What you will require for success in the new year
Unprecedented complexity in marketing channels, platforms and media priorities can subtract from the confidence and clarity you need about where to make the best strategic investments. The potential for engagement misfires (wrong message, wrong channel) is at an all-time high and it seems as though every other day a new media platform rises to claim its narrow territory in an ever more fractured communications landscape.
- You need a clear path and navigation chart to inform your decisions on where to invest precious marketing assets next year – when every dollar needs to perform like 10 and there’s not a lot of room to recover from mistakes.
We aim to provide specific guidance here.
Fortunately, the marketing game plan priorities are making themselves known. Today we have the benefit of hindsight to examine what tools performed to greatest effect in this uncommon year, and we also have a grip on where to place the marketing plan bets headed into 2021.
Here’s the most dramatic piece of evolutionary perspective unfolding for next year: what’s old is renewed again. I am personally ecstatic to see this change arrive. Read on.
I came up at Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), the first 11 years of my career bathed in the ample light of how David Ogilvy and his immensely talented colleagues saw the marketing universe. While David was a renowned and talented ad copywriter, he was first a business builder, problem solver with a remarkable grasp on the levers of how to grow a client company. He was indeed a holistic thinker.
David was forever espousing a point of view that we aren’t on the planet just to make advertising or PR. We’re here first to:
- understand the challenges of business categories,
- help incubate innovative product solutions,
- understand the delicate emotional characteristics of brands,
- navigate the cultural issues that impact company behavior,
- and, inform and educate that most mysterious creature known as the consumer (“who is not a moron but rather your husband or wife,” says Ogilvy).
Said another way, a more myopic view would have us believing it’s all about the ad or PR creative product. Thus your proverbial marketing hammer comes back repeatedly to the same tactical nail. If that were true, our value as counselors, guides and business experts would deteriorate overnight and the agency business would be diluted to churning out cinematic representations of feature and benefit stories. Or the lesser digital display ad?!
Instead, we are tasked with being strategic guides who make our client’s business and category a deep and comprehensive ongoing study involving the mechanics of:
- product creation and
- market influences and
- economic conditions and
- cultural shifts and
- competitive challenges and
- the endless study of consumer and organizational behavior.
In short we are devoted to strategic investigations and assessments ahead of any conversation about a creative idea, in part for the very reason that all of that analysis nourishes enlightenment and leads to more relevant and powerful marketing ideas. The kind that make communications all the more effective at turning the screw of share and volume growth.
- What’s the definition of a big idea? One that you can immediately and intuitively see how it will impact and change company behavior and the dynamics of the marketplace in which it competes. That’s a compelling adventure to join and why I appreciated what I learned while at O&M. Big ideas tend to bubble up in the midst of strategic business conversations.
However, with the growth of digital everything, over time the marketing guidance task largely contracted into a tactical role of managing the digital platform du jour and erstwhile electronic flag waving. In recent years the consultive forms of agency and client relationship have diluted in favor of operating a digital marketing automation dashboard. Execution driven assignments more so than operating within an authentic marketing partnership.
Well, all of that is about to change in 2021.
We’re entering an era where the importance of strategy and branding has re-emerged as the decisive lynchpin in priority and design of nearly every go-to-market plan. Why? The toolbox game has fallen in on itself under the sheer weight of so many options competing for eyeballs at a time when consumers are tiring of the relentless barrage. People are tuning out entirely the self-serving, self-reverential bullhorn of marketing message social channels. They reflexively reject that interruption right out of the gate.
The Pandemic has also lowered the tolerance boom on brand self-promotion – while rewarding efforts by enlightened brands that closely align themselves with higher purpose values and drive deeper meaning into their brand story and behavior.
What worked and what’s coming next year
A recent national survey of agencies conducted by SharpSpring revealed universally the most effective outreach tool deployed in 2020 was paid social. Not a surprise given the importance people place on social conversation, the levels of engagement there (which also correlates with the consumer’s prevailing interest in dialogue) and hearing the experiences of others to inform their purchase decisions.
