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Embracing change: The impact of 2020 brings new opportunity to digital

Throughout the year, AT&T’s advertising company Xandr, in partnership with The Drum, has been monitoring the evolution of consumer behaviour towards the digital advertising industry and how, in a constantly changing marketplace, advertisers are striving to deliver relevant content to the right audience.

In a year of unprecedented change, our most recent study revealed how British consumer habits have shifted, driven by the ways their lifestyles have been forced to change as a result of the global pandemic. But with great change comes the opportunity to innovate and marketers now face even more opportunity to engage with customers online.

According to Daniel Clayman, vice-president and managing director of Northern Europe at Xandr, consumers are now spending around eight hours a day online, up from seven in 2019 – a direct result of them being home so much more during elongated periods of lockdown. This trend means that marketers need to work harder to deliver advertising that’s relevant to avoid losing consumers who may feel inundated by digital advertising.

As a new year approaches, marketers will need adapt to change and embrace the ‘new normal’. We interviewed three consumers across different generations to understand how their engagement with technology and digital brands has changed this year. We discussed this with a panel of experts, including Victoria Cook, partner at Mindshare, and Steve Hewitt, vice-president at Capgemini Invent, to identify potential areas of growth that marketers should consider in order to achieve success in 2021; reaching a wider audience, purpose beyond profit and improving digital brand experience.

Boomers go digital

Back in February, before Covid-19, Xandr anticipated changes to the industry with Clayman noting that consumers were “content-rich but time poor” which bought about a new challenge for marketers – finding and keeping consumer attention. The year’s remarkable circumstances, however, have driven digital engagement among audiences across all generations, some of whom may not typically be associated with the digital-first world. Nick, a retired pension fund manager in his 70s, explains that the pandemic has changed how he uses technology, now relying on it for communication and to satisfy his entertainment needs. He accesses content across various multimedia platforms, preferring his smart TV because it is easy to use and allows him to select his preferred content.

Cook credits the growth of TV to the need for escapism during this strange year, noting that “the needs for media haven't changed, we are just finding the digital alternative”.

Marketers need to tap into their audiences and relearn how they are accessing their content. “2020 has been a real defining year for CTV,” says Clayman. “Viewership is up 12% YoY globally so, as an industry, it is really important we capture the upside associated with this trend”. But a wider audience means it is all the more vital for brands to ensure relevance, to remain in front of the right people and deliver a message that is tailored to who and where they are. In doing this, marketers will continue to strengthen that relationship between brand and consumer, rewarded with customer loyalty.

Purpose beyond profit

Earlier this year, we discovered consumers were placing greater emphasis on corporate social responsibility, some suggesting that digital advertising can be improved by brands paying more attention to the social climate. While Covid-19 has impacted the very bedrock of our society, we have also seen change this year brought about by environmental, social and political movements, and consumers have increasingly high expectations of brands to keep up with this change. Cook notes that this is something she and the team at Mindshare have been tracking for a couple of years now, but warns “whatever you do, it has to fit with your brand identity, because if it doesn’t consumers will react to that really quickly and not believe you”.

Consumers want transparency from brands to better understand how they work and how they support the environment and society, looking for brand actions to align with their own values. Daisy, a mother of two and a business owner reveals that the pandemic has changed how she interacts with brands as it has made her more conscious of her shopping habits, now preferring items that are “ethically made, locally-sourced and preferably organic”.

Adjoa, a 20-year-old student studying at the University of Sheffield, agrees. A brand’s social footprint could sway her decision to purchase. “If a brand is more socially aware, I'd be willing to buy products from them.” For Nick, he doesn’t want to interact with a company that has a reputation for mistreating people or the environment, although he does admit that there are times when he will have to “step outside of that consideration but, nevertheless it has become an increasingly important driver for me personally”.

Clayman adds that understanding a brand’s ethics is “a critical part of a consumer’s decision-making process towards brands they want to engage with”. With the impending demise of the cookie, now is the time for marketers to readjust their KPIs to focus on brand uplift and awareness in addition to the traditional CTRs and revenue tracking, which will help them meet their consumer’s new wants.

Consumers are looking for brands to act and stand up for what they believe in – and to do so authentically. By looking beyond just profit margins, marketers can work on retaining consumers long-term.

Experience matters

As high streets buckle under the ongoing consumer shift to digital, marketers have had to pivot and develop their ecommerce offerings to keep pace with consumer demand. Expedited by the restrictions of the global pandemic, Clayman believes we will see this trend continue – something that marketers should prepare for as we head into a new year.

Understanding the needs of the individual consumer is important when considering brand experience. Our youngest interviewee, Adjoa, an undergraduate at The University of Sheffield, comments that she is more inclined to purchase a product if she can get it using Klarna. The Swedish technology company aims to change the way consumers pay for products online and its ‘buy now, pay later’ service is ideal for students. While at the other end of the spectrum, Nick states that any online brand that is not easy to use puts him off interacting with them.

Cook notes that “as new people are coming online it will be more confusing for them to navigate your world”, emphasising the importance for brands to have one seamless, holistic customer experience across digital and in-person exchanges to avoid confusion for the consumer which could result in a lack of trust in your brand.

It is a sentiment supported by Steve Hewett, the vice-president and global leader within retail transformation at Capgemini Invent and part of the team behind Corner Shop. He discusses how technology could be the bridge to leverage experience and allow for experiential marketing to flourish at a time when retailers and consumers are looking for innovative opportunities to embrace.

According to Hewett: “We're already seeing a huge uptick in brands starting or accelerating, contactless and augmented reality experiences to engage customers.”

He expects AI and AR to be among the top trends for the coming year, citing them as key developments in facilitating and personalising shopping experiences. But marketers should be wary that not all shoppers will be digitally native, so they should continue to assist consumers and serve them with relevant content to aid them across experiences.

2020 has been a year unlike any other, but it has also accelerated trends that many marketers have perhaps anticipated for years, such as the rise of digital experiences. So, if 2020 is the year of change, perhaps 2021 can become the year of opportunity.

Clayman advises marketers to “embrace change and expect more of it”. He urges marketers to adapt to the channels and formats that consumers prefer, allow for an agile approach and learn and be aware of what other brands are doing in order to meet the consumer need.

“Consumers are better educated than ever before, so think about your brand, the social impact it makes on society and the benefits this can have in terms of long-term customer retention,” he concludes.

Watch part one of the series, looking at our first trend 'Boomers go digital' here.

Watch part two of the series, looking at our second trend 'Purpose beyond profit' here.

Watch part three of the series, looking at the final trend 'Experience matters' here.

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