It’s been an age old truth that whenever hard times hit, marketing is one of the first departments to be cut. Marketing is widely seen as a cost center, not a profit center. Yet, this is a short sighted view. And it’s incorrect, depending on what the role of marketing is within the business.
In a time when the ground is shifting beneath our feet, marketing will play a pivotal role in helping companies understand and respond strategically to changing customer needs, and retaining customers’ trust in their brand.
Here are five of the COVID-inspired shifts in marketing that we see becoming permanent after the pandemic is over.
- Online services will become preferred. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, even non-digital businesses have been forced to look for ways to take their businesses virtual. Non-profits quickly retooled their fundraising plans to raise money through virtual fundraising. Real estate agents who had not already done so began implement virtual showings and signings. Even copywriters like me are looking for ways to make it easier for customers to work with us virtually, even in some cases implementing online ordering of their services. Restaurants and retailers shifted to online and phone ordering with curbside pickup. This again continued a shift that had been in progress for years, but coronavirus served as the impetus to make it accepted on a widespread basis; in many cases there’s no reason to eliminate these options once the pandemic is over.
- Even relationship based businesses will go remote. Businesses where in-person relationships have tended to dominate will probably see a long term shift to virtual, online appointments. This applies to businesses such as professional and personal services, real estate and mortgage brokers, technology consulting, accounting and others. Licensing issues may be limiters in real estate and finance, but some in these professions are already licensed in multiple states or locales. The shift toward remote work frees consultants and creatives to work with clients anywhere. Again, this is a continuation of a shift that was already happening. Even prior to the pandemic, many if not most consultants and freelancers have been developing virtual capabilities but there was a decided preference on many clients’ parts for in-person interaction. That will likely change as virtual meetings and work from anywhere becomes the norm.
- Marketing budgets will decrease, while growth targets increase. Organizations of all sizes, fearing what lies ahead, are pulling back on their marketing budgets. At the same time, they’re putting renewed focus on making sure that each marketing dollar spent pays for itself in terms of growth and sales. This is likely to drive demand for digital marketing while reducing demand for traditional, print-based marketing, due to the “trackability” of online campaigns. However, the flip side is that it may be more difficult to internally “sell” branding efforts that are done primarily for recognition or awareness in sales-led marketing organizations.
- Successful marketing efforts will become more human. The coronavirus pandemic has given most of us a behind the scenes view of those we work with – via Zoom – and made us realize that we are literally “all in this together.” These sort of “behind the scenes” views are making their way into the marketing arena via aids and social media accounts; this will humanize marketing efforts. Messaging will shift from brands talking to customers, to humans talking to humans. We’re entering the age of peer to peer marketing.
- Trust and branding will become essential. If a business can go remote and work with clients in any location virtually – potentially never meeting face to face at all – differentiation can be a challenge. Branding efforts – yes, the same ones that will be unpopular with sales-led organizations – will be the key to creating perception of value with customers. Your story, purpose and origin story – your WHY – all play a critical role in helping customers understand why they should choose you. Companies that resist the urge to cut all marketing efforts that can’t be tied directly to sales, and that invest in content creation and branding expertise, will be winners in the post-COVID marketing game.
So what’s the call to action for businesses right now? Develop those virtual capabilities. Examine your brand and don’t be afraid to be human. Now is a great time to review your website, social media and advertising presence to see if the messages and strategies that worked last year or even earlier this spring, are still working for your business.