October 25, 2021

How marketers are transforming their strategies with steadfast vision and fluid improvisation amid COVID-19

Marketers experienced ten years of digital advancement in 2020 and COVID-19 has sparked one of the greatest periods of forced improvisation we have lived through.

The following article addresses how marketers can still move towards their north star amid the volatility and is an excerpt from our downloadable whitepaper, ‘How the pandemic has forced us to reimagine marketing.’

COVID-19 accelerated eCommerce growth by four to six years.

Miriam Hernandez-Kakol, the Head of Management Consulting at McKinsey couldn’t have said it better.

“The pace and the degree of digital transformation is accelerating in the wake of COVID-19, with ever greater pressure to meet customers wherever they are. This calls for flexible, ‘commerce everywhere’ business models, and a renewed focus on employee experience to drive an enhanced customer experience.’

COVID-19 has also accelerated the digitisation of customer interactions by several years. It is such a fast acceleration that it’s difficult for brands to keep up and the scenario was a little daunting when 65% of marketers expected their annual marketing budget to lower after COVID-19 started.

It no longer matters which category customers are shopping in. The ease of online innovations has raised customer expectations for convenience across the board. Brands that are bridging the gap between digital and physical experiences, and doubling down on relevance across all touchpoints are seeing success, as they make customer interactions as seamless as possible.

The rise in customer expectations is driving a return to one-to-one relationships. 

Customers can get used to convenience pretty quickly and are now more demanding than ever. Accustomed to the convenience of online shopping during lockdowns, they’re now expecting brands to provide a smoother and efficient customer experience across all digital channels. 

In the face of this challenge, marketers have learned how to increase cross-department collaboration to achieve their goals quickly and 69% say that they have accelerated their digital transformation strategy as a result of COVID-19.

Lockdowns have also caused huge shifts in how people move and spend their time. Google’s mobility reports only validate our reality and in August 2021 in Australia, retail and recreation visits were down 30%, time spent residentially was up by 13%, and time spent in workplaces was down by 20% compared to baseline.

This means that brands need to be accessible from multiple touchpoints 24/7, as the timelines and geographical transitions that used to break up our days have become blurred. Marketers are learning to take an ‘outside-in perspective, scan the marketplace, pick out their desired customer segments, and structure the entire organisation around them.

Marketers are transforming their strategies with a steadfast vision and fluid improvisation. 

Strategy normally relies on careful deliberation and the maximum amount of available information. But today’s volatility and ambiguity has forced digital marketing strategy to become more fluid, with two new concepts emerging: vision and improvisation. Harvard Business Review defines vision as the long-term purpose and principles of a company and improvisation is flexible at the tactical level. If marketers can incorporate both into strategic thinking, the process becomes transformative rather than rigid. Marketers are learning to hold onto their north star tightly, but are also willing to explore, experiment, and iterate. 

A great example of this is Petbarn, which was recently awarded Inside Retail’s Omni Channel Retailer of the Year after they upheld their vision to offer a seamless customer experience throughout the pandemic. By engaging its online supply chain, IT, and in-store operations, and forging a new partnership with Uber and Zoom2u, Petbarn introduced zero contact click and collect in 60 minutes and guaranteed same-day delivery, 7 days a week. The innovation was an industry first, and a testament to a team of passionate people, who put pets and pet parents first, no matter the circumstances. It’s a perfect example of fluid innovation and transformative strategy.

Costantino Marotta, the Head of Digital Performance at Greencross Limited explains that:

“As a retailer, convenience and ease of access for our customers have become a key focus throughout the pandemic. Petbarn has a network of over 200 retail stores, and up until the pandemic, you could only shop in-store, or online via home delivery and click and collect. Within the first six weeks of the pandemic in Australia, we quickly rolled out a same-day delivery service which many of our customers now consider an essential offering. Shifting our communications strategy to focus on convenience as a USP has been incredibly successful, especially at a time where Australia Post is struggling to meet demand.

We have shifted how we talk to customers, from a value to a convenience perspective and we have seen so much success from giving customers the ability to receive their products on the same day. The ability to partner with Uber and Zoom2u was key to our success, but we also found that amid the pandemic, our teams were accountable and started to support each other in new ways. Even though we were isolated by lockdowns, the retail, customer support, supply chain, and digital teams started working together like never before. At the same time, we sharpened our pencil on how our budget is orchestrated across traditional and digital. We shifted portions of our budget from traditional to digital as a result of lockdowns and are continuing to see incredible results from that transition. We’re not just using digital to drive eCommerce sales, it’s also a measurable avenue that we can use to help in-store sales perform.”

Multi-channel brands will take the lead.

The businesses that have consistently performed well throughout the coronavirus pandemic were those that combined their physical and digital worlds, to create a fluid, channel-agnostic experience that prioritised the customer. 

Adyen data has revealed that ‘unified commerce’ will be critical in driving success throughout the pandemic, helping businesses to stabilise sales by offsetting lost in-store transactions with an increase in eCommerce marketing.

Google’s latest Holiday Shopping online survey also found that Australian Christmas shoppers who researched and bought across five or more channels reported that they purchased four times as much and spent more than double compared to shoppers who used two or fewer channels.

Their Continuous Connection also found that a combined physical and digital presence drives a 32% increase in sales revenue and 67% of consumers feel positive towards brands that connect with them both online and offline. We have moved past the online versus offline effectiveness debate. It’s well known that people switch between the digital and physical realms, and marketers are taking off their blinkers and transcending tunnel vision. 

Madison Wappett, the QLD Sales Director at MiQ highlights that agility across digital and traditional channels is a key focus for marketers:

“One of our product solutions that came out of the pandemic was expedited development and growth of our programmatic digital out of home product (DOOH). Traditional buying methods meant that a lot of clients had budgets that were stuck in outdoor buys that were ineffective during the initial lockdown. It had a major negative effect on sentiment towards outdoor advertising from marketers who felt the channel had them hamstrung, and risk aversion meant outdoor was dropped by a lot of advertisers. The nature of programmatic meant that clients were able to confidently invest in DOOH with the knowledge that there were no lock-in contracts, and campaigns could be paused same-day, with no cost implication. It allowed marketers to continue to plan for the best-case scenario, and be prepared for the worst.

This also fostered growth in our offline to online DOOH measurement that allowed us to link out of home exposure to online action. For industries like retail, who weren’t able to keep their stores open, we could target out of home to essential services, such as grocery stores, push an eCommerce call to action, and then use expose and control groups from those out of home placements to measure online uplift post-exposure and optimise towards the most influential out of home locations. The necessity to measure and optimise these placements in lockdown to validate channel investment resulted in our overall process for in-flight optimisation of programmatic digital out of home becoming much more efficient, scalable and transparent to meet the needs of advertisers.”

Want to learn more? Hear from more industry experts and download the full whitepaper, ‘How the pandemic has forced us to reimagine marketing’ through the link here.

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