At this point it might sound cliché, but 2020 has been a year of completely new and unprecedented experiences. The most significant have, of course, been those we’ve all experienced personally.

Many of us have worked remotely for months, have children learning remotely, been unable to visit family and friends, or dealt with sickness and loss. Professionally, 2020 has also been a year of change—many have experienced job loss, budget cuts, shifting organizations, and uncertainty.

Yet, this new reality has also created opportunities to explore new strategies.

84% of marketers reported an increased value placed on digital experiences during the pandemic, which allows for new developments and deepening our understanding of customer journeys.

The trick for marketers will be to turn the learnings of 2020 into growth for 2021. Marketers report 17% loss in sales during the 2020 pandemic and expect 4% growth next year. But achieving that 4% of growth will require new strategies, as 2021 will still be a world of uncertainty and shifting behaviors.

We’ve complied four ways CMOs can lead digital marketing teams drive growth in 2021, despite the changing circumstances.  

1. Commit to flexibility and agility

We all hope the worst of the pandemic is behind us, but it’s clear 2021 won’t be a “normal” year. 

As Forrester writes,

“Resilience in the face of unprecedented and unpredictable change requires a high degree of agility.”

To be clear, being flexible and agile is not the same thing as having no plan. Quite the opposite, it’s key for marketing leadership to have a concise plan that’s aligned with business objectives and incorporates a healthy mix of marketing channels and functions.

Each of those channels should be monitored consistently to see which are resonating and which show warning signs of failure in response to changing customer behavior.    

If marketing strategies show warning signs of failure or if business objectives shift, it’s critical that marketing leadership pivot the team in response. One key for 2021 growth will be cutting out strategies that are failing and doubling down investment in ones that show signs of growth and promise. 

Deloitte has found that 58% of consumers “were able to name a brand that was able to quickly pivot its offerings to better react to the ‘new normal’ induced by COVID-19. Of this set of respondents, 82% said such new, relevant offerings had increased their desire to do more business with these brands.”

We can’t predict what 2021 will bring, but we can create a concise plan tied to business objectives, then adapt that plan based on prospect and customer response. Doing that ensures customers get more of what they want and less of what they don’t. 

2. Nurture and grow your existing base

45% of enterprise CMOs say their primary strategy to drive growth in 2021 is to introduce new products to an existing market, while 34% said they plan to increase sales of existing products to an existing market, according to Garner. The common theme? Focus on your existing market.

For many companies, 2020 was about stabilizing revenue and reducing customer churn: 32% of marketers said their priority focus during the pandemic has been retaining current customers, and only 14% have focused on acquiring new customers, according to the 2020 CMO Survey.

As an extension of that strategy, 2021 is about deepening your organization’s core competencies and customer relationships by offering them more of what they need.

Focusing more on your existing base isn’t only about reducing churn—it’s also about growth. 85% of marketers report increased openness among customers to new digital offerings introduced during the pandemic.

Maintain focus and spending in your organization’s foundational competencies, so your customers feel well-taken care of and loyal to your offering. You can then branch out to invest in areas where there are still opportunities for growth within your existing market. After that, you can move into providing new offerings to your base.  

One mistake marketing teams might make in 2021 is focusing solely on increasing spend in campaigns that yield immediate, short term results. But it would be a mistake to ignore the customer relationship building that was critical for 2020. Your customers stuck with you during a turbulent time, make sure you still invest in retention efforts next year, as existing customers will still contribute to your revenue engine.

3. Embed trust and empathy in your messaging

This past year has been a blending of personal and professional. We see each other’s homes, dogs, and kids on calls. We run webinars from our living rooms and hear about how our colleagues’ and customers’ families are dealing with the pandemic.

At the same time, we have a shared experience of feeling anxious, out of control, unsafe, overwhelmed, and wanting to care for and connect with others. 

Those emotions and shared experiences have a big impact on decision making. 40% of respondents to an Edelman survey said, “I have convinced other people to stop using a brand that I felt was not acting appropriately in response to the pandemic.” And 36% said it’s more important that a brand makes them feel safe using it during the pandemic.

