Earlier this month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the state’s mask mandate, leaving company owners and employees with the difficult task of enforcing masks — should they choose to do so — at their private businesses. Texas is one of several states easing Covid-19 restrictions in recent weeks as vaccination efforts have ramped up across the country.
Marketers have had to plan around understanding how a state or region is reacting to Covid-19 over the last year. Marketers and agency execs say that will continue to be the case for the coming months, even as the vaccine rollout continues.
“Our clients are still very attuned to the fact different parts of the country are re-opening at different paces and we need to create marketing plans that account for that,” said Abbey Klaassen, president of 360i. “There has always been an element of locality in marketing — states have different regulations, prices can vary depending on locations, and so forth — but Covid has increased the number of variables such as capacity levels, mobility of the population, and just generally norms and comfort levels of different populations.”
Covid has forced marketers to have multiple plans in place with built-in flexibility, both of which are expected to continue as different states will be in varying phases depending on vaccination efforts and Covid restrictions, according to agency execs. At the same time, understanding what post-Covid consumer behavior looks like at that moment per geographic region will be key.
“Throughout 2020, experiences were so different depending on what part of the country you’re in and what phase of lockdown,” said Kari Shimmel, chief strategy officer at Campbell Ewald. “2021 is continuing to do that. You still have big moments that continue to evolve. Because we’ve had such a hyper-focus on audience relevance, [how a state is doing with Covid] is inherently going to affect how we approach this.”
Marketers have tried to understand the audience of a region for decades, but Covid added a new layer of understanding, according to buyers. Now, as states vary and waffle back and forth on easing restrictions, understanding where consumers are and what they are comfortable with is necessary.
“A population’s level of comfort or personal norm can vary even within a region or state or metro area,” said Klaassen. “Am I comfortable grocery shopping or do I want to do curbside? Will I dine indoors or do delivery? Am I commuting five days a week or have a more flexible work-from-home scenario?”
Klaassen continued: “While today that might be informed by Covid-19 rates or vaccine rollouts, we see that level of individual preference continuing post-pandemic, due to convenience and habit. So we are more focused on creating more personalization of our messages across the board. How do we meet consumers in the moment?”
Even as the potential end of the pandemic nears, some believe that the shift marketers will have to grapple with isn’t the regionality issues caused by Covid-19 but the long-term consumer behavior shifts — like the rise in e-commerce or the prevalence of curbside pick-up — that were accelerated by the pandemic.
“The real impact of Covid wasn’t shifting focus from national to regional plans,” said Dick Wechsler, CEO of media agency Lockard and Wechsler Direct. “The impact was on consumer behavior. Five years of consumer behavioral evolution took place in around five minutes.”
Wechsler continued: “These behaviors are not likely to change as Covid restrictions ease. And the direct-to-consumer marketing efforts that have been put in place to support these, in both national and regional efforts, will continue based on their success moving forward.”