Marketing Survival 101: Shifting Trends and Tools in 2021

It’s a new world out there for marketers. Consumer behaviors are now forever changed, and with that has come the rapid adoption of new technology. Our usage of video, Facetime, Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams has skyrocketed, and our collective comfort consuming digital entertainment, shopping online, ordering food, and services with our phones will permanently increase our adoption of these conveniences.

The internet has also ushered in a new level of transparency, and COVID-19 forced even the most curmudgeon of us to use it, with the impact hitting every business across all industries globally. Users now have unfiltered information & services at their fingertips. For instance, if you don’t want to disclose a gap in your product or publish pricing, users will find it from a blog or a review site.

With these sweeping changes, particularly how customers consume information, interact with technology, and how brands are perceived, marketing tools must adapt to this new norm as well. There will be technology and strategies that will determine the success of your campaigns for maximizing customer engagement and retention, so you can make the most impact in 2021.

Accelerated Technology Cycle

Adapting to new technologies typically takes years, but COVID-19 has collapsed a typical 5- to 10-year cycle into just one year. To survive, marketers must invest resources on digital marketing and messaging tools that go beyond a website and email list. To thrive they must have a mobile- compatible site, add additional messaging channels (like SMS, push, and in-app), incorporate social video to tell their business story, and deliver a cohesive message across all digital channels. Anything less limits your addressable market in a digital-first economy.

Digital marketing is also moving to a more self-serve model for business tools. There are many data points to support this, as Forrester reported 67% buyers prefer to research online martech tools, and 61% prefer to buy self-serve, with a credit card, online (up from 51% in 2015). Buyers are migrating away from lengthy, enterprise-oriented implementations, and more towards tools that are easy to use and that will integrate seamlessly.

With the proliferation of Google Apps, Analytics, AWS in Cloud, Segment in customer data, and other popular tools are just a few of many examples of self-serve, easy-to-use tools leading their respective categories in user adoption.

Be Data-Driven and Focus on Retention

The key theme for marketing executives is to focus on retention over acquisition. With the current global health situation changing the way people interact, technology-driven methods of communication are now essential.

Businesses are increasingly reinventing themselves to serve the increased digital demand and messaging is a glue that binds the physical and digital worlds. Increasing repeat visitors is far more cost-effective and easier than acquiring new ones. The best strategy is not how to get more traffic that lands on our site one time, but rather how to build more engaged relationships with the users already enjoying your site.

Increasing the repeat visitation of your existing users by leveraging personalized cross-channel messaging is far more cost-effective and easier than acquiring new ones, as studies have found it is 5x more expensive to acquire a new customer.

Shifting E-Commerce and Retail Strategies

Forrester predicts that more than 25% of all retail sales will occur online by 2024, but claims that the total retail sales will fall 2.5% this year. Taking a data-driven mindset is critical for all marketers looking to cut through the noise during busy seasons. With small businesses competing with large retailers for customer attention and sales, stores must rely on technology and think outside the proverbial box to stick out from the crowd. As one example, Shopify Plus merchants hired a marketing agency to help drive 182% jump in abandoned cart revenue for a small retailer by building highly tailored segments and automations based on user activity and context.

2020 proved that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are no longer one-off blitz days – if not totally over. Target advertised “Black Friday Now” over the course of the entire month of November, Costco promoted pre-Black Friday Deals from November 5 through the 30th, and many other retailers followed suit. It’s now less about cramming a one-off, single-day deal into an already crowded inbox, but about building a longer term strategy and relationship with customers to surface the right ecommerce opportunities through the right channels at the right times throughout the entire holiday season.

It was also a unique year in the way that the coronavirus impacted inventory across the board. Due to manufacturing stoppages and delays, we saw shortages of much more than the annual high-demand toys. So strategically being able to understand customer interests and themes as well as tactically being able to communicate alternatives or updates (by sending real-time, back in stock notifications, for example) will be key to convert buyer interest into purchases.

Back to the Marketing Norm Post-COVID?

The counter to the behavioral adoption curve is that consumers will eventually go back to their old patterns once a vaccine is widely available. This will likely be true to some extent, however, the question is more so how much of the shelter-in-place experience permanently impacts consumer preferences and behaviors. Even a 5% global shift in remote working results in hundreds of millions less people commuting each day. Extrapolate that to food consumption, shopping, travel, large entertainment events, real estate, conferences among many and we’ll see a massive commercial and social shift.

For CRM leaders, they’ll need to rapidly adapt their operating plans. Most businesses in the near term will need to cut budgets, and user acquisition will be scaled back during the economic uncertainty. Now is a time to invest in existing customer engagement & loyalty. These investments will protect their current base and when budgets get reinstated post-pandemic, provide them a stronger platform to maximize user acquisition for sustained re-growth in the future. And as consumers are forced to rethink almost every aspect of their daily lives during COVID, companies that can embed themselves into the new normal will be better positioned for success as the world emerges from the pandemic. 

Although growing a business may seem like a daunting task amidst a global pandemic, leveraging digital engagement tools in the right way can render massive user retention and growth. The short-term costs of shifting towards digital engagement methods are incomparable to the long-term outcomes of creating positive, relevant interactions between businesses and their users. In fact, it is these exact digital engagement strategies that will ultimately drive user retention and enhance the customer experience.