As we all entered 2020, who would have known life as a marketer would change so drastically, let alone the world as we knew it. 

The COVID-19 pandemic hit us all with an unexpected bang. The year started with interactions through various mediums with a full marketing mix – as marketers, we were able to advertise through billboards, send out direct mailers, meet with customers at large scale events and have targeted dinners, balanced with a digital strategic approach of paid channels such as search and social, webinars, emails and e-newsletters, SEO, organic social and other activities. By March, we found ourselves in a world where digital outreach was our only option.

Restrictions that have come as a result of the pandemic – not the least of which was remote working on a massive scale – forced companies to think differently about the way they needed to connect with their customers.

Regardless of whether it was in a B2C, B2B or B2B2C context – all marketers faced the same challenges. Leaders had to do a review of their marketing strategy; pivot and rethink marketing channels being used; and embrace creativity, innovation and flexible approaches.

Being nimble and experimenting

Not so long ago, marketers might have taken six months to go from idea to implementation. With the unfolding pandemic – and people’s personal situations – circumstances were changing week to week, so good ideas needed to become reality, fast. The extent of lockdown measures and changes to business were evolving rapidly, so the need to pivot and drive delivery had to be number one priority.

Marketers need to be willing to experiment – with platforms, formats and promotion messaging – in order to push the boundaries and find an approach that works for their target audience. Some executions will work well, others may fall flat, but failure is part of growing and making mistakes that you learn from will offer vital insight into how to get it right the next time around.

At Zendesk, we experimented through a short, interactive morning show concept called Zendesk Morning Show. This was a true experimentation, with 14 episodes, twice a week in a TV news show concept. It was a big move away from the traditional long-form webinar, with no supporting slides or 60min panels. Rather, adapting to the changing environment, it delivered stories in short bursts of 2-3 minute segments within a 15-20 minute episode.

What’s important is to not look for perfection, but the ability to move quickly, be creative and experiment in our delivery. We were not perfect in every episode execution of the Zendesk Morning Show, but the flaws, imperfections and realness, was what made it more relatable to our customers, partners and community.

Making content accessible

While many marketing materials before the pandemic, such as reports or research, might have been gated, companies are fast realising that people don’t want to register and give out their personal details in order to view quality content. After all, if they have to, there is a wealth of other content out there that they can choose to engage with instead. Consumers want to get a feel for your branded content and whether it’s going to work for them, which requires marketers to shift their mindset away from one of ‘sell’ to one that focuses more on the consumer need at this time. Consumers need to help, share, learn and educate.

Much like they enjoy with Netflix, people also now want the option to view content ‘on demand’ when it suits them, especially as boundaries between work and home life dissolve in the face of remote working with no commute. People are far more likely to reach for an online show, for example, at the beginning or end of the day now, as they’ll already be in front of their computer at home.

Making the content available on demand is key, but letting customers know the time they will be investing is equally important. They need to know they can fast forward; skip a theme; go straight to the episode that is most relevant to them. It’s about making the content more accessible and easier to digest, and might also mean breaking up your long form content into smaller highlights for use.

Avoiding information overload

Brands are overcommunicating right now, which makes sense, but sending too many messages to consumers who are already overwhelmed with information is likely to lead to a lot of opt-outs as people switch off. However, by grouping your communications by theme, for example – instead of sending out a research paper, case study and webinar separately – you can wrap them up into one communication that includes all your recent content related to a particular topic.

It’s also not necessary to constantly keep creating new content all the time. Instead, capitalise on existing content, packaging it up and presenting it in different ways – after all, not everyone will have seen or had the chance to read or view it first time around or they may be seeking out information on a particular topic for the first time.

It also gives you licence to be more innovative with existing marketing activities, reimagining them in new formats.

Our annual Zendesk Relate conference this year became a 2.5 hour online event, Relater, where we looked for ways to creatively weave the story together through a whole range of different formats, to get users to interact with each other, as well as with us.

Relevancy of campaigns and content more important than ever 

This period of change has been a good reminder of what we should always keep at the front of our minds as marketers – that relevance is key to success. We often communicate our company’s message, product or solution and try to make it adaptable to the audience. Of course, we adapt these messages based on market conditions, trends or changes.

But what has been different this time, is the need to make sure your campaigns and content have true relevance for the audience it’s trying to reach. Focusing on the size of your event space isn’t the top selling point at a time when face-to-face events have disappeared. A great creative packaging doesn’t make it more relevant as a USP.

But, sharing authentic stories of how the space has been used as a pop-up volunteer coordination HQ or food service facility for healthcare staff can help to connect with your audience in the right way. As you think about your content and campaigns, think about how your story needs to adjust to be relevant to the realities of your audience.

Keeping creativity open whilst going through any change will see you rise above the challenge to come out with the right solution. I’ve loved seeing and following the examples in the fitness industry of virtual yoga and workout sessions – keeping consumers engaged even when activities can’t happen in-person.

Longer-term changes to the marketing mix

As we emerge from the pandemic to establish new ways of working, some of the changes that we’ve had to make as marketers are likely to become longer-term strategic shifts. While we’re always going to need a mix of marketing elements, an increase in online activity is here to stay. That’s not to say there won’t be an appetite for offline activities in the future, but the nature of these will probably change – people may favour coming together in smaller discussion groups, for example, rather than large-scale, big budget networking events.

The way we approach marketing direct mailers could also very well change. As fewer people work from an office, they may want the option to nominate where they receive their communications. Greater personalisation is going to be key, for example using e-gift cards and vouchers in a more tailored way.

However, these changes won’t be uniform across every country or market. While some customers and consumers might be willing to sit in front of their computers for 2-3-hour sessions, others more used to doing business face-to-face may prefer shorter bitesize content. While it’s definitely not one size fits all, marketers everywhere will need to reassess their long-term plans, tailoring them to our new reality, but most importantly to our ever-evolving audiences.

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