Google search data reveals how brands can help during the coronavirus pandemic

Tara Walpert Levy/April 2020/Research & Data,Thought Leadership

considered baking my own bread the other day. Seriously. And I’ve bought over a dozen DIY projects. I even completed a few. For anyone who knows me, these are sure signs of everyone’s new favourite phrase: unprecedented times. And I’m not alone. No doubt many of you now find yourself doing things that you would have never anticipated just months or even weeks ago due to the coronavirus. Search interest in “do it yourself” has spiked globally in the past few months, especially in the U.S. and Malaysia. And while some of this is about making your own hand sanitiser or protective equipment, there’s also a rise in topics like sprucing up your patio or building your own greenhouse.1

While a silver lining to all this turbulence may be finding hobbies or nurturing new skills, the stark reality is that the normal course of business and daily life is … well, no more. All organisations will be touched by this pandemic. Consumer behaviour is changing daily, and the question I’m getting most often from people right now is how we as marketing professionals can be more helpful to our customers in these fluctuating moments.

Google data can give us insight into that. At a high level, there are five behaviours we see playing out in Google data across markets, reflected in how people are searching.

5 behaviours reflected in how people are searching during the COVID-19 pandemic

Assembling critical information and content during coronavirus outbreak

The coronavirus has made normal life anything but normal these days. With retailers adapting to delivery or online models, schools closing, and much of the workforce staying home, people are looking for clear, specific information about where, how, and when to get the things they need.

Search interest related to retail has spiked globally over the past few months as people try to find things they need.2 And as people limit their trips to grocery stores, there’s growing search interest in things like “can you freeze” ‘(“mrozić) in PL3 and “home delivery” (“livraison à domicile”) in France.4 We’ve also seen rising search interest for “short term work employee” (“kurzarbeit arbeitnehmer”) in Germany5 and “mortgage rate suspension” (“sospensione rate mutuo”) in Italy,6 for example.

How brands can help consumers: Be useful as people’s needs evolve

  • Acknowledge the new reality.
  • Give people credible, detailed, and current information about your operations. Reinforce that you’re there to help.
  • Regularly update communications across your website, blogs, social handles, and even your Google My Business page to ensure people are in the know.
  • Be flexible. Help customers with cancellations, refunds, and customer service.

For example: Cottonelle, one of the world’s largest suppliers of toilet paper, is encouraging people not to stockpile. Hotels.com is using its fictional spokesperson, Captain Obvious, to encourage social distancing.


Discovering new connections and nurturing relationships

Even as people physically distance themselves, they’re discovering new connections and nurturing relationships, whether virtually or in their own household. On YouTube, for instance, we’ve seen a rise in with me” videos, where people film themselves going about ordinary tasks like cooking, cleaning, or shopping. In the U.S., views of videos containing “study with me” in the title are 54% higher compared to the same period last year.7 And YouTube creators are inviting audiences to join them by creating content like “bulk cook with me” or “disinfect with me.”

People are also looking for new ways to connect with people from afar. Search interest for multiplayer video games has spiked globally in the past few months, especially in Italy and Canada.8 And search interest for “virtual happy hour” is rising, especially in the U.S.9

How brands can help consumers: Forge new communities and connections

  • Look for ways to connect your customers, locally and globally.
  • Consider if your brand has a role to play in creating or enhancing shared experiences, virtually or otherwise.

For example: Ikea in Spain is tapping into the emotions associated with home to encourage people to stay inside. (English version)


Adjusting to changes in their routines

As routines and schedules change to meet the demands of isolation, so do people’s online habits and expectations. For example, search interest for “do it yourself” peaks midday on the weekend in the U.S. and Canada, but sees a slight uptick nightly around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.10

Workout routines are getting an overhaul all over the world too. There’s growing search interest for “stationary bicycles” worldwide, especially in Spain and France,11 and “dumbbells, exercise bicycle” (“hantle, rower stacjonarny“) in Poland, for example.12

One adjustment we’ve all noticed whether consuming local news, national news, or even late-night shows, is that production value is necessarily taking a back seat as people film in their homes. And people seem to have an appetite for this scrappily made content, as we’ve seen Jimmy Fallon’s and Stephen Colbert’s homemade late-night shows trending.13

How brands can help consumers: Adjust to people’s nonroutine routine

  • Let people know that solutions are available whenever, wherever.
  • Assess when people need you most, whether through your own first-party data (like site analytics or email opens) or Google Trends, and adjust your communications strategy accordingly.
  • Update or publish often. There’s a need for content that informs, entertains, connects, and promotes wellness.

