By Thomas Hobbs | Journalist



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February 18, 2021 | 8 min read

With large swathes of the world still not any closer to easing COVID-19 restrictions, 2021 is set to be another complicated year for marketers. However, according to HubSpot’s CMO Kipp Bodnar, the brands who intelligently use data-led insights and CRM will find a way to rise above the fog.

Bodnar, who was speaking as part of a fascinating new virtual roundtable from The Drum and HubSpot looking into how marketers can succeed in the 2020s, also outlined how HubSpot’s CRM platform has found a way to help its customers during such a difficult time. “Every brand is trying to navigate to what looks good in a radically different world,” Bodnar noted when asked by the panel’s host Gordon Young, the co-founder of The Drum, what some of the biggest marketing trends were since the pandemic began.

CRM strategy

HubSpot, Revolut, Diageo, Just Eat, Cazoo and ClassPass shared insights into how marketers can succeed in the 2020s

“We took all the data available across 80,000 plus shoppers and really analysed how the pandemic had changed their behaviour. We then gave all of the brands we work with some key benchmarks, like email open and close rates, and behavioural data, and they all found this to be very helpful. Having a solid data and CRM strategy can provide brands with stability amid a hyper-changing world.”

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Having a CRM strategy in place is crucial to brands of all sizes and improves not just how to run and grow a business but the customer experience as a whole. Bodnar adds: “The brands who are going to disrupt the market right now will give the customer something they never thought of and something new that will give them stability and comfort at a time where, well, not much of that stuff is going around! The data can point the way.”

Using data to respond to consumer needs

Revolut is among HubSpot’s customers, and the rising online banking brand’s director of global marketing and communications Chad West echoed Bodnar’s view that using data-led insight can make a real difference right now. “One thing we have done is look at all our customer data to get a real understanding of their favourite brands and things like where they do their food shopping,” West revealed.

“We’ve added a new function in the app that gives customers cashback and rewards for the brands they’ve been spending the most on during the pandemic. We can use data to make sure we incentivise the customer to find value at such a desperate time. Marketing teams who historically weren’t data-driven will certainly need to change now, but that needs to be a constant evolution and not something that’s given up on in 2022.”

West’s foresight was shared by Lucas Bergmans, who is brand director at online car retailer Cazoo. He advised: “Data can tell you a lot about the past, but a good CRM strategy will also help you get some insight into how you conduct business in the future, too.” The start-up only sold its first car in December 2019, but Berhams says a data-led strategy has helped it to adapt to the challenging new norms of COVID-19. “As an ecommerce business, we have had to adapt quickly, so we now do click and collect and deliver a car direct to a consumer’s home. The data showed people were reluctant to go to show rooms, so we listened and shifted.”

Avoiding data paralysis

Yet takeaway giant Just Eat’s CMO Susan O’Brien - who says the brand has used data insights to ramp up the “joy” in its marketing as customers look towards ordering their favourite takeaway as some “stability” amid all the chaos - insisted data shouldn’t be the only thing that leads a brand’s response to the pandemic across 2021.

“I think the big thing we’ve learned is that brands need to know their place in the world and be aware of the national mood in whatever market it is they are operating in,” she explained. “This is a really sad time for people so you need to make sure your marketing and your product is offering a bit of joy, hope and normality, and remember that marketers are not the target audience. It’s easy to let the data lead your response to COVID-19, but it is just as important to go with your gut feeling.”

Another key factor in achieving success in this era will be thinking about consumers as part of a collective rather than just as individuals, according to Irina Sidorova, head of growth marketing at fitness brand ClassPass, also a HubSpot customer She says the brand’s analysis of its customers has shown they’re now prioritising their mental health just as much as their physical, so ClassPass’ offer and brand tone of voice has shifted to account for this.

“You need to clearly communicate what problem your brand is trying to solve and be clear about how you can help consumers with their needs, which have obviously changed so much,” Sidorova explained.

“You almost have to detach from thinking of yourself as a business and really reach out to them on a human level. As marketers, we need to remember that the challenge aren’t as individual anymore, but a collective battle. It’s easy to reach data paralysis so, while it is important to let data lead your decisions, you also need to think about how your customers are suffering physically and mentally, and how you can provide solutions.”

Finding light and joy

Looking ahead to 2022, Smirnoff Diageo’s global marketing director Sarah Shimmons advised her marketing peers to “truly pivot to where the customers are” and to be ready to provide joy when the doom and gloom fades.

“If brands are to be resilient in 2021 then they are going to need to truly pivot to where their customers are. They want you to bring a bit of fun into their lives. Rather than consumers looking for big communal experiences, they now want mini moments at home that give them some escapism; brands will have to provide that in order to succeed,” she explained.”

“But all this talk of the COVID-19 restrictions being ‘the new normal’ isn’t something I really believe in, either. People will want to go out again in the future, so as much as you need to adapt right now and make changes to your branding and around digitisation, it’s important you have one eye towards the future, too. Your brand has to be ready to bring positivity to people’s lives when things do finally open up again.”

Meanwhile, HubSpot’s CMO Bodnar said 2022 will be a “time for new optimism”. He concluded: “A lot of the fundamentals haven’t changed: you need to reduce friction for consumers, improve the consumer experience and let it inform your marketing, and really think intelligently about things like automation and personalisation. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but if you focus on those core executions now then you’ll come out the darkness of 2021 with some real light.”

Watch the brilliant discussion above.


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