July 2020 – Is there a place for high-budget TV ads – the kind where crowds of hundreds clink glasses as they dance together in a small space? Or is the future of marketing looking a lot more low key?
Connection, connection, connection.
If there is anything that emerged out of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s the insight that humans crave connection above all else. It’s what makes them willing to risk their health, and that of others, in their pursuit of activities and pastimes that make them feel that they are part of a greater whole. That’s why the brands that have either reflected or sought to create connection are the ones that have done well during a period that’s been exceptionally trying for brands.
Inevitably, these trials have been passed on to their marketers. According to a Marketweek survey of CMOs, 65% of marketers are expecting to see their annual marketing budgets cut, and 86% predict that their marketing goals will be that much harder to achieve.
Digital marketers, on the other hand, must be enjoying a secret smile, if the survey respondents’ belief that SEO has become more important than ever is anything to go by. Indeed, since most consumers have little option but to bond with their laptops, social media is enjoying a boom, and many brands are taking advantage of this new captive market. There’s a caveat, however: consumers don’t want to be reminded of how things were. According to Forbes.com, they’re more likely to respond to an ad that reflects our current reality, no matter how second-rate that reality is. It comes down to the principle of authenticity: we can’t pretend that life is glamourous when most of us are sitting in our tracksuits – any brand that ignores this is tone-deaf.
On the other hand, brands that point out that this is something we’re all affected by may well win. Forbes.com singles out Nike’s Covid-19 ‘Play inside, play for the world’ campaign as one which does this especially well. From a local perspective, who can forget the SA Tourism’s appeal to put the brakes on travel now, so that we can all travel later? If such a message is backed by an action to ease the collective suffering (like the offer of a payment holiday or donation to a cause), so much the better – but, again, only if it is authentic and transparent.
Since marketing budgets are a lot more slender than they were at the beginning of the year, marketers have to do a lot more with a lot less. That’s nothing new – in essence, they’ve been trying to make their spend go further and further since the recession of 2008 – but this time around, the need to create a connection is so much greater. The accent is on quality content that can add value to consumers’ lives: overseas, brands have found a way to interact with their consumers through interactive classes, videos and webinars on platforms like Zoom or IGLive, for example.
The ultimate takeout? The way we buy and spend has changed, probably forever. Of course we’ll reach a stage where consumers have greater freedom, but by then, online habits may have become entrenched. As always, marketers who have missed out on an opportunity to entrench their brands due to short-sighted cost-cutting will feel the brunt when spending returns to normal; those that have adjusted their strategies – by creating relatable, relevant content and serving it on a platform that speaks to consumers’ needs for convenience and efficiency – may hang on to their niche. It’s nothing new – we simply have better data at our disposal to help us choose where to feature that content, and how to execute it.