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A DTC Advertising Action Plan: Effective Ad Management Through Coronavirus Turmoil






Every brand today is evaluating the current environment for its people, communities and customers. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands specifically rely heavily on advertising to acquire and build direct relationships with customers, which makes understanding the current state of advertising critical.

For DTC brands, there are unique tools to deploy for quickly understanding the current marketplace, making informed investment decisions and getting on top of the situation fast.

As the saying goes, “Hope is not a strategy.” Those that act quickly will be rewarded with a stronger business position – regardless of whether they decide to cut back or invest more.

Here is a five-point strategy for quickly evaluating a DTC brand’s advertising and putting into place what’s needed to succeed in the tumultuous weeks and months ahead.

1. Immediately assess advertising efficiency and impact

Every brand will look at overall business trends to determine shifts in marketplace. The next level down is to assess changes in advertising efficiency to determine if investment is getting worse, the same or improving.

A simple dashboard that looks at how advertising has potentially changed needs to be assembled with a starting point of the week of March 9. Metrics will vary by brand, but here are some logical candidates for short-term assessment. The focus is on signals – things you can rapidly measure as they change over time – not immediate true ROI, which typically requires more time for statistical modeling.

  1. Over-the-top (OTT) conversion rates
  2. Programmatic display conversion rates
  3. Linear TV cost per visit attributed to short-term response
  4. Streaming audio conversion rates
  5. Paid social conversion rates
  6. Brand search volume
  7. Google trends for both your category, your brand and competitors
  8. YouTube conversion rates

Not every media channel will have a signal, which is fine. By collecting a set of the available signals, you can more closely monitor – day by day – how your advertising may be changing. The changes become a proxy for the overall change in ad effectiveness and ROI.

For some brands, signals will get worse and the decision may be to cut investment short-term.

For many DTC brands, signals may very well show improvements when controlled for seasonality. For these brands, this period may be a temporary high season. Investment risk, however, needs to be managed carefully, which leads us to point #2.

2. Rank media investments for efficiency, reach and flexibility

The next step is to assess the risk of each media channel by balancing efficiency, reach and cancelation flexibility. When heading into uncharted territory, DTC brands need to know they can be agile with their advertising investment. Efficient media that can easily pivot will rank high. This may include programmatic digital media, paid social media, direct response linear TV inventory, streaming audio, OTT and more.

Other channels with longer cancellation policies need to be proven to remain on the plan. However, the media marketplace is changing to help make that easier, which leads us to point No. 3.

3. Make what used to be long-term commitments more short-term

The good news is that media channels that were “inflexible” with cancellation just 10 days ago may have become far more flexible overnight. Media outlets, like everyone else, recognize that we are in a new world. So media buys that used to have strict cancellation clauses may now be booked on a very short-term basis if you press your case and have solid relationships.

By moving toward shorter cancellation periods with some media, you can better balance efficiency with continued reach while managing risk with an ability to cancel. This strategy, however, may become trumped by other advertisers that make larger, long-term commitments regardless of the situation – so there is definite risk to losing inventory without longer-term commitments.

Currently the media marketplace is pretty tight, which may or may not change. Plus, every DTC brand situation is a little different with regard to what risk is acceptable.

4. Keep an eye on growing OTT and linear TV impressions

As more consumers work from home or are temporarily displaced from work, large-screen and small-screen video consumption increases. If your DTC brand shows resilience during this period, you may have an opportunity to not only use this period to advance your short-term business, but to have more significant impact on brand awareness and consideration.

For younger DTC brands, raising awareness to improve overall advertising efficiency can be expensive and often requires strong seasonal foundations to succeed. This may be one of them. No one knows exactly how the media marketplace will unfold over the coming weeks, but staying on top of any opportunity will be critical. Again, agility is the theme.

5. Review the existing creative brief, not just your creative

Marketplaces are shifting fast along with consumer attitudes and values. The first step is to bring out the creative brief and ask if it is still relevant.

Is the core idea the right idea for today and a potential economic recession? If not, it’s time to consider making changes now. Maybe you commit to developing new creative concepts for now and then make the decision to execute in a few weeks.

Build flexibility of messaging into the new concepts so you can more easily pivot with changes to the marketplace. Some concepts are harder to flex than others. You need to get ahead of it now in spite of not knowing where it’s all headed, but if you plan for change now, you can more readily adapt to change. Given how long some creative can take to develop, the time to start is now.

If your brief is still relevant, then carefully review all creative across all channels to identify anything that is out of step and fix it fast. This will help the overall campaign succeed in the short term while you may consider long-term changes.

In this environment, agility is key. Rather than fret about the situation, it’s far more effective to develop an action plan for your DTC advertising to enable fast, effective decisions. No two brands will make the same short-term decisions, but acting quickly will serve everyone better – your people, your customers and, by extension, your communities. Your organization will also build better muscle around agile, data-driven decision making.

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