By John Wolfe
Geoff Ramsey, chief evangelist and co-founder of eMarketer, is a major authority on digital marketing, media, and commerce. He is a much sought-after speaker at industry conferences due to his keen insights on consumer marketing and media trends in a post-digital world. Through his dynamic and high-energy keynote speeches, Ramsey weaves together market data and real-world examples to form a strong narrative on the challenges facing CMOs and marketers.
Prior to starting eMarketer in 1996, Ramsey worked at TBWA and Ogilvy & Mather, where he ran multinational accounts for AT&T, Procter & Gamble, and General Foods, among others.
In an interview with ANA magazine, Ramsey discusses how companies are coping with COVID-19 and offers ideas and business strategies for how they can bolster their digital marketing efforts during and after the pandemic.
[This interview has been edited for clarity.]
Q. How is the pandemic affecting companies’ ability to leverage marketing data?
Data-driven approaches are even more crucial when marketing during this pandemic. Customer data can help unlock insights into what your audience really cares about, which can make a marketing message more relevant and appealing.
However, marketers can make the mistake of relying on out-of-date data to inform these strategies, and that can be harmful. If marketers want to use data-driven approaches to fine tune their email marketing or social media ads, for example, they must make sure they are working from the most current, complete, and accurate dataset. Data from February is no longer up to date.
In fact, data from just a month ago could be considered old, given how rapidly consumer behavior is shifting as this crisis continues to play out globally. It is important that marketers continue to vet their data to ensure it is guiding good marketing.
If your data is bad, your marketing will be bad.
Q. Is the pandemic and subsequent normalizing of social distancing forcing companies to shift to a digital-first marketing strategy perhaps sooner than they might like? If they don’t act now, do these companies risk being left behind?
Prior to the spread of the virus, companies in all industries were in various stages of preparing for digital transformation, realizing that this was the only way they were going to avoid disruption or complete annihilation.
“The coronavirus is the biggest disruption to consumer retail spending patterns in recent history, far eclipsing the dramatic events of the 2008 recession.”
Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all found ourselves relying more than ever on digital technology, from Zoom calls for work and school to increased video streaming activity at home, to business conferences and events being conducted completely online. So what was happening pre-COVID is only being accelerated in a massive shift toward all things digital.
We believe this digital migration will accelerate and expand into other areas, affecting every aspect of our business and professional lives. The net result? Those companies that don’t realign their priorities toward a digital-first strategy will cede their business to others who have.
Q. Which digital marketing channels do you see flourishing or languishing during the pandemic?
Several traditional media will suffer during the pandemic, for reasons unique to each: television, because of the cancellation of so much sports and other premium content creation; out-of-home, because of the steep drop in foot and car traffic; and radio, because of declines in local ad spending and brick-and-mortar shopping.
The channels that will flourish, meanwhile, will be those that are benefiting from the other side of the channel shift away from brick and mortar, including e-commerce channel advertising, which will see increased spending due to more grocery and other shopping moving online.
Digital video advertising, especially advertising on connected TV (CTV) platforms, will also flourish amid the woes of linear TV and accelerations in cord-cutting among the linear TV audience.
Q. Do you see fundamental changes in how marketers use social media platforms resulting from the crisis? If so, why?
It’s unlikely there will be any long-term changes in how marketers use social media after the pandemic. Marketers have long turned to social media, especially Facebook, for its wide reach and precise targeting capabilities, and they will continue to do so in the future.
Some marketers will probably take the opportunity to reevaluate their budgets, but the majority will continue to make social media advertising a big part of their marketing mix going forward. That’s because marketers go where their audience is, and that isn’t going to change post-pandemic.
All of the platforms have seen increased engagement during the pandemic, and so far, there isn’t much evidence that any one has benefitted more than the others. Also, social media platforms aren’t strangers to controversy and the problems that exist now are the same as before the pandemic.
Q. Do you think e-commerce will leapfrog to center stage as a result of the changes marketers have been forced to make during the pandemic?
The coronavirus is the biggest disruption to consumer retail spending patterns in recent history, far eclipsing the dramatic events of the 2008 recession. We expect that e-commerce will reach 14.5 percent of total retail sales in 2020, representing both an all-time high and the biggest share increase in a single year. In a pandemic economy, consumers will gravitate toward trusted and reliable retailers. In a recessionary economy, retailers that can maintain their marketing spending as others pull back are also at an advantage.
Q. You have talked about the power of the “second screen,” with the media landscape atomized into a “fine dust.” Where does that put brand marketers who need to break through to consumers and how can they thread what seems like an increasingly fine needle?
Most advertisers are already pouring the majority of their digital spend into mobile. Now they should be looking at where the additional time spent on mobile is going, and that’s gaming, video, and social media.
We expect the average U.S. adult to spend 11 extra minutes in social media apps, 10 in mobile video apps, and three in gaming apps. All three are likely to see elevated usage for years as a result. All three areas (along with streaming audio, news, and business) are also typically consumed along multiple devices.
So the focus for marketers is figuring out an integrated strategy across screens. Social media essentially does that by default, but marketers should pay special attention to how to integrate mobile video, CTV video, and traditional TV.