As we begin a new decade – one rife with more problems than any in modern memory – those working in the marketing sector are dealing with unprecedented changes.

With the advent of smart devices, artificial intelligence (AI), and social media, marketing has evolved to be much more consumer-focused.

Designers, developers, sales, and even directors must now develop deeper connections with marketing teams to ensure that they are all aligned and providing the right message to consumers.

As well as this, marketers are having to switch to user-based statistics over metric-based and develop a deeper understanding of their target audience, their behaviour, and their needs.

Society has also taken a more active interest in privacy and the use of personal data. Big tech companies wield more power than ever, and the spread of misinformation across social media channels has decimated trust.

In light of this, in 2021 marketers will have to change, adapt, and explore new methods or practices to have an impact.


Where do I get started?

Good marketing informs, engages, sustains, sells and, ultimately, grows your business, says Gideon Wellins, CEO of digital marketing firm Lemon Pulse.

Hooking a potential customer, informing them of your product, sustaining that flow of information, and then using that to grow your business is the life cycle of a strong marketing strategy.

“Marketing has been around for millennia. It always has been and always will be an important part of anyone’s business. Marketing is how people find you, one way or another,” he explains.

“Whether that is word of mouth, or your more mainstream marketing such as flyers and newspapers, or moving onto digital with the internet, marketing has many facets and can be achieved through several channels at the same time, or independently.”

A good start is building an impactful website. This can not only advertise what you are trying to sell, it can pool marketing assets together.

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It is important not to focus all efforts into one channel, Wellins says, but ensure that your marketing team knows where your audience is and how to reach them across each respective channel.

“A business can do one or can do multiple, but in essence, they should all be interconnecting in some way with your messaging and your brand,” Wellins comments.

“More and more businesses will find that they are connecting multiple facets of their business when, in the past, they didn’t necessarily see the connection.”

In addition to this, Wellins believes organisations must consider the difficulties that many faced last year.

“If 2020 taught us anything with regards to marketing, it is that we need to be prepared for the unknown, but more importantly, not to neglect any particular channel, should one become suddenly ineffective,” he says.

He continues: “The ability to be agile is key so that you can pause, stop, or change a particular asset that isn’t working and launch into a new direction where there are opportunities and being able to find those opportunities is imperative to success.”


How do I drive customer engagement?

Marketers should aim to achieve one thing: engaging with their consumers. If your strategy is built on a strong foundation, more and more people will take notice.

An important part of engaging with a customer is knowing them. This is where something like datafication comes in.

Datafication involves gathering information using multiple tools to better understand your customers, from a marketing perspective or a business perspective.

“Datafication works across all aspects of life and anyone can use datafication within their day-to-day,” says Wellins.

“If you have a smart toothbrush, for example, you can connect it to Amazon, and it will automatically order you new toothbrush heads when it detects that you are running low and new ones are needed.”

The same can be applied to marketing. By understanding your customers and their needs, you can make smarter business decisions to increase their engagement and increase sales or leads, whatever the goal of your business may be.

The tools that you can use change from business to business, Wellins says. To boost engagement, you have to remain ‘present’ and to consider that more people than ever are using internet services because they cannot visit the high-street.

Including communication devices such as a phone number or an instant messaging service are a strong way to start: “Personalising instant messaging with AI is even better,” Wellins comments.

“If a user is on a specific page, the person (or even bot) knows which page and what they are looking at, so outreach to the specific customer can be more specific making the conversation more engaging,” he says.

However, it is important to match these with other tools such as Google Analytics to measure website traffic, and Google Search Console to check how Google is indexing your website, keeping tabs on how your website appears on search engines.

Wellins says: “Heatmap tools such as HotJar or CrazyEgg are a good way to see how users are interacting with pages on your site and gives you heatmaps of what calls to actions are more prominent, what people are clicking on or how far people are scrolling down a page.

“This type of tool gives both aggregated data, as well as individual recordings (non-personalised) so you can look at the last thousand visits for a specific page and see how that data is aggregated into the heatmaps. It is not just looking at one person’s journey on the website and their interactions, but aggregated data of the sessions on your site.”

