To put it mildly, a lot has changed very quickly in the past month for marketers, and there’s almost certainly more change ahead.

We wanted to know how marketers are adjusting to these changes, so we conducted an 8-question survey that received nearly 100 responses from marketers in a wide range of industries.

Here are the results, question by question:

1. Have you created COVID-19 content?

  • Yes: 72.60%
  • Not yet, but we plan to: 9.89%
  • No: 17.81%

Insights and action items

  • In total, about 82% of respondents have either already created COVID-19 content or intend to.
  • If you haven’t created any COVID-19 content, you may be missing opportunities to assure your existing customers that you can continue to support them during this time. Even if you’re facing minimal disruption, your customers will appreciate your acknowledgment and empathy of what they’re experiencing.
  • Multiple respondents to question 8 said that their COVID-19 content was some of their highest performing. People will engage with content they find useful during this time.

2. Will you or have you outsourced the creation of COVID-19 content?

  • Yes: 12.33%
  • No: 87.67%

Insights and action items

  • COVID-19 related messaging should be carefully tailored to your business during this crisis. The nuance that goes into talking about your operations is not easily outsourced.
  • Some industries may be better positioned to outsource content creation right now than others (12% are outsourcing). For instance, banks and financial services have an opportunity to create resources that will help customers and potential leads weather this storm financially. This is content that can be outsourced.
  • Other companies are avoiding outsourcing as a way to tighten their belts. Hopefully this does not mean they’ve frozen marketing altogether, as customers, partners and leads in the pipeline need to hear from businesses at this time.

3. What types of content, if any, are you choosing to use when covering COVID-19 subject matter?

  • Email copy: 65.75%
  • Social content: 64.38%
  • Blogs: 50.68%
  • Webinars/online conferences: 28.77%
  • Videos: 19.18%
  • Infographics: 17.81%
  • Interactive content: 15.07%
  • Other (please specify): 13.70%
  • Surveys: 12.33%
  • Printed handouts/brochures: 10.96%
  • eBooks/white papers: 8.22%
  • Display advertising/PPC: 6.85%

Insights and action items

  • Email, social and blogs are by far the most popular medium for communicating COVID-19 messaging, which isn’t a shock. Email and social are highly effective distribution channels. Blog posts, meanwhile, are linkable, ungated assets that can be easily distributed and shared.
  • Videos are doing slightly better than we expected. We suspect this is in more of a virtual workshop, from-home, tutorial-style format. We doubt companies are making on-site video at this time (and highly discourage any that are).
  • Gated collateral has completely fallen off the map as companies opt to openly share their coronavirus-related updates. Even many news outlets are eliminating paywalls for COVID-19-related content. This demonstrates the prioritization of creating helpful content over achieving lead generation goals.
  • Unless you’re an essential services company or one of the few industries that has seen growth because of COVID-19, we see no reason to ramp up PPC right now. Keywords with high commercial intent probably aren’t your best play. People want content that will help them, not another ad for a service they have no use for or can’t afford during this crisis.

4. Are you using live streaming in light of COVID-19?

  • Yes: 13.70%
  • Yes, but we’ve always used it: 19.18%
  • No: 61.64%
  • Not yet, but we plan to: 5.48%

Insights and action items

  • It’s not surprising that most companies aren’t using live streaming right now. You actually need content to stream. So even though there is a big potential audience right now, businesses have to dig deep and be creative if they want something they can live stream.
  • That said, some marketers may be missing out on a cheap way to engage audiences. If you have a video conference tool and good ideas to share with potential leads, you might want to consider scheduling virtual conferences, workshops and tutorials.
  • A lot of people are bored at the moment. If, for instance, you’re a manufacturer with some cool industrial automation still going on in your plant, it might be worth installing a camera in your facility and doing your own “how it’s made” live stream.

