Over the past 12 months, it’s not just Covid-19 that has been reshaping the lives of consumers, businesses and employees. Civil unrest, political upheaval, racial tensions and environmental awareness, as well as the knock-on effects of the global pandemic, have all been instrumental in escalating huge changes in the way we think, live and work. The result is a need for a critical reevaluation of marketing practices for brands that hope to thrive in 2021.
In many ways, the key changes in the way we relate to brands and businesses were already present in our culture pre-pandemic. Notably, the shift to online buying and diminished brand loyalty. However, they have escalated in their prevalence. For example, online shopping has gone from being an option to a near necessity for many.
Leading research and advisory company, Gartner, has identified six key areas that should be priorities for CEOs and their Chief Marketing Officers as they forecast the next two to five years:
- The rise in hybrid marketing experiences;
- Customer-centric, channel-agnostic strategies;
- Subscription offerings are on the rise;
- Merging of marketing, sales and customer experience;
- Employee activism;
- Prioritising content moderation.
The rise in hybrid marketing experiences
It is estimated that “by 2023, 60% of companies that pivoted to virtual events will incorporate real-time/real-space elements into marketing experiences”. This means that although the use and reliance on digital communications have exploded out of necessity, as social creatures, we miss more direct interactions with other people. Therefore, brands need to consider a hybrid approach - directing resources to enhance virtual experiences such as events and live-streaming as well as making long-term plans for the intersection between virtual and in-person communications.
Customer-centric, channel-agnostic strategies
Gartner noted that “By 2025, consumers’ omnichannel behaviour will drive 60% of B2C brands toward a functional, rather than channel-based organisational structure.” This relates to the need for an omnichannel approach to customer communications and marketing, led by customers' wants and needs. While short term, this may relate almost entirely to different online channels, in the longer term, it must consider the fact that many customers will also want to return to an in-person approach. This boils down to listening to your consumers and understanding your market and letting that information lead your decisions regarding the combination of platforms you choose to use to build relationships and generate sales.
Subscription offerings are on the rise
Subscription offerings, especially for B2C brands, are increasingly important revenue streams. This relates to the changing relationships that we have with brands. We have spoken before about the Gen Z characteristic for less brand loyalty than previous generations, and an increased value placed on experience over possession. Gen Z will think nothing of streaming movies on Netflix rather than owning a copy, for example. 2020 has seen an extension of that changing attitude towards product ownership among consumers, especially younger ones. More products and services are also available in this manner than ever before. As subscription models grow, it makes it harder for them to stand out, however, which may also increase the cost of acquiring new subscribers. The net result is the need for a much more strategic focus on the marketing of your subscription models. That means everything from refining the experience and listening to customer feedback (the relationship between marketing and sales is integral here), to the channels and messages you use to communicate with clients and potential clients.
Merging of marketing, sales and customer experience
In many companies, there is an ongoing disconnect between marketing and sales teams.
“Organisations that struggle usually have a situation where the sales and marketing teams are pointing fingers at each other. Changing that requires executive support, so CEOs have a big role to play. We have seen some CEOs foster the wrong kind of competition between the two groups, which is a short-sighted strategy. Everyone has to be on the same page.”
We believes that a modern organisation knows the value of creating a more integrated approach, where sales and marketing both have a vested interest in the end result, rather than simply their portion of the process. The data, not only in his own work but also in the market as a whole, supports his hypothesis. Gartner found that 90% of CMOs and marketing leaders agree that their function is under pressure to become more adaptive, but 76% say they cannot fully maximise the impact of initiatives when also striving for efficiency.
If rapid market changes hadn’t taught us before, the last year has been an aggressive lesson for many brands, about the need for nimble, streamlined and cost-effective operations. Research shows us that those who thrive, are the ones who can bring together the marketing, sales and customer experience teams in the business to work cross-functionally.
Employee activism drives change
We live in a world where everyone has a platform. The more subtle impact of this has become apparent over time. Importantly, this means that brand marketing needs to be considered all the way through a company. Authenticity is also important, as is transparency. 2020 was a year of civil unrest in general, and when it comes to businesses, employees are galvanised to stand up for what they believe to be right or fair.
In terms of marketing at a strategic level, this highlights the need for an integrated approach where marketing is a central point in the business bringing all areas together. Customer experience should not conflict with the company’s stance on societal issues, and it isn’t good enough to pay lip service to a cause. How and what you communicate needs to be considered in relation to the brand as a whole and from the CEO and Chief Marketing Officer levels, all the way through the company.
Prioritising content moderation
Digital communications, online review platforms like Trustpilot, and social media, are all vital for modern brands. However, the volatility and polarisation of online content can also be a daunting prospect for many business leaders, marketing leaders and organisations. Negative feedback can have an impact not only on the company and its reputation, but it can also be demoralising for the team.
While genuine feedback is an important part of product and service quality control and development, the aggression that is increasingly prevalent online is leading to a change in the way companies choose to manage user-generated content. Historically, it may have been a preferred method of management to respond but not moderate user-generated content. However, increasingly corporations are using content moderation service and software providers to monitor, moderate and manage high-volume and high-frequency user-generated content to protect brand reputation.
Ultimately, as we shake off the slumber and panic of 2020, long-term changes in consumer behaviour and market trends are making themselves clear. This provides an opportunity for CEOs and CMOs to look at how they can re-evaluate the way they do things to make it fit for purpose in the modern world. That means asking the right questions to move forward with a marketing strategy relevant to both their existing clients and new potential audiences.