Digital visibility: How startups adapted to a changing landscape amidst the pandemic

Here are the key digital marketing trends adopted by startups to repurpose and reimagine their brand during the pandemic.
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Amid the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that startups across the world are facing a challenging time like never before. The transformative changes in consumer behaviour caused by the stay-at-home economy have prompted startups to reconsider how to engage with customers and set the stage to amplify their digital visibility.

As an experienced marketer, I am convinced that the surreal year has also brought in its wake an opportunity for founders to develop an agile response to adapt to the new digital landscape.

Even as the pandemic rages on, startups are coming up with innovative ways to optimise their visibility by strategically leveraging their digital capabilities.

Here are my key observations of digital marketing trends adopted by forward-looking startups to repurpose and reimagine their brand during and beyond the pandemic.

Audio content is here to stay

Perhaps one of the biggest lessons from the pandemic is that people are not just turning to video-on-demand streaming services, such as Netflix, for entertainment. The demand for superior radio and other audio content, too, is on a high.

Spotify, the global streaming app, rebounded from the hit it took in the early days of the pandemic by ending its third quarter with 320 million total active monthly users. I attribute Spotify’s impressive recovery to its ‘audio-first’ content strategy that goes beyond streaming-only music.

The startup deepened consumer engagement during COVID-19 lockdown by also creating non-music content—podcasts—a creative and meaningful way to add value to the platform. Spotify improved customer experience during a time of gloom by curating and customising its original content.

The startup saw an opportunity to grow its revenue from its subscription business and steer its audio strategy by building on acquisitions to enable podcast monetisation for the long-term.

According to Daniel Ek, Founder and CEO, Spotify, “We know that when we reach more listeners, we’re able to attract more creators to our platform.”

Startup marketers, the writing is on the wall: the next generation of content creators will be led by audio and digital companies.

Micro-influencers will grow in influence

The pandemic may have slashed marketing budgets, but it has simultaneously increased startups’ dependence on micro-influencers to shape their marketing strategy and enhance brand equity.

Micro-influencers typically have a follower base of 500-25,000 people, and are emerging as trusted voices of brands. They are recognised for having the ability to connect with users at an authentic and aspirational level, as compared to celebrity influencers who are not easily accessible and come with a heavy price tag.

SMEs in the health and wellness industry have especially benefitted from the support extended by micro-influencers with honest insights into new products and services. For instance, startups Tatva Health and Sirona engaged with micro-influencers to amplify brand awareness during the pandemic.

Although the food and travel industry took a massive hit last year, they continue reaching out to micro-influencers, such as food bloggers, to put out the larger social message of ensuring hygiene and safety amid the pandemic.

According to a recent report, India's influencer market is assessed at $75-150 million a year. As things stand, the impact of influencers on a startup’s marketing strategy is only going to grow in the post-COVID-19 world as brands seek more meaningful ways to engage with consumers. The key is to partner with relevant influencers to endorse your brand.

Virtual events and e-stores are the new reality

In the pre-pandemic world, significant marketing dollars were spent on creating memorable and impactful physical events to engage with existing and potential customers. As 2020 has shown us, SME marketers can still create memorable experiences, albeit in the virtual world.

Entrepreneurs across industries are leveraging the benefits accruing from virtual events, soft launches, and webinars to retain a competitive edge and survive the pandemic.

For example, beauty brand Nykaa partnered with fashion entrepreneur Masaba Gupta to launch a range of perfumes virtually. Experts believe events in the post-COVID-19 world will be hybrid in nature—a combination of brick-and-mortar, and virtual events.

Due to stringent government advisory on social distancing, startups also turned to the virtual space to launch e-stores. For example, sense.bio, an IoT health and fitness app, launched a wide range of innovative personal protective gears and other COVID-19 essentials to cater to the high consumer demand for these products during the epidemic.

Interestingly, big business like Pepsico India partnered with Dunzo, a hyperlocal delivery startup, to ensure consumers were serviced in the last-mile delivery of its food brands.

Clever hashtags increase brand visibility

It is heartening to see how not just people, but even big and small brands have unified against the global health crisis and displayed empathy in their messaging. Hashtags have emerged as a popular social media marketing tool for startups to grow their business during the pandemic—and survive beyond it.

For example, Paytm launched #NobodyGoesHungry campaign on social media to support daily wage earners. It also launched #FeedMyCity campaign to raise money to serve meals to daily wage earners.

Edtech startup Gradeup launched #PadhaiNahiRukegi campaign to provide free access to live and video classes for students from Classes VIII - XII to help them learn topics that are covered in the first two months of the 2020 academic year.

Startups that launched such innovative social media campaigns ensured their brands remained relevant—and large-hearted—in the midst of the pandemic.

A new path for marketers

As the world moves away from the familiar status quo that existed in the pre-pandemic era, startups, too, are exploring the virtual realm to promote their products and services.

It has become clear that the time is ripe for startups’ marketing teams to build a direct rapport with consumers by increasing their focus on digital channels to scale their business.

In the coming years, as the online space becomes more competitive and crowded, startups cannot get complacent about offering unique value to their customers. The more agile and creative among them should collaborate with peers to ensure the collective survival of the ecosystem. I believe this approach would effectively set them on the path to renewed growth beyond the pandemic.

Edited by Kanishk Singh

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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