Marketing during a pandemic

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Lockdown has changed the way claims services are advertised. Head of marketing Andy Cullwick reveals what First4Lawyers has learnt during these unprecedented times

Marketing for claims during the pandemic has not been without its challenges. I wrote previously about the way in which consumer media habits have changed during lockdown. As a result, the way in which firms attract new claimants has also had to change.

Even for businesses with well-established marketing operations like ours, navigating the pandemic has been a challenge. This is what we have learnt. 

Forecasting the unknown

We saw an immediate and dramatic decline in demand for personal injury-related legal services. At the same time, any medical negligence marketing was seen by the public as a direct attack on the NHS and interpreted as grossly inappropriate given the circumstances. 

It isn’t unusual to face seasonal changes in performance but often these are forecastable. We can prepare because we know with a degree of certainty when they will start and end and what the downturn is expected to be. Unfortunately for us all, Covid-19 has no end date and while we are seeing more normality now, there still isn’t an end in sight. This in turn makes forecasting and planning for your business much more of a challenge.

As such more time has been spent on forecasting, reforecasting and analysing the cost of generating business. We’ve been running monthly, weekly, daily, hourly and live reports to determine exactly when is the best time and how to generate the right levels of business for our panel firms.

Panic stations

It is safe to say that we did see a high degree of panic both in our sector and across the board at the outset of the pandemic. Rather perplexingly at that time, we saw competitors pulling out of TV advertising when audience levels were growing. Instead, they were pouring it into paid search, which was on the decline.

If your business offers a product or service that can no longer be fulfilled then it is understandable that you will want to reduce advertising, but you face irreversible brand damage if you cut your marketing activity too deeply. Research during previous recessions has shown that those firms that reduced their marketing took longer to see brand awareness and business return to normality.

Flexibility and a level head

The word ‘pivot’ has been overused during the last few weeks, but one thing the Covid-19 pandemic has shown is that you need to have flexible business and marketing plans. 

Online searches for personal injury and medical negligence terms tanked overnight, which in turn saw the cost of pay-per-click activity skyrocket. There was a rush of firms turning to Facebook to advertise but with little rhyme or reason behind it. We saw competitors produce hastily designed creative, with little or no thought behind the targeting of these adverts as many advertisers delivered a blanket ‘target all’ approach. 

This is not only bad news for those brands that adopted this approach, but sends out a negative message about our sector in general. 

We retained our TV advertising but changed the balance of messaging to be mindful of the increased sensitivities around medical negligence. Our AI-driven digital marketing meant we were able to flex where we invested our spend, while also ensuring our targeting was focused on core audiences that we know need our services. 

Kudos to those that deserve it

Looking outside our sector, my standout performer during this crisis has been Tesco. Its overall marketing and communications strategy is spot on. Teso was first to market with regular communications and updates; it was very proactive in communicating how it was going to help the shielded and vulnerable; and it quickly rolled out a new safer customer experience with supporting communication strategies. Tesco made customers feel safe, at ease and looked after. 

‘New normal’ creates too many clichés 

Are you bored of the ‘new normal’ advertising yet? While some brands have managed to master their messaging and change styles very well, there seems to be an emergence of themed advertising that is wearing thin. You know the ones; they start with a sympathetic voice over ‘in these unprecedented/challenging/difficult times’, while running some uplifting music, all produced on mobiles or a screen full of Zoom meetings, with extra bonus points for the cat/kids/family member doing something funny in the background. They all look the same and become instantly forgettable.

What does work is where brands have adapted their existing advertising campaigns to reflect the current situation and almost blended new creative into wider messaging. Tesco once again gets special mention as getting this right. It is overcoming the challenge of not been able to produce adverts in the conventional way, but it has retained its food love stories theme while adapting them to reflect the times, be this shortages of particular foods and other things going on outside of Covid-19 but affected by it, such as social distancing.

The bigger message here is don’t change for the sake of changing or to jump on the same bandwagon. Think about your customer journey and make sure they know you are open for business, or if normal business has changed, then let them know what it looks like and what you are expecting from them.

If your core offering hasn’t changed then let your customers know that.

Not over yet

We are increasingly seeing the government making strides to get the economy moving again, but the R-rate remains on a knife-edge. We could just as easily topple back into lockdown as we could bounce back. As such, it is essential to remain razor-focused on what could happen next. I suspect over the coming weeks and months that we will see a return to some form of normality, but should we head back into lockdown it’s safe to say that we have learnt new lessons that will help us to respond to any additional changes in the market.   

As for what this all means for personal injury and medical negligence, search volumes are increasing but there appears to be a reduction in quality as more speculative enquiries are made from people in financial distress. We’re working hard internally to deal with these speculative enquiries, maintaining our usual robust approach to screening and rejecting claims that simply don’t meet liability, quantum or limitation, therefore maintaining the consistent quality we are synonymous with. However, as the economy starts to gear up again, we expect to see claims volumes return to pre-lockdown levels.

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Mark Dugdale is the editor of Claims Media. Mark welcomes articles, letters or feedback from readers and can be reached via mark.dugdale@barkerbrooks.co.uk