Marketing in 2021: Simple, Straightforward, Human Readable
Much can be learned by reading Gartner’s annual survey of CMOs
Winston Churchill was quoted saying “Never let a good crisis go to waste” and we have been presented with a great one. As many companies now put their sights on emerging successfully from the global crisis, it is obvious that the pandemic looms heavily over everyone’s heads. Even those who are generally bullish on economic recovery might be forgiven for entering crisis-mode to survive. However, to make sure this crisis isn’t wasted, companies will need to conduct careful analysis, consider the market with clarity and work with high-quality data. Judging by the CMO responses collected from those in charge of strategy at the largest companies in N. America and Europe, in 2021, marketing will need to become simple, straightforward and human-readable.
Careful Analysis Leads to a Simple Strategy
With a widespread (44%) expectation of budget cuts, companies will need to focus their resources on the right customers. For many of the CMOs, this means doubling down on existing customers to reduce the risk and cost of user acquisition in uncertain times. Investing in loyal customers, and in the means to make more of them more loyal, is always wise, especially in ‘lean’ times. The same can be said of maintaining a coherent brand strategy, making sure you communicate your brand values well to your valued customers and prospects. This is why a third of CMOs put this as their most vital capability for emerging from the pandemic (a significant jump from last year’s survey). One area that all brands will need to address is the increasing levels of consumer distrust. While this is not a problem that is exclusive to commercial brands, it does create more pitfalls that can be disastrous. Looking at recent shifts in consumer sentiment and the public discussions about consumer privacy, it is clear that this is a tinderbox waiting to explode in the face of any company that does not take it seriously enough. You can avoid falling into this trap by making consumer privacy a priority for 2021.
Maintain clarity by adopting straightforward solutions
As if digital marketing and digital commerce needed more momentum, the pandemic left all remaining ‘reluctant adopters’ with no other alternative. So it makes sense that the CMOs expect to continue diverting most of the spend towards digital channels and also believe that technology will pave the way towards recovery and ‘customer intimacy’, and mobile engagement strategies have skyrocketed to the top of priority lists around the world. However, as the 2019 survey indicated, Marketing Tech can often get in the way of Marketing. Systems that are too complex to operate, too costly to fully implement, or too abstract to understand often become an expensive window-dressing, something the boss can be proud of, but is seriously underutilized.
Marketers know their product, know their target audience and know what they want to say to them. The role of Marketing Tech in general, and mobile engagement solutions in particular, is to make it easy for Marketers to put those three together. So providing them with a variety of viewpoints with which they can segment their audience is good. Enabling them with a variety of options to reach out to each user is great. Giving them the platform to craft a unique, creative message is crucial. On the other hand, clouding the issue with ‘customer journeys’, ‘automated workflows’ and ‘social media scorecards’ overcomplicates the process. Many marketers report finding themselves spending considerable time and energy to understand and operate the systems that are supposed to help them, at the expense of actually doing their jobs.
The “‘’customer intimacy” that CMOs want to achieve cannot be done between a machine and a person; engagement must not only be personal, it must ‘feel human’. And because there can be no intimacy without trust, a key 2021 goal should be to establish a relationship based on trust and transparency.
Human marketers and human customers need human-readable data
Given the technology, there is no shortage of data in marketing today, which probably explains why, in 2019 and in 2020, CMOs rated Analytics and Insights at the top of their vital capability list. However data is often hard to read and difficult to apply. As CMOs expect to ‘in-source’ various Marketing functions, the data needs to become ‘human-readable’, a domain not limited to agencies and data experts. What the pandemic has helped show is that in order to be useful, data must be ‘fresh’ and up-to-date. The best means for accessing relevant data about the customer is directly from the customer, 1st party data generated by the users or by the mobile devices at their side. The advantage of using such data is that it ‘makes sense’. Instead of trying to understand a customer’s interests based on what has come across their Facebook feed, or which websites they visited before/after they visited yours, you can use insights into their actual activities (“Did they go for a run?”, “Do they spend time at Macy’s?”). In a post-COVID world, where people will no longer be captives in their own homes, these insights are both useful and immediate. Obviously, accessing and using data will need to be permitted by the consumers themselves (see above), once you have convinced them that you are worthy of their trust and will use it responsibly and securely. Having ‘human-readable’ insights will help you be transparent with them, too. Personalized engagement in 2021, will need to go back to being between people.
Judging by the CMO survey, post-pandemic marketing will be characterized by a return to marketing basics. Keeping it simple, straight-forward and human-readable will help rebuild your customer relationships and speed your road to commercial recovery.
Note: The survey responses themselves were provided in April-May, after the ‘1st wave’ of COVID and judging by the sentiment, most participants thought that the worst was over. As much of the world has continued to grapple with the pandemic, the crisis extended into a ‘lost year’ (Churchill would be lighting another cigar with excitement) and those April plans can now be put in motion.