As we move closer and closer to a post-pandemic world, companies are certain to face new challenges. Consumers have changed – though it’s unclear how many of those changes will be permanent. But one thing is for certain, brands will need to rethink their marketing efforts if they want to become a future-proof business. We talked to our CEO and founder Terry Dry about what he thinks about the current state of the marketing industry and how businesses can reestablish relationships with consumers after a tumultuous year and a half.
What do you think about the current state of marketing?
Overall, I’m impressed by it! Marketing has evolved so dramatically because of how targeted, customized, and personalized you can get. Technology allows us to be smarter. We’ve done away with the “one-size-fits-all” approach, which is a good thing. There are so many more ways to get your message across and so many more avenues to deliver it. It’s more complex, more interesting, and of course more challenging. The bar has definitely been raised. It’s not as easy as TV, radio, print, and traditional PR anymore. There are more channels and more opportunities. I think marketing today is rewarding to the innovative forward thinkers and those that truly pay attention to and listen to their audience’s needs.
What do you think marketers need to improve upon?
It feels like the pendulum has swung so far towards algorithms and the targeted, optimized reach that comes with it, that we, as marketers, have gotten a bit lazy. I’m not suggesting that the technologies available aren’t valuable and helpful – they absolutely are, but they also allow us to just sit back and plug and play and watch the KPIs get achieved. There is something much deeper that can get lost in the “spots and dots” – the real core marketing! The marketing strategy, the consumer listening, the real understanding of your customers – reading between the lines and gleaning true insights. I’m supportive of all the data and info that you can attain today, but it doesn’t stop there – it’s about what you do with the data.
So, what should marketers do with all of the data they have available to them today?
As I mentioned, marketers need to find ways to use the data and insights they discover to make a greater impact on consumers – to get more creative. What I like to call using “evidence-based creativity.” Use the data to make informed marketing decisions but DON’T let the data automate those decisions for you. Really digging for insights and interpreting data is where the magic will happen. It’s time to get engaged again to develop the next wave of marketing. Think of data as your partner and not the boss. There is so much value when you slow down, dig deep and think creatively – and you now have the luxury of having access to so much more info to help support that thinking. It’s really about marketing getting back to its roots.
At what point do you think marketers lost their way?
Once Facebook went public, I think the game changed and marketers started to lose their way. All of a sudden, you could buy what was termed “engagement.” That confused things. It is advertising. There was no more authentic word of mouth. Lots of ambiguity. But the ability to do a media buy across a variety of platforms and the proliferation of algorithms and programmatic, etc. This allowed advertising and media buying to take over. This is what I think led to marketing getting a bit lazy.
How can marketing get back to its roots – especially in a post-pandemic world when so much has changed?
LISTEN. I can’t stress enough how important it is to truly listen to what your customers and potential customers are saying. There are countless customer listening tools available to help you get the insight you need. Once you learn what your customers are saying, observe what they actually do! It all starts there. Once you have that part down, you can then use the relevant data that is available and apply it to consumer thinking. This is where you can discover actionable insights that can actually drive something new – change hearts and minds – influence behavior. I think marketers can get so caught up in watching what competitors do that they forget to watch what their customers are doing. Listen to customers, not competitors.
I would also add that marketers need to start innovating again. Keep testing and learning. It’s not as costly to try something new as it used to be. You just need the energy, the guts, and the desire to keep pushing the envelope. And don’t forget that there are many different types of innovation ranging from simply making improvements to existing programs and messaging to radical disruption and way out-of-the-box thinking (and everything in between). So there should be no excuse for why brands and marketers shouldn’t continually optimize their strategies. It is the only way to become a future-proof brand.
Have marketers lost their ability to innovate? Do we play it way too safe?
Yes. People, in general, are afraid to innovate. You don’t get fired for doing what your boss did. Rocking the boat could bring unwanted attention to you so brands, in particular, get nervous about implementing out-of-the-box marketing strategies. This fear invites complacency and laziness. Plus, with cancel culture being a very real thing today, companies and their marketing teams are afraid to take risks. But you have to get over that fear. Do what feels authentic and right for your brand based on your core purpose and what your customers are telling you they want. You will ultimately be rewarded in the long run for pushing the envelope in a smart, strategic way.
You mentioned customer engagement getting lost when it was easily purchased. What should brands and marketers do now to make it authentic again?
