Mapping your marketing to the ‘next normal’

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We are all still in the throes of the pandemic and there is no real end in sight. In this ever evolving, ever changing marketing landscape, there is no certainty as to what our new future is going settle down to look like.

But we certainly do know one thing: our customer behaviours, needs and expectations won’t be going back to what they were before the pandemic.

Where we are heading toward is our next normal. And as marketers, we need to be testing new ideas, making dramatic changes and investing in transformational campaigns. Most importantly, we need to be creating an agile marketing culture that will thrive in the emerging post-pandemic world, ready to address this next normal and all the ’next normals’ that will inevitably follow.

I’d like to share three top level ’next normal’ trends and give some practical questions for you to consider with your marketing teams. Most of these are trends that were already beginning to surface prior to Covid, and the pandemic has simply accelerated their adoption. But there are elements in each of the trends that are truly newly emerging and need radical new thinking.

As a starting point for this analysis, I drew upon our Digital Marketing Map to kickstart my thinking and to visualise tactical options for mapping our strategy to the new normal.

Trend 1: the great leap to digital

Lockdown has, out of sheer necessity and desperation, triggered a quantum leap in our customers’ confidence in using digital platforms, and their corresponding adoption of digital services. We now need to up our games to meet these new expectations.

Our customers are not only doing more shopping online, they are now expecting to see other services delivered online too. For B2B businesses, this extends to self service applications and customer support, the use of apps and new interactive technologies.

Here, in the UK, the NHS app has rocketed, being used for online consultations, to order repeat prescriptions, manage appointments and view medical records. According to research by the IPPR, the app could save up to 20,000 additional lives a year and an estimated £10bn for the NHS.

If the NHS – a metaphorical oil tanker – can change direction rapidly in response to customers’ great leap to digital, then our organisations must too.

Questions you need to be asking your marketing team include:

  • How well do you understand the new digital expectations of your customers?
  • How are you measuring and analysing their new digital behaviours?
  • What changes do you need to be making to your user experience, your functionality, your communication style to meet these new expectations?
  • What new customer segments do you need to define and address?

Trend 2: the drive towards brand purpose and trust

Social values and activism were an emerging trend prior to Covid, and the pandemic has accelerated the focus on buying from companies based on their stand on societal issues.

Edelman has published a comprehensive piece of research on brand trust which reveals trust is now second only to price for purchase and loyalty, overtaking other factors including brand reputation, product performance and ease of access.

Most interestingly, it reported nearly seven in 10 respondents are avoiding advertising and depending more on personal experience, peer conversations and news outlets. The advertising avoidance strategies include adblocking technologies and paying for streaming services in order to see less advertising.

Likewise, consumers are even more concerned about personal privacy issues and have heightened concerns surrounding sharing data.

As marketers, we need to double down on conveying our brands’ purpose and values, and convey a strong sense of what we stand for or what is important to us.

Whether it is corporate social responsibility (CSR) or the campaigns we support, alignment with a specific cause or how we treat or colleagues and clients, we need to focus on conveying our brand purpose and building trust.

Questions we need to be asking our marketing teams:

  • How does your brand purpose or vision need to be adapted to the new focus on values, activism and trust?
  • What are your potential points of differentiation when it comes to privacy and data handling?
  • What aspects of trust building behaviours and policies gives us competitive advantage?
  • How do we need to shape our use of advertising channels in this new normal

Trend 3: the convergence of home and office

What started as a Covid lockdown protective measure is now morphing into a new lifestyle choice as workers and employers are choosing not to return to offices and continue to work from home. That now means the place we call home is a single place where we now live, work, learn and play.

Like the other trends I’ve identified, the breakdown between home and office was already happening pre-pandemic, but the change has been accelerated and it looks like the switch is going to stick.

In practice, this means our marketing will now need to reach our customers when they are moving more fluidly between personal and professional activities. How can we be sending marketing messages at the appropriate moment without being intrusive?

We do not yet have access to data that signals behaviours that occur in working moments and those dedicated to leisure time. Combine this with concerns about privacy and resistance to tracking and it is an entirely new marketing technology landscape. We are going to have to make use of new analytical techniques, retrain our machine learning and rethink our targeting strategies.

And we will need to be creating innovation solutions for two-way communications with our customers as they segue between the numerous communications channels they are using simultaneously at home – Alexa, Zoom, Slack, streaming services, social media. All these channels are going to need rethinking in light of the convergence of home and office.

Questions to be asking your marketing team:

  • What analytics capability do you have to better understand the home worker’s customer journey?
  • What changes do you need to make to personalise the customer journey and experience as they are seamlessly moving between work and home life?
  • What channels do you now need to be using to reach your customers in this new way of working?

Exciting times

What lies ahead might be the best of times, or they might be the worst of times. As marketers, we don’t know what lies waiting for us just ahead round the curve in the road. But we are able to take swift and decisive action on the trends we are detecting now and we can be taking decisions and actions now that position us well for an agile and flexible response to our future ’next normals’.

Susan Hallam is the founder of Hallam.

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