As the expected ‘new normal’ of COVID-19 begins to emerge, with some markets relaxing lockdowns, Google’s own media buyers are moving from crisis reaction and into a more pragmatic response phase with a sharper eye for effectiveness and collaboration at speed.

As detailed in a blog post by Joshua Spanier, Google’s global marketing VP for media, “a back to basics mentality is emerging”, as the tech giant’s marketers learned to think about “campaigns that will live beyond this moment.”

Effectively, Spanier explores how the typical sequence of campaigns and the way they’re planned throughout the year reflects an orthodoxy among many brands beyond the tech sphere. His conclusion: marketing is driven, now, by “what people need, rather than broadcasting to them in a predefined moment we choose.”

Attribution at the top of the agenda

“We’re doubling down on proven, attributable media,” writes Spanier. What this means in practice is a greater reliance on direct response channels through which return on investment can be measured with immediacy.

As an example, he presents a tactical shift in Google’s brand work. Like many brands, Google has put out a Coronavirus-specific ad thanking healthcare workers on TV and YouTube. But in COVID-19, this means “maximising for impact”, not according to a broad-as-possible Sharp doctrine which would advocate for national distribution, but as a regional campaign targeting hard-hit markets.

Speed matters for correction

Though digital marketing has, since its inception, boasted more agility than its traditional cousin, the pace at which the pandemic developed has led to faster decision-making as well as media buying: “Media plans are being put together with less gloss and polish, and analysis is more collaborative as we all come together with a sense of urgency to get work done.

The other shift is a greater swiftness to pull the plug when Google sees underperformance. In one example one campaign that had been performing well saw a downturn as COVID-19 set in. “In another time, we could have dithered for weeks, coming up with ideas, options, and tests to try and turn campaign performance around. Instead, we came together, recognized the opportunity cost, shut down the campaign, and redeployed resources to programs that are increasing their performance.”

The post follows Google’s Q1 2020 results, in which the company posted a “significant and sudden” slump in March advertising revenue. What the figures showed was that in the initial phases of the coronavirus, people’s search interests drifted away from buying.

Speaking to investors, Ruth Porat, CFO at Google noted that “although users’ search activity increased, their interest shifted to less commercial topics. In addition, there was also reduced spending by our advertisers.”

Like Google’s own marketing activity suggests, brands will be buying for cold hard value (if they can measure it and measure it quickly). If this trend continues, this could prove to spell a hard time both for Google as well as other media. “As of today, we anticipate that the second quarter will be a difficult one for advertising business. As we move beyond the crisis, and the global economy normalises, this should be reflected in our advertising revenues”, added Porat.

Sourced from Google, WARC