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For Marketers, ‘Normal’ May Not Return Post-Pandemic.

There was encouraging news this week about the prospects for a vaccine that could bring an end to the global coronavirus pandemic. Brian Wieser, Global President of Business Intelligence at GroupM, said the medical advancement may eventually bring life “back to normal,” but the effects will linger longer for marketers and may change some things forever. “Normal is going to take a while to get back to. And there is still going to be scar tissue on the economy, because so many businesses have been so badly impacted,” said Wieser. He told the IAB Brand Disruption Summit this week that the coming year may be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for marketers to rethink how their business operates and how they are organized.

“Chances like this won’t come around again for a long time, and so we should expect more and more businesses will find ways to reinvent and reassess what they are doing,” said Wieser. “They’ll take ideas that were maybe sitting on the shelf or slow-walked around their organization, and they’ll be able to push it because people are in a situation where habits are not as entrenched as they used to be. When normalcy truly does return, we’re going to have a new set of habits that people will come back to. And marketing will have an important role supporting that.”

Wieser said the pandemic has ushered in a lot of change for the largest of the advertising categories, none more than the auto sector that remains the top ad category across all media. “The auto sector is a good example of what could be some permanent changes,” said Wieser. He said the manufacturers have in the past had a “pretty disconnected” relationship with consumers, since they relied on dealers to build that connection. But since the pandemic caused some dealers to close their doors, most carmakers figured out new ways to sell cars and keep those relationships alive. “Digital showrooming became a much more meaningful thing and new concepts took root around ways the brands could maintain connections with consumers – even if the dealers weren’t always open,” said Wieser.

During the past several months, car dealers have re-opened and Wieser said local operations have “reasserted themselves” in the relationship, but he thinks it proved that change is possible in the long-standing car sales process. “The whole notion of what a direct to consumer brand is has permanently changed,” he said.

The movie business has also undergone fundamental changes this year as local theaters have remained dark or if open, mostly empty. Wieser thinks the pandemic has accelerated the transition of direct-to-consumer content-based businesses, too. “They were already going down this path, but it accelerated it” he said. “It’s really hard to imagine that the businesses will go back to where they were after a vaccine is up and running, and so it will permanently cause the media industry to shift much more of its business toward a subscription model.”

Financial services are also changing. Wieser argues that financial companies and banks had already been pushing customers toward online banking and apps. That may change how the category places its media buys, but Wieser thinks it does not mean traditional media like radio and television ads will vanish. “A bank will want to do more digital marketing to encourage more of its existing customers to use the apps that they have, and at the same time they need to use traditional brand-based advertising because they need to reinforce trust,” he said.

The restaurant industry has been walloped by the pandemic on a local level more than any other business sector. “Unfortunately, many will never recover, but many of them will,” said Wieser, who credits a different type of digital – digital ordering – for their survival. He said it has been interesting to see how the operators of local franchises that may have “slow-walked” digital investments in the past have quickly become converts. “The pandemic has a way of concentrating the mind,” he said.

Radio and other media executives have had a consistent message during the past few weeks as they reported third quarter numbers. In nearly every case, the message was things have improved since earlier this year. But Wieser told the IAB Summit that for most advertisers there remains a lot of changing currents in their sales and marketing strategies.

“The ways in which they shifted their orientation, primarily through ecommerce and other forms of digital engagement, has shifted how marketers allocate their resources. It is shifting in how advertising is being used to support [consumer] spending on the business goals,” said Wieser. He said it will likely mean a shift of more dollars to digital, but that will bring revised goals for that segment as well.

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