Those that demonstrate agility and adaptability in product offering and marketing strategy will survive the recovery phase.

The COVID-19 outbreak is disrupting markets and consumer behavior in unpredictable ways, and those businesses that are most able to adapt will survive and thrive as recovery begins.

In times of crisis, it is easy to retract and hunker down until the good times return, but businesses must take a more proactive approach, revising products and strategies to meet changing needs and adapting to a new normal that will extend well beyond the pandemic curve.

China’s Intime Shopping Centre gives a perfect example of adaptability. With consumers confined at home, shop assistants became vloggers, generating a week’s worth of sales revenue in just three hours of live streaming. And other businesses can be equally agile in the face of COVID-19.

Comprehend customer needs

Businesses must adapt their offering to make it relevant to immediate needs, so they need to know what matters to consumers right now. Overall, people are prioritizing basic necessities over luxury non-essentials, as illustrated by a surge in demand for online groceries in Singapore during the four-week partial lockdown.

But individuals are also consuming more online content and looking for information and entertainment during the lockdown. Verticals such as gaming, video streaming, and online education are doing well, as are home fitness, health, and DIY.

Figures released by iPrice Group reveal the product categories consumers in Southeast Asia are searching for. Searches for gym equipment increased 116 percent in Vietnam between February and March, and interest in vitamin C supplements increased 123 percent in the Philippines during March, while searches for PlayStation 4 have increased 713 percent in Singapore since the start of February.

Revamp marketing strategy

Businesses are being cautious with advertising spend, but now is the time to create smarter marketing strategies and make budgets work harder. Online traffic volumes are higher and digital advertising costs are lower, giving businesses an opportunity to reach and engage target audiences.

Consumers don’t want brands to stop advertising, with less than a fifth of consumers in Singapore believing brands should change their marketing plans. In fact, global brands such as Procter & Gamble are increasing marketing spend in many areas to remind consumers of the benefits of their products during this unusual time.

With brands needing to increase efficiency and make smaller budgets work harder, adopting a brandformance approach – combining branding and performance-oriented objectives – allows them to gain loyalty at the same time as urging customers to perform a desired action. A brandformance approach enables advertisers to launch measurable brand awareness campaigns that also drive sales, and quickly adjust them to rapidly changing market conditions.

Be sensitive to the current situation

While businesses need to adapt offerings and revamp marketing, they must do so in an ethical way that is sensitive to the current climate. Consumers want businesses to respect the gravity of the situation and show empathy, offering support rather than a hard sell. First, they must keep up with regional developments.

There is no point in advertising a particular product, for instance, if local supply chain restrictions mean it can’t be delivered.

Businesses may also need to adapt their marketing goals to the current climate. A travel brand may drive traffic to its website as consumers dream of future places to visit, but may not receive many bookings. Businesses can find new ways to engage visitors, perhaps offering content or promotions that will build affinity and bring potential customers back when the situation improves.

Businesses should employ a proactive strategy to address brand safety issues, such as applying contextual targeting to discover suitable ad environments that are not just safe but also desirable in the current climate.

COVID-19 is pushing businesses into unchartered waters but those that demonstrate agility and adaptability in both their product offering and their marketing strategy will survive the turmoil and thrive in the recovery phase.

(As published on e27)