Food for Thought: How marketers need to approach 2021

Four marketing leaders share their thoughts and predictions on what to expect, and how to make the most of, 2021 as we slowly emerge from the pandemic crisis.

So we arrived in 2021. And despite the nation's best intentions, marketers continue to face levels of uncertainty around both their plans and consumer behaviours as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

At the same time, many brands have gleaned significant learnings and agility off the back of rapidly changing conditions during 2020.

CMO asks four marketing leaders about where do we go from here and what can be expect now that’s it’s 2021 and whether we continue to operate in short timelines or get backer to longer term planning.

Kartik Srinivasan

Marketing manager, Achievers

2020 was a transformative year when it came to the overall marketing function. Marketing investment has clearly shifted from analogue to digital and this trend will continue but it also brings with it much greater scrutiny.

One cannot ignore the impact the pandemic has had on peoples’ lives and consumption patterns. I see a lot of brands going back to the drawing board on the ‘why’ behind an organisation’s products and services.

Organisations that can clearly state the ‘why’ at the centre of their marketing message will have a greater edge in regaining trust and getting their message across. Brands will need to revisit their value proposition and close the gap between what they say and what they do.

Kartik SrinivasanCredit: Kartik Srinivasan
Kartik Srinivasan

We will need to adapt to shorter incremental timelines and have a stage gate approach to planning. Instead of mapping out an entire year, we will have to consider planning a few months at a time. The key will be able to adapt the learnings and be ready to pivot and change course quickly.

I think planning will never go away; it is an important starting point. Having a plan in place, even a loose one, can help you seize the opportunities you see coming and navigate situations you don’t. Staying still and waiting might result in you missing out. Planning any day over panicking.

We do know first-party data is far more valuable than third-party data. Having a data capture mechanism on every digital asset will be paramount. However, to get users to opt-in, companies will need to prove that they are trustworthy and that the level of personalisation they can deliver will be valuable to the consumer.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will improve ad optimisation and newer sophisticated platforms with rich measurement outputs will further become key ingredients in forecasting and measuring outcomes. With ‘agile’ becoming the buzzword across all functions there will be increased investments in enhancing the marketing tech stack.

The challenge is we are still discovering how to remain relevant - there is no silver bullet when it comes to this. 2021 will show which brands become the signal and which others remain the noise.

Vivienne Horsfall
Marketing manager, Ping Identity

2020 highlighted the importance of customer experience and the need to have a deep understanding of what really matters to your customers. With that, 2021 will see organisations taking a holistic and systematic approach to better deal with the accelerated evolution of the customer experience.

That means putting the customer at the centre of everything you do from leadership and strategy to operations. Disjointed experiences cost millions and lose customers.   

Vivienne HorsfallCredit: Vivienne Horsfall
Vivienne Horsfall

For marketing, we need to re-emphasise the importance of the customer journey from acquisition to everything that happens after a prospect completes a purchase - product utilisation, customer service, retention and advocacy.  

Customers are increasingly time poor and bad experiences won’t be tolerated. If your initial experience at registration or login is deemed too difficult, customers are lost forever. We are already seeing an increase in the adoption of password-less registration and login but that is not enough. That is the start.
Consumers are also tired of getting promotions from companies they have never heard of and for products they have little to no interest in. Connecting customers with what is essential to them will drive an affinity and loyalty over an unsubscribe.
To that end, there will be continued pressure from customers who are increasingly making purchase decisions based on an organisation’s values and key to that is their commitment to protect their data. Those companies that give customers control over information sharing, by enabling consent management, will earn brand trust and loyalty from these value-based consumers.
In 2021, it is all about customer engagement and having one voice of the customer across the organisation. To achieve this an organisation must move away from having multiple identities of customer owned by different organisational silos and move to a unified customer authority to deliver a personalised and frictionless experience throughout the customer journey to create intimacy, affinity and attachment without proximity.

Toby Harrison
Chief strategy officer, Ogilvy Australia 

So, 2021…now what?
There is no going back. I am not alone in wishing that when the clock struck midnight, the new year would magically reset the world back to some kind of pre-Covid normal. Sadly, the reality is COVID (and its effects) will linger on for considerably longer than any of us expected.

Our world has been irrevocably changed and no matter how much we might want to, there is no ‘going back’ to how things were. We aren’t out of the woods yet, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Here's why.
Brands as service
At the heart of almost every brand is a promise of how it can be of service to the user. Over the years, commercial requirements and over-merchandising have diluted so much of that beautiful service promise away.

