5 Tips for Building a Marketing Strategy that Works in 2021

If you can name a cornerstone principle of marketing strategy– odds are COVID-19 has up-ended its conventional wisdom. Buying habits have changed, strategies have changed, and – most importantly – the ways brands build relationships with customers has changed this year. With many marketers being forced to throw out the playbook in 2020, many are scrambling to understand what’s next for 2021.

Taking a look at consumer behavior this holiday season we see less visits to physical store locations, but growing basket sizes and items purchased.  Additionally,  the emergence of online ordering and in-store pickup has gone mainstream and growing e-commerce transactions continue to fuel sales growth of more than 1% to 1.5% this holiday season compared to last, according to Deloitte.  

Odds are, these changes are here to stay, and as marketers, it’s our job to stay ahead of the curve – even if there are many of them. In a time where we look back on the campaigns that worked, we also need to take stock of our losses and recalibrate our strategy in the face of our new normal. Here are five critical pillars that need to be included in 2021 planning:

Think omnichannel, all the time. 

Recent increases in online shopping sales at major retailers like Walmart indicate a growing comfort level with online and hybrid shopping environments. The rise of curbside pickup, click to cart and click to prominent shopping and delivery apps not only drove increased value but also increased usage and adoption. 

In 2021, implementing these services along with other innovative means which blend the digital and physical world will help separate the year’s biggest winners from the rest of the pack.

This shift in consumer behavior will require every marketer to take action and implement a full omnichannel approach to consumer efforts in the new year. This means seamlessly integrating touchpoints across mobile, at-home, and physical store locations. As marketers, we need to look holistically across marketing efforts to align messaging and channels throughout the entire customer journey.

Be real-time ready – wherever that might be

Forrester Research indicates that consumers desire access to any information or service on their mobile device at their precise moment of need; for many today, this means reaching them at home as well as in-path and in-store. 

According to Murphy Research, 88% of key purchase decisions are made at home – a figure increasing in relevance during lockdown protocols. This, combined with a rise in mobile app usage, and an increase in connected TV options, points to the growing opportunity for marketers to reach consumers in the home to build awareness, consideration, and ultimately purchases in the new year. 

In 2021, an increased reliance on digital means that the targeting approach has to be of service to customers and based on the metrics that matter: past behavior – be it visits, purchases, intent, interests or motives. The ability to deliver on this promise and create impactful moments on the customer’s terms, made possible by data science and technology, will create better customer experiences, stronger results, and higher lifetime value.

Double Down on Value and play the long game

This year, the holiday shopping season began earlier than ever before, and no-contact gifts, especially gift cards, are increasingly in demand. Shoppers are not only spending more on gift cards (17.58%) this year, but buying gift cards more frequently (+12.33% YoY). The flexibility, ease, and convenience of gift cards offer consumers the ability to give while reducing the pressure of finding the ultimate gift or the hassle associated with returns.

For brands, this may be a silver lining as 70% of gift cards are redeemed within six months of receipt according to Paytronix. To prepare, marketers should understand and analyze consumer behaviors and sales trends to promote the right products and lead with value-based messaging. Research validates the importance of value-based brands during uncertain economic times and this will be essential for marketers looking to capitalize on the first half of 2020 Boom.

Be a trusted source online and in-store

As marketers build back the substance of our customer relationships in-store, it will be essential to reiterate and reaffirm a commitment to safety and transparency. Consumers will increasingly turn to the brands they know and trust, provided the value is communicated effectively.

For many brands, the challenges of 2020 motivated innovation, particularly around services. Options like self-checkout, improving store layouts, and increasing the availability of technology options like in-hand scanning for detailed product information are on the rise. These trends will undoubtedly continue over the next year – and the onus is on us to communicate those developments handily as customers return to stores. 

The same can be said for safeguarding customers online. With a growing focus on privacy and transparency, marketers who subscribe to the key tenets of notice, choice, access and transparency will be well-positioned to strengthen relationships with consumers. As consumers gain more control of the data they share with brands and marketers and leading operating systems like iOS14 further surface these controls marketers will need to get smarter about the data they buy and use to target users. As a result we will see the rise of third-party independent audit firms to assure quality and build new level of transparency and trust around data and audiences.   

Measure everything

The digital environment we now live in has proven that more advanced analytics beyond just click-through rate are crucial to program success. In 2021, an increased focus on ROAS (return on ad spend) will headline reports as more stringent budgets are set forth for marketers. 

As marketers are increasingly asked to do more with less, it’s essential to demonstrate our impact on the bottom line – and the best way to do that is by obsessively analyzing performance. 

Leaning on analytics can enable us to learn on the fly, boost our impact across the many stages of the customer journey, and provide an incremental lift to guide them through the decision process. Attribution approaches in the new year will not only need to be omnichannel and provide and discern the impact of multi-touch.  By regularly auditing efforts, marketers can further optimize efforts around acquiring new customers, retaining at-risk customers and driving lifetime value for loyalists. 

Taken together, marketers that navigate changing consumer behaviors, enhance capabilities to sense and respond to consumers in real-time, stress value, address consumer concerns and measure everything will be well-positioned to drive success and competitive advantage in 2021.