For example: State Farm insurance recognises the new normal and is encouraging customers with financial burdens to speak to a rep so they can help.


Praising everyday heroes

We’ve all noticed a growing appreciation for the new everyday heroes among us. Whether health care workers on the front lines or cashiers and delivery people keeping us supplied, many are risking their own health or safety to help others.

For instance, there’s been increasing search interest worldwide in “clap NHS workers” as the U.K. recently celebrated its National Health Service workers in a moment of solidarity. And even beyond the U.K., the notion of “thank essential workers” has taken a sudden upturn in search interest worldwide.14

How brands can help consumers: Support heroes

  • Look for people who are helping, and find ways to support or celebrate them.
  • Consider who the heroes are among your employees, your customers, or even your local community.
  • Consider whether you have nonhuman heroes that can contribute, like your technology, your operational rigour, or your equipment.

For example: Walmart is celebrating and thanking its employee heroes in towns across America. Deliveroo partnered with 20 Hong Kong shopping malls to help food and beverage tenants expand delivery service during the crisis. LVMH is converting its factories into hand sanitiser production lines.


Taking care of themselves and others

As boredom, anxiety, and uncertainty set in, people are taking care of their own physical and psychological needs as well as those of friends and loved ones. We’ve seen rising search interest in “puzzles” in the U.S., Australia, and Canada especially.15 And between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. in the U.S., search interest has been peaking for “relaxation,” perhaps as people need help falling asleep.16

There’s also rising search interest in “virtual tour” (“visita virtual”) in Spain17 and “live zoo” in the U.K.18 as people look to experience something beyond the walls of home. And even outdoor home projects seem to be trending with rising global search interest in landscaping, especially in Australia and the U.S.19

How brands can help consumers: Find ways to enrich people’s lives

  • Facilitate virtual collaborations with outdoor spaces and the cultural institutions people yearn to visit.
  • Join the conversation about home-based health and well-being.
  • Pivot to platforms and formats that make sense for people staying home.

For example: Guinness is encouraging folks not to toast physically, but virtually, and raise one another up in this time.


The more helpful brands can be, the better they’ll fare now — and even more importantly, in the long run. Eighty-four percent of U.S. consumers surveyed say that how companies or brands act during the current market is important to their loyalty moving forward.20 These are trying times, but we’ll all get through it together and hopefully come out even stronger on the other side.

Inside Google Marketing: 5 principles guiding our media teams in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak

Joshua Spanier

VP of Global Media at Google

To say it’s a unique time in the world is an understatement. As we all collectively grapple with what this global pandemic means for us — as humans first, but also as professionals — there are often more questions than answers. There is no playbook for times like these, but what I’ve found is that crisis can provide clarity.

Though we’re uncovering new challenges every day, we’ve worked to codify a set of principles to use internally to evaluate our media campaigns in this altered marketplace. And in keeping with the theme of “five” — as in the “Do the Five” initiative featured on Google homepages around the world, in partnership with the World Health Organization — I want to share five principles that I hope are helpful to other brands undoubtedly navigating the same uncharted territory.

do-the-five

1. Context, always

Though this is a global pandemic, its impact is local. We’ve found it helpful to carry that thinking into the evaluation of our marketing campaigns. Our global teams are providing guidance centrally, but we’ve found it’s best to trust each market to make decisions locally. In other words: direction from the center, but decisions on the ground.

At a very practical level, we have built out a centralized, shared spreadsheet for all paid and owned tactics across markets, so we can capture and learn from what is being decided locally. Every team around the world has access to this worksheet in real time.

One example of what we’ve learned from this shared context: As interest in news surges around the world, there are many more ad impressions being served in the news category. We’re having to ask ourselves, “In what instances are we comfortable putting our brand alongside news content?” This debate, and local nuance, has helped us make choices, especially around the use of paid social media. Local context is key.

Guiding question: Is this campaign right, given the current context in a local market?


2. Constantly reassess

As market dynamics change rapidly, we’re constantly reassessing campaigns, creative, and even our guidelines. What we decided two weeks ago isn’t necessarily appropriate today. The one constant assumption we have in this situation is that things will change. Because of that, we’re reassessing every possible touchpoint for our brand across paid and owned channels, from video ads to the automated emails we’re sending via customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

We’re asking ourselves every day, “Is this creative or ad placement right for this moment and in this context?” And when the answer is no, we pivot. For instance, we’ve had an Android campaign running that referenced being “out and about.” Was that OK in the U.S. market a few weeks ago? Sure. Today? Not so much.

Guiding question: Though we greenlit this campaign last month/last week/yesterday, is it still right for the context and moment?


