In times of uncertainty, smart spending becomes all the more important for businesses. 

With the downward pressure of economic disruption and heightened consumer expectations, brands are walking on a tightrope with budget cuts on one side, and ethical considerations on the other.

As a result, for marketers, the stakes are higher.

As our research into the consumer response to the coronavirus outbreak shows, consumption habits are changing, and content needs to move in tandem.

We asked Kanika Bali to share her thoughts on how to ensure content delivers, even when budgets are tight. Kanika is a digital strategist who’s worked across the spectrum of brands, from direct-to-consumer start-ups to large FMCGs. 

Here’s how businesses can bake ROI into their content from the very beginning, using data to inform their campaign planning, adjustment and measurement. 

Know who you’re creating content for and why.

Kanika’s research always starts in the same place: with the audience.

“I think now’s the time to really lean into consumer-driven content”.  

“Building on existing consumer communities and showing them where you stand is key. The customer will decide which brands are remembered and which are forgotten after this time. So be there for them.” 

With a vivid picture of who you’re targeting, knowing where to direct spend becomes clearer.

This means using the resources at your disposal to pinpoint the size of the market, define your audience, and analyze their media consumption habits.

So, where do you start?

1. Identify the market.

Your first step should be becoming an expert on the market you’re targeting – whether it’s an entire state, a specific region, or a particular city. 

Using the resources at hand, such as reports, market snapshots, and consumer profiling data. GWI can help you accurately profile your audiences by demographics, behaviors, lifestyles, motivations and more.

With this, you can map the size of the market – specifically the actual number of your potential customers present there. This should guide your spend allocation and ROI estimates. 

2. Sharpen your segments.

“I want to uncover who they are and how I can segment them”, Kanika explains. “Then I look at how and where they interact with the category and brands.”

“But I don’t stop there. I also conduct research into their needs and wider interests, as well as what stage of the purchase journey they fall into.”

Once you’ve identified your target audience and know there’s an adequate number, it’s time to refine your audience segments

Revealing the nuances that make your audience unique is key to delivering content that resonates on a deeper level. 

There are four areas to focus on here:

Who they are: 

This includes gender, age, income, education, social class, religion and nationality.

Where they are: 

This includes information on where they live, but can be subdivided by nation, state, town and so on. 

What they do

Think not just about their interactions with products and brands, but their hobbies and interests. This can include which platforms, channels and devices they spend their time on, which influencers they follow, and how they spend their free time.

How they think: 

Look at their attitudes and interests. This can include personality traits, what role brands play in their lives, and how they perceive both themselves and the world around them.

3. Analyze their media consumption.

From your audience research and previous campaigns, you’ll likely have an understanding of where’s best to place your content for maximum impact.

But relying on the fact that ‘millennials use Facebook’, for example, isn’t enough to justify spend there. 

Instead, you need to get to grips with a few other things: 

What draws them to certain channels. 

There are many reasons why people use certain channels. And often, each channel serves a number of primary purposes for different people at different times. 

”TikTok is a prime example of this”, explains Kanika. “It’s growing as a channel because of people’s need for communication, participation and engaging in community during times of social distancing.”

So, if your content is to stand the best chance driving ROI, you need to know why your audience is there. 

Perhaps they’re searching for information, news, entertainment, education, shopping, or something else entirely. 

What formats they enjoy.

Each channel specializes in certain content formats, so find how best to translate the message in a way the user is expecting. 

Video, audio, image, ads, reviews and blogs are just the tip of the iceberg. Know what your audience responds best to before developing your ideas. 

Kanika tells us that new formats coming to the fore include immersive augmented reality, 15-30 second vertical videos and shoppable posts.

4. Look into their attitudes and interests.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of your audience research is your attitudinal insights. Especially when markets are unsteady, and customer opinions are polarized.  

Combining attitudinal and behavioral data helps you fill in the gaps in your audience understanding. Ask key questions about your audience’s lifestyles, interests and perceptions to get the best answers.

Here’s a small sample of the thousands of questions you might ask: 

Motivations:

What drives them in day-to-day life? Security? Family? Health? Philanthropy? Money?

Perceptions and self-perceptions:

Discover their point of view on anything, from what life looks like in lockdown to worldwide phenomenon, but also see how they would describe themselves. Are they optimistic, pessimistic, forward-thinking, organized or sociable? 

Values: 

Do they seek value for money? Or would they prefer to buy cheaper? Do they seek respect from their peers through product purchases? Do they seek pleasure over security?

