Surveys, data, and trends reveal a lot about the impact 2020 had on businesses and consumers, but it’s also helpful to get the perspective of marketing leaders who have firsthand experience navigating how this very unusual year has impacted their business and clients.
ClickZ interviewed four executives at eBay, FILA, Salesforce, and IBM Watson/Weather to get a better understanding of how the coronavirus and 2020 impacted their approach to marketing, influenced their business, and forced them to rethink their strategies going into 2021 and beyond.
Five common themes emerged from our conversations with each marketing leader. The first was pretty universal—2020 ushered in a startling and enormous amount of change.
Change was a common theme among the marketing leaders we spoke to, with COVID-19 causing a rapid shift in consumer behavior that required companies to adapt quickly, particularly in the Ecommerce space.
FILA’s VP of Ecommerce, Dawn Trenson, noted how stay-at-home orders and store closings forced consumers to rely on digital channels to solve their commerce needs.
“Since so many stores were closed and stay-at-home orders were common, our customers relied on online channels to solve their commerce needs,” explains Trenson. “Our online strategy included a fully re-vamped direct-to-consumer channel. In May, our site saw a massive increase in digital engagement following the site’s relaunch; we also had the highest number of sales in a single day.”
For consumers and retailers alike, the rapid adoption of and transformation to Ecommerce was a natural consequence of having limited bricks and mortar options.
While online retail sales jumped 32% in the first quarter of 2020 compared with the previous quarter, department store sales declined sharply, a trend that was already occurring, but was exacerbated by COVID-19.
Quarterly revenue of top department stores in 2020 compared with 2019—Source: Vox
Ebay’s Scott Kelliher, Director of Brand Ads and Partnerships, spoke to how consumers’ needs shift as the pandemic drags on.
“On the consumer side, what we’ve seen is that when people first locked down, purchasing trends were really functional (e.g., cleaning products, masks, etc.) But over the course of the summer, we saw a big spike in interest for auto parts, home office accessories, and categories like jigsaw puzzles.”
Personalized messaging that relies on data-driven technologies like AI and machine learning have become incredibly important throughout the pandemic.
As brands and businesses went dark then re-emerged due to lockdowns, protests, and other issues in 2020, relevant and authentic messaging has been an essential way that companies communicate with consumers.
Randi Stipes, CMO at IBM Watson Advertising and Weather, emphasized that messaging be as relevant as possible during times of uncertainty, noting how IBM’s clients are leveraging their technology to do just this.
“We’re using AI to help clients be more responsive and tone appropriate in their communications with consumers,” says Stipes. “We launched a solution called Watson Advertising Accelerator at CES which harnesses AI to rapidly and continuously make sense of data signals to predict the optimal creative that drives the highest engagement among a target audience.”
Personalization and data have been key ingredients in FILA’s approach to marketing as well.
With a data-driven focus, FILA’s online channels serve tailored shopping journeys and relevant messaging at specific moments, all while creating an optimized customer experience.
FILA works with Capgemini, a technology consulting firm that specializes in helping companies with their digital transformation initiatives.
Says Trenson, “Prior to 2020, FILA was sending general marketing emails and only sharing visibility at various points throughout the year. The site was siloed, so it was difficult to pull customer data and establish relevant messaging. Capgemini saw the gaps, and quickly implemented digital marketing and SEO optimizations that gave us specific insight into who our customers are and how they interact with the site.”
Salesforce’s VP of Marketing, Jo Pettifer, notes that the pandemic has tested marketer’s ability to be adaptable.
Says Pettifer, “Just like our customers, we’ve had to reimagine nearly every aspect of our business — our products, employee experiences, customer engagements, and events, with relevance and speed.”
In the B2B sector where in-person events traditionally represented a large pillar of an organization’s marketing strategy, companies have had to think differently about digital and the role it can play in creating engaging customer experiences.
“We reimagined our events so they deliver timely, relevant and impactful content to the right audience, from anywhere,” explains Pettifer. “Most recently we launched Dreamforce to You, a customized, digital experience for our customers, trailblazers and stakeholders to inspire, connect and define the blueprint for how to succeed in this new normal.”
Stipes pointed out that being adaptable and resilient was the silver lining in a year filled with challenges.
“In a matter of weeks, IBM implemented a remote work culture for over 350,000 employees across the globe,” she explains. “We’ve been agile with our clients and have been able to help ensure their business continuity in the face of the pandemic.”
Optimized mobile experiences have been crucial to remaining agile and adaptable throughout 2020 as more consumers access websites from their mobile devices and apps take on more importance to meet the growing demand for online orders, planning, and shopping.
For the Weather Channel, an IBM property, mobile has been a critical part of their marketing and business strategies.
“Between mobile web and the app, we’re seeing that more than 75% of our traffic in any given month comes from mobile,” says Stipe. “The global pandemic has only accelerated that behaviour.”
FILA’s Dawn Trenson notes that the pandemic has increased their mobile traffic and they’ve seen increased conversions from mobile as well.
Says Trenson, “Because FILA’s customers skew younger, an optimized mobile experience is important and can be a notable differentiator. In 2020, we saw a surge in mobile traffic and increased conversion rates – reflecting the massive spike on the desktop site.”
Pettifer highlighted the need for consistency across all channels and devices at Salesforce.
“Marketers today use an average of 24 different platforms in their tech stack to advertise, engage their customers, deliver web and mobile experiences, and drive conversion to sales. Having the ability to deliver a consistent customer experience across all touchpoints is key.”
Relevancy, authenticity, and helping customers succeed (whether it’s with finding the right shoe or making their entire marketing infrastructure more agile) are the hot buzzwords for 2021.
Focusing on these things as businesses continue to weather the pandemic (and hopefully) move on from it, will be key to succeeding.
“Our number one job at Salesforce is to help our customers right now,” says Pettifer. “We must be relevant when it comes to empowering them. While this is something that is a natural part of our Salesforce ethos, it is important to live the example.”
Per Trenson: “FILA is launching a detailed personalization survey that will enable us to have more effective digital conversations with our customers. We plan to share these outputs with our apparel and footwear designers to drive the ideation of future exclusive product launches on FILA.com.”
“At eBay, we want to give our customers more control,” says Kelliher. “To this end, we’ve built a completely cookieless server-side technology to offer the broadest or the narrowest segments that a marketer can ever want. By the time we get to 2025, we’ll give you the control you want, the speed you need, and the flexibility that goes along with it.”
Stipes says IBM Watson is planning for future success by being open, unbiased, and privacy forward.
“We’re definitely thinking long term. We want to provide solutions that are open and can be used anywhere. We’re also ensuring that they’re unbiased, which is another advantage of AI—it can detect and mitigate bias. Finally, we we’re privacy forward. There’s a lot of talk about solutions to meet the depreciation of the third-party cookie, and we believe that the best path forward is to leverage AI.”
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