3. Creative considerations

In the spirit of reassessing campaigns, we’re finding that all kinds of creative elements need scrutiny right now. From tone and visual imagery to copy and keywords, the context of our media buys needs to be carefully assessed. We’re asking ourselves these questions with every campaign, no matter the channel or size of spend behind it.

For instance, we don’t think slapstick humor is appropriate for our brands right now. So we’re holding off on some campaigns that were funnier in nature. We’re reevaluating creative that shows interactions like hand shakes, hugs, and high-fives, since social distancing is an important tactic for slowing the spread of illness. We’ve also reviewed all our Search ad copy to spot phrasing that’s now awkward — “virus checks,” for instance, have taken on a whole new meaning in light of this moment.

Guiding question: Are all of the creative elements — tone, copy, visuals, keywords, placements — appropriate and relevant to this new reality?


4. Changing priorities to navigate uncertainty

As business professionals, we recognize that we have a responsibility to navigate uncertainty. Through it all, we’re evaluating our media budgets through the lens of what’s most relevant to our consumers.

Our guiding principle as a brand, particularly in this moment, is to be helpful. And as people turn to technology for information and connection in these times of need, we’re mindful that some of our products — like Google Search, YouTube, Hangouts, and Google Classroom — can be more helpful today than they were even yesterday. In that spirit, we’re shifting our paid media priorities to brands that help more people get vital information or bridge the gap between what was once “normal” and their current reality.

For instance, our emphasis is moving to products like Search as people need information, YouTube as people need inspiration and know-how, and Hangouts and Chrome as educators turn to live streaming and digital lessons.

Guiding question: What are the most relevant brands, products, or campaigns our media can support right now, and do we need to shift budgets?


5. Contribution, at every opportunity

If there’s ever been a moment for us to come together and help one another, this is it. As our CEO Sundar Pichai wrote, “In this unprecedented moment, we feel a great responsibility to help.” We’re asking ourselves how we can help our consumers, our customers, and our partners — especially when it comes to our owned channels.

Every brand has its “owned media,” whether stores, websites, or even social handles. Across Google, we’re using many of our surfaces to help however we can. Take the YouTube homepage, for instance, that directs users to videos from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other locally relevant public health agencies. We’re also taking a look at our brands’ social handles and evaluating how we can use their reach to amplify the information people need now. As the days go on, we’ll continue to assess our owned touchpoints for new opportunities like this.

Guiding question: What ways can our brand — and even our owned media channels — be helpful to people and businesses in this moment of need?


We certainly don’t have all the answers for navigating these turbulent times. But we’re organizing internally to evaluate our media efforts through the lens of these five principles and guiding questions. Thinking through these has been a helpful exercise in itself for us, bringing a bit of clarity to our teams in a moment of chaos. I hope it’s helpful as you navigate the coming weeks and months with your own teams.

5 Steps to a Powerful Digital Marketing Strategy

Source: Digital Marketing Institute

According to a ‘Managing Digital Marketing’ study by Smart Insights, 46% of brands don’t have a defined digital marketing strategy, while 16% do have a strategy but haven’t yet integrated it into their marketing activity. But here’s the thing: if you don’t have a plan in place how can you expect to grow and innovate, to measure meaningful results and to learn from past mistakes?

It’s time to stop panicking about next year or next month and start crafting a plan that can pack a powerful punch. We’ve selected the 5 most important steps that you, the decision maker should take to ensure that your digital marketing efforts create a real impact on your bottom line.

1. Know What You Want (& Set the Objective)

Nail Your Mission:

  • Define your business’ overall mission/objective first – your digital marketing mission must fit into your grand plan.
  • Answer this question: what is the overriding objective you want your digital marketing efforts to achieve (for example do you want to position your company as the go-to online provider for computer parts in Europe)? This is your mission.

Set & Measure Your KPIs:

  • Get specific with your KPIs by identifying the figures you will be held accountable for achieving.
  • Get realistic with your KPIs by analysing your previous digital marketing efforts first – this will ensure you aim for a positive increase on your current results, while helping you to avoid setting your expectations too high.
  • Identify a method to help you measure each of your KPIs – for example, will you use Google Analytics to measure your conversions, your individual social media analytics to track engagement or a tool like BuzzSumo to assess the success of your content marketing?
  • Here’s a handy KPI template for you to steal: (Insert goal, e.g. ‘Increase traffic’) by (insert figure)% in (insert number of months).
  • Before you begin planning your KPIs find out which metrics matter most to your CEO.