Marketing leadership must take those emotions into account for 2021, or risk sounding completely out of touch. To effectively speak to those emotions, marketers should embed trust and empathy into their messaging and content.

Trust

Marketers predict that customers will place a higher than ever value on trusting relationships, with 29% saying it will be customers’ top priority in the coming year. 

According to Deloitte, customer trust is created when a brand is clear in its intentions and then fulfills those intentions. Or simply put, trust is the gap between intentions and delivery.

One Deloitte study reenforced that with data showing Americans are simply not satisfied with what an organization promises—they want proof of action and delivery. This means that companies need to be transparent about what they will deliver, then deliver that reliably and to the standard they promised—making trust and transparency key drivers of growth in 2021.

Marketing teams can fine tune messaging to ensure they’re promising something that can and will be delivered to prospects and customers. CMOs can work closely with other C-suite members to ensure messaging is aligned with the experience customers receive, which closes the experience loop and keeps intentions and messaging aligned with delivery.

Empathy

Working trust signals into your messaging isn’t enough on its own to meet the growth challenges 2021 will bring. Empathizing and acknowledging the human needs of customers and prospects will be critical to ensuring marketing efforts resonate with your base. 

When a brand connects on a humane, empathic level, people are more open to trusting its intentions and believing that their needs are truly being addressed,”

writes Deloitte in their 2021 Global Marketing Trends report

In 2021, customers will continue to crave support, security, and connection. Reach out to provide resources that meet customers in the headspace they’re in. Structure your campaigns and messaging to provide support and care, instead of marketing and advertising. By doing this, marketing teams can address the needs of customers and prospects and reflect the values of the communities they serve. 

Keep in mind that this goes for B2B brands as well. As Forrester writes,

“B2B organizations often forget that people — complete with emotions, preconceptions, hopes, and ideals — are the buyers they seek and the customers they need to keep.”

While trust and empathy might sound like soft strategies to achieve growth in 2021, they will be crucial to the success of all organizations. 70% of consumers say trusting a brand is more important today than in the past and 81% say personal vulnerability (health, financial stability, and privacy) is a reason why brand trust has become more important. 

The authors of one Deloitte report echo those findings by saying,

“How organizations care for and connect with their customers, partners, and workforce in a post-COVID world will likely be central to their success.”

4. Stand strong in your brand values

A key digital growth driver in 2021 will be a strong brand value platform. Now more than ever, consumers want brands to reflect their own beliefs and values—and they’re letting their wallets do the talking. In a 2019 Edelman survey, 64% of respondents say they choose, switch avoid, or boycott brands based on their stand on societal issues. And 81% said they must be able to trust the brand to do what is right.  

In more recent studies during the pandemic, 79% of respondents recalled instances of brands positively responding to COVID-19 to help their customers, workforces, and communities. And marketers are taking note: 79% of marketers say customers have a greater acknowledgement of companies’ attempts to “do good.” Acting on that, one-third of marketers have spent the pandemic building brand value that connects with customers.

Simply put, customers take note of businesses that stand strong in their purpose and values and reward them with ongoing loyalty. One in five consumers strongly agree that their buying preferences have shifted in favor of a brand with a strong purpose. Marketers can take advantage of that by solidifying their brand values and purpose and showing that in action. 

CMOs can ensure this strategy in 2021 by connecting their brand’s key purpose in society with its long-term value. That ensures an organization’s identity is clearly rooted in supporting the community, customers, employees, management, and stakeholders.

Once this red thread of how a brand’s purpose shows long-term value to society, customers, and employees is established, then marketing teams can get to work weaving this thread into their messaging and communications.

Authors of a Deloitte report commented further on this saying,

“Purpose-driven companies inherently understand why they exist and who they are best built to serve regardless of what they sell today.”

To be clear, this is a long-term strategy—but it’s one that will only become more important: 62% of respondents to an Edelman survey said “Our country will not make it through this crisis without brands playing a critical role in addressing the challenges we face.” 

Customers want to see brands standing by their purpose and letting that purpose drive decisions and actions. 

Want more tips about how to drive growth in 2021?

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