Just over a year ago, we asked marketers and business leaders how they were adapting their marketing practices in response to the pandemic. They told us about the ways they’d adjusted their workflow to communicate with compassion while they offered useful solutions to customers. Now, as the world begins to slowly unlock, we’re asking a different question: How has the pandemic permanently reshaped marketing?
Of course, marketing is always changing, but the pandemic has accelerated the transformation and moved marketing in new directions. Business leaders and marketing experts jumped to share their lessons learned and how the pandemic has changed the way they connect with customers, employees, and other businesses. After sifting through 100 responses from businesses around the world, we uncovered a few patterns.
Marketers are infusing brands with empathy and humanity
As Max Harland, CEO of Dentaly, observed, “The pandemic has birthed the need to be more human. Post-pandemic marketing hinges on forming valuable bonds with people, and the only way brands can establish that is by being human.”
Peter Keszegh, founder of OnlinebizBooster, agreed. “Marketing has become more of a trust-based relationship with your customers, rather than a product-based relationship with your competitors,” he said. “This type of relationship is based on the idea that everyone benefits from sharing information.”
Even the smallest gestures can make a difference. Mayank Batavia, Head of Marketing and Partnerships at QuickEmailVerification found that something as simple as adding “hope you’re safe” to the beginning of an email resulted in up to 10% more replies.
Great storytelling also helps, as Kevin Redmond, Chief Creative Strategist at Fuse Ideas discovered. “Consumers, especially when it comes to certain things like travel, are looking for deeper experiences than before – not to just sit on the beach for a week. We’ve found that through really great storytelling, we can transport travelers’ minds to a place where they immerse themselves in the culture and sights of a destination.”
Kevin believes the takeaway is this: “Marketing can’t just be about convincing someone to buy something or do something anymore. Post pandemic, it has to be about showing how something can mesh into the fabric of a consumer’s lifestyle.”
A new focus on educational content
Nathan Murphy, co-founder at QuizBreaker has noticed another shift worth mentioning. “Whether the pandemic sparked a new change in consumer values or it’s just a continuation of a rising trend, more and more we’re seeing people want to be educated with marketing content more than they want to be entertained. The post-pandemic consumer wants to learn and be informed, and they’re far more willing to attach themselves to brands that give them this opportunity rather than mindless entertainment.”
Founder Rick Hoskins has always put education at the center of Filter King’s marketing efforts, but the pandemic pushed him to rethink his priorities: “It’s not nice to play on people’s fears,” he said, but he believes brands also have an obligation to share information that might be of use to customers.
Knowing that his filters could prevent airborne viruses from circulating, he decided to move that fact higher up the list of benefits. “We are not here to tell you what you need to do, but rather provide you with the information and the solution,” Rick said.
Other marketers agree that educational content outperforms entertainment. Rahul Mohanachandran, Co-Founder and Head of Marketing at Kasera found that their plan to use travel and lifestyle influencers to engage their audience wasn’t working as well as they’d hoped. They’ve switched to influencers who create more educational content.
Finding new audiences: Locally and globally
Most marketers are adjusting their targeting strategy, but they’re doing it in two different directions. Some, like Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding, have shifted their SEO from locally focused keyphrases like “team building NYC” to more globally applicable queries like “retirement ideas for remote employees.” This small change helped get their message in front of more people.
“Even if the world were to revert back to the old normal, I would continue targeting concepts as much as location-specific terms,” Michael said.
Joshua Feinberg, CEO of SP Home Run saw a similar effect. Before the pandemic, most of his clients were concentrated in the same time zone. Then, as companies became more comfortable with remote work, his audience expanded to include clients around the globe.
On the other hand, Vincent D’Eletto, Founder & CEO of Word Agents, saw the opposite effect. “The pandemic fueled migrations away from urban centers as people, young and old, sought space and freedom. That, along with a deeper commitment to the community, has made local marketing an important and lasting strategy,” he said. “Consumers are more mindful of what they purchase now but many are keen to help their local hardware shop, gardening center, or restaurants. That’s the reason for a proliferation of values-based marketing messaging emphasizing community.”
Redoubling investment in digital
Of course, the most obvious change was the shift to digital. According to data on shopper habits compiled by Website Tool Tester, online grocery sales surged and ecommerce sales grew rapidly, especially in the areas of hygiene, health and medicine, kitchen appliances, and home decor. Many of these patterns have continued even as lockdowns lift. Customers buy-online and pick-up-in-store 208% more frequently than they did before the pandemic. Perhaps most importantly, 90% expected to continue using home delivery.
This shift in consumer behavior has forced most businesses to get online as Alison Ver Halen, founder and owner of AV Writing Services, LLC explains: “Much of marketing had already moved online before the pandemic, but there were still a lot of people who were convinced they didn’t need their own website or a blog. Once the pandemic hit, even the most reluctant to get online were forced to admit it was the only way they could connect with their customers. Now that they’ve realized what an effective strategy it is, I don’t see them going back to their old way of doing things.”
The results of a digital-first strategy have impressed many business leaders.“We are bringing in better informed and better-qualified leads through this investment into SEO and SMM,” said Charles Leduc, Chief Operations Officer at Mold Busters
Despite his own skepticism of these strategies, Keesjan (Case) Engelen, CEO of Titoma saw similar results. “We have further enhanced our SEO and SMM to drive more business through those channels. While I was skeptical that this marketing would work as well as networking and word of mouth, it has netted us several new accounts,” he said.
New reliance on Video
In a digital-first world, video has become an essential tool for many marketers. Joshua Feinberg, CEO of SP Home Run says, “Before the pandemic, our team already used video conferencing and online events/webinars to communicate with clients. Pre-pandemic, about 50% of the time, we were finding video-reluctant clients that were uncomfortable with video meetings and would resist turning on their webcams. Now, more than 90% of clients are very comfortable with a webcam-on approach to building rapport and improving collaboration. Along the same lines, clients became way more comfortable creating their own video content.”
When Scott Williams, Digital Marketing Analyst at MobileOfficeSales.com noticed decreased engagement from their usual blog audience, they shifted their marketing to YouTube. “The response was extremely positive, our target audience was easier to reach. Discovering YouTube as a social media tactic has completely upgraded our services.” He found that using product placement in those videos also boosted their sales considerably.
A change for the better?
Although the pandemic has challenged business and their customers, it has also taught us valuable lessons as Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls explains: “ Maybe a silver lining is that this crisis reminds us that we have always needed each other and we have learned that everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show our humanity and compassion while we look out for one another. Technology does not have to be isolating. It can be used to build our real-world communities and relationships too.
“We need to communicate in a way that will give our audiences better focus, helping them to create a bridge from today to the future. There has never been a more important time to provide accurate, empathetic communication with transparency, truthfulness, and timeliness.”