2. Analyse Your Past (& Learn From Your Mistakes)

You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) go into the planning period in the dark. Analyzing your digital marketing strategy’s past success and failures can help focus you on setting the best KPIs for your business. You, therefore, might want to complete step one and two together.

Choose a time period you’d like to analyse (it’s best to set this time period as the same length of time you plan for your new marketing strategy) – for example decide on whether you’re going to analyse the previous year, quarter or month.

How to Analyse:

  • Determine the time period you would like to analyse and set your Google Analytics calendar to match this timeframe.
  • Try out Google’s Benchmarking Reports in your Analytics account to compare your progress to your competitors.
  • Don’t forget to analyse your competitors’ marketing strategy too – create an analysis spreadsheet of their online activities (you can use SEMrush to identify the SEO strategy of a competitor, i.e. what keywords are driving the largest volume of organic traffic to their website. It can also be used to compare the organic and paid traffic of different websites so again quite useful to see how aggressive they’re being with their paid spend.)
  • Ask yourself this question at regular intervals: is there anything else I need to analyse that I haven’t thought of before – e.g. should I be testing the times I post my content or the types of images I use?

 

3. Remember Who You’re Talking to (& Speak Their Language)

Don’t let the planning take away from the people you’re trying to reach. You already know who your audience are (at least we hope you do) but sometimes they’re the first thing a digital marketer can forget amidst the KPI setting, budget fretting and channel selection.

You’re not going to make this mistake – not this time. Instead you’re going to put your audience at the heart of your digital marketing strategy, cater to their emotional needs and satisfy their deepest desires. How? Through the creation of well fleshed out and well thought out personas, of course.

Develop Useful Personas:

  • Start with the basics and note down all the demographic information you know about your target consumer – like age, gender and location.
  • Then dig a little deeper and Identify the problems you can help your target persona solve.
  • Delve into their emotional desires, goals, aspirations and fears and document all of the factors that could make them tick (think about their conscious and unconscious desires).
  • You can dive deep into the ‘Audience Reports of your Google Analytics account to identify key characteristics of your target persona like age, sex, career, etc.
  • When creating your personas this is the perfect time to identify the people who will be of influence to them – these will be the influencers your marketing strategy should target.

4. Identify Your Means (& Stick to Your Budget)

Three things are important for identifying your means: these are your budget, your digital channels and your team (or people). It is important to take stock of all of your resources before deciding on what else you might need for the next period.

For example, now is the perfect time for creating an audit of your existing digital channels and to decide whether you’re going to outsource specific sections of your digital marketing and whether you need to set budget aside for a new hire or two.

How to Identify Your Means:

Your Budget:

  • Define your overall digital marketing budget.
  • Look at the historical data of what has worked before (for example, have any specific channels brought you quality leads at a low cost?)
  • Decide whether you will use paid promotion (for, example Adwords or paid ads on social media).
  • Allocate a specific portion of the budget for each digital channel you want to use for paid promotion (delve into your Analytics to help you assess the most cost effective digital channels with the largest reach and conversions and the lowest Cost Per Click).
  • If a certain element of your paid promotion strategy isn’t bringing you the results you desire, revisit it and invest the allocated budget figure into the channel that’s bringing you the best results.

Your People:

  • Look at your current team and assess what you are capable of achieving (be realistic here and ensure that no-one will be over stretched or over worked).
  • Identify whether you need to hire more people and whether you have the means to do so.
  • Decide whether all of your digital marketing activity will take place in house or if you’ll need to outsource some elements to a third party agency.
  • Get each of your team members to review their digital marketing activity and brainstorm a few ideas for their future marketing strategy (the more autonomy your employee has in their role the more they’ll be on board with your new plan).

Your Channels:

  • Review your current digital marketing channels and decide which channels to keep and whether you’d like to invest in any new ones (this depends on where your customers are and the time you have available).
  • Clearly articulate what each digital channel is trying to achieve.
  • Make sure you have at least one KPI attached to each of your digital channels.

5. Make the Plan (& Don’t Stick to It)

‘Create a plan and don’t stick to it? But, but, what do you mean?’ Before the panic sets into the most organised of digital marketers let me explain…your plan is never going to be perfect from the outset. Not every assumption you make is going to be correct.

And although you’ve taken every care to craft a carefully constructed plan based on a set of insightful assumptions and analysis you still can’t predict exactly how your customers will behave. It is, therefore, essential to continuously measure and monitor the performance of your digital marketing strategy and to change elements where needed.

Create Your Digital Marketing Calendar:

  • Try creating your timeline using Google Calendars – that way you can share it with your team members and allow them to edit it where necessary.
  • Highlight the key campaigns you’ll create and promote throughout the year and allocate a timeframe for each.
  • Document the digital channels needed to ensure the success for each campaign.

