How The Coronavirus (COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-2) Turned Us Into Crisis Managers

We are at the beginning of the 4th week in which we, as a digital agency are all working from home; whether in Turkey, Germany or the Netherlands. Our motto #WFH (working from home) from everywhere. The Coronavirus has not only had a strong impact on our lives and the lives of our employees, but also on the lives of our clients.

Let’s put this straight, according to all forecasts, unfortunately it looks like not much of this current situation will change in the near future. To us, as an agency, now more than ever, it is clear that we have to offer our clients the right services and give them the right consultancy. After all, wrong economic actions in crisis situations like these can be the equivalent of breaking your neck, which might be irreparable at a later stage.

We have customers from different industries, different countries with different products & services that target different types of customers. However, all our customers have one thing in common. Since more and more countries are restricting public life day by day and the population is largely at home, with the aim of slowing the spread of the coronavirus, the customer (buying) behaviour of all our customers has changed at a stroke.

Consumer behaviour and demand are no longer the same as a few days/weeks ago. It is exactly this phenomenon that needs to be examined and understood more closely.

  • What can our customers expect in the current situation?
  • Do we need to change our sales and marketing strategy?
  • Should everything be maintained and should we continue as before?
  • Is it possible to use this difficult situation to their advantage?
  • Or have you reached a point where you say, up to here and no further! Should we rather pull the plug and suspend the whole thing?

So many questions, which I will try to explain in the following using a couple of our customers as examples. The main focus here is on how the situation of our customers has changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and what steps are currently being taken or will be taken in the next few days to position themselves correctly during this period.

The following information is based on customer meetings and emails of the last 2 weeks. Customer examples are treated anonymously here.

Since our agency’s founding 13 years ago, we, as Kubix Digital, have always provided customer-oriented, boutique solutions for some hand-picked customers. Over the years our service quality has always been at a very high level. This has led to the fact that we, as a search engine focused digital agency, have been anything but "disposable" or "replaceable", which in concrete terms means that almost all of our clients have been working with us successfully for many many years. From initial agency-customer relationships focusing solely on business, intensive business partner relationships have developed over time and some of these relationships even developed further into friendships. In short, we have grown very close to our customers over time and in retrospect we have successfully mastered the one or the other crisis with exactly these customers.

Since COVID-19 has dominated global world affairs and the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dr. Angela Merkel, said, just couple of days ago in a dramatic address to the nation, that the Corona Pandemic is "the biggest challenge since World War II", it is now clear to EVERYONE that this situation will have an impact on the local economies of all countries, the global economy, the social structure, the consumer behavior of people, simply the actions of all humanity in the coming weeks, months, years. The outcome and duration are uncertain.

Ok, but now to our customers.

Surrender of the tourism industry through COVID-19?

Three weeks ago we contacted one of our clients who works in the tourism industry. We suggested to him that it no longer makes sense for his company to use search engine advertising for the time being, as searches were radically decreasing and were at that time even close to zero. Apart from the non-existing searches, countries and entire regions have issued flight bans, closed borders and generally restricted travel quite heavily. Unfortunately, we were not able to deliver better news to this client. Together we decided to observe what is happening, to stay in touch and to react immediately to any changes that the client and ourselves think would make sense to resume work.

google trends travel
google trends travel

Automotive industry: Still 'Business As Usual' or strategy change?

Now, let’s get to another example with one of our customers, this time from the automotive industry. Our client is a distributor of one of the world's leading car brands. Again in this example too, the search behavior of the major search engines has decreased significantly. However, since there are no driving bans or driving restrictions at a country level yet, apart from regions subject to quarantine, cars are allowed to continue to be driven.

Here are some strategic steps in the PPC and SEO area, which we suggested to our client and were able to implement directly:

In order to meet the declining demand and to adjust the existing advertising budget to the current situation, we decided together with our client to stop Google Ads Display campaigns and YouTube campaigns for now. In addition, we also stopped the 'Local Ads' campaigns, as it would not have made sense to redirect searchers to the car dealerships, as in the current situation near future car buyers want to avoid the risk of infection in any case. In addition to these measures, the generic campaigns in Search were also stopped. As of right now only the brand campaigns of our client are still active.