What’s old is new again. I think there is a tremendous opportunity to get back to the core of what consumer engagement is all about. Even going old school with email (which is still a highly successful medium!) or even snail mail. Upgrade old loyalty programs for a new era that will reinvigorate advocates and create new ones. Now that we are opening up and more Americans are getting vaccinated, experiential marketing can have its post-Covid resurgence. Overall a focus on experiences – both physical and digital – with a much more personalized twist – can help brands authentically engage with their customer and learn a lot about them at the same time!
How should marketers begin to reestablish relationships with customers that they may have lost during the pandemic?
Be customer OBSESSED. Everything you do needs to be in service to the customer. Be laser-focused there. If you serve them, love them, listen to them, care about them…. good things will happen! Marketing after covid should be all about getting to know your customer again and identifying how you can meet their needs and provide value in entirely new ways. Post pandemic marketing trends will all have the customer at the center.
You talk a lot about the need to understand your customer – how can marketers do that cost-effectively today, especially when budgets are so fickle during this transition period?
Everything needs to be more customized and personalized. You have the opportunity to cater so much more specific to your customer and you can absolutely do that cost-effectively. Instead of creating one message for 100 people, you can make 100 messages for each individual. Cater to the “one-to-one.” When you do this, it will spread, and “one-to-one” will become “one-to-many” because your customers become media. They will do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. So give them the opportunity to advocate for your brand – but you have to give them a compelling reason to do so – which starts with providing them with an amazing and valuable experience.
Over the course of the pandemic, brands lost a lot of trust with their customers, how can they regain that trust?
First, you have to stand for something. You need to have a purpose and you need to stay true to it. Of course, every business wants to make money, but the reason you exist can’t solely be profit-driven any longer. And don’t invent a purpose because it’s in style to do so. Really take some time to think about who you are as an organization and ensure that every part of that purpose is integrated into your business – beyond your marketing – your operations, your employees, your products, your supply chain, your offices, etc. Also, there is a common misconception that your purpose has to be world-changing. Not necessarily true. It can also be about having a really great product that meets a specific consumer’s need better than anyone else. Next, listen to your customers and what they are experiencing and going through. Show them you are listening by communicating their needs and desires back to them as part of your marketing strategy. Serve them by creating experiences catered to the needs that will build that trust and show them you are working to serve them. But never take it for granted. It takes a long time to build trust and only a moment to lose it. So keep listening, keep adapting. But let your brand purpose constantly be your guide.
There are a lot of predictions about the post-pandemic consumer and what changed behaviors will remain permanent and which will go back to normal. What are your thoughts?
I think it’s still too early to tell what behaviors will permanently change due to the pandemic or what post-pandemic consumer trends will surface. I think we can certainly predict that digital transformations like eCommerce will continue to grow in 2021 and beyond. I think convenience-led behaviors like online fitness, food delivery, and even telehealth will likely remain in large part. But the reality is that Covid just accelerated the inevitable. Those behaviors were going to become the norm with or without the pandemic. But that being said, I do think that humans are still creatures of habit. And once everything opens up fully again and this crisis is truly in the rearview mirror, most of us will return to our same old habits and behaviors. So the verdict is still out on this. My opinion is that the idea of consumers being permanently impacted by the pandemic in every way for eternity is overblown.
What do you think marketers can learn from the past year and a half that can help them move forward in the new normal?
That your consumers aren’t just spots and dots or a means to a transactional end. They aren’t just buyers. They are real people with feelings, needs, struggles. If there’s anything we’ve learned over the pandemic, it’s that human connection is incredibly important. And once we lose that, we lose a bit of our humanity. Marketing needs to recapture that humanity. Think beyond just trying to sell a product and think about how that product can help that person on the other end of that transaction. Not everything you sell is going to be life-changing, but it should meet a need. Is it making someone happy? Is it helping solve a problem? Is it making someone’s life easier? Is it helping someone feel better? Is it helping someone meet a personal goal? Marketing needs to be more about the ‘why’ and less about the ‘what.’ The ‘why’ is the key to becoming a future-proof business. Consumers want to buy from brands that care about them and value them. And especially in a post-pandemic world, authenticity is crucial. So don’t just pretend you care about people – actually care about people. If marketers can move forward with this mindset, incredible things will happen.
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