What has (and hasn’t) changed about digital marketing since COVID-19

Digital Turbine's James O’Driscoll describes how things haven't really changed for marketers - despite some shifts in how and where consumers are spending their time, the customer journey (and ultimately the path to purchase) are both still well and alive.

With all of the recent accelerated change that we’ve seen in the world – and in our more narrow world of media – it would be easy to assume that “everything is different.”

But I would ask that you hold two seemingly contradictory ideas in your head at the same time: Everything is different, but also, nothing is different. As I’ll share, it’s not only possible, but also quite true of marketing today.

The global pandemic and the subsequent effects have resulted in dramatic changes to our lifestyles. Social distancing protocol during the early days of the pandemic greatly increased time spent at home during that specific period, but even two years later we can see that the time spent in residences is still above pre-pandemic levels.

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While at first it was thought that more time spent at home would mean less time on our phones, we now know that was not the case. In fact, it was the opposite: we were more glued to our phones than ever before.

Even now, non-voice mobile use is at nearly four hours a day in Australia and is projected to steadily climb despite our possible return to “normal.” Despite these reinvented lifestyles and accelerated change, how much of our behaviours did the global pandemic really change?

Gaming is the new (true) media

All the idle time spent indoors and out of external environments created a strong hunger for entertainment, connection and social interaction. Social media use increased, but the role it played in their lives changed, as did the impact it had on mental health.

Mobile gaming is a new social space. Connections made in Roblox, for instance, can be extremely healthy. But ultra-casual and hyper-casual mobile-only games like ASMR Slicing and Hole.io are also valuable for connecting, killing time and alleviating boredom.

The ultimate expression of consumer online behaviour in a social sense is no longer just scrolling through feeds of static content and liking photos – it is hanging out in a shared virtual space with friends. And until the so-called metaverse meets those expectations (in a safe way), we see mobile users embracing gameplay and the gaming environment as an “extended reality.”

It’s fascinating to consider that Gen Z and Millennials are leading the trend of social gaming even post-pandemic. This shift in consumption patterns indicates gaming will be a major component in the next “iteration” of the internet, as big as the introduction of the social era.

Redefining the customer journey

Due to digitalisation, what used to once be a systematic consumer journey has become a purchase maze of sorts – convincing marketers that the traditional purchase funnel is dead.

True, the consumer journey is no longer as linear as it once was, but the essence of the classic framework still remains. From awareness to consideration, conversion through retention, it’s now less linear, but tactically, the purchase funnel still works – it just needs redefining.

Marketers must be present in the channels where consumers are spending time, like mobile gaming – and capture attention with relevant creatives, impressing with the right style, approach and messaging.

And, in the era of review culture, there are new opportunities for active Customer Relationship Management (CRM), leveraging that pervasive feedback. Retention, again, is strategically still the same; the “how” has just changed.

Everything is different, nothing is different

Channel consumption globally has extended to include platforms like mobile gaming, streaming, online shopping and food delivery apps. Fundamentally, these shifts in behaviour are derived from an acceleration of existing trends.

Mobile gaming is now nipping at the heels of social media, and there is also a rise in the adoption of online shopping, video streaming and food delivery applications. What’s common among these platforms is that they have been embedded in society, but are now accelerated in this new reality by the effects of the global pandemic.

The reality is that it’s not about digital marketing, it’s about marketing effectively in this digital world. Marketers tend to get attracted to “shiny objects” in the form of new trends, while spending a ton of time observing the changes in consumer behaviour and responding to those changes. Consumer behaviour is always shifting – that is the one constant in marketing.

Yes, marketing has changed by the digital deviation, but only at a tactical level. Thanks to that deviation, there are new marketing tools to explore and more relevant channels to capture target audiences, but the age-old questions of marketing remain as crucial (and elusive!) as ever.

James O’Driscoll, head of sales & partnerships, Australia – Digital Turbine


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