Expert Insight: Accelerating e-commerce in a post-pandemic world

Jon Schulz, CMO, Viant
Jon Schulz, chief marketing officer, Viant

“COVID is not really changing anything fundamentally. It’s really accelerating things that have already been going on…The industry shakeup that was going on and that was expected to take place between 10 to 15 years is almost happening in a matter of weeks.” - Katrijn Gielens, professor, Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina

Leading marketers agree with this assessment. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, consumers were shopping online at higher rates. In 2019, there were 263 million digital buyers in the U.S., a quantity that has increased every year since tracking began.

So, while the pandemic did not start this trend, it sped up its progress. In the age of social distancing, even more people have used the internet to buy products like groceries, pet supplies, and footwear.

Crucially, this pattern will continue as life returns to normal, which means customers and their money are ripe for the taking. According to eMarketer, American consumers will spend more than $700 billion shopping online in 2020.

But brands can only take advantage of these lucrative demographics if they realize past advertising strategies are no longer enough. Marketers need to embrace emerging channels and get ready for lasting changes to the online shopping world because they will endure long after the pandemic ends.

Moving Beyond Traditional Marketing

E-commerce brands in the direct-to-consumer space have long prioritized broadcast TV, social media, and paid search to reach their target audiences. The modern marketplace, however, is more crowded, competitive, and expensive.

That means forward-thinking businesses need to look beyond traditional advertising methods. In the process, they will find new audiences at scale while keeping costs in check. Several emerging channels are especially popular:

Connected TV

Thanks to the increase in affordable spot inventory for streaming content, these fully integrated ads are a valuable messaging tool. E-commerce brands can use automatic content recognition (ACR) to retarget consumers who view connected TV spots, then attract them on other platforms with eye-catching deals.

Digital Audio

Most ads on podcasts, digital playlists, or radio streams include a call to action (CTA) through a sign-up offer or promotional code. Customers who hear the CTA while commuting or working out can then do more research. Brands also track ad reach while recording both direct responses and actions over time.

Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH)

These spots will be a valuable resource as stay-at-home orders lift across the country. By tying location data to consumers’ mobile devices, e-commerce brands can analyze the impact of DOOH exposures both online and offline, then measure ad performance in real time and make changes as needed.

Each of these advanced marketing methods offers substantial branding opportunities while giving businesses the whole picture. This 360-degree perspective will allow companies to succeed in a post-pandemic world.

Taking a Holistic View

Connected TV, digital audio, and DOOH advertising give e-commerce brands the bandwidth to target consumers at scale. But what makes them even more valuable is marketers can measure and optimize results in real time. Television and the walled gardens of social media offer more limited measurement opportunities.

E-commerce brands do not have to pit all these advertising methods against each other, however. They need to understand how newer channels can work together and perform alongside more tried-and-true tactics. Fortunately, it is now easier than ever to measure the direct impact of every marketing channel, from television to paid search to digital audio, and then analyze that data to get actionable insights.

Companies with control over all these tools can get an informed omnichannel view of ad performance. As a result, retailers efficiently manage existing ad inventory while expanding their focus as needed. This flexibility is especially crucial for e-commerce brands because it allows them to determine Return on Advertising Spend (ROAS) more quickly.

Embracing new channels and tactics will be crucial in the aftermath of COVID-19. Customers want to support brands that make it easy to connect and provide value across different mediums. Online shopping is an essential part of this initiative.

That means businesses need to explore new, more modern forms of marketing and measure campaign reach more holistically. E-commerce brands who recognize this will weather the “industry shakeup” brought on by the pandemic and emerge even stronger on the other side.

Jon Schulz is chief marketing officer of Viant


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