Predictions Series 2021: How Brands would Use Digital Marketing in the Era of Covid-19

This article is co-authored by Derek's colleague, Iris Kelley, Director of Digital Marketing for Shift7 Digital.

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Even as digital marketers ourselves, not even we could have predicted just how important digital marketing would become in 2020. When COVID-19 took its grip on the world in March, suddenly digital marketing became one of the only ways to do business. All of the sudden the plans to increase and amplify a digital presence went from a can perpetually kicked down the road to being imperative number one. For some industries, this was a smooth transition; for many, it was crippling and even devastating – they simply weren’t prepared.

 If this year has taught the business world anything, it’s that digital is more critical than ever. Here are our top five predictions for how brands will engage digital marketing in 2021.

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Brands will make customer data even more important

Over the last 10 years, “data” has become a buzzword that gets thrown around to mean a number of different things, many of which often point toward better insights and analysis for business decisions. In 2021 and beyond, we’ll start to see businesses lean hard into using data to better know, and thus better serve, their customers. In a way, this will be the next “big step” for a lot of businesses. If 2020 was the year they waded into the digital marketing waters out of necessity, and not necessarily preparation, 2021 will be when they take the next step and leverage more third-party data sources to learn more about their customers.

 This will help lead brands toward greater digital intelligence and fluency overall, with the benefit of deeper digital intelligence being that brands are able to serve better messaging to their customers. The more data points a brand has on its target customers, the better they can tailor the experience to them.

Brands are going to get organized (finally!)

While there plenty of businesses who had (most) of their ducks in a row on the digital marketing front prior to March, so many were caught off guard and just weathered the storm throughout the year as a result. Next year, we’ll see many more companies take the big, organized leap into digital in ways we haven’t seen before.

Like many facets of business, digital marketing works best when there is an executable plan in place, underpinned by research in customer needs.  Even before the pandemic hit, we’ve met with plenty of businesses who come in and say, “we need to do this specific tactic, and we need to do it right now” and our answer is always that you have to slow down before you can speed up. Harkening back to the earlier point on data, we need to know what your customers’ very specific needs right now are first, and then we go from there. Further, businesses are learning that they must invest in the right team, the right partners and the right tech to make their efforts stick. Gone are the days when just checking boxes on tactics worked (though we’d argue, it never really worked to begin with). Having all of your ducks in a row will ultimately lead to…

Brands will be more unified in their storytelling.

Marketing plans that consist of a slew of a slew of unorganized tactics with no underlying strategy leads to many problems, but perhaps one of the biggest ones is silos. When you have one team or agency working on email strategy, one team working on ecommerce, one team working on social media and another working on ads, you end up with a lot of cooks in a very crowded kitchen. And it shows. Next year, we’ll see even more brands start to consolidate their marketing efforts and teams to be cohesive across their touch points even more than ever before because at last, a foundational plan for digital will be in place.

Brands will look for more ways to make loyalty count.

Brands now understand that their customers can search for their products online and face 10 or more options before they choose what they will buy and where they will buy it. Avoiding commoditization in the crowded digital market is essential, especially as the face-to-face channels that had fostered reliably “warm relationships” were so greatly reduced this year. In person business ground to a halt basically overnight and all of a sudden trade shows, lunches and handshakes were all gone. Digital marketing – something that was once considered “fluffy” or a “nice to have” – became how the fittest survived.

Especially in the B2B space, loyalty programs among brands will pop up more and more, as there’s a lot of opportunity here; they’re currently less common than what you see in the B2C world. They’re an easy way for these brands to differentiate themselves from competition while gamifying the purchasing experience and making it fun.

Also Read: Picture This: An Audience-First Approach to Video Advertising

Brands will pay attention to more than just their own backyard.

If you’re a brand selling your product online, making the impression on your customer is either going to happen on your website, or on someone else’s website. The benefits of having customers buy from your site directly are obvious, but with the proliferation of third-party retailers and meteoric rise of online marketplaces, brands must pay just as much attention to how their products are being discovered on other websites as they do to their own.

Every distribution channel – from Amazon all the way to a local store – has its own rules of the road on everything including content, paid advertising, pricing strategies and more. In the past, so many brands have just posted their products to online channels and called it a day, and many don’t know there are tools that can help you create a more seamless, unified buyer’s journey. There is an abundance of technology that can fuel data and insights about customer behavior even when you refer them off to convert elsewhere. At the end of the day, it takes just as much focus to deliver a meaningful website on a brand’s own site as it does for other online distribution channels – and next year, we’ll see it be treated as such.

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