5. Have you begun experimenting with new marketing channels or formats as a result of COVID-19?

  • Yes: 27.40%
  • No: 56.16%
  • Not yet, but we’re planning on it: 16.44%

Insights and action items

  • A little over half of all marketers (56%) are playing things safe. However, 44% are experimenting, and that’s not insignificant. Many marketers have had their hand forced into trying new things in reaction to this crisis.
  • If you have a low-stakes way of experimenting right now and a little extra time, don’t pass up the opportunity. For example, we’re currently piloting virtual “workshops” in which our CMO essentially answers any questions the audience might have. Sure, it might fail. But now’s the time to try this type of thing.

6. How are you changing the use of the following marketing channels?

Paid search

  • Increase use: 15.63%
  • Staying the same: 56.25%
  • Decrease use: 28.13%

Paid social

  • Increase use: 21.88%
  • Staying the same: 50%
  • Decrease use: 28.13%

Other

  • Increase use: 30.30%
  • Staying the same: 45.45%
  • Decrease use: 24.24%

Email

  • Increase use: 45.07%
  • Staying the same: 39.44%
  • Decrease use: 15.49%

Organic social

  • Increase use: 35.21%
  • Staying the same: 56.34%
  • Decrease use: 8.45%

Organic search

  • Increase use: 20.29%
  • Staying the same: 72.46%
  • Decrease use: 7.25%

Insights and action items

  • Email marketing is the only activity that most marketers are doing more of. In every other channel, the lion’s share of respondents said they’re staying the same. And this makes sense. Now’s the time to be genuine, direct and transparent. Email plays well with those values.
  • Organic social is a close second to email in terms of the percent of respondents increasing its use.
  • Paid search and paid social saw the most significant decreases (28.13% for both), as marketers divert more of their attention toward COVID-19 related email, social and blog content.
  • Only 7% of respondents decreased organic search activity; 20% increased organic search and 70% stayed the same. There is not necessarily a right or wrong approach here, other than making sure your organic search efforts are driven by the type of content people are actually searching for right now.

7. Where are you increasing or decreasing your short-term marketing spend budget?

Paid social

  • Increasing spend: 25.71%
  • Not changing spend: 51.43%
  • Decreasing spend: 22.86%

Social

  • Increasing spend: 19.44%
  • Not changing spend: 69.44%
  • Decreasing spend: 11.11%

Paid search

  • Increasing spend: 18.31%
  • Not changing spend: 56.34%
  • Decreasing spend: 25.35%

Organic

  • Increasing spend: 15.28%
  • Not changing spend: 81.94%
  • Decreasing spend: 2.78%

Email

  • Increasing spend: 14.08%
  • Not changing spend: 80.28%
  • Decreasing spend: 5.63%

Insights and action items

  • The majority of short-term budgets remain unchanged. However, more respondents are increasing spending than decreasing it for social, paid social, organic search and email. Paid search is the exception: 18% are increasing spend; 25% are decreasing spend. The rest are staying the same.
  • Marketers are split on how to treat paid social media budgets. About half are staying the same. 26% are increasing short-term spend, and 23% are decreasing it. Our take: Unless you offer essential services, focus as much on value-added content, and as little on advertising right now, as possible.
  • A meager 3% of marketers are decreasing organic search spend right now. In this case, we defer to the wisdom of the crowd. Now is not the time to start a PPC bidding war for high commercial intent keywords. Focus on organic SEO measures that will drive up engagement – especially if you’re struggling. Not a lot of people are buying right now, and that’s not entirely in your control. So focus on the next best thing: keeping them engaged with great organic content.

8. What is one positive thing you’ve learned or noticed from this pandemic?

“It has given us a reason to touch base with current customers to ensure we’re meeting their needs as best we can.”

For better or worse, this crisis has acted as an excuse to reconnect with low-touch customers.

“Keep marketing.”

Agreed.

“We have to roll with the changes. Company offerings may have to change and adapt and we have to get the word out when that happens. We also need to keep our audience engaged, let them know that we care and that we are adapting to take care of our customers.”

Well said. A lot of people and businesses have questions right now that your brand can help answer.