Tools like these allow a marketer to ‘track’ a user’s journey from start to finish to see what content they are consuming; what they are doing on the website and potentially gaining an understanding of their shopping habits.

Alongside that, Wellins says, there are tools such as Google Optimize and Optimizely which are split testing tools, allowing you to make small “changes” to a page without the need of a developer.

Once you have these in place, you can begin personalising the experience to make it more likely a user will come back in the future.

“By using data that you can have at your fingertips from website usage and engagement metrics, from email campaigns to flyers you post through people’s doors, there are ways you can track the data and use it to make decisions to help increase your customers’ experience with your business,” Wellins says.


Data, data, data

Data collected on you falls into five categories; personal: location, behavioural, purchasing, and social. Marketers use them all to personalise a shopping experience to ensure you are engaged and to get you buying their products.

When you sign up to a website, you provide information, such as your gender, your age, your favourite colour, or your preferred style of clothing.

“That is powerful from a marketing perspective,” Wellins comments, “Because now when I come to their website, they show me things related to those answers that I have given, or they send me email marketing to the same effect.

“That can have a much stronger impact on me because I have told you already that this is what I like, and then why wouldn’t they market to me with the stuff that I told them I like?”

However, data collection has been a hot topic for many years, particularly in 2020 as more people shopped and worked from home, and it is looking likely to be just as polarizing over the next year.

Wellins says it is a matter of transparency: “That is what I’d say you need to assure customers that their data is being used correctly.

“With transparency, you need to highlight what data is being collected, what it is being used for and if you are sharing their Personally Identifiable Information (or PII) with anyone else, in most cases, it is good to highlight that you do not.”

“It is about assuring [users] that their data is safe, how it’s safe, how it’s secure, and not hiding that somewhere away in the tiny little font on the website in your privacy policy or Terms of Use. Let customers know that you care about that data and information and it’s not something that you take lightly.”


The question of Covid

Covid-19 has shown us the importance of adapting, and those that did not have their online presence up to par are probably looking to ‘double down’.

A report released by Gartner revealed that 73{3c6be4297db6c6dead22aac82e61edad92a520b73a55778b8446ff6b78406501} of chief marketing officers (CMOs) would prefer a low risk, low return marketing policy over the next year.

Many believe that pushing into new markets and different parts of the world could be dangerous in a volatile market, so will look to existing customers to fuel growth.

“I definitely think that you should not lose sight of things in your current geographic location, do not neglect it,” Wellins says.

“But any business should also look to expand. Whether that expansion is local, nationwide, or international, would depend on the available resources as well as the potential return.”

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Wellins believes that the biggest change from a marketing perspective will be increased advertising budgets for websites and online assets to maximise the impact that it can have over traditional offline marketing efforts.

Creating a clear user experience as well as content to support all users at each stage of their journey. From the top of the funnel (direct intent content) to bottom of the funnel (educational/informational), the content will be more and more prevalent.

“Businesses should be making sure that their website is functioning as is should and all other online marketing efforts are streamlined as much as can be,” Wellins says.

“Teams within the business should all be working together with the marketing team to ensure that the correct messaging is being portrayed across their platform.”


So, what happens next?

Nobody can predict what the future holds, but Wellins believes there are a few things we can do to prepare.

“Prediction wise, I believe that businesses that have a stronger connection with their audience, through multiple facets will be the winners, whilst companies resting on their laurels will find it difficult to get involved,” he says.

The report by Gartner shows a level of uncertainty about the future and around trying new things in general. “When humans are comfortable doing what they are doing, and it’s working, why change it?” Wellins says.

“However, from a business perspective the longer you wait to take the initiative the harder it is going to be to for you to do it down the line, especially if the competitors get there first,” he says.

And what trends does Wellins believe we will start seeing over the next year that marketers should start looking towards?

“More automation and AI. Not necessarily replacing marketers, but rather helping them do their job more effectively,” he responds.

“Voice search and bots for chat, at least initially to customers, will be the up-and-coming big change to the marketing landscape.

“Companies who can start taking advantage of this and making sure that they have optimal content, information, and the necessary tools in place will be in a good place for the future.”


Join the Debate: MarTech Virtual Summit

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Hear from leading experts from across the marketing landscape and explore the crucial issues facing frontline practitioners.

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