Marketers: Here’s where you should focus your attention in 2021

Data ownership, corporate social responsibility and scenario planning will be essential for brands to consider in the next six to 12 months, says Brownstein's Anne Ryan.
This is a guest post by Anne Ryan, director of brand strategy at Brownstein.
CMOs in the U.S. are facing some unique, pandemic-prompted challenges over the coming year.

Per Dentsu’s annual survey, 43% report being concerned about what consumer behavior is temporary versus permanent, 41% are worried about declining consumer spending, and 35% about aligning their work with new and changing customer sentiments.

We might need a crystal ball to see what the world could look like six to 12 months out, but even at times of uncertainty, there are key developments and trends to keep an eye out for. As we watch consumer behavior and opinion change, and as our world becomes more digital and connected — despite the catastrophic aftereffects of the pandemic — here’s where marketers should focus their attention this year.

Data ownership

We can’t talk about marketing predictions today without referencing data. 2021 is the year where companies need to own as much of their own data as they can, because in 2022, Google has made it clear that the ability to use cookies and target consumers based on third-party data is going away. You want to target your audience in 2022? You need to own the data you need or have direct access to it, and you have one year to get your data act together. Which brings us to …

The ecommerce train

Advertising on ecommerce sites such as Amazon and Walmart Marketplace is all the rage. The platform provides better ROI, and its instant nature offers shorter sales cycles, shorter consumer decision journeys, and direct access to customer data so you can more effectively target your audience.

Ecommerce shopping skyrocketed this year after COVID-19 lockdowns, fueled by both our doomsday prepping and need for retail therapy. According to eMarketer, advertising on ecommerce platforms jumped 39% in 2020 and will grow another 30% in 2021, capturing 13% of total U.S. digital ad spend.

Businesses that could make the shift to selling online had a definite advantage this year, and our shopping instincts have changed for good. No matter what industry you’re in, and no matter how much money you have, there is a way to get your product or service in consumers’ hands digitally and conveniently — even during a lockdown.


Proving methods through performance marketing

Speaking of marketing and selling online, marketing organizations are on tight budgets and we expect this will hold true for the first half of 2021. For this reason, performance marketing is all the rage, and rightly so.

The premise of performance marketing is simple: The advertiser only pays when a desired action is completed. Examples of performance marketing actions include a completed lead, sale, booking or download. The “network” that makes up performance marketing includes social influencers, content sites, product review sites, mobile apps, personalization applications, artificial intelligence, complimentary merchant partnerships, and remarketing ad managers. Sounds complex — but like all things, a well-executed strategy is key.

Given that there is more and more pressure to prove marketing ROI, and that being able to attribute results to specific channels and tactics is key in the digital age, performance marketing is a no-brainer. Why pay for waste when you can ensure your marketing dollars are going ONLY to that which serves you?

Proving brand values through brand action

It’s not enough to have a diversity statement, or any statement regarding any social matter, without there being brand action behind it. Whether it’s Black Lives Matter or the Restaurant Employee Relief fund, what brands say they believe in and support needs to be followed up with actions that demonstrate how brands are contributing to the cause. Furthermore, reporting regularly on maintained effort and progress in corporate social responsibility initiatives is key. Consumers have increasingly demanded more conscientiousness from brands, and after 2020, consumers will call their BS faster and more aggressively than years past — especially on brands that have shallow values and fail to do their part.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, which surveyed 34,000 individuals in 28 global markets, people see private businesses as the most competent group to solve global issues, even more so than nonprofits and governments. Let’s not disappoint them.

Securing brand longevity through scenario planning

We highly recommend that every brand think through the best case and worst case scenarios this year, especially since we’ve had some practice after 2020. Creating scenario plans that you can immediately execute will be essential — whether they involve shifting media spend, helping the community through CSR programs, or pivoting the business model temporarily.

According to Deloitte, 58% of respondents could recall at least one brand that quickly pivoted to better respond to their needs in 2020. 82% said this led to them doing more business with the brand. The faster you can pivot and help your customers, the more loyalty you’ll earn, and the better reputation you will build for your business in the future. Brands are forged in times of crisis, and their longevity is proved through intelligent and informed decisions by leaders who pay attention and plan ahead.

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