No one could have predicted what 2020 would bring to the table. There still is no way to predict what the rest of the year will look like, but if we’ve learned anything from this year it is that we must be able to prepare for uncertainty, even if just a little.
2020 initiated a shift in the digital marketing world. A CMO study conducted in June 2020 confirmed that 84% of marketers have “improvised to generate new marketing strategies during the pandemic” (Source). Some companies’ changes to strategies were minor, while others underwent a complete transformation just in the past 6 months.
Overall, marketing has continued to shift away from being disruptive, loud, and boisterous and is instead placing even more emphasis on being integrative, helpful, and an aid consumers who are deliberating over their best options.
Looking towards the last quarter of 2020, a continuous change in marketing and market behavior means that companies’ marketing strategies may require some updates to overcome recent changes and potential barriers.
Marketing Changes we’re seeing in Q4 of 2020
People are moving more towards authenticity.
The cry for authenticity in social media posts, website content, videos, emails, and so on is becoming more prominent than ever. People want to see that there are faces and names behind companies, not just giant logos where the employees’ heads should be.
People are more engaged with social justice efforts, humanitarian causes, and climate change.
With all of the turbulence the world is experiencing, people are becoming more versed and invested in social justice, what it means to be inclusive, and taking a stand for climate justice and environmental issues. These topics are important to many people, and potential customers may turn away from any company that blatantly refuses to, at the very least, acknowledge that these issues are occurring.
Marketing is seeing a shift as consumers are more intelligent, tuned in, and willing to call brands out on their BS.
We are approaching what some may call the Human Era of Intelligence Marketing, or an era where consumers are more intelligent than ever before and versed in what makes a company good to work with, or not.
Marketing is beginning to encompass the customer experience and relationships, company reputation, and the values behind a business, not just the products or solutions it has to offer.
When a brand is trustworthy, has great customer service, provides a positive experience, and establishes meaningful relationships, people are more likely to be loyal to that brand and choose it over another.
As many have been unable to visit physical store locations in person and serve as in-store patrons to a business due to closings and quarantines, more people are using online resources for researching solutions, purchasing products or services and even just for entertainment as the pandemic continues.
At the beginning of the year, searches for “buy online” sat at around 15k. In March, these searches skyrocketed globally, reaching up to 27k+ searches per month. There has also been an increase in mobile device usage; mobile app usage grew 40% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2020, meaning more people are on their phones than ever before.
How to adapt your marketing strategy for Q4 of 2020
1. Be authentic.
Show that your brand has a personality, employees with varied backgrounds, and that your company is run by humans who are sharing a common experience. This will motivate your audience to engage, connect, communicate, and will build trust between customer and company.
2. Don’t be afraid to have a voice and support things you believe in as a company.
People want to see that you stand for something. Whether you choose to monetarily support a cause, volunteer your time, or spread information and awareness for something you believe in, at least showing that you believe in something is a good start. And of course, don’t be all talk and no action. If there’s anything worse than not supporting a cause, it’s supporting it one time at a surface level.
3. Offer your products and solutions, but don’t just tout why it’s the best; let people see and understand for themselves why this is so.
Offer valuable information about your products and solutions almost as much as you offer your actual products and solutions. Buyers like to learn about products. If we are truly heading into the Human Era of Intelligence Marketing, trust that consumers are able to learn enough about your product in order to make a decision about whether or not it will suit their needs. Of course, marketing can help along the way, but people crave information. If you’ve ever taken a moment to think like a consumer (which, ultimately, we all are) or tune into your own thoughts when looking for a product or solution, you’ll know that sometimes the best feeling comes more from making your own decision about a product, and less so from what you are fed by sales and marketing teams.
4. As marketing begins to encompass customer experiences/relationships, make sure they’re overwhelmingly positive.
If people are making decisions based on reputation, then uphold yours. If people are looking at your business values, make sure you have them—and good ones at that. Rating systems and customer reviews on platforms like Google and Facebook often tell potential customers everything they need to know about a company. Reviews can affect the reputation of your entire business, so do your best to give customers a reason to hit those 5 stars. Luckily, even negative reviews can offer you an opportunity to turn around a customer’s experience based on how you respond. In turn, this will affect how people reading the interaction on that particular review will view your company.
5. An increase in the use of online resources and mobile devices means your online presence has to be top tier.
Have a good website, be reachable via multiple channels like phone, email, social media, chat, etc., and be sure to check in frequently to make sure your online systems such as online ordering, chat, and customer service lines are working, especially on mobile devices.
Other aspects to consider for your Q4 2020 marketing strategy
1. Remain flexible.
Just because you have an ad campaign outlined or even ready to go, this doesn’t mean that its release is guaranteed. Whether or not a campaign will run should depend on the context of the situations that are currently happening in the world. As we’ve learned from 2020, we truly can’t predict what will happen in the future, and should not assume that everything will remain the same over the course of the next few months. This is why it’s important to be able to pivot and come up with a new plan if need be.
