Marketing in the Age of COVID-19 – When the World Went Digital and Toilet Paper Became Gold

Cheryl Lawson

So, remember when COVID-19 hit and the world turned upside down? Yeah, me too. We had to change the way we lived and worked in the blink of an eye. And boy, did we realize how vital social media and digital platforms were for our professional and personal lives. Just think about companies like Zoom, Instacart, TikTok, and YouTube – they were the real MVPs during the pandemic. Let’s dive into how the global crisis shook up marketing and made social media the star of the show.

1.1 Embracing the Digital Life (and Hoarding Toilet Paper)

When the pandemic struck, we quickly learned that working from home was the new norm. We didn’t need to be at the office to get stuff done – all we needed was a laptop and a decent internet connection (and maybe some pants, but who’s checking?).

Oh, and speaking of the pandemic, can we talk about how we all suddenly became obsessed with toilet paper? It turns out, people were using 40% more of it while stuck at home (source). That’s a lot of TP, folks. But let’s get back to the topic at hand…

Illustration 201534357 / Business © Regina Tolgyesi |
Illustration 201534357 / Business © Regina Tolgyesi |

1.2 Social Media: Our Lifeline in Lockdown

As we hunkered down in our homes, social media became more crucial than ever. It was our connection to the outside world, our source of news, and a way to keep in touch with friends and family. Businesses caught on, and those who hadn’t already embraced social media marketing were suddenly scrambling to get on board.

Let me give you a personal example. I’ve been producing an annual social media conference since 2011, and we were all set to celebrate our 10th anniversary in March 2020. Talk about bad timing, right? With just a few weeks to spare, I had to make the tough call to postpone the conference until September (because, you know, maybe the pandemic would be over by then… oh, how naive we were).

But here’s the silver lining: between March and September, the mobile app we’d been using as a bonus feature for our conference – Whova – became our saving grace. It created a community for event organizers like myself, where we could swap best practices for transitioning our events from in-person to virtual. And you know what? Even though we couldn’t all meet up in Tulsa like we’d planned, our virtual conference went off without a hitch, thanks to Zoom, Vimeo, and Whova.

So there you have it – a firsthand example of how social media and digital platforms swooped in to save the day during the chaos of COVID-19. And if that’s not a testament to their power, I don’t know what is.

1.3 What Is Marketing?

Alright, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: what the heck is marketing, anyway? I know what you’re thinking – isn’t it just selling and advertising? Well, hold on to your hats, because there’s a lot more to it than that.

The American Marketing Association gives us this definition:

“The activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

In plain English, marketing pros help businesses win over new customers by offering them something they can’t resist – and then keeping them happy so they’ll stick around and spread the word. It’s all about creating a value proposition that’s simply too good to pass up.

1.4 What is Marketing Today? With Seth Godin

In Seth Godin’s video “What is Marketing Today?”, he emphasizes that marketing has shifted from being a side effect to the core of what businesses do. In the past, companies would simply produce average products and rely on marketing teams to sell them. However, today’s marketing landscape is centered around telling a story, connecting with customers, and focusing on how products can make a difference in people’s lives.

Godin argues that old-school marketing, which involved buying mass media ads to reach average consumers, is fading away. The internet has turned into a medium of micro-segments, where companies can no longer buy attention in the same way they did with TV advertising. Instead, businesses need to pick their niche, measure when necessary, and focus on building connections, trust, and attention.

Godin emphasizes the importance of understanding your “why” but also recognizing that it’s often a general concept. The key is to identify who you seek to serve and make things better for them. By continuously improving, earning trust, and transforming attention into a promise and a brand, you can achieve success regardless of your profession.

Lastly, Godin stresses the responsibility that comes with marketing, as every action has an effect. Marketers must own the consequences of their campaigns and strive to create products and messages they’re proud of. By focusing on making things better and inventing products that positively impact the world, marketers can contribute to meaningful change.

Exercise: Watch the video in class

What is Marketing Today? With Seth Godin


1.2 What Is Digital Marketing?

At a high level, digital marketing refers to advertising delivered through digital channels such as search engines, websites, social media, email, and mobile apps. Using these online media channels, digital marketing is the method by which companies endorse goods, services, and brands. Consumers heavily rely on digital means to research products. For example, Think with Google marketing insights found that 48% of consumers start their inquiries on search engines, whereas 33% prefer to consult brand websites and the remaining 26% consumers search within mobile applications.

While modern day digital marketing is an enormous system of channels to which marketers simply must onboard their brands, advertising online is much more complex than the channels alone. In order to achieve the true potential of digital marketing, marketers have to dig deep into today’s vast and intricate cross-channel world to discover strategies that make an impact through engagement marketing. Engagement marketing is the method of forming meaningful interactions with potential and returning customers based on the data you collect over time. By engaging customers in a digital landscape, you build brand awareness, set yourself as an industry thought leader, and place your business at the forefront when the customer is ready to buy.

By implementing an omnichannel digital marketing strategy, marketers can collect valuable insights into target audience behaviors while opening the door to new methods of customer engagement. Additionally, companies can expect to see an increase in retention. According to a report by Invesp, companies with strong omnichannel customer engagement strategies can retain around 89% of their customers as compared to companies with weaker omnichannel programs that have a retention rate of just 33%.

As for the future of digital marketing, we can expect to see a continued increase in the variety of wearable devices available to consumers. Forbes also forecasts that social media will become increasingly conversational in the B2B space, video content will be refined for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes, and email marketing will become even more personalized.

“Digital is at the core of everything in marketing today—it has gone from ‘one of the things marketing does’ to ‘THE thing that marketing does.’”

– Sanjay Dholakia, Former Chief Marketing Officer, Marketo




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Intro to Social Media Copyright © 2021 by Cheryl Lawson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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