts  Considerations
Financial 3x the number of customers are open to switching financial institutions today vs. before the pandemic (PWC)

45% of survey respondents say their banking behaviors have changed forever (Financial Brand)

33% of banking customers plan to permanently reduce their face-to-face banking (PWC)

In what ways can the digital user experience play an even more important role in galvanizing loyalty among existing customers and winning new ones?

How must digital marketing creative evolve to convey and align with the digital customer experience in the financial space?

What operational, staffing and customer service changes will be needed to accommodate the shift to digital banking?

Grocery 33% of all Americans ordered groceries online for the first time in April []

25% jump in online grocery sales from April to May [WARC]

What changes will the grocery industry make as they gain more experience with e-commerce?

What opportunities do smaller brands have to steal market share in the era of digital shelf space?

How does increasing comfort with e-commerce in grocery impact what consumers crave and ultimately what growers and manufacturers produce?

Technology 49% swell in U.S. online sales during April [Adobe Analytics]

13.7% increase in online shoppers over 45 during the pandemic (eMarketer)


As older demographics become increasingly comfortable shopping online, in what ways will that evolve across categories?

How will large category players like Amazon, Walmart and Target continue evolving shipping times to maintain or raise the bar for expectations around convenience?

Cable & Streaming 2 million drop in subscribership for traditional pay television providers in Q1 [WSJ]

15 million new subscribers to Netflix in Q1 [WSJ]

56% of U.S. adults reported increased use of paid streaming services since the pandemic began in March [TransUnion]


How will swift and ongoing changes in TV and movie consumption continue to inform how marketers reach target audiences?

For new streamers, will the shift to digital-first content over traditional TV precipitate a digital-first mindset across other activities, such as watching TV on a tablet transitioning to shopping on a tablet during or following content consumption? And how might that influence media placements?

Restaurant 51% of consumers have downloaded at least one new app to purchase food or essentials [Bluedot]

106% increase in digital restaurant orders in April [NPD]

204% rise in third-party delivery orders in April YOY [NPD]

What architectural updates and operational changes will restaurants incorporate now that off-premise has become a higher priority, e.g., interior layouts, drive-throughs and curb-side setups?

What restaurant category elements have the potential for gains in a digital-first environment? Price? Portions? Menu size?

From Home
25-30% of workforce is predicted to be working from home (WFH) multiple days a week by the end of 2021 [Global Workplace Analytics]

90% increase in average weekly downloads of video conference apps in March 2020 [App Annie]

How will WFH affect company culture, benefits, commercial office occupancy and the landscape of city life?

How will WFH shape entertainment and shopping habits – and the relevancy and purchase frequency of certain products and services?

What activities might replace time previously spent commuting?

With more people at home, what traditional tactics, such as mailers, can be revisited to ultimately drive online deals and sales?

Social Media 47% of internet users ages 16-64 across 17 countries reported they’re spending more time on social media [WARC]

52% YOY growth in the video game category during the month of May – also up 18% YTD 2020 over 2019 [NPD Group]

Will increased social media activity and engagement endure once we move past the quarantine or find a vaccine? How are you tracking use trends to be able to adjust your marketing around these rises and falls?

Will there be further demand for video games and game-driven platforms that facilitate interactions like trivia, dis-“dancing” and other virtual gatherings? Will they be subscription-based? Might they have IRL components or products for pick-up or delivery? And what opportunities might exist for your brand to play in this space as a creator, sponsor or advertiser?


For companies looking to explore and expand their digital capabilities, these questions can help you identify opportunities as well as prioritize and plan (or replan) marketing efforts for the remainder of 2020 and beyond:

Customer Relationship Management:

    • How does your brand rank against your competitive set in terms of digital marketing and communication? If you don’t know, consider doing an audit to determine whether you’re ahead or behind the curve in your category.
    • If behind, what investments could you make to render your brand’s user experience more seamless, e.g., website, CRM tools, email platforms and custom apps?
    • If ahead, how can you continue evolving to stay or get ahead of the competition in serving the target, and what adjustments could help sharpen your categorical edge as well as increase profit?
  • User Experience:
    • Is your website and overall customer experience capable of accommodating the rise in digital traffic? What adjustments might need to be made now or in the future?
    • With more Americans continuing to adopt digital practices, is your website and user experience accessible and equipped to serve older populations and people with varied abilities or impairments? Consider: font sizes and color choices for readability, alt text for images, text transcription, navigation and calls to action, payment options, adjusting page load times for varied connection speeds and more.
    • What learnings and opportunities can be gleaned from customer feedback to improve your online channels and other products and services to better serve the target?

Digital Advertising & Marketing:

    • Should you reassess who you are targeting to include older or more rural customers whose behaviors are evolving and changing due to pandemic, recession and market forces?
    • Are you still relying on success metrics like click volume or click-through rates? How can you upgrade your platforms to collect more meaningful and actionable metrics that align with your KPIs (e.g., sales volume, price per order, downloads)?
    • Does the quality and creativity of your digital marketing match the digital user experience of your category? If not, what do you need to do to up the ante?
    • Does your media plan offer the ability to prudently test emerging or untried touchpoints to identify what’s working (or not) and identify new and potential opportunities and upside? If not, how can you better leverage testing to increase momentum?

E-commerce Platforms and Partners:

    • Which of your products and services are best suited for digital promotion and deployment? And are you able to capture maximum profit share by selling directly to your target?
    • If not, can you partner with an e-commerce platform to reach your consumers where they are already shopping now?
    • If you must partner with a third party, what are the trade-offs in terms of margin, operations and delivery logistics – and are they significant enough to merit investing in a custom platform that would allow you to maximize upside?

Want to learn what your brand can do to bridge the digital divide to reach your target more efficiently and effectively? Email Ted at to set up a call.

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