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When the COVID-19 pandemic shook the world in late 2019 — and sent most people across the globe into lockdown in early 2020 — few people had any idea how long the situation would last or what long-term effects we could expect.
Even as things go back to “normal” after COVID-19, there are some marketing trends that aren’t going away anytime soon, meaning brands will have to permanently change the way they operate.
In this guide, we’ll explain how COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the business world and which marketing trends are here to stay.
Many of the changes we saw in 2020 will affect consumer buying habits even after the pandemic ends. As best-selling author Simon Sinek states:
“These are not unprecedented times. There are many cases — lists of cases — where change, or something unexpected, has put many companies out of business, and made other companies come out stronger and reinvent themselves.”
Sinek cites several major events that forced brands to significantly adjust their operations or risk going out of business, including the internet age, rise of streaming services, and growth of ridesharing options. He notes that brands simply trying to survive these events rather than reinventing themselves risk their business by not recognizing trends and implementing changes.
If your brand is currently in survival mode, it’s time to adjust your mindset and look at ways to reinvent your business to better serve customers based on emerging trends. To help you make this transition, here are some of the most notable marketing trends that started during the COVID-19 pandemic, but are here to stay long-term. Using these trends and tips, your brand can make the jump from survival to reinvention mode.
According to the Harvard Business Review, companies tend to cut marketing budgets during hard financial times. However, they note that because many organizations choose to cut back on marketing during these times, those who maintain or increase their efforts can increase their share of voice due to less competition in the marketplace.
As an example, they cite the British multinational consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser. During the 2008 global financial crisis, Reckitt Benckiser didn’t decrease their marketing budget, as many other brands did. Instead, they increased it by 25% and created a campaign encouraging customers to continue buying their more expensive products because of their superior performance. The company also did consumer research and discovered customers wanted a fast-acting pain reliever, so they developed a product (Nurofen Express) to meet this demand which launched with great success. While most of their competitors reported profit declines of 10%, Reckitt Benckiser saw profits increase by 14%.
The takeaway is that even during tough times, marketing is an investment, not an expense. It’s not a light switch that can simply be turned on and off when needed. Brands need to develop clear, consistent communication to maintain a strong presence and ensure they understand what customers want and need. During harsh financial times, there tends to be less competition in the marketplace, and this is an opportunity for brands to maintain or ramp up marketing rather than cutting back.
In the retail world, one of the earliest trends we saw was a massive shift towards online shopping. According to Oberlo, department store sales declined 75% from Q1 to Q2 2020, while ecommerce saw a 31.8% boom in the same timespan. Ecommerce sales grew 44% in 2020, while total retail sales increased only 6.9%.
Brands noticed this digital shift, and many had to alter the ways in which they engage and support customers to emphasize online interactions. If you’re a brand who typically does a lot of business through in-person retail, you need to start looking at how you can build your online presence to better serve customers who are changing how they shop.
A survey of 154 senior marketing executives revealed that brands who proactively plan marketing efforts in case of a recession can achieve superior performance if one actually occurs, largely because they are more prepared to capitalize on opportunities that come up.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the marketing landscape was constantly changing. Planning became more important than ever because brands needed to quickly respond to customer needs. Any lag is an opportunity for your competitors to out-message you — or worse, for your user base to feel neglected.
Brands must be poised to pivot and react quickly, and to do this they need a few essential things:
Real-time data is essential for being prepared to quickly and effectively pivot your strategy or messaging. Invest in real-time social listening tools that let you see what your audience is talking about enables you to quickly identify trends and respond to customer concerns.
Having the right people, tools, and data won’t be of much use without a system to keep them all organized and mitigate redundancies. It is imperative that your team has clearly outlined roles and responsibilities with reliable processes to follow. This will also help you stay prepared for crisis situations (which have happened all too often in the past 12 months).
Platforms and tools like social media, email, websites, and online communities are necessary for quickly distributing your strategic messaging. It’s also crucial that your messaging is consistent across platforms. For example, a customer who asks a question on social media should get the same answer they would find on your FAQ page or your community. Inconsistent messaging will confuse your audience and make it harder to gauge the success of your marketing efforts.
The way you respond and engage with customers affects how your brand is perceived. This is especially important on social media, where both questions and answers are in the public eye. Creating positive engagement with your users will help to build trust with them, as well as the users that are following the conversation.