For instance, people may respond to different types of campaigns than they had been previously, and you may need to adjust accordingly based on your campaign results. Perhaps your target audience isn’t opening emails at the same rate as they were before, so instead you might choose to shift your focus to something your audience is paying attention to, like videos for Instagram. Or, you may find that instead of sending out a quarterly survey to your customers, it may be in your best interest to increase the frequency and let readers know the results, so they can both see that their input is being used and can see what others are thinking as well.
2. Shift your focus (and time and budget) as necessary.
If your original plans to focus on an aspect of your business were disrupted, you can reallocate the time and budget you would have originally invested in those campaigns or events. For instance, did you have a travel budget for employees to attend conferences? Were you putting time and dollars into attending a trade show or event? If you find yourself with that money and time back in hand, you can use them to double down on marketing tactics that are proving successful, such as a new ad campaign or taking the extra budget to put towards creating new video to use on your website and on social media.
3. Keep your marketing efforts customer-centric.
In a turbulent environment, it’s natural to crave authentic contact with people and even brands. Keeping your customers in mind when updating your marketing strategy for the remainder of 2020 can help you stay on track and remember what matters most. These are a few simple ways to do just that:
- Offer valuable content over product promotions, like sharing a how-to video in your next newsletter instead of promoting a product
- Share user-generated content on social media that relates to your customers and offerings
- Develop a new promotion that will benefit your consumers
Showing that your customers are the most important thing to your company will leave a good and lasting impression on your current followers and potential future customers.
4. Be available online; it’s where everyone is right now, anyway.
Aside from purchasing essentials in-person, most of the world is sticking with online shopping, working, living, playing, etc. for the near future. Make sure your marketing is centered around what you can offer remotely and online, because that really is where people are right now.
It is also important to let your customers know that you’ve made it easier to contact them online for customer service purposes. The following updates are some popular changes that can improve your online customer service capabilities:
- Adding chatbots
- Moving a form so it is easy to find on your website
- Expanding your FAQ page
- Shortening the response time for email inquiries
- Adding a phone number
Making this information known to customers shows that responding to them is of the utmost importance to your company, leaving customers feeling like their service needs are met and encouraging them to continue choosing your products or services in the future.
5. Be visible online.
If you have zero presence online, people may believe you aren’t operating at this time, or that your company is gone, or that you have nothing to offer currently. People are looking online for companies, and if they don’t see updates from your business then they will likely move on to the next one. Keep things updated and make it easy for customers to reach you if they need to.
If you’re active on social media, use your platforms to remind followers of your products and/or services. If you only have a website, update your homepage as necessary or add something eye-catching, like a banner, that clearly states that you are up and running, clarifies your hours, and displays your interest in continuing to work with your customers. If all you have is an email list, don’t be afraid to use it to send out emails letting your contacts know what you are up to and that you are still in business.
6. Acknowledge, but don’t dwell.
At this point, it’s not as important to focus on the fact that there’s a lot of turbulence in the world right now. If anything, acknowledge that you’ve adapted, prove how you’re continuing to give your customers what they need right now, and show how you’re working to improve those efforts for the customers’ sake. Think about it as a consumer yourself for a moment: the last thing any of us want to hear right now is another COVID response message. Been there, done that; it’s time to move forward.
It’s one thing to possess the ability to plan out your marketing strategy for the entire year, but the ability to shift your strategy at a moment’s notice is another thing altogether. When nothing is certain, it can be difficult and almost impossible to know how to continue your marketing efforts in the best way possible. By taking a step back, looking at the big picture trends, and making an educated estimate about how those trends will advance, you can start to catch a glimpse of how you may proceed into the next quarter of this year and, eventually, into the future.
Just recently, I came across an intriguing article from 2012 that stated how we were approaching the “End of Marketing” as we know it (or, more accurately, knew it, because 2012 was about 800 years ago… right?). The article raised points such as, “What if the only considerations between one brand and another were facts and hard metrics about product and service performance, price and genuine reputation?” What if “every business was evaluated purely on how good they really were?” The author continues by raising a hypothetical situation about two sandwich shops, with their sole differences being “how good their sandwiches actually are relative to their price and how many positive experiences they’ve created for customers in their stores as evidenced by honest and measurable ratings… a hard-ranking of overall performance” instead of the memorability of a shop’s radio jingle or TV commercial.
The article presses on by claiming that the future of marketing will be based on “doing what you say you do and doing it excellently well; standing out so distinctly from competitors on every level that you become the default choice.” Between social justice issues, activism, climate justice efforts, customer ratings and reviews, dealing with crises, and all the things in between that we’ve been dealt by this year’s deck of cards, I would say that we are reaching the point of marketing where all of these “what ifs” and “imagine a time when…” are here. We don’t need to speculate or imagine any longer.
The article closes with the poignant question, “How good are you… really?” and I think that this is finally what we are paying closer attention to. If 2020 was a question, I’d like to think it would be something along the lines of, “So how good are you, really, and what actions are you taking to prove it?”