Why Your Creative Approach Won’t Work in the “Next Normal”

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By Andy Everson, SVP of New Business & Development at QuickFrame

With the success of mass vaccination programs, the end of the pandemic feels more in sight than ever before—and the return of in-person public life seems imminent.

As mitigation measures are lifted and people begin to once again live a good chunk of their lives outside of their homes, we’re in for a boom of activity. Forecasters have always anticipated a post-pandemic economic surge, but recent indications promise “a supercharged rebound”.

Businesses are reopening, unemployment is on the decline, and retail sales are on the rise. Plus, trillions of dollars of government aid combined with fewer purchasing opportunities over the past year (major industries like travel and dining were severely curtailed) have created a swelling of consumers sitting on growing cash reserves.

When the pandemic ends, consumer spending is expected to rapidly increase, catapulting us in the direction of a V-shaped recovery. These projections are generating much-needed optimism, but marketers must not assume growth will be effortless.

If there’s one thing the past year has taught us, it’s that complacency is dangerous. Many brands and marketers were caught on their back foot last March because they were still committing to annual plans and projects with long timelines. When the structure of everyday life totally changed, so had any existing marketing strategy.

We’re due for another reconfiguration of how marketers should optimize their operations to drive the greatest ROI. While last year we all had to scramble to find a new footing overnight, this transition into the “next normal” will be a more gradual one.

As we inch our way there, there are vital lessons you can carry from the pandemic to ready your brand for a densely competitive media environment and structure your marketing approaches in the most efficient way possible.

Meeting the Content Demands of Consumers

At the top of 2020, we expected the year to bring major growth across key marketing channels: social, CTV/OTT, and eCommerce. With the pandemic, nearly every anticipated trend was accelerated by a couple of years.

While some social networks captured the zeitgeist (see TikTok’s massive growth), all of them posted an uptick in users. Social media activity was massive—according to eMarketer, nearly half the world’s population (an estimated 3.23 billion people) used a social network at least once per month in 2020. This year, that number is expected to grow an additional 3.7%.

When it comes to TV, streaming television is at an all-time high. As we’ve developed a newfound familiarity with our living room couches, at-home content has surged to new heights. On average, US adults spend 1:12 minutes per day consuming streaming content last year—a 33.9% YoY increase, according to eMarketer. The Trade Desk reports that by the end of this year, 4 out of 5 US households will be reachable by CTV.

Shopping habits are changing, too. More than 9500 brick-and-mortar stores closed last year, sending consumers online. eCommerce captured a 21.3% share of total retail sales in the U.S. last year, according to Digital Commerce 360. The U.S. was not expected to hit the $816.12 billion in total eCommerce sales figure until 2022, meaning that trends were accelerated by 2 years.

The pandemic has radically altered content consumption and consumer behavior—for the long term. Even as the semblances of our old lives slowly start to creep back, the impact of the last year cannot be overstated. Screens kept us connected, informed, and entertained at a time when in-person interaction was off the table. In that time, the content ecosphere exploded.

As we collectively build and learn what our “next normal” will look like, one thing is certain: fragmented digital media consumption is here to stay. Screens are now inextricably linked to our everyday lives. Content creation and publication are more accessible than ever before across virtually every major channel, leading to two core truths.

First, there’s more content to consume than ever before, and the landscape grows even more saturated by the second. And second, consumers have developed an appetite for a consistent stream of novel content—which comes with a decreased attention span.

Marketers are facing a tough road—the demands you’re facing have never been greater. Today, brands need to have a sustained presence across more channels and platforms than ever before with content that feels organic, authentic, and new.

Customizing Creative for Peak Relevancy

Marketers will continue to need a clear 360-degree strategy, but with audiences scattered across so many platforms with unique experiential environments, creative customization will be key.

Plus, with the dissolution of the third-party cookie, Apple iOS14 update, and other consumer privacy changes on the horizon, marketers will no longer be able to confidently target specific consumers across the funnel.

Upper-funnel targeting is about to become far more important because you’re unlikely to know whether you’re reaching someone for the first time, or the fiftieth. Marketers will need to leverage platform-provided first-party data to successfully locate where their core audiences are consuming content. And those relying on a single platform will quickly need to diversify as consumers are increasingly spread out.

But general top-of-the-funnel messaging and creatives won’t cut it. In this new content landscape, your ads must still feel personalized, even if you’re working with less information about your audience. The solution: testing and data-driven experimentation.

Brands must adopt an experimentation mindset on multiple fronts: at the platform level, the placement level, and the creative level. Diversifying platforms and placements will be key to locating where your target audiences are consuming content. Then, creative-level multivariate testing will surface the creative variables (e.g., live-action vs. animation, messaging, product vs. brand, talent vs. no talent) that work best.

It’s likely that your target audience is not homogenous, however. And they’re having unique content experiences across each platform—for example, the worlds of TikTok and Facebook or Hulu and YouTube are markedly different from one another. Even within a platform, experiences vary from one placement to another (e.g., Instagram Stories vs. Feed).

So, marketers must ramp up content production to stay in the conversation in all the places where their audiences are consuming content. But it won’t be enough to just test into platforms and placements—creatives must also feel relevant to audiences.

As we embark on a period of transition out of the pandemic, your content should always reflect the lives that consumers are living. What everyday life looks like will vary not only from region to region but maybe even month to month, so brands must harness flexibility to ensure creatives strike an authentic of-the-moment tone with consumers.

The “Next Normal” Necessitates a New Operating Model

The task at hand—more audience-specific content for more platforms and placements—is probably starting to sound impossible. And it very may well be if you stick to old models of working.

In this fierce battle for consumers’ attention, marketers need to focus on agility and efficiency to swiftly produce content that lands. Traditional production approaches are bloated and expensive, leading to long timelines with unnecessary costs. The next normal requires a novel, forward-thinking approach to creative production.

Tumultuous times often lead to innovation, and last year was no exception. Many marketers began to tap into new ways of working: they scrapped annual plans, restrategized campaigns, and reevaluated creative production processes as most adjusted to working from home.

While we’re hoping for some more consistency in the next normal, the fact remains that we live in a highly dynamic environment, and the creative demands brands face will only continue to grow. Brands will need to maintain short, flexible planning cycles and prioritize partners and vendors that can create effective content quickly.

At QuickFrame, we’ve seen demand for our agile solution skyrocket. By giving brands access to a global network of hand-vetted professional video companies and generating data through testing to reveal creative approaches that work, we’ve enabled clients to succeed in our new reality affordably.

Much remains uncertain about exactly what post-pandemic life will look like, but we can be sure now that returning to pre-2020 operating models is unsustainable. Tapping into diversification, testing, and agility will be key to making an impact with consumers in these important months and years to come.

Andy Everson is the SVP of New Business & Development at QuickFrame, a Video-as-a-Service platform that enables brands to achieve true video-at-scale with fast, affordable, insight-driven assets.

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