The virus pandemic has changed marketing in the short term, but which changes will stick permanently? From chatbots and experience to attribution and remote working, Inken Kuhlmann-Rhinow – Marketing Director, HubSpot EMEA, looks at the way marketing trends will permanently change in a post-COVID world.
The modern marketing world has never faced a global crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic before. 2020 marks not only a turbulent start of a new decade but also the precedent to the next tomorrow of our profession. A crisis like the coronavirus may have disrupted and probably slowed down our marketing efforts, but it cannot stop them (or, at least, it shouldn’t.) However uncertain the situation may seem, there are opportunities in every economic environment, and this “new normal” that swiftly thrust upon us is “more of the same”. When others in your industry put the brakes on their marketing efforts, your brand can be the one emerging stronger of the crisis – mind you, as long as you put the customer at the centre of everything you do.
As marketers, we are all learning how to operate in a “new normal” that’s constantly changing. Some urgently need to cut down on the frequency of their paid campaigns, some are focusing on reinforcing their PR and corporate communication efforts, while others are shifting towards TV and online advertising. Whatever your reality is, react but not retreat.
One thing we all know is that consumers have changed dramatically in the last few years, and while we can’t anticipate what will happen next after COVID-19, we know that even more change is coming. Here is my view on how our profession will evolve in 2020 and beyond:
- “See you later Twitter and Facebook….hello chatbots!
Caution is good, but innovation is better. Disruptive innovation and a new mindset are to be expected from a global crisis. How to reinvent yourself, adopt new solutions and emerge even stronger? It seems like only yesterday when back in the 2000s, brands experimented with social media to communicate with customers and prospects— first through weblogs and then through Facebook and Twitter. But then the robots turned up.
Robots, or more particularly chatbots powered by AI, are changing the way brands do business with their customers. A HubSpot survey conducted in January among 500 marketers in the UK revealed that 25% of companies that don’t use bots in marketing in 2020 are planning on implementing them this year alone. Also, HubSpot data from our global customer base reveals that buyer-initiated chat and database has grown in times of COVID-19. In fact, chat volume far exceeds pre-COVID levels.
While it doesn’t seem to have taken off yet, I am expecting conversational marketing to thrive after COVID-19. The benefits are undeniable: it offers a real-time way to answer customer questions more quickly, automate lead qualification and book meetings, just to name a few. As consumers become more demanding and expect faster and more direct responses from companies, investing in chatbots can help you deliver a better customer experience.
- The future will belong to experience disruptors
Myriad disruptions are arising across every industry every day. Years ago, businesses won by selling a product 10 times better than the competition. For better or worse, COVID-19 has prompted marketers to realise the importance of what they have acknowledged for many years – today’s businesses only win when they provide a seamless customer experience.
These companies depict a new class of growth leaders that surge ahead transforming and remodelling the way we’ve come to expect out of companies as consumers. In my company, name them experience disruptors, and I think the UK has provided some major examples of these companies, with Revolut, Transferwise and Deliveroo being one of the best. I predict that these companies will stand even stronger in today’s climate of uncertainty.
- Attribution will become the linchpin of marketing success
“As if it wasn’t hard enough to attract new customers, now everyone’s talking about optimising the entire customer lifecycle!” This was a common complaint of marketers not even too long ago. Well – nobody said that marketing was an easy job. As marketers, every touchpoint we have with consumers is an opportunity to make a good impression. But to do this, businesses need strategies that support the entire customer lifecycle. Too often we see businesses focusing on customer acquisition at the expense of retention, putting all emphasis on converting leads into sales but not on engaging customers into repeat purchases or turning them into advocates.
It’s here that rich attribution reporting can assist you to help you make better decisions. Ten years ago, closed-loop reporting was impossible for many marketers. Today, attribution is possible for all of us, although it is not the rule yet. As HubSpot research shows, only 52% of today’s marketers in the UK use some form of attribution reporting. However, competition for customers’ attention has never been so relentless and complicated, and with many marketers slashing their marketing budgets or expecting their budgets being hit hard, I believe that marketing attribution will become the linchimp of marketing success in the coming years.
- A before and after moment in digital transformation
You may have come across the popular image floating around LinkedIn and Twitter asking people what’s inspiring their digital transformation – the CEO, the CTO or Covid-19. In a Tech Pro Research global survey, 70% of respondents stated that their companies either have a digital transformation strategy in place or are working on one. I believe this will be remarkably true for businesses that are yet to prioritise this and are unfortunately experiencing the consequences of not being set up for doing digital business online right now.
I expect nearly all business over the next few years to embrace digital tools like CRM, payments, document signing, etc. That means in-house marketers and agencies alike will have to become more technically-mature to deliver these remarkable customer experiences.
- Brands will be kinder and more empathic
I truly hope this prediction is true, and that we come out of this with businesses doing the right thing for their customers, even when it’s difficult. With our planet facing more challenges than ever before, companies will increasingly be viewed as either part of the solution or the problem.
I believe that brands are really going to be judged for a long time by how they behave through COVID-19. Consumers are calling for a change, so the more empathy you show, the more you understand what a customer wants and desires, what hurdles they aim to overcome and what opportunities are ahead of them. Be there, check your brand and listen up, and you will be remember long after COVID-19.
- Remote marketers will abound
Companies that genuinely aspire to support diversity and inclusion must support remote work. Today, only 40% of the 887 UK brand marketers surveyed by Econsultancy say their business is “very proficient” at enabling remote work.
This is largely down to two reasons. Firstly, you need a good work culture for remote working to succeed – if you don’t foster a sense of community and collaboration between employees, how can you expect them to work well when separated from one another?
Secondly, up until now, managers and leaders have often treated remote working as something to tolerate rather than embrace. But, just like any other area of business, remote working needs effective leadership to succeed – marketers who develop these remote leadership skills stand to reap the benefits that this practice can offer to their teams.
Yes, it will require some practice. Yes, it will require a change of mentality. However, companies that don’t actively support remote work will limit their potential to engage with top talent. Given our jobs lend themselves to remote work better than most, I expect to see a spike in the number of open marketing positions where remote work is encouraged.
As we immerse ourselves into the next chapter of marketing, only one thing is guaranteed: more change is coming for our profession. We’ll all need to remain flexible, adaptable, resilient, and put a laser-sharp focus on providing amazing experiences to succeed.
By Inken Kuhlmann-Rhinow