“Tone and empathy are everything!”

This is true at all times, but especially now.

“I believe most brands and people are good. Most of the outreach has seemed heartfelt.”

We’ve witnessed this as well, on a human level, but also on a brand level. We’ve seen surprisingly few cringe-worthy, exploitative marketing campaigns come out of this.

“Clients are craving information they can use and they will flock to it.”

True, and they have never needed it more than they do right now.

“Our B2B clients are more engaged with our online communications and marketing.”

Brafton hasn’t been quite as lucky. Our traffic hasn’t declined markedly, but our growth has flattened a little. One positive, though, is that the number of keywords we’re ranking for continues to increase.

“Customer service is being tested. Which is where we shine.”

Any company that has really strong customer support is in a really good position to come out of this with heightened customer loyalty.

“Really digging deep into the numbers and allowing time to stop, access and pivot.”

This sentence could also serve as an answer to the question, “what is the core tenet of digital marketing?” We’re glad that, if nothing else, more companies will take a data-driven approach to marketing because of this.

“Our customers have responded very positively to our insights. Higher engagement with marketing resources related to COVID-19 than all others.”

Same with us (and with many other respondents to this survey).

“We’ve seen increased readership and click-through-rates on research content related to COVID-19.”

Again, same with us!

“Reactive content is working best.”

No surprise here. There’s a lot of interest right now in how companies are responding to this crisis as it unfolds.

“We need to find new Marketing agencies to support our social, campaigns and content needs.”

Let’s just say we know a guy …

“This has proven to be a huge professional development opportunity for our marketing team in learning how to market through a crisis.”

Ditto.

“Importance of Shoshin or Zen Buddhism philosophy of beginner’s mind.”

Translation: Working in a completely new territory has forced marketers to wipe away any preconceived notions and approach marketing with a new mind.

“It’s forcing us to pilot programs we’ve had on the radar but budgets were allocated to other channels.”

Makes perfect sense. They say necessity is the mother of invention.

“I love opportunities to inspire! I think ramping up social media strategies in ways that focus on community is appropriate and so valuable now. We may be physically isolated, but as marketers I think this is a great opportunity to bring people together in digital spaces, and truly create communities for our brand(s)!”

Really interesting point. A lot of brands are framing themselves less like businesses right now, and more like community organizers.

“Our industry supplies food manufacturers, so our customers are actually potentially MORE active – if they have money.”

This has proven to be very true for some industries. Other respondents said “more online sales” and “our remote business apps are more needed today than ever.”

“More consultative messaging, less direct selling.”

This could be a verbatim definition of content marketing. People want content that’s useful right now, not sales pitches.

“Restrictions can sometimes make creativity abound.”

Our CMO just wrote an entire blog post about this. Keep an eye out for it in the coming days.

“How quickly our team can react when they need to. It’s forced us to be more nimble in a great way.”

We got multiple responses like this one. We’re curious if this could lead to many companies taking a more agile approach in future marketing programs.

“Not to take good times for granted.”

Amen to that.

Final takeaways

  • Consider diverting spend away from gated asset creation and PPC campaigns, and reallocating toward blog content creation, email marketing and social media.
  • Make engagement the priority over deep-funnel marketing right now. Again, there isn’t as much buying going on right now, but you still have opportunities for engagement, which is the next best thing.
  • Based on the open-ended responses we received, many target audiences have increased their appetites for informative, relevant content. Figure out what you can add to the conversation at this moment in time, and promote that message via email and social.
  • Regardless of whether you’re doing more, less or the same amount of organic SEO, make sure you’re using data. People aren’t searching for the same things they were a month ago. Tap into that data, and use it to figure out how to be useful right now.

And as always, stay safe, stay strong and stay healthy.

Dominick Sorrentino is a senior writer in Chicago. He's a wordsmith who endeavors to use language, story-telling and creativity to solve problems. He enjoys pizza, the musical styling of A Tribe Called Quest, traveling, a good conversation and, of course, putting pen to paper.