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Five marketing truths for the 2021 marketing playbook

By Sumit Virmani |

December 28, 2020 | 5 min read

“A large part of the Year 2020 went into co-creating the next normal on the back of the great flight to digital, emergence of the home as the multifunctional hub and overall focus on value and humanization of experience,” says Sumit Virmani, Infosys India’s chief marketing officer.

Marketers get ready for 2021

Marketers! Get ready for 2021

Virmani looks ahead at the future which would be a smart combination of some meaningful acceleration of ‘marketing truths’ that have stood the test of time, along with a healthy dose of resourcefulness.

As the world toggles between relaxing and reinforcing pandemic-induced restrictions, businesses and consumers have been co-creating the next normal. The great flight to digital, emergence of the home as the multifunctional hub and overall focus on value and humanization of experience, which characterizes our altered reality today, will likely influence our choices and behaviour long after the pandemic has been tamed. Marketers will need to think hard and also differently about what consumers – both individuals and business buyers – will need and best respond to in the months ahead. It’ll take, I believe, a smart combination of some meaningful acceleration of ‘marketing truths’ that have stood the test of time, along with a healthy dose of resourcefulness. Here are 5 truths worthy of reflection as we chart our path ahead:

Digital-first manoeuvres

There has been a historic embrace of digital ways. Massive adoption of remote sales, virtual service calls, online ordering and delivery, telemedicine, ‘lights out’ factories, digital classrooms, and the list goes on. Consumers have never been so ready to engage digitally, and brands, in turn, are making the most of the moment by curating and acting on data-led insights to deeply personalize their outreach. Granular monitoring of data and trends in buyer behaviour has always been important for marketers, and more so now as consumers make significant shifts. Investing disproportionately in digital-first campaigns and building digital marketing muscle will bring more than its fair share of payoffs.

Uber-humanized brand experiences

Several brands, in the last year, have vaulted ahead in distinguishing their services with personalization and empathy for the consumer. Consumers that have embraced these brands, and appreciate the experience, will continue to incorporate these brands into their post-pandemic routine as well. More broadly, they will come to expect and demand not just great customer experience but human experience from any brand they endorse – in the realm of both life and work. Both B2B and B2C brands must now respond to the need to be more customer-centric, authentic, and humane. Our own customer survey from last year shows big upticks in client satisfaction and advocacy in response to the highly agile, flexible and personalized service experience we delivered to help our clients tide through the turmoil of 2020.

Mindful investments in brand-building

Businesses have been shaken in the past year and will now look to strengthen their resilience in tackling crises emerging from high-impact, low-probability events. Several of them will focus on brand building to prepare for a time when they will need greater brand equity to tide through a rough patch. Market data backs this strategy. In fact, research from BrandZ shows that after the 2008/09 financial crash, stronger brands recovered up to nine times faster in terms of stock market value than the others. A fine balance between long term brand investments and short-term tactics for pipeline prioritization is what we must strike in the weeks and months ahead.

Manifesting purpose

The pandemic has aroused our collective conscience catalyzing commitments and contributions from organizations keen on building a more equitable future. At the same time brands are being keenly judged against the purpose they have always espoused. Any contradiction to the claim will not only result in short-term brand bashing but also long-term brand damage. The rule of thumb for marketers in unambiguous: Only talk the talk you can walk.

Strengthening collaboration with the tech organization

Marketing’s biggest motivator is greater customer engagement. IT’s biggest motivator is improved return on digital investments. The increasing complexity of the digital engagement landscape is now leading marketers to see the advantages of collaborating with the tech wizards in their ecosystem. On the other hand, the CIO has come to realize that marketers have their fingers on end-users’ pulse and if digital investment must truly payoff from the experience perspective, it’s the CMO who knows what is most likely to work. CMOs and CIOs who continue to invest in nurturing the collaboration will not only uncover value for their functions but move their organizations forward too.

While no one knows what the exact contours of next will look like, we do know it will not go back to the way it looked even a year ago. Committing to keeping observing, listening, learning and adapting will best serve us, marketers, to serve our organizations, our customers and a changing world that is emerging.

Sumit Virmani is the chief marketing officer of Infosys India.

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