Online Marketing in the Wake of Covid-19: 5 guiding principles

Online Marketing in the Wake of Covid-19: 5 guiding principles

Online Marketing in the Wake of Covid-19: 5 guiding principles

Do the five, Online marketing in the wake of covid19

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 crises can provide clarity.

Joshua Spanier, Google’s global marketing VP for media recently shared how his teams are navigating Google’s campaigns through the COVID-19 outbreak. We borrowed his “Do the Five” principals and adopted them for our own, so we thought we would share them with you.

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.

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Online Marketing In The Wake of Covid19: 5 guiding principles

1. Context, always

Though this is a global pandemic, its impact is right near you. We’ve found it helpful to carry that thinking into the evaluation of our marketing campaigns. Our team is provided guidance centrally, but we’ve found it’s best to trust each team member 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 by each team member. Every team member wherever they are working from has access to this worksheet in real time.

One example of what Google 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 client’s 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 reassessing

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 customer 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 Adwords campaign running that said “The right time for a jungle treat” Was that OK in the online 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 customers’ brands right now. So we’re holding off on some campaigns that were funnier in nature. 

We’re reevaluating creativity that shows interactions like hand shakes, hugs, and high-fives, since social distancing is an important tactic for slowing the spread of illness. 

Google has also reviewed all their 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 client’s 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 services — like SM Learning, Website Design and Web Apps Development — can be more helpful today than they were even yesterday. 

In that spirit, we’re shifting our service 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 customers that want to provide useful information to their users that will help reduce the impact of Covid19 on the population like eLearning platforms and online shopping web applications that will help people purchase products without leaving their home.

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

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5. Contribution, at every opportunity

If there’s ever been a moment for us to come together and help one another, this is it. 

“In this unprecedented moment, we feel a great responsibility to help.”

Sundar Pichai, Google CEO

We’re asking ourselves how we can help our clients, our customers, and our partners — especially when it comes to our development services. Last week we launched a private free online class to 20 of our international customers and it somehow leaked to over 400 people. Overwhelmed but very glad that we could help over 400 people figure out what to do in this wake, it worked beyond our expectation.

Every brand has its “owned media,” whether stores, websites, or even social handles. Across your platforms, if you can, use them to help however you can. 

Take MTN for instance, MTN Uganda has enabled free access to learners’ websites to help kids at home to access online learning resources online.

We’re also taking a look at our brand’s 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.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. Most people who fall sick with COVID-19 will experience mild to moderate symptoms and recover without special treatment.


The virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or exhales. These droplets are too heavy to hang in the air, and quickly fall on floors or surfaces.

You can be infected by breathing in the virus if you are within close proximity of someone who has COVID-19, or by touching a contaminated surface and then your eyes, nose or mouth.


Help stop coronavirus, do the 5

  1. STAYhome as much as you can
  2. KEEPa safe distance
  3. WASHhands often
  4. COVERyour cough
  5. SICK?Call ahead
Burt B.
Burt B.
The author is Burt Systems' founder, former software engineer, online marketer, and blogger. During the sudden change of culture in 2020, he used the opportunity to recreate his career. He has gone for other challenges, but we celebrate his works!

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