In the area of SEO we have shifted the focus from local SEO to content generation. Here we try to push the content part, in order to provide the right content that will be read and is in demand by customers and potentials in the current situation.

In newsletters, on their own website, special landing pages, in their social media- and other marketing channels our client shares various information that might be of interest for potential and existing clients. On the one hand they try to continue to present the cars in a "normal" way (but pointing out that although mobility with a new car is a nice thing, they highlight that at the moment it would be better to stay at home). On the other hand our client also tries to draw more attention to hygiene topics by sharing tips and information. How can the interior of a car be kept clean or disinfected? Further, our client shares information about rental cars in their own fleet, which are completely disinfected before or after a rental. Furthermore, information is shared that the dealers follow very strictly on hygiene regulations, so that customers do not have to worry about hygiene issues during a service appointment or repair.

Because of the situation we are in right now, we have advised our customers to spend more time on branding and social responsibility and less on sales. Based on our advice, this is what our customer is doing now and this is exactly the right strategy in our opinion that will be successful in the long run. Our client is not hiding, he is showing himself. He shows that he too is doing his part to fight the corona pandemic as best as he can.

Last but not least something about the Google My Business (GMB) accounts of our customer and their car dealership network. We gave all of the 50 dealerships the information that the GMB accounts should be edited to provide customers with up-to-date information, such as changes in opening hours due to the pandemic or how the coronavirus is being handled locally at the dealerships's premises. This was also quickly adopted and implemented.

google my business search data automotive
google my business search data automotive

Our client from London: "And we thought Brexit was the worst happening to us, but now COVID-19 beats everything."

One of our English clients is a language school that has been around for over 100 years. This school usually offers English language courses for professionals, companies and organisations as well as training in communication for executives. All these services are offered locally at their language schools in England. In addition to a large number of clients from the UK, the school mainly has attendees from abroad, so that our client also normally takes care of their accommodations. Courses range from a few days, weeks, to a few months. Of course, this depends on the services the customer receives from the language school.

The first bad news for that school came a few weeks before the coronavirus pandemic broke out. Immediately after the British decision to leave the EU this historic event had a direct impact on existing bookings and future bookings of new courses.

In particular, potential clients from abroad stopped booking courses, as they began to be uncertain about when restrictions on entries into the UK would be applied and what the future travel policy would look like. Booked courses were cancelled due to visa applications that were put on hold or completely cancelled by the authorities. Additionally, clients who had already booked courses cancelled existing courses on their own initiative in order to avoid future entry problems.

During and immediately after the hot phase of the Brexit decision, it became more and more difficult for us as an agency to generate new leads for our client via search engine advertising, regional as well as international. Although keeping the "cost-per-lead" as low as possible, was our primary goal, more and more cancellations led to an increase in costs, which was of course a logical consequence of the current situation. In this context it was now extremely important to make decisions based on correctly measured figures. In order for this to happen, it was necessary to be able to measure and allocate refunds as the result of increased cancellations within Analytics. In order to achieve transparency, every sale that was subsequently cancelled had to be put into context, so that from a business point of view the sales that were or were not generated could be tracked. The aim was to gain more accurate figures so that correct marketing and sales decisions could be made based on true figures.

The crisis within the crisis (first BREXIT, now COVID-19)

Having hardly adapted to the consequences coming with the Brexit decision and trying to keep the business going as best our client could, a few weeks ago there were the first indications that a much bigger problem with serious socio-economic consequences was imminent. The corona pandemic outbreak.

The corona pandemic has almost brought global mobility to a standstill. Countries are sealing themselves off, flights are being cancelled, people are no longer going out. Total standstill. Nothing goes. For our language course client, this moment resembled the moment when an aircraft engine stopped running during a flight. The aircraft went into gliding flight mode and gradually began to lose altitude. A race against time began.

Those who act and adapt quickly have a better chance of surviving: "Survival of the fittest!"

