As performance marketers, we always aggregate, analyze and respond to data inputs across channels, media, ad formats, and targeting types. 

In times of normalcy, both us and our clients have at very least a directional idea of how certain actions should manifest across our various KPIs. As such we make calculated tweaks and measured adjustments, instead of large, profound and sweeping changes.  

So how does one respond when the bedrock assumptions we typically rely on to predict performance are unstable, unpredictable, and KPIs like CPA and ROAS begin to shift due to the impacts of COVID-19?

Here are four tactics that advertisers should be mindful of when responding to large shifts in paid media performance.

By reacting quickly, working to understand new norms as rapidly as possible, and by using this understanding to develop new assumptions models, one can not only maintain performance but even thrive in the face of uncertainty.

 

1. Increase Your Frequency of Evaluation and Action

 

When predictable metrics like traffic volume and conversion rates swing wildly outside normal ranges, it necessitates closer attention and a greater pace at which adjustments get made gets boosted.

If you were making manual or automated adjustments every other day, consider making changes daily or even a few times a day to stay on track with the rapidly changing environment.

The old assumptions and benchmarks which used to be north stars guiding our actions, may no longer exist, and we need to be exceedingly diligent in keeping a close pulse on our new environment.

 

2. Evaluate Results Against Increased Recency vs. A More Standard Lookback Window 

 

If your CVR took a significant turn in the last 4 days, looking at a typical 30-day lookback window will heavily skew results, and inhibit informed optimization. 

Sometimes even yesterday’s data can be in stark contrast to today’s results, and optimizing against stale data can be as detrimental as taking no action at all. While it’s usually not ideal to look at very short windows to make decisions from, remember these are uncertain times and we need to read and react more quickly (see the first point above), based on data that most accurately represents the current performance environment. 

Identifying a day or week in which performance changed and using that as your new comparison period anchor is a great way to approach performance comparison.

 

3. Even Machine Learning Can Benefit From More Oversight

 

An algorithm is only as good as its inputs, and it will almost certainly lack the context behind what is affecting the performance data it sees, such as a pandemic for example. 

Yes, with enough data and time for learning it will adapt, however in my experience many businesses cannot afford to wait this out this learning period.  

What can be done is to make gentle adjustments to an algorithm’s inputs, such as moving target ROAS, CPA goal, or target audiences to direct the algorithm to tighten up over the short term. 

These targets can then be let back out once equilibrium has been re-found. 

Be cognizant of which actions will push algorithms into hard learning phases, which in itself can be detrimental to short term performance.

 

4. Learn Your New Baselines and Proactively Adjust Accordingly

 

You’re now a few days into the ‘new norm’ and should begin to identify some trends. With as little information as your current AOV and CVR, you can establish what you can afford to pay per click while still remaining inside your profitability target.

If non-brand and top of the funnel aren’t returning like they used to, shift budget towards brand, retargeting or through maintaining engagement with your repeat customers.

Even certain creative assets that may have been perennial winners previously, could have lost their luster to creative which may resonate more with target audiences now. In which case, adjust your creative strategy to reflect the most recent performance, and not ‘what has always worked’. The most important takeaway is to more or less ‘unlearn’ what you knew before, and move forward using status quo performance as your guide.

 

Final Takeaways

 

Times of flux can be shocking not only to the performance data we all live and breathe by, but can also put us as human managers of media, in a position of disadvantage and uncertainty.

The above steps are tried and true tactics, learned through our experience across many years and hundreds of clients, in how to navigate adverse performance conditions.

There is definitely no silver bullet to being successful through these times, so dig in, react quickly and acclimate yourself to the new performance environment.

 

Want to learn more?

Tinuiti’s COVID-19 Resource Hub

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