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How marketers can embrace the new normal: preparing for 2021 & beyond

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Last year was a rollercoaster ride filled with ups, downs, and corkscrew twisters that made us all rethink everything. This year looks like it will be no different as Covid cases rise and fall, as countries open for business and then shutter. For marketers, being well prepared for more unknowns is going to be the way forward. We're going to have to get used to, and get comfortable with, being uncomfortable. That means being agile, making data-backed decisions, and testing new strategies.

Companies who can get back to business as usual (or as close to usual as possible) need to do so. With a recession coming and dramatic shifts in consumer behaviors already taking shape, marketing teams will need to do more with less – create more brand awareness, drive more sales, and all with smaller pandemic-induced budgets. This may sound bleak, but it shouldn't be looked at in that way. Instead, it can be seen as a catalyst for change, one in which those marketers who seize the opportunity of the new normal can find success and develop enhanced strategies that will carry them far past pandemic times.

Embrace digital transformation

Over the last decade, digital transformation has been gaining speed, but nothing has accelerated its adoption quite like the pandemic. For at least the first half of this year, we will remain in a work-from-home, stay-at-home mentality, so businesses will need to be prepared to move full speed ahead with digital transformation.

The good news is that plans to bring 5G to the masses are back on track. This will provide greater connectivity for teams to collaborate and enhance what marketers can do in a digital landscape to interact with customers. Webinars will continue to be a prominent form of engagement, and virtual conferences will be a staple, but we can all look forward to more online stability from 5G.

Marketers will need to embrace new technologies as well to complement their company's digital transformation. With less face-to-face contact, digital experiences for customers will become more mainstream and require marketers to think outside the box. For example, introducing AR (augmented reality) or VR (virtual reality) could allow customers to 'interact' without physically touching them. When full-scale video production is difficult, marketers can create videos with more accessible technology like cell phones. These not only will suffice, but often feel far more authentic and relatable than their high-priced, high-production counterparts.

Prepare for a cookie-less future

If we take away one thing from the pandemic, it should be that nothing is set in stone - a case in point: cookies, the marketing and attribution tactic that we've come to rely on.

One year ago, an announcement sent chills down the spines of every advertiser and publisher. Google wrote in a post that its plan was "to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome. Our intention is to do this within two years." For marketers (myself included), it felt as though someone had pulled the personalization rug out from under them and left them in freefall. While it's true that this will significantly alter the way advertisers target consumers, it also presents an opportunity and one that we should have taken advantage of long ago - a focus on collecting first-party data.

First-party data is far more valuable and reliable than third-party data but obtaining it properly does require marketers to adapt. Having a data capture mechanism on every digital asset will be paramount. However, to get users to opt-in, companies will need to prove that they are trustworthy and that the level of personalization they can deliver will be valuable to the consumer. In terms of campaigns, marketers should look towards other ways to personalize ads, such as relying more heavily on geo-targeting and moment marketing (or time-parting), both of which will deliver better ROIs.

Multi-channel marketing is a must

As we face this new normal, whatever that will be, meeting customers where they are through a multi-channel strategy will be essential. That could mean when they are outside taking a walk, driving to the supermarket, or parked on the couch. It's time to get out of your comfort zone and explore new platforms and advertising opportunities that reach consumers in all of these locations.

One of the channels that has been picking up steam and is primed to become more mainstream in 2021 is digital out of home (DOOH). Not only are digital billboards three times more impactful than static ones, but they are also built with a technological backbone that collects layers of rich data and analytics. When linked to mobile devices, this can be leveraged to deliver personalized campaigns as people pass by. With digital billboards supporting voice and facial recognition, brands can launch interactive campaigns, engage consumers, and create a memorable and meaningful experience.

Of course, with entertainment venues closed due to the pandemic, people are spending most of their free time on the couch, which means advertisers need to find a way into their homes. Currently, some 3.4 billion people have turned to gaming to occupy themselves and connect with friends and strangers alike. Pre-pandemic, the average gamer spent over six hours per week playing, and now with lockdowns, that has increased to an average of nearly eight hours per week.

Gaming has already emerged as a go-to platform for advertisers who know how to take advantage of its brand awareness capabilities. With so many types of gaming content available, there's something to suit everyone's preferences, which means every advertiser can find the right audience for their campaigns. Like other ad formats, in-game ads are delivered programmatically and have built-in technology that allows marketers to target and personalize campaigns based on user behaviors and geo-locations.

Incorporating both DOOH and in-game advertising into your marketing mix will give you the flexibility to connect with consumers indoors and outdoors.

Looking forward

We are in a time of uncertainty and instability, no doubt about that. Advertisers have always risen to meet new challenges among changing landscapes, and this situation is no different. By thinking outside the box, testing new strategies and channels, and preparing for what we know is coming down the pipeline, we may just be able to unveil a new way of doing things that is far superior to what we rely on now.

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