New findings: Mid-pandemic, empathetic marketers are outperforming everyone else

In the time of COVID-19, advertisers are adopting new strategies to communicate with consumers. To gain insight into which techniques perform best, Sharethrough’s team analyzed every creative asset running within their exchange since the week of March 9, 2020 — amounting to 70,000 creatives over 3,000 campaigns. 

The analysis showed a consistent week-over-week doubling of new coronavirus-related messaging. And compared to unchanged creative assets, even the slightest update to messaging greatly improved performance for both display — on average, a 55-percent higher click-through rate — and video (10 percent higher average video completion rate).

What follows are the seven highest-performing strategies. In each example, the leading performance results are foregrounded, showing the change that messaging updates created. 

1. Showcasing expertise and helpfulness improved click-through rate and video completion rate

How the strategy improved performance:

– Average increase in click-through-rate: 12 percent 
– Average increase in video-completion rate: 25 percent 

What tactics drove the results:

Financial institutions such as Edward Jones and Merrill Edge are using native ads that drive to expert advice on how to invest during the economic downturn. Other brands such as IBM are sharing starter kits to use their open source cloud technology to build solutions that can provide crisis communication, remote education and community cooperation.

2. A simple reminder that business is still open yielded increases in click-through-rate and video-completion rate

How the strategy improved performance:

– Average increase in click-through rate: 14 percent
– Average increase in video-completion rate: 25 percent 

What tactics drove the results:

With many businesses closed for quarantine, those that are open are letting customers know by adjusting native headlines. Edward Jones and Toyota, for example, are making sure customers know at least parts of their business are open by promoting their virtual investment offices and Toyota Service Centers, respectively.

3. Sharing real-life stories delivered a moderate bump in click-through-rate

How the strategy improved performance:

– Average increase in click-through rate: 17 percent 

What tactics drove the results:

Authenticity is key to effective advertising, and few approaches are more authentic than real stories of how people are using brands to adapt to quarantine life. Hinge is distributing organic stories about how people are virtually dating. The Container Store is sharing blogger stories of how they’re using their extra time at home to organize.

4. Promoting corporate social responsibility delivered significant improvements to click-through-rate and video-completion-rate

How the strategy improved performance:

– Average increase in click-through rate: 29 percent 
– Average increase in video-completion rate: 7 percent

What tactics drove the results:

Brands with resources are finding ways to give back. Miller Lite is running a video on social — and through Sharethrough — promoting their initiative to help unemployed waiters and bartenders by donating $1 million to the United States Bartenders’ Guild’s COVID-19 relief fundraiser. In another example, TaxAct is donating meals through Feeding America.

5. Featuring home-oriented products produced a sizable bump in click-through-rate

How the strategy improved performance:

– Average increase in click-through rate: 53 percent.

What tactics drove the results:

In a strategy that boosted click-through rates by more than half, many brands are curating product pages of items that are particularly relevant to quarantine. Dell is highlighting useful work-from-home products such as headsets and docks, and Big Lots is aggregating work-from-home products such as desk chairs, power strips and computer mice. 

6. Updating assets with empathetic headlines yielded massive improvements in click-through rates and video-completion rates

How the strategy improved performance:

– Average increase in click-through rate: 156 percent 
– Average increase in video-completion rate: 149 percent

What tactics drove the results:

From Abercrombie & Fitch to Microsoft Teams and others, the most common strategy was simply updating headlines on existing assets such as pre-roll, banners or images to quickly create more more sensitive messaging. As easy as it sounds, this category delivered the second-highest increase in click-through-rate and the highest increase in video completion rate.

7. Sharing tips to improve home life more than tripled click-through rates

How the strategy improved performance:

– Average increase in click-through rate: 363 percent

What tactics drove the results:

Providing advice to improve life at home improved click-through rates far more than any other strategy. In addition to promoting the benefits of their meal plan delivery service for kids, Nurture Life is promoting a blog post with tips on how parents can create structure for kids while everyone is stuck at home. And TaxAct helped taxpayers make sense of the extended tax deadline with the message that people shouldn’t wait to file taxes since they can get their refunds right away.

The bottom line: A focus on empathy

There’s a common theme across all seven strategies: The most successful brands are finding ways to quickly update their messaging in ways that resonate with consumers during uniquely challenging times. As the performance data shows, brands that can swiftly and efficiently convey empathetic messages are well-positioned to emerge from the current crisis with even stronger customer relationships than they had to begin with. 

For additional insights and data, click here to download the full report.

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