Industry Updates

Marketing Review - Marketing during a pandemic

6 MINUTES

Andy Cullwick, head of marketing, June 23, 2020

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 hasn’t got an end date and whilst 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. Rather perplexingly we immediately saw competitors pulling out of TV advertising when audience levels were growing and 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 showed 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. Negative sentiment towards personal injury lawyers increased over the first few weeks of the pandemic. Much of this will have been due to the increase in untargeted blanket marketing activity appearing in consumers social media timelines.

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, whilst also ensuring our targeting was focused on core audiences that we know need our services.

Kudos to those that deserve it

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

‘New normal’ creates too many clichés

Are you bored of the ‘new normal’ advertising yet? Whilst some brands have managed to master their messaging and change styles very well, there seems to be an emergence of themed advertising that quite frankly is wearing thin. You know the ones; they start with a sympathetic voice over ‘in these unprecedented/challenging/difficult times’, whilst running an attempt at some uplifting music, and the creative idea though it would connect with the audience if the advert was 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 as they all merge into the same background noise.

We’ve even seen a legal brand adopting this approach.

The words more money than sense spring to mind as they literally ran this campaign for a couple of weeks and have since stopped. Perhaps it wasn’t achieving the expected results, or they were more focused on creating something for a marketing award entry rather than core business objectives.

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 get special mention as getting this right. They are overcoming the challenge of not been able to produce adverts in the conventional way, but they have retained their food love stories theme whilst adapting them to reflect the times, be this shortages of particular foods and other things going on outside of COVID-19 but impacted 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 remains on a knife-edge. We could easily topple back into lockdown as much 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 topple back into lockdown it’s safe to say that we have learnt new lessons that will only 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 re-opens we expect to see an increase in accidents and subsequent increase in demand for our services.

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