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By Thomas Hobbs | Journalist

March 10, 2021 | 5 min read

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With the route to normality still unclear for most of the planet, 2021 is going to be yet another year where marketers must be agile in order to adapt to the social and business changes that COVID-19 forces upon us. But according to Inken Kuhlmann-Rhinow, Hubspot’s marketing director for EMEA, this period shouldn’t be looked at as scary but rather an “opportunity” for marketers and brands to get their houses in order so that they emerge from the pandemic in a stronger place.

Who will own the customer in 2021?

Who will own the customer in 2021?

Speaking as part of The Drum’s virtual Predictions 2021 Festival, where various marketing experts share their tips for the year ahead, Kuhlmann-Rhinow advised: “In times of rapid change, taking a moment to have a proper think about what is on the horizon is so important. I definitely think brands can return to the path of growth at some point in 2021, but it will be the ones who put the customer at the centre of what they do that will be the most successful at weathering this storm.”

The survival mindset of 2020 to survive led to processes and operations not suitable for scale. As the customer experience has grown more complex, most companies have brought in a patchwork of disparate technologies stitched together from different sources. This route is holding companies back, slowing them down and depriving them of having a complete view of the customer. To scale without adding complexity in 2021, businesses need better data that gives insights into the experience of each customer and leads to actionable insights. In 2021, companies will start replacing and repairing these points of internal friction by removing legacy CRM software that is painful and complex and investing in modern CRM that is powerful and easy-to-use”

During her presentation, Kuhlmann-Rhinow referenced a quote from Hubspot’s CEO and co-founder Brian Halligan, who once said: “Today, you need to build a customer experience that is 10x better than the competition. People buy from companies that create incredible end-to-end experiences, not just incredible products.” And she said that during a time of a global pandemic, simply having a good product is no longer enough. Therefore, brands need to prove they can truly enrich their customers’ digital experiences amid a juncture in history where ease of comfort is ever more important to their day-to-day lives.

“Having the best product is no longer a guaranteed victory,” she explained. “In 2021, customers are more demanding for transformative digital experiences from brands than ever before. They expect innovation and high-quality end-to-end services regardless of whether that’s marketing-led or sales-led. We all have to look at how we present ourselves and ensure that our service is smooth during such a rough time, opposed to just doing more of the same or whatever the strategy was from before the pandemic.”

Another thing Kuhlmann-Rhinow was keen to stress was the potentially damaging effects of persisting with a short-term mindset: “Cutting budgets or just pressing pause on adverts is honestly a dead end at this point. Those measures are not going to help you weather this storm. If instead, you can show customers you are really listening to their needs and adapting your service accordingly then that’s going to lead to a lot more long-term growth.”

She continued: “Whatever the new norm is after this pandemic is over, it’s clear that digital tools will be more prominent than they were before so firms need to make digitisation a long-term plan rather than just something for the now.

At Hubspot, the “flywheel alignment” has been implemented internally. This essentially means the firm’s marketing, customer service and sales divisions now all sit under one boss, with bringing these three disciplines together helping drive results. Kuhlmann-Rhinow believes companies who take similar steps will be in a stronger place across the 2020s.

She concluded: “If you can harness the collective power of these three disciplines then it means your whole business is set up to really put the customer at the heart of things. While Marketing, sales and customer experiences teams might need to utilise different data points, each team needs to understand the full lifecycle of that customer’s journey. Since switching, we’ve had better engagement and conversion rates. Team alignment and solidarity is everything right now, and if you can solve things internally then that means external challenges will be a lot easier to conquer. In 2021 that kind of consistency is going to make all the difference.”

Watch Inken Kuhlmann-Rhinow’s full presentation of the HubSpot "Who will own the customer in 2021?" at The Drum’s Predictions 2021 festival above.

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