No matter where you look, or who you talk to, the narrative often seems the same: COVID has thrown markets, businesses, and marketing into chaos, and the future will be marked by a new normal rather than a return to past times.
Yet, for all the talk of global disruption and fragility of marketplaces, we must also acknowledge the rapid positive transformations occurring. COVID has laid a foundation for a renewed focus on digital experience centered on consumer needs, enabling marketers to communicate across a wider breadth of touch points with a greater depth of data.
No doubt, despite the painful lessons people and brands have endured, there are reasons to be encouraged about the future of marketing.
Digital transformation has accelerated, creating more flexibility for marketers
- Digital aspirations are now considered business necessities, as efforts have been reprioritized towards digitizing operations and customer experience. 60% of technology executives report that digital transformation strategies have been accelerated due to COVID. Whether it is business intelligence, loyalty programs, or AI chatbots, businesses are being digitally rebuilt from the data up.
- The convergence of TIMAD (Technology, Insights, Marketing, Analytics and Data) functions has reached a tipping point. Once treated as independent areas of expertise, successful businesses are placing a greater emphasis on multidisciplinary expertise. Just as strategies must be as connected as the consumers with which they seek to serve, organizations must be as well.
- Marketing agility has never been higher or more important. Marketers have greater control over measurement, personalization, and experience delivery as consumers shift to digital channels where real-time analytics are prevalent. Despite a stark decline in overall ad spend, digital channels are growing while legacy channels are not. Though COVID may be the nail in the coffin of traditional media, marketing’s future is on digital platforms which provide flexibility to respond to evolving consumer needs and the capacity to better observe and optimize performance.
Emerging content distribution models create both new opportunities and new imperatives
- As content distribution models and media formats evolve, they present new opportunities for advertising, product placement, and sponsorship. Whether it’s D2C movie releases by the studios, new pricing strategies for streaming/on-demand platforms, or AR/VR adoption growth, expansion in the entertainment sector is creating new touch point options for brands.
- Audience definitions are more robust than ever, facilitating more precise targeting. Our societal shift towards digital devices and platforms, where our behaviors are more easily observable, creates more holistic and robust consumer personas. This means the advertising giants have more data to inform their algorithms, yielding improved targeting and conversion.
- This is a period of time marked by emotional volatility and tribalism, creating three imperatives for brands. First, using emotion in advertising is critical to building a sustainable connection with consumers. Second, reinforcing safety must be an active strategic and communication imperative. Third, tribalism elevates the importance of influencer strategies. Instagram use has surged 40% and sponsored-post engagement has climbed 75% alone, not to mention the 30% growth in both YouTube and Twitch viewership and TikTok’s rapid adoption. Having strong voices carry and reinforce your message will solidify your brand narratives across the channels being used most frequently.
Customer habits have been disrupted, opening the door to even greater customer focus
- Although many habits have persisted, COVID has forced consumers to behave in new ways and purchase new products. Whether driven by limited product availability (53% of American consumer purchased a brand they hadn’t bought before) or the need for new entertainment (Netflix added 26 million new subscribers, while Disney+ has nearly doubled its subscriber base), some of these habits are being sustained, allowing brands to penetrate by re-emphasizing product and services features. Just as consumer behavior changes, advertising must change as well. The brands successfully navigating COVID are doing so with a deep understanding of the latest consumer needs and paths to purchase.
- Limited purchase activity has driven up the cost of customer acquisition and conversion, forcing brands to transform the cross-channel digital experience. By rethinking their digital presence, placing customers (not the product) at the center of the experience, brands are unlocking the true potential of personalization. Rather than identifying people for products, strategies are being rebuilt to identify products for people. Look no further than Nike’s “Play inside, play for the world” campaign for a lesson in how to interweave advertising, experience and product with a people-first strategy. The campaign directed viewers to their app, where they received free access to premium content, with products tailored for the person. We are only scratching the surface of how omnichannel product interaction and purchase personalization can grow conversion and facilitate long-term brand connection.
- Barriers to entry, particularly for new brands or legacy brands considering D2C strategies, have fallen greatly, a result of consumers of all ages embracing business and distribution models they historically shunned. 75% of first-time digital channel users plan to continue using these channels post-COVID. Brands must capitalize on these emerging opportunities and user groups. Speed to market, a deep understanding of the new customer journey, and consumer-centricity will mark the winners and losers.
While this transformation is fluid, the new future is an exciting one. All of these shifts support a data-driven marketing future with greater agility, precision, and connection. Capitalizing on this future demands that marketers harness 1st, 2nd, and 3rd party data to build robust 360-degree customer profiles, and then use that intelligence maximize acquisition, conversion and lifetime value through personalization and loyalty.
Even as uncertainty reigns, the future of marketing looks increasingly bright.