Looking ahead at next year, this same study drilled down to what is likely to be in demand by clients in the year ahead, which also bears remarkable similarity to what clients are prepared to outsource to their agencies.
The re-emergence of strategy and branding as a top priority activates to assure marketing investment decisions will, indeed, deliver on their engagement objectives. This helps to measurably influence purchase decisions at a time when the consumer’s view of what matters is rapidly evolving.
Taste, price and convenience used to drive food and beverage purchases. Now those triggers are overtaken by a host of new more issue-like considerations such as health and wellness, transparency, purpose and values, supply chain integrity, sustainability and food safety.
- Add to this an emerging concern about climate change and the impact of our current food production system on greenhouse gas (GHG) levels – meat production is by far the largest single contributor followed by agriculture. The food system creates more GHG than all of the global transportation systems (cars, trains, airplanes, etc.) combined.
We are seeing a rise in consumer demand for change addressing their concern to know what the carbon footprint is of the foods we consume. More on this topic to come from us.
Meantime, the verdict is in on resources to receive the most attention and likely investment in 2021 while brands continue to grapple with the impact of the pandemic on preferences, shopping and purchase behavior.
The top five marketing needs for 2021
- Marketing strategy: this begins with insight into consumer behavior and cultural shifts taking place that impact what people care about, and what they expect of the brands that matter to them. Active participation on issues like climate change will be one of them.
- Branding: the role of higher purpose and deeper meaning are now critical to your business and brand voice. This is not a “nice to have” but a core strategic platform to secure relevance and engagement at a time when people expect brands to participate in making our world a better place.
- Social media management: social media is a top priority and has remained so for some time now. How brands engage here, support community growth and encourage user generated content, will play a critical role in trust creation. Trust is a top objective and this channel is part of the solution. It’s remarkable that at one time the idea of actually talking directly to a brand’s consumer was virtually unheard of. When it finally arrived many brands looked upon it skeptically as a scary and potentially treacherous and uncontrollable development. My, how times have changed.
- PR and reputation management: trust is the currency of any brand relationship. It is a requirement. Now harder to earn and maintain, the scrutiny and filters being applied by consumers seeks to determine whether a brand’s activism is messaging masquerading as champion of a cause – or is it real where the brand behavior matches the rhetoric. A recent IBM study on purpose reports that when consumers think a brand has a strong and authentic purpose, they are 4.1 times more likely to trust the company.
- Digital advertising and re-targeting: a strong and verifiable correlation exists between awareness and velocity performance at retail. The more present and top of mind your brand is, the more likely this recognition will convert to a sale, assuming other considerations on purpose, values and trust are properly aligned. People live online. That bit of behavior enhanced by shelter in place and work or school from home conditions is why digital channels are having a heyday.
Brand activism on the rise
An important strategic focus in 2021 will be where your brand sits on the fence of increased calls for activism on societal issues. Generation Z, the most woke generation of all, is decidedly focused on this and will be voicing their sentiments in the purchases they make. Their wallet is their vote and symbolic flag to those around them about what they consider to be important.
- A recent study from Zeno Group found that for brands of comparable quality and pricing, 91% of consumers will switch if one of those brands supports an important cause. That might as well be 100%.
Here’s another way to look at it:
The more activist a brand is, the more earned media attention it’s likely to secure. This leads to greater visibility and brand awareness in trusted media channels – which in turn will help drive recognition leading to higher sales outcomes. All of this is happening in a media model that is derived at lower cost (compared to traditional media) thus helping wring more benefit out of tight budget resources.
The key is how real the brand’s activism is vs. an attempt to “message” around it without the anchoring back-up of verifiable brand behavior. Fake activism is discoverable and can (will) backfire.
If a conversation on 2021 planning priorities would be helpful to your decision making, we would welcome the conversation. Use this link and let’s start a conversation.
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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.