At present, our client is switching completely to e-learning, and we, as their agency, are in close contact with him via email, telephone or Google Hangouts. We assist our client in the best way possible to communicate and market their new online products through all available channels. Based on these decisions, we are in the process of adapting our Google Ads advertising. Ad texts, keywords, search terms and extensions (callouts, sitelinks) are optimized accordingly. Location Extensions have been completely removed.

online english language search trends
online english language search trends

Retail customers with offline stores have an extremely difficult time during the corona crisis

As a next example, I would like to mention one of our retail customers. This customer is one of the leading brands in bridal gowns and evening wear. We have been working successfully with this brand for now more than 8 years. Over the years, the online store has steadily increased its importance. Year after year the turnover and profit increased through the online business. In addition, online consultations via the website have grown significantly and potential customers have booked their appointments in the various offline stores. Of course, a wedding dress sales and service cycle is anything but short. There is consultation, fitting, selection, purchase, tailoring, re-fitting, re-adjustments, re-testing, perhaps readjustments and only then the process is completed. Certainly, you don't go out and buy a wedding dress every day. But if you buy a wedding dress, you can learn a lot about good customer service and "emotional buying". In fact, women are willing to pay more for a dress that they could have bought cheaper in another store - all because of the way the store salesperson made the potential customer feel. This important experience of course immediately disappears with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Monday, 16th of March 2020 - and the shops are closed!

After the decision was made to close shops and shopping malls completely and only to leave shops open that serve for the direct supply of the population, our customer also had to keep his shops closed, which led to the fact that from one day to the next the offline sales collapsed completely.

The only store that is still open since last week is the online store, and this is where we are coming into play.

Also with this customer, we switched to crisis management mode due to the corona pandemic. We regularly have phone calls and video conferences in 3 different time zones, now more often than before, we write detailed emails to each other and, based on current developments, try to optimize our services. Our goal is to apply a variety of approaches to keep their online sales alive.

Before the coronavirus crisis hit full force, free shipping up to a certain value of goods was not free of charge. Since the crisis, every shipment is free of charge, no matter how high or low the value of the products are. Furthermore, the brand covers all return costs. This “free shipping & longer return times” policies is the strategy we see a lot at other ecommerce brands too at the moment.

Although there has been a profit and a sales drop due to the closed stores, the brand has lowered its prices in the online store by an average of 30%, so that potential customers have an additional incentive to buy online now.

As written above, buying a wedding dress is a longer process, as many factors play a role in the buying process. In addition, a wedding dress is "usually" bought and worn "once in a lifetime". For this reason, the decision making, weighing and final purchase is a more detailed process. However, since the offline stores are no longer open, we and our customer have decided to promote the somewhat simpler wedding dress models more online, the kind of wedding dresses where the buying process is less complicated. Since the dresses are also cheaper in price, we hope to have a good sale through the online store, depending on the current circumstances.

Another feature to further promote sales in these difficult times is the possibility of having clothes purchased via the online shop adjusted free of charge in the offline store as soon as the offline stores reopen. Based on this decision, our team started to make the necessary changes in our customer's Google Ads account last week.

It is exactly these adjustments and customer-oriented solutions that will allow the brand to remain competitive in the upcoming times. It is clear that when deciding to buy these "emotional" products, it is important to extend the return times and to make them more attractive to the customer. This leads to intensive bonds and brand loyalty. Now is the time to be even more on the customer's side and show also emotions as a brand like “We are here for you”, “We got this.”

Since we also support this particular customer in the area of SEO, we have been able to see, from ongoing keyword research, that since the outbreak of the coronavirus and the closure of their shops, not only the buying behavior, but also the search behavior of potential customers has changed. Based on this fact, we suggested our client to create a special FAQ page, which explicitly addresses the questions that are directly related to what is going on with the coronavirus. Here, customers are made aware of topics such as free shipping, free returns, guarantees, changing the size of clothes, hygiene standards in production and shipping, and a variety of other topics. The availability of informative, relevant and up-to-date content leads to a better user experience, answers questions and helps customers make the right decisions.

The corona pandemic a nightmare for companies - but not for all

You may find it hard to believe, but as in any crisis, there are not only companies that are struggling and experiencing difficulties. Quite the contrary is the case, there are companies whose businesses are flourishing more than ever. We also have customers who a have higher turnover, increased sales and a positive ROI right now. Of course, these are just a few, but there are some, and one of these companies is one of our customers from the USA.