Engaging with customers on social media is no longer optional. And once a brand responds, the interaction can quickly turn into full-fledged customer care as the customer may ask follow up questions or others may chime in with other inquiries of their own on public posts. When this occurs, social media teams can quickly get overwhelmed, leading to delayed responses if they lack the proper resources and tools to address customer questions in a timely manner.
This is why it’s so important to break down the silos between customer care and social media teams. Invest in care and social media technology that makes information accessible to both — in real-time.
Most consumer interactions these days happen digitally, and in some cases customers may choose to start communication on one platform and pick it up at a later point on another. For instance, a customer may ask a question on Facebook, then follow up on Twitter. When this occurs, it’s important not just to ensure consistent messaging, but also to pick up the conversation right where it left off. That way, customers aren’t frustrated by having to repeat themselves to a new agent on every platform.
Data shows that 62% of customers want to be able to engage with brands across multiple digital channels, and 77% want brands’ internal teams to communicate so they don’t have to repeat themselves. If your brand isn't equipped to provide this level of customer service, request a demo to learn how Khoros can help you create a seamless online experience across channels.
Brands can’t rely on in-person experiences in the same way as before, be that in-store or at in-person events.
Even if COVID-19 becomes less problematic in the future, we can expect certain trends to stay: virtual meetings, curbside pickup, and even flexible scheduling options. Customers have now gotten used to these conveniences, and aren’t likely to give them up. Indeed, businesses can benefit from these new trends, as well.
Online communities are another way for brands to connect with their audience and strengthen customer relationships. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many brands saw their online communities grow and were faced with maintaining service continuity despite the challenge of being unable to collaborate in a centralized office.
This was the case for Fitbit, who partners with Khoros for assistance managing social media support channels, an active community forum in seven languages, an in-app social feed, and consumer review spaces like Amazon. Maintaining an active presence in these channels was critical in helping Fitbit to achieve their customer support goals, as they are the fastest and lowest-cost way to provide support and provide real-time awareness of emerging customer issues.
To ensure no disruption in customer care, Fitbit started by identifying their most important channel: a support-focused Twitter account. Agents from the community and in-app feed were quickly diverted and trained to assist with social media support to prevent a cascading impact on other lines of business.
Next, responses on lower-priority channels were temporarily suspended and marketing-based handles were given to the Marketing team, who directed support questions to the relevant party.
Because of these changes, there was a presence gap on the online community forum — which the Fitbit team addressed by temporarily “deputizing” superusers with moderation capabilities so they could maintain the space on their own. Overall, Fitbit’s quick thinking and fast response enabled them to maintain their virtual presence and meet customer expectations during this challenging time.
If you’re interested in building an online community, see how Khoros Communities can help create digital spaces where customers can get answers, connect with peers, and share new ideas; perfect for building virtual relationships as we move into uncharted, post-COVID-19 territory.
Consumers expect brands to unequivocally recognize and stand with the BIPOC and LQBTQ+ communities, both operationally and in their marketing. Brands that lagged behind on representation efforts were unprepared for the marketing shift that was spurred on by the events of 2020, and many faced tough questions on where they stood on such matters. On the other hand, brands that were quick to show their support for positive civil rights movements generated goodwill and trust with much of their user base.
In this case, timeliness impacted the perceived authenticity of the support. Brands who showed support quickly were perceived to be more authentic, whereas some who waited received criticism because it was “trendy” rather than genuine.
It’s important that brands put action and money where their mouth is by donating to a cause, helping to raise awareness, or making diversity pledges in the background, while also showing more diversity in their advertising and marketing campaigns. For example, Converse collaborated with LGBTQ+ allies to create their annual Pride Collection which benefits several supportive organizations — a great example considering they’ve already donated more than $1,000,000 to such causes.
To learn more about what your brand can do on social media to ally with marginalized communities, check out our Smart Social Report (vol. 2).
Many of the trends we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic aren’t likely to stop once the virus is no longer a global issue. Businesses who recognize these changes have an opportunity to adapt their operations and marketing practices to better serve both customers and communities, while those who return to the old ways risk getting left behind competitors.
By working to predict trends and using that information to shape post-COVID-19 marketing strategies, you have an opportunity to build brand loyalty among existing customers while increasing your reach to new audiences.
To learn more about best practices for the pandemic, visit our COVID-19 resources page. If you want to gain a competitive advantage over rival brands, visit our Khoros strategic services page to learn how we can use our social and digital expertise to improve your social media and digital engagement.
Download the report to understand the key trends affecting consumer mindset, customer behavior, and brand responses in the social media world right now.