Lifestyle choices and interests:

Do they drive a car? Eat fast food? Eat out regularly? Take frequent holidays abroad? Are they cosmopolitan?

The real value lies in connecting your data to go deeper into their attitudes, perceptions and interests, giving you a true view of who they are, and what drives them to act the way they do. 

Set clear goals.

This might sound obvious, but when budgets are tight, there’s less resource to play around with, and less room for error. 

That’s why it pays to be clear on what you want to achieve before launching into creating content. The best way of doing this is by setting clear, achievable goals at the very beginning. 

As Kanika puts it: “With all content, it’s important to set the right goals, target the right people, and test your content and continually optimise to ensure results.”

Start by looking broadly at your own business objectives to narrow down your content goals.

These can range from building brand affinity to any other goal on the purchase journey, so first understand what your business wants to achieve, and build your content goals from there. As Kanika says:

“The aim is to uncover innovative content that fills the gaps identified in a consumer journey.

I cannot reiterate the adage enough: your customer always comes first.”

It helps to first think about which end of the funnel you want to concentrate on, or if you’re hoping to touch all bases.

Here are a few examples of the types of goals you might choose along your funnel: 

Customer journey funnel

Remember: it’s no use creating content simply for self-expression. You’re doing it to achieve a clear business goal, so your strategy is essentially the most crucial part. 

Measure your brand’s perception in the market.

Gathering insights into the emotional connection your brand elicits is a particularly important task to undertake during challenging times like these.

It helps you monitor and respond to criticism on time, and in the right way.

Research from our multinational study into the consumer response to coronavirus proves the importance of making the ‘right calls’ for your brand:

Globally, about 50% of consumers say they approve of brands running “normal” advertising campaigns which aren’t linked to coronavirus.

“Most consumers are feeling uneasy now”, says Kanika. “They’re nervous and there is a lot of negative news around COVID-19. In these times, it’s important for brands to find a way to create positive connections with consumers and employees. 

The goal here is not to sell, or to push your brand on customers. Right now is the time to show your brand values and personality. Be resolute in what you stand for and how you can help all your stakeholders get through this time. But above all, please be mindful.”

Something as fundamental as knowing whether your target audience believe your brand and sector should be advertising as normal could be instrumental in delivering the right message.

When brand sentiments are measured effectively and diligently, it’s an effective way of mitigating risk in a turbulent market.

Test, measure and optimize.

When the pressure is on to deliver on spend, having the capacity to test and tweak your content could spell the difference between ROI and right-off. But first you need to have your tracking in place to ensure your tests are accurate.

Combine data sources for greater context.

First-party data is possibly the most widely used data source for measuring content effectiveness, but it’s not the most detailed, or indeed the most reliable record.

Analytics alone gives you a basic, retrospective, somewhat blinkered picture of how your content is performing. 

An effective way of adding validity and value to your insights is to combine your data with third-party data. 

For Kanika, this is crucial to know what will resonate:

“We use GWI to improve our targeting and determine what demographic and interest groups to build out, as well as which locations the content would resonate best in.”

Using trustworthy survey data with a clear and robust methodology enables you to cross-check the insights you gather from analytics and form the full picture. It means not just looking at what they’re doing, but why and for what purpose.

Organic first, paid later.

In more certain times, marketers can test out new ideas more freely, but when tasked with stretching every dollar, you need to guarantee it’ll fly before investing.

Use your research to identify the channels worth focusing on, and place your efforts there organically, before committing spend to them. 

For example, if you’re promoting the launch of a new product, consult your data to find out which social channel is most prevalent among your audience, create the content that fits, in the optimal format for that audience, and publish it there.

Only once you see it working should you assess the potential of placing spend behind it.

Key takeaways

When budgets are tight, it’s important to invest it in the right places.

To do this requires: 

  • Solid goals for your content derived from consumer sentiment.
  • In-depth research into your audiences.
  • Understanding of the most valuable channels.
  • Accurate tracking and measurement.

Content that has a clear purpose and is tested, tweaked in flight, and tracked accurately will have the best chance of achieving the right results. 

As Kanika puts it, now is the time to lean on consumer-driven content. So, injecting meaningful insight on your audiences’ behaviors, attitudes and motivations into your strategy and planning, and adapting fast to inevitable changes in the market means there’ll be no surprises.

Kanika’s opinions are solely her own and do not express the views or opinions of her employer. You can reach her for further questions or speaking engagements at kanikabali.14@gmail.com.

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