How advertiser needs have changed due to COVID-19 (and how broadcasters need to respond)

In the News Social & Digital

When the impact of the pandemic began to hit around mid-March, broadcasters got hit hard by cancellations, as their clients shut down their businesses. Bills stopped being paid as everyone struggled to try to figure out what it meant.

A month later, we are seeing signs some clients are beginning to think about what their businesses needs to look like in the post-COVID-19 world. Gone are the days when their advertising message centered around “check out our huge inventory,” “fast, friendly service,” and “come in and take a test drive.” They have been forced to focus on home delivery, curbside pickup, and eCommerce.

To satisfy these old marketing objectives, advertising was used to drive traffic and consumers stopped in to either browse or to buy. Businesses didn’t require having any kind of relationship with these consumers because they could just re-tool with more advertising and marketing.

And that’s the biggest lesson learned – in order to survive during and after the COVID-19 crisis, businesses are going to have to invest in having digital, one-to-one relationships with their customers. And this is where broadcasters can come in.

I love restaurants, and here in Detroit there is a group that has six unique bistros that are outstanding. We’ve been customers of one of their restaurants for close to 30 years. Like all restaurants, they stopped table service six weeks ago and tried to promote curbside pickup. Two weeks ago, they announced the closure of all their locations.

One of the reasons they failed was because they didn’t know who I am. Sure, the wait staff greeted us when we came in because of our longevity, but the company didn’t really know us.  They had a weak email relationship with us, no mobile app, and no way to activate the thousands of customers who loved their restaurants. Very old school.

And looking around, they aren’t alone. To my eye, most local restaurants and retailers haven’t invested in developing digital relationships with their long-term customers and can’t activate them today as shopping patterns radically change.

But there are now examples of how advertisers are making the pivot.  Papa John’s is promoting “pizza not touched by human hands when it comes out of the oven,” and Carvana has adjusted their slogan from “The easiest way to buy a car,” to “The safest way to buy a car.” And in both cases, these companies are promoting digital solutions to accomplish these important goals and cater to their customers’ needs and health priorities during the pandemic.

As things begin to return to normal, broadcasters will need to pivot as well.  While advertisers will continue to need to use advertising to build brands and awareness, the need to drive traffic might become a quaint picture from our past. In its place, businesses will need to develop eCommerce, more robust websites, mobile apps, database marketing, social media marketing, SEM and SEO, and more (note I didn’t include geo-targeting, because in the digital world where driving traffic to a store isn’t as important, neither is their location) in order to satisfy these changing needs.

I believe broadcasters are well-positioned to make this pivot but will need to do so quickly. Many companies have invested in providing digital solutions and products, and of course, these packages may need to be supported with traditional advertising. But needs are going to change, and now is the time for broadcasters to truly evolve their business models.

The local small and medium businesses that comprise the base of broadcasters’ business compete every day with Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target. And while those mega-companies can invest millions in their digital strategies, developing a digital relationship with customers doesn’t need to cost a fortune. 

But the cost of not having a digital relationship with customers could, and for broadcasters, it’s time to pivot.

Wishing all of you, your families, and your colleagues good health during these challenging times.

The WBA Digital Hotline is a free service of the WBA.  For any questions regarding digital solutions, contact Paul Jacobs at