In early 2020, non-essential vendors and workplaces closed their doors, events became virtual, and e-commerce boomed.

Now, as the world continues its journey towards looking more like it was 15 months ago, marketers again need to think strategically about their next move.

While the future can’t be predicted as such, we can use previous learnings and follow current trends to devise an approach appropriate for the world we’re living in now. 

More collaboration and partnerships

Whilst collaborative business models existed before the pandemic, the need to suddenly adapt to changing conditions spurred many to forge new partnerships. ‘Coopetition’ became even more important during 2020, with the most notable example being Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s collaboration to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, in order to meet global demand. 

Applying this to marketing, we saw the growth of more innovative uses of collaboration between businesses, as these partnerships benefited brands whose business models were unsuited to the new stay-at-home conditions. 

For example, many FMCG companies pivoted towards a direct-to-consumer model which was realized by new distribution partnerships, making products traditionally bought in stores easier for consumers to access online. 

These partnerships may become not just mutually beneficial, but necessary, as we enter a new period where brands are expected to, and benefit from, reacting quickly to changing events. 

Reassessing budgets

Default work-from-home conditions also fundamentally changed where marketers should concentrate their budget. Programmatic advertising has seen a shift in formats, with the rise of Connected TV and Audio due to people spending more time at home. With working from home set to become part of everyday life, this is highly likely to represent a permanent shift. With the global rollout of Spotify podcast ads in Q1 2021, we are seeing more of these opportunities being provided by publishers in this space.

Advertisers on Google or Bing may be considering whether their investment in Shopping ads should stay at the same level now that retailers have reopened and high street footfall is on the rise. Those advertisers who were less reliant on e-commerce before the pandemic and pivoted to online shopping should be wary of dissolving their investment here. A sensible approach would be a hybrid one, as it is likely we will see a fluctuating balance between in-store and online become the norm. This is also likely to fluctuate based on seasonality and day-of-week since in-store shopping will be more common during good weather and at weekends. Therefore, online and offline measurement is going to be key to understanding where investment should flow at which point in the year and even during which day of the week. 

Emerging platforms

Looking at Paid Social, we have witnessed the growth of new platforms, namely Tik Tok, which as of Q2 2021 has 689 million monthly active users worldwide and is the most downloaded app ever on the Apple app store. As we move into the second half of 2021, advertisers should not dismiss the likes of Tik Tok or Twitch – platforms that have seen huge growth over the lockdown period and are proving to be valuable means to reach and engage consumers. 

Additionally, whilst well-established platforms such as Facebook and Twitter adapted their feeds to show users health and safety messaging from organizations like the WHO, newer platforms with younger followings such as Tik Tok and Snapchat highlighted their ability for users to create moments of joy. In 2021 and beyond, brands should also consider the benefits of positioning themselves within an environment where users are spending time to switch off from reality. 

Changing consumer trends

Lastly, consumer mindset should underpin marketing strategy and there are significant takeaways from the pandemic which inform future marketing efforts.

The past year has revealed that consumer perspectives were not all that we thought them to be. Security and stability were prioritized over price points, disrupting previously-held notions. Concerns over safety, guaranteed delivery, and business sustainability ethics have also surfaced. For example, data from Global Web Index’s Coronavirus multi-market study shows that in the 16-24 age group consumers are now far less interested in free delivery than they are in reliable same, or next-day delivery. 

Google has identified five shifts in consumer search behaviour during the pandemic,with audiences more likely to be:

  • Assembling critical information
  • Discovering new connections
  • Adjusting to changes in their routines
  • Praising everyday heroes
  • Taking care of themselves and others

Whilst these findings are subject to change as we move out of the pandemic, savvy marketers will continue tapping into Search and YouTube trends to identify what their audiences are leaning into, and continuously use this to enhance their strategy. Insights like this can go towards informing messaging across all marketing channels in order to drive both direct response KPIs and positive brand perception.

Out with the old tactics

Overall, what seems to be apparent is that BAU tactics won’t cut it any longer. The world as we emerge from Covid-19 will require us to think and act differently. 

As Joshua Spanier, Google’s global marketing VP for media, remarked in a Think With Google blog post (May 2020), “The current reality has forced all of us marketers to be far more driven by what people need rather than broadcasting to them in a predefined moment we choose. Throwing out the playbook has forced and demanded that we be more fluid, dynamic, and grounded in data to tap into real-time consumer intent. And that’s a good thing for the long run.”