However, just when things got tricky for us all, it was amazing to see brands shift their thinking from ‘how can I sell more,’ back to ‘how can I help?’ The result was a slew of companies who found new relevance and importance in customers lives by actively being of service to them right when they needed it most. As their competitors filled the air with exactly the same in “these unprecedented times” ads that offered nothing, the real leaders stood up and took action  and in the end have pocketed both the loyalty and dollars of their customers.
Carrying the good stuff forwards

James BoardmanCredit: Toby Harrison
James Boardman

If you can choose to focus on the positives, 2020 brought back some pieces of our humanity:  The value of community was firmly re-established. Many of us managed to regain some sense of work life balance. We gave respect and celebrated the work of our teachers and those who care for and protect us. And perhaps most importantly, we recognised quite how fragile both we and the planet really are. 

The world isn’t going to suddenly ‘snap-back’ like an elastic band. And while we collectively lick our wounds, it is lovely to see that so many of us are taking comfort by continuing to embrace and cherish the good stuff we ‘rediscovered’ in 2020.   

Contact and connection

As positive as it has been to reconnect with some old behaviours, few things have accelerated our adoption of new behaviours quite like this pandemic. What CIOs had been trying to achieve for years around digital became an overnight reality. 

It was a circuit breaker for our digital economy and has changed the way we all shop, do business and communicate. We’ve finally realised that it is possible to work remotely, and even though they have been saying it for year, the disabled and disenfranchised amongst us are being given the opportunity to contribute effectively to our workforces.   

No matter how much of an optimist I am, the realist inside me knows that when it comes to the new world we live in, contact isn’t the same thing as connection. In fact, we are in contact more than ever before, but connection and the shared experience that comes with it, is what we are all yearning for the most.
We will always try to do what is right, but mostly what is easy. In thinking on what this year holds for us - sadly I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do have a Dane (our head of behavioural science) and his point of view on this coming year is people invariably will choose what is easiest.

While this may seem pretty obvious, what is interesting is exactly how it will manifest, which is why behavioural science is useful. Most of us have had to learn some new tricks to get through 2020. For brands, many of these work arounds and new behaviours have been enforced out of our sense of civic duty and desire for personal safety, but as our situation becomes less perilous it’s likely that they will fade away quickly. Mask-wearing and hand sanitising fatigue has set in and both those habits are already in decline.
What this means is that no matter how elegant or successful your COVID pivot has been right now, if it isn’t easy for people to continue to do, then it simply doesn’t stick.    

James Boardman

National strategy partner, Wavemaker

First of all, 2020 - insert cliché here - changed, accelerated and reinforced. For everything that stayed the same, an existing trend accelerated and something else was turned on its head. This isn’t about sifting through wreckage and learning from what’s left though.

That most fundamental marketing element, the customer journey, has been changed, accelerated, contracted, expanded and whole new journeys have been born. It’s time to dig deep and identify how these new customer journeys can be bent in our brands’ favours.

On the one hand, the power of distinctive, powerful brands to provide a shortcut to decision making has never been stronger. On the other hand, the scope for challengers to snaffle disproportionate share at lightning speed, late in the purchase journey, has never been greater. Customers who shop online have more brand bias to their future purchase than those who shop in bricks and mortar.

James BoardmanCredit: James Boardman
James Boardman

Online, the competitor set is often different and wider. Having a powerful brand that cuts through is crucial, particularly in areas such as social commerce where impulse shopping is now opening new routes to market for even quite large and complex purchases. However, those who shop online use more touchpoints – up to 40 per cent more.

This creates a huge challenge for content development. How do we, at pace and on budget, expand our content approaches to ensure we show up in the right places with the right content?

Online customers are also more needy – they research more brand territories and proof points than those who shop on the high street. Being clear about your portfolio and its benefits has rarely mattered more. Telling a coherent brand story across a more complex set of touchpoints is the key challenge.

Purchase journeys are changing across every industry. Some have halved the time it takes an average customer to make a purchase decision in the space of three years. In others we’ve seen purchase journeys become longer as impulse in-store shopping has been replaced by ‘put it in the basket and come back to it’ online behaviour. New night-time shopping (after the home school has finished and work has been caught up on) and new shopping festivals are changing everything from day-part strategies to seasonality.

The role of planners in navigating change is vital. A few years ago, we were worried about the death of the generalist. Now, generalists who can see the full picture matter enormously. Predictive insights that power a much more live and agile customer journey will be the new tools of the trade.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, or follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page.

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