2020 taught us that a plan is simply a plan, a best-guess strategy, yet still susceptible to unpredictable changes.
And now planning is in full swing for 2021. Here’s when turning to the experts helps.
In a recent episode of Ink Tank, Movable Ink’s vodcast series for digital marketing leaders looking to excel in today’s ever-changing environment, Ross Williams (VP Retail, Emarsys) sat down with Becki Francis (Associate Director Client Strategy, Retail, Movable Ink) to discuss insights and tactics retail marketers can use to deliver results in 2021.
Here are five takeaways from the episode to help you stay ahead of the curve in 2021 and accelerate business outcomes.
1. Focus on Moving Forward, Not Looking Back
When COVID-19 first hit in early 2020, there was massive confusion. Brands were struggling to adapt to the situation, particularly when there was so much uncertainty in terms of lockdowns, social distancing, and government guidelines. No one knew how severely business would be impacted.
But for 2021, leading retail marketers are shifting the conversation away from, “What impact is COVID-19 having on our industry?” to the more important (and business-critical) question: “How do we move forward and ensure our business is successful, no matter the circumstance?”
This will require digital marketers to really hone in on how the business is performing, how the individual channels are performing, and how customers are shopping. Then, they can turn any insights gleaned into actionable next steps.
“Where we are now… is about bravely pushing forward. I think everybody has realized we now have to operate in a very different environment, and it’s unlikely that environment will ever go back to the environment that it was previously. And [people are] thinking about what is required to ensure a business can be successful, particularly while consumer confidence is lower, and what strategic structural changes are required to ensure that a business can operate under these new conditions, and preparing for further shocks and shifts over coming months and years.”
2. Navigate the Unpredictable Future with a Truly Omnichannel Approach
In the past, “omnichannel” was a word to describe brands transacting across multiple channels. Now, omnichannel is so much more.
As retail rapidly evolves and consumer expectations fluctuate, marketers are solving for ways to create consistent and relevant experiences that lead to better business outcomes in any environment.
Successful brands realize that, to combat and prepare for an unpredictable future, they must bring their transactional and marketing channels together so they can deliver a complete omnichannel experience for customers.
This merger of channels leads to superior customer experiences, because it facilitates optimal engagement on the customer’s terms. It will allow customers to connect to a brand whenever, however, and wherever they prefer.
“Omnichannel used to be the word for brands that transacted across multiple channels. It’s recently become more important for businesses to be considering their transactional AND their communication and marketing channels as part of that omnichannel mix, and the experience they are trying to create from an omnichannel perspective.”
3. Mobile is No Longer a “Nice-to-Have” — It’s a Must
Mobile, as a channel of customer engagement, has boomed over the past several years. You’d be hard-pressed to find a customer who isn’t making purchases, or at least browsing products, from their smartphone. In fact, many customers now turn to mobile as their primary channel of engagement.
This has prompted successful brands to prioritize mobile customer engagement, and thus go “mobile-first.”
Being mobile-first allows retailers to deliver virus-safe shopping experiences. Customers can use their mobile device for booking services or completing in-store payment (contactless transactions). We’re even seeing a resurgence of QR codes. Without mobile, brands are severely limited in their ability to provide quality, convenient, and safe experiences for customers.
“All of this together will result in higher levels of mobile adoption with consumers. And it’s something that retailers need to take notice of. They need to be mobile-first, and mobile-first from an experience perspective is now essential, rather than a nice-to-have. That means considering the mobile device as the primary device that your customers will interact with you on, ensuring that you’ve got the correct mobile engagement strategy in place to make the experience valuable, and thinking about how to use the mobile device to engage with customers at relevant moments.”
4. Staying Agile Works Better than Staying the Course
You’re probably accustomed to 12-week or year-long planning cycles for your marketing campaigns. When unexpected or rapid changes occur, your instinct might be to stay the course and continue with your plan. After all, you’ve put a lot of hard work into those campaigns.
But that stick-to-itiveness may no longer serve in the new normal of retail. Now, driving business results for your brand requires agility.
Ensure you have the tools, processes, and company culture in place to enable agile marketing. Cumbersome procedures, complicated technology, or an inflexible mentality within your team can slow you down. Position yourself in a way that allows you to adapt and pivot your strategy in real time so that you aren’t stuck with a plan that looked great 12 weeks ago, but is now irrelevant.
“From my point of view at Movable Ink, I’m definitely seeing more and more retailers that we work with tackling the need to pivot quickly when it comes to their customer communications. For example, there’s now a need to highlight things like up-to-date store opening hours and accurate delivery slot availability.”
5. More Humanity Leads to More Loyal Customers
Retaining customers and fostering loyalty has always been a goal. But the amount of marketing noise out in the digital ecosystem is nearly deafening as inboxes, browsers, and smartphones are constantly stuffed with ads and brand content. Competition is fierce, so you’ll have to work hard to secure loyal, lasting customers.
The brands that are best at building customer retention and loyalty use one of the oldest tactics in the book: be more human.
Being human requires a deeper personal understanding of your customer. Find out what is truly important to them, rather than only throwing discounts or other fleeting incentives their way. Ensure your marketing messages are considerate of what is happening on a global, national, or local level. This was especially important during the onset of COVID-19 when many people felt scared, confused, and worried about their health.
Humanity in marketing also requires, quite paradoxically, advanced technology. Your communications should be timely, particularly as shifts are happening quickly, while also being highly personalized and meaningful. This is where having an omnichannel customer engagement platform in place to quickly create and deliver relevant 1:1 messages, at scale, is vital.
“It’s difficult to show understanding and be empathetic with customer sentiment if you’re still working toward those 12-week lead times and hard coding emails weeks before sending. Because chances are, situations have shifted within that time frame, and shopper sentiments may very well have changed, so agility is implicit in striking the right tone.”
For retail marketers looking ahead to 2021, the expression “out with the old, in with the new” has never been more true. Retail has changed. And although the basic fundamentals of retail marketing may be evergreen, the tools and strategy you and your marketing team need to accelerate business outcomes for your brand must evolve.
We’re living in a new era of retail marketing, so your old “best practices” will no longer serve you. Employing strategic insights like the ones shared in Movable Ink’s vodcast series, along with the right omnichannel customer engagement platform, will help ensure you continue the customer growth and revenue that your business demands, no matter what the ever-changing retail landscape currently looks like.
➡️ Check out the full Movable Ink vodcast episode here.
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