Review Your Marketing Strategy & Identify Changes Needed:

  • Create a measurement and monitoring plan (this should fit in with your KPIs).
  • Check the success of the individual elements of your digital marketing strategy at continuous intervals.
  • If something is not working (i.e. you’re not achieving the KPIs you’ve set out) isolate the different elements and try to identify what is not working (e.g. is it the time you’re posting content or the taglines you’re using for your ads?).
  • Revisit your previous analysis, personas and budget allocation and try something new.
  • Create a clearly defined KPI for your new venture.

Transforming customer experience into an actionable marketing strategy: A guide

Source: MarketingTech The workforce as we know it is changing and companies must be ready to adapt to fast change as we become ever more tech-centric. However, despite the digital noise there is one element that will always remain a constant requirement for success; delivering an excellent customer experience (CX) and maintaining a well-received brand image. In our highly connected ‘always on’ digital world, CX combined with word of mouth is potentially one of the most powerful marketing tools for brands today, backed up by a study that shows 92% of consumers believe suggestions from people they know over any other form of advertising. Advancing technology is now allowing for these opinions to be voiced on a global scale across the likes of social media and review sites. With this opportunity to reach a wealth of potential new customers, brands which make themselves personable and their service customer-centric can work to set themselves apart from competitors, without the need for extremely elaborate marketing strategies.

CX at its best

Some successful brands are where they are today through the power of word of mouth alone, as opposed to costly advertising. One clear example is online clothing and shoe retailer, Zappos. The company has developed a reputation of having excellent service and with its ability to please customers achieved through first hand customer insights. The website has ensured that consumers are now loyal and return to buy products – ultimately driving customer retention and an increase in profit. Ensuring customers enjoy experiences with a brand, the way businesses market themselves as well as the way they develop customer care campaigns can all help to create a sense of understanding and community  amongst customers. For example, taking the time to make communication unintrusive, human and resonate more personally can be a key driver of quality CX. According to a survey on content marketing, the majority (80%) said delivering personalised content, for example personalised emails targeted to suit individual experiences is more effective than delivering ‘unpersonalised’ content to visitors. As a result of this, the customers that receive personalised content will most likely continue to use your product/service and endorse your business to others. A great example of this executed effectively is Netflix’s email campaigns. Despite being one of the largest companies worldwide, Netflix has mastered the tactic of personal recommendations and suggests shows that are similar to what their customers have previously watched. As long as the brand has enough data to provide insights on this, this is a great way to be proactive in making the customer experience efficient, easy and seamless, which ultimately helps to nurture loyalty, as well as short-term sales.

Turning CX into actionable insights

Social media now also plays a particularly crucial role for brands looking to market themselves through good customer journeys. For many, it is now a core marketing channel with the potential to reach a wealth of new customers and can also be used as a research tool for understanding the problems in the customer journey and improving their experience. However, the solutions readily available to businesses now mean that these satisfied customer insights can now be taken one step further, to be measured and then developed into new ways to market their service. The sheer volume of conversations taking place on platforms like Twitter and popular review sites make them an effective way for marketers to not only reach customers, but also enables for positive customer experiences to be published and interacted with. Integrating tools into these channels then also allows these insights to be turned into a research opportunity, highlighting customers pain points and allowing companies to improve overall experience. The more customer insights a business receives about their product or service, the more you learn and understand your customers patterns and trends associated with your business. With customer insights coming through as data in a variety of forms – mainly structured and unstructured, businesses can put the insights together, whether it be big or small and gain a clearer picture of your customers’ way of thinking and how they can dramatically enhance and boost customer experience. There are however, some challenges that brands can be faced with when it comes to using customer experience to inform their marketing strategy. Companies can often spend a lot of time gathering and measuring customer insight data they receive and meticulously mapping all customer pain points to try and tailor their marketing to overcome these customer perceptions. Using solutions to make this process as efficient as possible can help brands to maximise the opportunity to turn CX into new avenues for growth. Through the likes of analytics tools, which offer insights into the sentiment of direct engagements with a brand from the public across various digital channels and customer relationship management (CRM) systems, companies can gather and measure their interactions with current and potential customers, understand them more effectively and ultimately use organic insights of endorsement and satisfaction to fuel their marketing approach. With technological advancements increasing daily, it is becoming a lot easier for companies to weave in their customer insights and turn this into an intelligent marketing strategy. Brands must now realise the influence that customer experiences has on consumer decision-making today, if they are to succeed in using it to market themselves in our increasingly digital world.