This customer is specialized in e-learning products for children and offers educational resources and high-quality learning programs. Children from all over the world have the possibility to learn new languages in a playful way. At the beginning of March we already saw an increase in online sales using Google Ads, but online sales are currently growing exponentially. In particular, sales have almost quadrupled in the last 2 weeks as more and more children stay home and parents are looking for alternative ways of educating them. For this reason we have adjusted the Google Ads budgets to match the rising search volumes and started to promote other international markets as well.

We are also trying to match the increase in demand in the area of SEO. For this reason, we have made a proposal to our client to create new subpages on his website, which are related to content based on the current circumstances. The aim is to provide better content for potential customers, increasing sales of educational programs via the website and having highly relevant content indexed by search engines within the organic search results.

In the case of this client, we can say with a 100% certainty that the coronavirus crisis and the worldwide closure of schools has not been a crisis for him at all, but rather an accelerator of his sales and brand awareness. Parents try to compensate for the lack of educational material with e-learning programs like the ones our customer is offering during the time at home together with their children.

online ecommerce statistics for childrens app
online ecommerce statistics for childrens app

Hang in there and don't lose focus

Based on phone conversations and video conferences with customers, other agencies, friends and acquaintances, who are also active in the digital industry like us, I can only say that the willingness of all parties involved is very high to get through this nightmare together in the best way possible.

At the moment, nobody is giving up the struggle nor bowing their heads, even if the whole situation is psychologically very stressful. The willingness to get through this crisis as good and strong as possible is everyone’s desire. However in this context, we should not forget that we all have only been in this crisis situation for just a short period of time right now. Looking at the rapid development of the pandemic, how badly people, regions, whole countries are being affected, it is not difficult to predict that this "stress test" will not end so soon. Unfortunately, this also means that chances are very high that one or the other will not survive the crisis without having a "long breath".

There will be many companies and brands, which will reduce all marketing and sales efforts to a minimum or even completely stop them, with the aim of using any remaining reserves for other purposes.

Companies may not survive this time either and may stop their business and declare bankruptcy. This in turn will force agencies to lay off staff or close down completely. Freelancers will not get any more projects. What we are now increasingly witnessing are short-term working concepts that are slowly but surely being implemented in Germany and Turkey.

Extraordinary situations require extraordinary behaviour and solutions

The rapid spread of COVID-19 is so extreme that new measures are taken on a daily basis, sometimes at shorter intervals, at regional and country level, which have a significant impact on all of our lives and, in this context, on the economy too. This means that in such a crisis situation that has never been seen before, we, as an agency, have to be in contact with our clients more than ever in order to get relevant information on how the situation is changing for them.

Based on their feedback, we try to take all necessary steps on our side, whether it is on the search engine advertising (PPC) side, search engine optimization (SEO) or content marketing side, to support our clients as best as possible in the digital world.

Forward-looking business decisions - this is what counts NOW!

Since we are all in a situation that has never been experienced to this degree before and assuming that it will not go on forever, we as a digital agency, but also our clients, so together, have to think about where the journey will take us in order to be able to switch back to normal mode in the future when the time comes.

What actions need to be taken at present to ensure that we can make full use of all of our skills in the coming times, more than ever before?

In addition to our main tasks, we naturally try to provide advice and assistance wherever we can, even if sometimes it is not directly related to our services. We truly believe that we owe this to our customers and to ourselves. Simply put: We work together with them for too long to behave differently. We just do whatever we can do and to help wherever we can. EMPATHY is now more important than anything else and gestures like this will be more appreciated than ever and certainly not be forgotten. At least this is our view and represents our corporate values.

Time will tell whether all our efforts will ultimately produce results, but simply capitulating is not an option for any of us.

The will to survive the corona crisis is there and so there is hope. We got this together! Let’s get back to work.

PS.: If you want to know more about how we are currently mastering all this, feel free in contacting us at any time.

Şafak Ebcinoğlu
02 Apr 2020

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