Whether you’re a small business owner or a top executive at one of the largest enterprises in the world, it’s likely that you didn’t escape 2020 unscathed by the pandemic. After a year riddled with chaos, confusion, and uncertainty, you’re likely wondering exactly where marketing is headed in 2021. Try as we might, nothing is yet ‘business-as-usual’. We must press on toward our goals - but how? Let’s dive into some of the biggest challenges we’ve seen over the last year and how marketing must evolve to stimulate growth moving forward.
Biggest Marketing Challenges in 2020
As a digital marketing agency, we’ve had the unique perspective of experiencing 2020 through the lens of multiple businesses in various industries. Here are just a few of the challenges we’ve seen across the board over the last year:
Whether repurposing funds or simply scaling back, so many are now more restricted by budget. Consumers are hesitant to buy and businesses are afraid to spend on marketing, even though they know they should. Many business owners and executives also believe they are marketing to people who don’t have the budget to buy their products or use their services. This perception makes it even harder to allocate the little resources they have.
Social distancing has made it harder to reach people. Many businesses relied on in-person events, including trade shows and conferences to build relationships and promote their products and services. While video conferencing and webinars have bridged the gap for client and customer communication, these methods have a long way to go to parallel in-person interaction.
During this time of crisis, businesses had to change their message to engage people and appeal to emotion. Not only did communication have to be sensitive to the hard times people were going through, but many tired of repeatedly hearing the same ‘unprecedented times’ messaging.
Fear of the unknown
If we learned anything in 2020, it was that things could change quickly and suddenly. Fear of the unknown paralyzed some and impaired them from deciding anything about the future. For others, marketing campaigns had to remain adaptable to navigate the constant state of uncertainty.
The Future of Marketing
In 2021, with the reality of the situation glaringly obvious to all, business owners, corporate executives, and marketers can do nothing else but adapt to stay afloat. And the most resilient will not only survive, but continue to grow despite it all.
According to Harvard Business Review, “Companies seeking to emerge from a crisis in a stronger position must develop a systematic understanding of changing habits.” While some changes over the last year are temporary, we know that there has been a shift in work culture that will far outlast the pandemic. As businesses assess and determine whether they will bring their workforce back in office, continue to work remote, or introduce a hybrid solution, the marketing industry will need to grow to understand and meet new demands, reaching target markets where they are.
Where does marketing stand in 2021? Here are some insights compiled from a few key players at Bonafide.
What are some of the biggest marketing challenges businesses will face in 2021, and how can marketers rise to meet those challenges?
It is clear that companies must fully embrace the remote environment and develop a culture that fosters valuable virtual relationships. Where remote meetings are no longer a convenience, but the norm, learning how to nurture clients without in person communication becomes crucial to sustainable growth through genuine and intentional virtual interaction.
Virtual-only engagement will make it more difficult for businesses to connect 1-on-1 with the decision-makers of their ideal clients. With the likely shift to a hybrid work-from-home culture, sales teams will need the support of marketers to engage with prospects via various digital lead generation channels.
“As we continue to navigate waters of change and uncertainty, businesses must learn how to appeal to people whose priorities and buying behavior has changed.” - Aylin Poultin, VP Project Management
Marketers need to understand their buyers, and provide thoughtful, intentional, content. It also becomes increasingly important for businesses to learn how to adapt to new situations quickly.
What changes do companies need to make in their marketing strategies to continue to see growth while navigating COVID-19 and/or the fallout from the pandemic?
While businesses must embrace digital to appeal to a growing number of people working remote, it doesn’t stop with online accessibility and visibility. Those who thrive will learn how to use targeted campaigns to reach key decision makers with personalized messages which speak to their needs very specifically, leveraging technology for efficiency and scale.
"There’s always business out there somewhere - you just need to find it. Everyone was affected differently by the pandemic, people and organizations alike. Some markets were devastated more than others, but there are businesses that are still thriving. Being able to pivot quickly and find opportunities is critical." - Shareef Defrawri, President/Founder
Business leaders and marketers must also remain flexible and design campaigns to adapt to a constantly changing climate. With everyone shifting to the digital environment simultaneously and the unknown looming before us, marketing professionals must be able to embrace and capitalize on change to remain competitive.
“Companies should have a plan (and one or two backup plans) for navigating budget restrictions, failed strategies, or loss of customers/clients, being quick to find what works for their situation and letting go of strategies that don't work anymore.” - Rachel Runnels, Marketing Manager
How do you see the role of social media in business growth and retention in 2021?
Just like everything else, social media may have some surprises for us as we move into 2021. Historically, B2C companies have thrived on social media, while B2B businesses have mixed experiences. How will this compare to 2021?
“I think it’s likely that we will see social media giants like Facebook and LinkedIn continue to update their algorithms to adapt to the current climate. But, marketers will also need to adopt agile thinking and change their social media strategy to use these algorithmic changes to their advantage.” - Traci Huhn, Marketing Strategist
The bottom line is that social media can have a big impact on business growth. Companies with an active customer/client base on social media can economically connect with their prospects organically and through paid social channels like Facebook and LinkedIn. But, no matter the industry, social media marketing requires an in-depth, customized strategy to be fruitful.
How does remote work change B2B marketing strategies moving forward?
The B2B industries are notorious for their reliance on traditional approaches such as word-of-mouth marketing, trade shows, cold calls, and canvassing. These archaic methods drive a good portion of leads. But they’ve just become more difficult.
“People's work environments and concerns have changed now that many people are working remotely. Marketing strategies need to change to target those people and what they're worried about now.” - Rachel Runnels, Marketing Manager
With social distancing, people are ... well, keeping their distance. Sales professionals are not as eager to hit the field, knocking on doors, and most large events have moved online. Cold calling is less effective with remote workers being harder to reach without a direct extension. B2B businesses will need to be creative and learn how to reach people at home vs the office. Technology and digitization is essential.
In general, what marketing trends do you think we’ll see in 2021? Which strategies will continue to dominate and which trends will become obsolete/no longer be effective?
In 2021, there is no denying the power and necessity of digital marketing. But, the approach will become very personalized and relationship building will be key. Not only will we need to engage more personally with prospects and clients, but also focus on building quality relationships with other sites to drive organic and direct traffic growth that matters.
"Account-based marketing should continue to dominate the B2B marketing space. Buying decisions are non-linear and are decided with increasingly more complex buying committees. Engaging multiple levels within organizations is critical in creating a buzz and reinforcing your messaging." - George Moustakelis, Business Growth Development
We’re curious to see how the event industry evolves - maybe immersive digital experiences will emerge as the alternative to expense trade shows or conferences? A shotgun approach to a text-only content strategy is simply no longer effective, and we are moving into an era where replacing the same content with an animated video is not enough. While content is still king, marketers need to dig deeper and find that connection point or their “in” to forming valuable relationships with people.
The good news? Marketers are accustomed to change. We have learned to expect new algorithms, changing customer behaviors and ‘hangouts’, seasonal trends, and more. Year-to-year, seasoned marketers and business executives consult with the experts, analyze data, and formulate new methodology to achieve results. This year may present unique challenges, but as an industry - marketing will rise.
Not sure what marketing should look like for your business this year or how to best allocate your budget? There has never been a better time to partner with a team of experienced marketers. Contact us for a free consultation and find out how Bonafide can help your business grow in 2021 and beyond.