Your COVID-19 Marketing Strategy: What the data tells us

Author: Chris Bayliss Author Chris Bayliss
Published: 15 May 2020
5 Minute Read

The first three weeks of the COVID-19 crisis were some of the most stressful of my life, we had over 50% of our clients pause activity bracing themselves for what was to come or for those in the leisure and entertainment space what was hitting them there and then.

Our business runs on data, we have a mantra - if there are two ways of doing something do both and prove which is best. I believe that this approach is why our clients like us so much, we don’t do guesswork. 

The word unprecedented has been bandied around a lot during the last couple of months and for us it really was, we had no data, no scenario model and indeed no precedent to help our clients decide if what they were doing was right or wrong. This put me in a bad headspace, I need data to operate correctly.

Six weeks on, thanks to our partnership with HubSpot we now have that data, every week we have tracked the performance of marketing email, sales emails, website traffic, conversations, deal creation and ad spend for over 70,000 HubSpot users. A really clear picture is emerging and from it we can say with confidence what you should be doing right now to ensure your business bounces back stronger. First the facts.

We are all trying really hard to get heard

What we have here is % change data versus a pre-COVID-19 benchmark for all of the metrics mentioned above. As you will see in the charts the volume of sales emails have gone up as much as 67% at the peak of the crisis and are still up 63% indicating just how hard sales teams are trying to get heard and hit their number. Depressingly replies are down as much as 33%.

Sales Email Sends vs pre-COVID-19 Benchmark(Source: sales sent via the HubSpot CRM)

The picture for marketing teams is similar with sends up 33% vs the benchmark, but contrary to the experience of the sales guys, engagement is up. In fact, email marketing open rates have increased by as much as 22% and in the last data snapshot we have (w/c 4th May), they are still up 20%.

Marketing Email Sends vs pre-COVID-19 Benchmark(Source: Outbound marketing and marketing automation emails from HubSpot)

More people than ever have time to browse

When we look at web traffic it is clear that more people than ever are looking at your website, with the peak towards the end of April being 24% up on the benchmark. This does seem to be falling away at the start of May, but this is still up 6%, which is a jump in traffic any marketer would have been happy with in the heady pre-COVID days of February.

Website Traffic vs pre-COVID-19 Benchmark(Source: Website traffic captured via the HubSpot analytics during COVID-19 vs benchmark send data.)

But they just aren’t buying

Whilst appraisal is up the lack of responses the sales teams are suffering is washing through into a major reduction in deal creation with this down as much as 30% a few weeks back. This has no rebounded somewhat to a 12% reduction, but those Q2 targets are looking a long way off still.

Deal Creation vs pre-COVID-19 Benchmark(Source: Deals tracked via the HubSpot sales tools during COVID-19 vs benchmark send data.)

So what do you do about it?

To win now and as we come out of this crisis into whatever counts for the new normal we need to understand the behaviours that are driving the metrics we have just discussed. Rather than looking at the inputs (what we are pushing out there) let’s explore the outputs (what we are getting back). What they tell us is that people have more time than ever to appraise our products and services.

All that time we used to spend in back to back meetings and travelling far and wide is now free. Sadly we aren’t allowed to go play golf or take a long lunch somewhere so this time is being spent actually reading the emails we used to ignore, browsing social media and planing all of the things we want to buy (both business and personal) when things get back to normal. We need to seize the opportunity to communicate now.

We are in a period I would describe as mass-consideration, we are researching, appraising options, looking at different suppliers and building a case to by when confidence returns to the market, company or household. We have to remember that it is the confidence to part with money that has gone, not the desire to purchase.

Follow the advice of Henry Ford and Albert Einstein, to paraphrase, they said don’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. The traditional marketing playbook of getting people to your site and getting them to buy there and then or fill in a form to speak to a salesperson isn’t working. Similarly, the traditional sales tactic of email and phone people to get them to agree to a meeting isn’t working either. So what do you do? Change it up and embrace the soft conversion.

How do I embrace a soft conversion? It sounds a bit creepy…

A soft conversion is you embracing the fact people are appraising but postponing the decision to buy and asking them to do something else. With email open rates and web traffic through the roof we have an unprecedented opportunity to influence our prospects and support them in making the right decision. This concept isn’t new, it is called inbound marketing and we HubSpot agencies have been banging the drum for years. There has truly never been a better time to make it the core element of your marketing strategy.

In practice what this looks like is switching your calls to action from ‘book a demo’, or your version of that, to ‘join our webinar’ or ‘download our eBook’. Based on data from our client’s webinar attendance rates are up 280% month on month. This is a clear as day indication that people have the time and inclination to hear what you have to say and to build it into their plans for the future, they just aren’t quite sure right now how close that future is.

ABH is the new ABC

In sales there is a phrase - sales is as easy as ABC - Always Be Closing. Well it’s clear that right now there isn’t a lot of closing happening, so let’s focus on ABH - Always Be Helping. ABH is you recentering your marketing strategy on helping your prospects get the information they need to make decisions. It’s understanding life right now from the perspective of their business and challenges and reaching out to help them solve them.

Some things you can do right now

Segment your data and understand the degree to which they are impacted by COVID-19.

Highly Impacted Industries Less Impacted Industries


Software as a service (SAAS)

Travel and Tourism


Theatres, museums and entertainment venues

Industrial cleaning and supplies


Medical products


Consumer health


Online training/content

Retail and other business that rely on bricks and mortar locations

Collaboration tools




Delivery and logistics



Figure out how you can help them, consider these questions:
  • How is this company impacted by COVID 19?
  • How are the company’s customers impacted by COVID 19
  • Has the CAC (customer acquisition cost) or LTV (lifetime value) of a customer changed for this company amidst COVID 19?
  • Does this company need to ramp up or adapt to remote working?
  • What strategies would help this company manage an influx of business?
  • Where does their internal team need the most assistance right now?
  • Does this business have an eCommerce component?
  • Is there a creative way this business could adjust their service/product offering to adapt?

Once you have segmented your audience, focus on the industries that need support now and answered the questions above. When you have, it is time to start creating content. Whether that is a blog like this one, an eBook, a whitepaper or a webinar if you really understand your potential customer’s challenges (part of their buyer personas) and how your business can help them overcome them you are in a great position to create something really compelling. 

If you create something really compelling then you have an opportunity to generate one of those soft conversions, what that means, in reality, is you have the means to get one of the many people browsing your site to fill in a form in exchange for the content you have created and signal to you that they are appraising a particular product or service.

Great so what then?

Once you have a content strategy and have started generating what we term MQLs (marketing qualified leads) then you are in a great position to continue helping them until the point they are ready to buy. When they are you can bet that you are going to be in a great position to win that business. What you need now is a nurture strategy and ideally the automation system (like HubSpot) to power it. 

We will leave nurture journeys to be the subject of a future blog, but if you need some support in the meantime with HubSpot, nurture journeys or lead generation in times of crisis then give us a call. We are after all - here to help.


HubSpot COVID-19 Benchmark data

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