If 2020 taught us anything, uncertainty is the only certainty. Learning how to thrive in that uncertainty is what sets marketers apart. Last year brought us a global pandemic, economic recession, social and racial turmoil and one of the most divided political landscapes in recent history. I would describe that combination as the buzzword of 2020, “unprecedented.” As we embark upon another year where there are still so many unanswered questions surrounding the future of work, shopping behaviors, marketing budgets, the economy, shifts in marketing roles, changing priorities, disruption, etc., it is critical that agility becomes the new normal. Fortunately, marketers are adapting. ON24’s COVID Benchmarks Report shows that 67% of marketers say changing communication style and messaging has worked well. 47% have changed the roles and responsibilities within their marketing departments and 13% have benefited from adjusting KPIs and targets.
So, what does that mean for 2021? The digitization of customer interactions will continue, content remains a key pillar of the marketing mix, reaching the right audience at the right time is both a challenge and a critical opportunity and companies must focus on integrating their purpose into their messaging in a way that resonates with consumers.
Digitization of Customer Interactions
While many marketers had elements of digital transformation and enhanced e-commerce as part of their 2020 strategy, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digitization of customer interactions by several years. Companies have had to change the way they do business as a result of digital channels becoming the default approach. Now marketers must determine how they are going to allocate their budgets for 2021 and continue to adapt their digital strategies to meet the evolving needs of the consumer. Some consistent themes I have seen from various studies are that companies are going to continue to invest in social media and email marketing. Many companies have access to so much data but are not doing the right things with that data. They will need to start harnessing that data to form strategic and tactical plans to deliver for their customers.
Content is Still King
Content is the crucial building block of any marketing mix. If content is still King, how can you be the King of content? Now more than ever, the content that is created must stand out and be served up to the consumer when and where they want it. Extreme personalization is now a must. And I don’t mean, “Hi V” – I mean using data to understand the consumer behaviors and adapt their content based on their habits and needs. Gone are the days of one size fits all content. Convince and Convert indicates that as more companies invest in online content, the competition continues to grow. The relevance and timeliness of content is more important than ever. With so many places to consume information and the potential for digital fatigue, you must surprise and delight your readers to keep them engaged and coming back for more.
Reaching Your Audience
Hybrid work, virtual events and video conferencing look like they are here to stay at least for the foreseeable future. Studies show that companies and employees have been successful and productive working from home – 73% of companies expect at least 25% of their workforce to remain remote after the pandemic. As a marketer in an industry that relies heavily on tradeshows, in-person selling, printed pieces and direct mail, the challenge of reaching our audience is greater. The landscape of events and conferences has probably changed for the long term. I think of the 160,000+ people who were in San Francisco for Salesforce Dreamforce in 2019 and cannot fathom that type of event again. Especially, when their virtual event in 2020 provided value to so many more attendees without the cost on their side or ours. The key is incorporating an interactive element – whether it be live sessions, break-out groups, roundtable discussions or special events like cooking classes. Virtual events started out of necessity to stay top of mind, but as marketers realize that they can reach as many (or more) people at a lower cost, the ROI of virtual is a compelling value proposition. Enhancing the customer experience, stepping up the content and ensuring that the technology is there to support the event are the key actions that brands can take as they continue to evolve in this space.
Since we can’t exactly mail to our existing lists (I am certainly not sitting in the Domtar office and my mail is probably piling up), we must use the data, tools and content to reach our customers where they are – ONLINE. The saying “go big or go home” fits for this, but I’d change it slightly – “go online or go home.” That could mean a video conference, but it also means enhancing your email efforts, social media, websites and automation. Marketers should be using engagement history to serve up customized and targeted content. For example, if someone searches for Cougar paper, hit them with a white paper about the benefits of uncoated paper or a link to order the latest printed sample. Have the sales rep follow up with them and schedule a call to discuss further. The touchpoints should be timely and relevant to keep customers coming back for more.
Purpose-Driven Messaging and Action
Societal change is redefining customer needs and the movements of 2020 reset the expectations that consumers have of brands when it comes to purpose, messaging and internal practices. According to a Gartner CMO Leadership Vision study, 54% of consumers expect brands to take a position and action on social issues. Companies whose values are aligned with their consumer base are 2 times more likely to outperform their competitors. But it must be authentic – not just some words on a website. It must permeate through the actions of a company, internally and externally. Companies are being held to a higher standard by their customers but also their employees. Notable brands have been impacted by employees who have spoken out about safety and racial issues and how they have responded to public issues on social media. Marketers need to have a consistent way to address negative comments and ensure that their brand messaging and their actions are aligned to meet the needs of their customers.
2021 will not be an easy year, but with the right data, tools, resources, people, messaging and strategy, we as marketers can thrive. If you are anything like me, you are looking for the precedented times, but instead, I think I will settle for the “new abnormal” – Cheers to 2021.
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