CES: 3 trends driving the 2021 consumer engagement playbook

Three marketers share their advice on crafting the right message to engage consumers in another challenging year

As the new year dawns, marketers need an updated playbook to connect with consumers is the new and changing landscape.

During a CES panel this week, three marketing chiefs shared their advice and predictions on making sense of the new normal.

Will 2021 be the year when the potential of 5G is finally realised? As the cookie crumbles and marketers find new ways to coax insights from their customers, will addressability and personalisation be truly achievable? Many long-awaited, hotly anticipated tech advances — and restrictions — of 2021 will usher in a new round of challenges and opportunities, and some savvy players are more ready than others. So just how can marketing chiefs understand the consumer engagement playbook of 2021?

1. The power of human interaction

One of the central themes of 2021, driven by the pandemic that has forced people away from each other, is a renewed appreciation and desire for physical interactions and gathering together. Verizon Media chief business officer, Iván Markman, told the audience that, while there’s been significant increases in media consumption, there are two big things that people are craving.

“The first one is touching, experiencing products, and the second one is gathering together,” Markman said. Technology, in particular new developments such as 5G and augmented reality, is helping to enable new types of experiences for people.

“And when you think about publishers and advertisers, they are leveraging that a lot more to connect with their target customers."

In terms of challenges around privacy regulations, Google’s plans for retiring third-party cookies and developments in other identifiers, Markman said there’s a need for marketers, publishers and consumers to coordinate in more meaningful ways. First-party date will become crucial and brands that don’t naturally have this will need to look to contextual signals.

“If you take away identity and just look at all of the experiences that happen in any digital experience, a lot of signals that are produced are completely anonymous,” he said.

As a result, Markman's one word to sum up 2021 would be ‘reconnection’. “My hope is that 2021 is the year of reconnection,” he said.

2. Creating meaning and connection

The events of last year and the continuation of the pandemic into 2021 is seeing a real need for marketing to create meaning and connection with consumers. Harry's Inc head of brand marketing, Gabby Cohen, explained how it’s crucial to meeting the customer where they are and understand what they need.

“Thinking about how to connect with consumers in the future, and what the media landscape is going to look like, it's really around meaning,” said Cohen. “It is about a deeper meaning that you're creating and a deeper connection with customers. The next 12 to 18 months will be meeting the customer where they are and understanding what they need from us from a meaningful perspective."

Doing good will also be central to how brands need to function in the immediate future, according to Cohen. But this can’t be something that is just tacked on to a brand, it needs to be part of the brand’s identity from its inception.

“If it's intrinsically who the brand is, and connected to who they are, that will help them in the future, but working backwards, it's really hard to develop a social mission that's not innately connected to the customer experience and that feels like an afterthought,” she explained.

“Customers are looking for deeper meaning and looking for companies that do good, but it really has to be part of the fabric of the organisation. Companies will succeed if they have a social mission that is really connected to who they.”

Cohen also said there’s a place, and a need, for more a little humour and some lightheartedness moving into 2021. “There's a real opportunity to think about how we're communicating with customers in a more joyful humoured way versus everything has to be deeply thoughtful and serious. I think it’s about striking a good balance between the two,” she said.

“And I’m hoping 2021 is the year of doing better - to each other with kindness and being more thoughtful - and thinking about planet Earth and giving back."

3. Leverage data and technology

Technology and data will have an important role to play in the recovery and new normal providing valuable insights and analysis on customers, but it can also be deployed to assist them in areas related to the pandemic.

“We’re looking at how we can leverage data and technology to help take care of the health and wellbeing of our customers during the pandemic and getting through that,” Walgreen Co GVP, customer marketing platforms, Alyssa Raine, explained to the audience.

“So what is what data insights do you leverage to make sure that you have that best possible understanding of the needs of your customers, and what has really changed and accelerated during the pandemic?"

Raine also pointed to the growth in adtech and martech that helps brands create highly personalised experiences.

“It’s really making sure you understand the consumers needs as they are at any one time and are creating content, solutions and fresh products and services that help those customers during that time,” she said.

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