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The Strong Shift to Digital Marketing During the Pandemic

Buyers are doing more online than ever, as the pandemic continues to present a public health threat, and governments encourage people to stay home. Businesses who need their messages to be seen are shifting to digital to avoid being left behind.
The Strong Shift to Digital Marketing During the Pandemic

COVID-19 Shifts Buyer Behavior

Since 2020, the global pandemic “hits” have kept on coming, and people have stayed home and worked from home, further solidifying the internet as the lifeline of business and commerce. Although some business problems somewhat resolved on their own when the pandemic subsided, many businesses were never the same as they were pre-COVID. 

The pandemic caused many businesses here in the San Francisco Bay Area, across the country and the world to struggle, and many to close their doors, either temporarily or permanently. 

Meanwhile, some businesses adapted or pivoted, and stayed busy developing and ramping up digital marketing strategies to survive.

Sometimes, even thrive.

Marketing is always an evolving area for businesses, never more so than at this moment in history. Business owners and CMOs who did not reexamine and adapt their marketing strategies to accommodate COVID-era changes will be less successful long term.

Sticking to old marketing strategies may even threaten a company’s ability to survive.

Changes in Buyer Behavior During COVID

As the time people remain in their homes has increased dramatically, there’s also been a significant increase in the time people have to do online research and shopping.

Interestingly, although the pandemic caused people to feel a great deal of uncertainty about the economy, businesses and consumers continue to do research and make online purchases.

According to data collected by Data Hub on current market statistics during the coronavirus pandemic, over 64% of US adults reported they are shopping in stores less. In fact, during this same period, online shopping has escalated — a 40% increase.

In addition, over 80% of C-suite executives believe that both the retail and dining industries have changed forever because of the COVID pandemic. Over half of those surveyed expect that consumers will move to online shopping only (including purchasing online and picking up in store or curbside). 

All businesses, whether local, national or multinational, can benefit from focusing on improvement or adaptation of their online marketing strategy and campaigns to better target the changes in how consumers are shopping for merchandise in the “pandemic economy”. 

Customers will continue to need many of the same services and products as they always have.

However, with a shift in buying from physical visits to stores to company websites, companies need to adapt their methods of communicating the value of their services and products using digital marketing strategies and tactics.

Online orders have grown by 96% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly half of participants polled at the start of the pandemic showed they’re avoiding malls and shopping centers because of the pandemic. Yet, online shopping activity overall has experienced significant growth. Online orders have grown by 96% since the start of the pandemic.

Online grocery spending in the US increased nearly 150% in the first quarter of 2020, making grocery spending the top mobile spending category for the first time. As an added benefit, merchants are also seeing an increase in email sign-ups, a nearly 90% increase.2

This increase in online shopping by consumers appears to be occurring through the use of retail apps that can be easily accessible on mobile devices.  

It’s also apparent that digital advertising is influencing purchases, as over one-third of US consumers confess that since the start of the pandemic, they’ve made at least one impulse purchase based on online advertisements. 

Another change in consumer behavior is a reduction in consumer brand loyalty as over half of those surveyed found that during the pandemic they’ve purchased brands they don’t normally purchase

Although purchasers may return to buying their favorite brands once the pandemic subsides, there are many buyers who are now searching for and trying new items. 

Senior marketing executives have also confirmed that they’re seeing an increase in openness from buyers to new digital offerings introduced during the pandemic.

This trend has impacted brand and content marketing strategies, highlighting a need for marketing professionals to review and develop new messaging, content and campaigns associated with brand-related activities. 

Shift Toward Digital Marketing and SEO

Small businesses have been hit hard by the COVID pandemic crisis as the public health capacity restrictions have significantly reduced consumer traffic. Eight out of ten small business owners have reported a negative effect on their business. 

However, many of these business owners show that they’ve taken the time to make their business more resilient by learning about the opportunities presented by digital marketing, search engine optimization, social media marketing, and data analysis. 

The shift toward digital marketing during the COVID crisis has already been made by local and regional marketing management teams, which focus on increasing the use of digital and social channels for their advertising by the end of 2020. Fewer plan to use traditional advertising channels such as TV, radio, or print

Regional and local advertising expenses account for over 36% of current US advertising spending overall. Of the 150 marketing professionals included in Data Hub’s surveys on this subject, over one-third say that they are planning to increase the use of paid social and display techniques. Most of these same professionals are also planning on investing in search and other digital marketing efforts.

Increasing the use of digital advertising channels during this challenging time is proving to be an effective response to the constantly evolving business environment and provides business owners with a high level of flexibility in their marketing campaigns.

Clearly there is a need to quickly and easily adapt in response to the rapidly changing health and business circumstances.

For local businesses, the increase in virtual website traffic and increased interest in reviewing and considering new product and brand purchases means that they must focus their attention on their digital marketing strategy to remain competitive in an emerging business environment. 

Consumers are using mobile phones and computers now more than ever to search for local services and businesses. A company’s website and Google My Business listing is the most likely opportunity for a company to make a great first impression on a potential customer.

DIY vs. Professional Digital Marketing & SEO Services

Although it’s possible for business owners and managers to have success making search engine optimization improvements to their websites on their own, a professional SEO agency is important to consider. Working with a professional will increase visibility more quickly and maintain a higher level of digital traffic on your website, resulting in more leads and sales.

Every digital agency is unique, but the priority of all reputable agencies will be the success and growth of your business. It’s the agency’s responsibility to partner with you to drive leads and sales by increasing your company’s visibility for buyers searching online for the products or services your company offers. 

The increase in online research and shopping is a trend which escalated with the COVID crisis, but clearly it’s a trend that will continue after the pandemic subsides. 

Just like hiring a financial advisor, partnering with a digital marketing agency will connect you with a company whose primary goal is to improve your visibility online.

The Importance of a Strong Digital Marketing Strategy

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have experienced some of the greatest number of business closures as a result of the COVID crisis. Only a few other cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Chicago have logged a greater number of closures. 

Developing and strengthening digital marketing strategies including SEO clearly offer value to businesses that are facing difficulties in the current environment. 

Some brands are reporting a significant increase in their online visibility in 2020 with ongoing SEO campaigns. Besides being one of the most cost-effective marketing techniques, search engine optimization is a technique that delivers consistent and long-term results. 

If you haven’t considered SEO as a digital marketing strategy for your business, it’s clearly a strategy to look at during the COVID-19 pandemic; perhaps now more than ever.


  • Marketing Charts; Data Hub: Coronavirus and Marketing;
  • The Mercury News: Coronavirus: San Francisco has suffered among the most COVID-19 business closures of all US metros;