ON THE CMO AGENDA: IT’S NO LONGER THE “NEW” NORMAL, SO HOW HAS THE INDUSTRY EVOLVED SINCE COVID-19?
Published on December 16, 2020
The past year has felt endless, almost like a long, listless afternoon spent staring out of a window. Months were punctuated by periods of stagnancy and longing for many around the world, as countries closed their borders in a bid to limit cross-border movements and implored citizens to stay indoors. No longer able to window-shop or mindlessly browse, consumers have flocked to the online world to get their fix: from e-commerce platforms to Facebook marketplaces and Instagram shops, netizens both young and old scrolled, swiped, and tapped.
Meanwhile, businesses had to look beyond their customer engagement strategies and into their own internal operations, making the difficult decision to embark on job cuts, furloughs, and layoffs as budgets were slashed and targets were revised for the year. Now a little less than a year in since the coronavirus started to make headlines across the globe, it’s no longer the “new” normal. What have we learned and where do we go from here?
The great reset
Though the online realm offered unprecedented channels for establishing connections with customers, the work really begins now when it comes to strengthening these consumer relationships. Throughout the past year, engagement technology firm Social Media Link found almost 60 percent of all surveyed consumers felt that the ongoing pandemic had radically shaped their view of brands. True to form, the global healthcare crisis has prompted consumers to focus on practical matters with many citing that the best way for brands to be viewed in a good light is to keep both customers and employees safe, but to also show empathy.
Rather than sticking to business, brands that have excelled at this time are those that have been unafraid to recognise the realities of the pandemic, allowing their character and underlying core values to truly shine. Social Media Link found that during lockdowns, 59 percent of Gen-Z consumers expressed feeling lonely, with many taking to social media to stay connected within digital communities. No longer only being assessed in terms of product quality and personalisation, support is now no longer only a nice-to-have, but a necessity. Whether it’s playful memes or acknowledging support from customers, brands should remember that digital channels are now no longer only commercial pathways—they can offer viable touchpoints that can cultivate meaningful, lasting connections.
As brands look to restart a more commercial approach to consumer engagement, many will do well to remember that authenticity and vulnerability can go a long way as they look to strengthen brand loyalty and draw in new consumers.
That being said, personalisation will continue to take pole position as we look into the year to come. Today, data-driven marketing is a given and brands will need to ensure that their existing tech investments can deliver on a holistic approach to personalisation. No longer a matter of preferences, personalisation equally encompasses a customer’s potential needs, concerns, or fears during a period of uncertainty. As expectations and preferences evolve, data-driven marketing will need to be more agile than ever.
Unfortunately, consolidation and integration of applications remains a key challenge for businesses today. According to Mulesoft’s Connectivity Benchmark Report enterprises may have up to an average of 900 applications yet only a mere 29 percent are integrated, leading difficulties in generating seamless, consistent personalised experience for their customers.
A clearer understanding of customer needs and sentiments will allow brands to have a more unified, holistic picture of their customer, allowing for real-time customisation while keeping rapidly evolving contexts in mind. By investing in the right tools to better track contextual preferences, inferred interests, while leveraging compliant first-party data sets, marketers can take on a much more informed approach when tailoring the consumer journey.
To adapt is to evolve
If there’s anything we’ve learned from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that crises can sow the seeds for change. In fact, despite the many cost-cutting measures that firms have taken on, Salesforce’s 2020 State of Marketing Report found that innovation remains the number one top priority among marketing leaders but also ranked as the number two challenge. With an emphasis on AI and automation, marketers clearly recognise the valuable ability of being able to leverage data at scale and in real-time, in order to better optimise the customer experience.
That being said, it merits taking a step back. Today, innovation is not only characterised by the strength of your tech stack or the next best emerging technology you’ve chosen to invest in, but also the extent to which change is part of your leadership style and organisational culture. It’s about a mindset and the willingness to recognise when it’s time to part ways with existing tools and knowing when it’s time to pivot—even if it means making a difficult choice.
2020 has been a year of uncertainty and turbulence, but it is this new normal has reminded us that we’re more resilient than we thought.