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Well, here we are again. Each year regardless of the particular discipline, organization leaders reflect upon the past year’s experiences to plan and predict future endeavors. For those of us who practice the art and science of marketing, the best thing we can say about 2020 is that we made it through. Not just the chronology of it, but the experiences the year brought to what was to have been just another year of tweaks and adjustments to pre-ordained strategic marketing plans. The pandemic put to rest any notion that mere tweaks and minor adjustments to pre-battle plans would suffice. If COVID-19 is a fog, then it succeeded in obliterating our early vision of marketing strategy for 2020.
Usually, the process of making marketing predictions for the future is heavily weighted on past experiences with an eye towards the new shiny gadget, app, platform, or technology that promises to revolutionize our ability to make meaningful connections with greater numbers of consumers. While the new, shiny, and revolutionary gadgets are still with us, the future of most brands going forward into the new year will rely far more on the content of the message than the vehicle of conveyance. Conor McKechnie, Vice President of Marketing at Cytiva says, “I’m going to make a prediction that is a wish. Because of the pressures on marketing as a discipline, because of what COVID-19 has done, I think more than ever now there is less time, less credence, and less patience with the shiny whizz-bangs that marketers sometimes are seduced by.” The best response marketers and marketing as a discipline can have to the challenge of the last year is to do a really good job with the basics. You can do that within the context of all the new shiny things, but you can’t say things like ‘marketing is dead’, ‘social is the new black’ and ‘it’s all virtual reality’.
The basics begin with establishing reasonable and attainable goals and objectives for the year ahead. While some mystery may remain as to the certainty of the path ahead, clear, marketing objectives are necessary to put the wheels of progress in motion. Update personal and business profiles to reflect the changes inflicted by the pandemic. Shake-off any inclination that the end is near, so planning won’t be a futile exercise. Regardless of the challenges faced, you will still reap rewards based on what is planned for; no plan equals no rewards. Schedule the year’s marketing efforts around known holidays and special events that have always been successful for increasing revenues in the past. Blow the dust off your loyalty program and make adjustments to address the terms of a recovering reality. Focus the message on the brand’s value to bring resolution to your consumers’ problems. Resolve to be committed long-term to deliver on the brand’s promise. Agility and flexibility are important when responding to short-term market dynamics, but sustainable growth requires a consistent, long-term strategic approach.
Digital marketing channels will provide the best opportunities for success, as both large and small businesses continue to transition the bulk of 2021 marketing spend to social media platforms. According to recent surveys, 57% of consumers indicated they learn about new products and services from a brand’s social media conversations. It remains the number one reason consumers follow a particular brand, but the positive attention comes with some peril. Responding to customers’ inquiries is critical, as 79% of consumers reported that they expect brands to respond within the first 24 hours of an inquiry. Delivering on customer expectations remains the single most critical element in determining a brand’s ability to secure a loyal following.
From the “some things never change” department: content in 2021 will remain King! Developing effective and successful messaging requires a focus on authentic, personalized, and relevant content that resonates with a targeted consumer. But how that content is delivered is also key to engagement. Research reveals that 68% of consumers want to engage in conversations with images and 50% favor video content. Well-designed and professional, visual imagery will deliver more than many thousands of words alone.
Digital media’s ability to deliver marketing success is often substantiated by the data its practice generates. Monitoring the vast amounts of data generated through digital interactions with consumers can reveal important insights into customers’ purchasing habits and behaviors. Data and its analysis may be the most celebrated benefit of digital marketing, but gaining a deeper understanding of a brand’s relationship with its consumers may not be totally revealed from the numbers on the page. “The things that we’ve seen this year, those themes around community and connectivity, will still be integral to anything we do in 2021”, says Olga Puzanova, Marketing Director of Spotify UK and Ireland. “I also think that lots of brands will start investing in research on consumer behavior, because the relationship with content and brands has changed, and brands need to change with it. The right tone of voice, being playful, staying innovative through everything that’s going on, is really important. You have to listen even closer to your consumers and stay relevant.”
The concern that there may be a growing disconnect between marketers and customers is not new for 2021. Data alone cannot discover all the intricacies of consumer behavior and marketers must be aware of the dangers that come from confusing interpretation and perception of the data with the customer’s true reasoning.
Going forward, one constant will remain. What prevails as wisdom in marketing today may just become tomorrow’s biggest folly. Success in 2021 for many brands may come down to redefining a purpose, achieving agility, and delivering on the promise through building more effective consumer relationships.