Marketing professionals have been talking about the ‘new normal’ for some months now. With the pandemic changing people’s daily habits, companies have had to change what they offer and how they offer it to ensure their business is fit for a context which nobody could have foreseen. And it has been the job of marketers to connect that offering with a market in flux, rapidly shifting tactics and messaging, measuring to find out what works, and being willing to experiment and innovate at a higher pace than ever before.
Of course, there’s a degree to which this comes quite naturally for marketers. While the current context is certainly new and novel, we’ve had to navigate rapidly evolving consumer behaviours for quite some time. Over the last decade, the industry has been keeping pace with the rise of social media, the subscription economy, stringent privacy regulation, e-commerce, streaming video – and balancing all of this with the ongoing significance of traditional channels like TV, radio, and print. Diversification, adaptability, and transformation are factors that have been supercharged in importance by the events of 2020, but they are not unfamiliar necessities.
While there’s no reason to believe that these shifts would have slowed down were it not for the pandemic, accelerated change in the industry now looks certain. So being prepared for the kind of disruption that we’ve experienced this year is the key to having the capacity and capabilities that advertisers, marketers and brands will need if they are to survive in the long term.
So what does this preparation look like in practice? Marketing strategies that are invested in reacting to specific trends, adopting certain channels, or correcting mistakes learned in previous campaigns risk being over-committed and outpaced by cultural change even while they’re running. Vertically-integrated technology and an omnichannel approach, however, can give campaigns the ability to stay effective, even when everything changes.
Most of us are probably very familiar with the idea of SMART objectives as a way of setting goals for personal and professional development. The same framework can be applied on a broader scale to indicate what an effective marketing strategy looks like in the current landscape, and the fact that they are well-understood makes the idea easy for teams to apply.
Specific: Media has been fragmenting and becoming increasingly personalised over the last decade and continues to do so. This is a challenge, but also an opportunity: when individual consumption habits produce unique fingerprints, we can use interoperable and intelligent systems to aggregate that data and understand people as people, not as interchangeable members of large groups. Leveraging artificial intelligence can move us beyond one-size-fits-all marketing to specific and bespoke executions.
Measurable: If you’re no longer targeting the ‘average’ consumer in a given group, campaign measurement shouldn’t operate on that principle either. Measurement tactics should be aware of how different elements of the campaign are working, and tie that directly to budget and impact. Marketers should adopt a system of record to track and reconcile every unit of spend from planning to buying to payment.
Attainable: Taking a unified approach that integrates planning and buying and converges channels is the only way to understand if the goals you’ve set for your programme are ultimately attainable. By addressing the entire media universe through a vertically-integrated stack, you can account for audience duplication, increase efficiency and reduce waste. From there, implementing an attribution model that connects to actual business outcomes is possible.
Relevant: The cultural landscape which advertising and marketing speak into is constantly changing. Sustainable strategies will use data and insights as an ongoing process that feeds back into the plan even as it’s being activated; cycles of going through planning, doing, and analysing won’t keep up.
Time-bound: Big bang campaigns worked well in a world where insights and creative took months to develop and engagement plans could bet the whole pot on a few key channels or tentpole events like the Super Bowl. These things are no longer true, and rapid iteration driven by a detailed, holistic view is needed to respond to change as it happens. Moment marketing is the rallying cry and leveraging technology that can instantly take you from insights to action is the new imperative.
There is a world of choice available for consumers. The media landscape has been atomised, and the brand landscape needs to account for that. If there is one rule to bear in mind as we get to grips with the changes in our industry, it’s that marketers need to market how consumers consume.
The industry has always sought to understand the consumer’s mindset and forecast where it will go next. This practice isn’t going anywhere, but in a paradigm shift, you will need to reassess the underlying processes and assumptions which power day-to-day business. No one metric will grant a true understanding of what’s happening in an omnichannel world. To be accountable to both the consumer and the bottom line, advertisers, marketers and brands will need integrated, intelligent, interoperable systems and processes which do provide that understanding.
The challenges the industry is now facing are, of course, very real. Having spent much of 2020 trying to right the ship and keep moving, many will be understandably hesitant to embrace further disruption. However, emerging successfully from the other side of this crisis will demand growth and change – as McKinsey noted, the world’s slowing down meant that trends leaped forward. The Golden Quarter is fast approaching, and it will be different from any we have seen before: the time to get SMART is now.