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As pandemic quarantines lift, brand marketing cannot maintain status quo

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There’s plenty of chatter about the need for transformation in brand marketing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The chatterers are right about the need, but only partially so about the cause. This need has been evident for years, but too many brands have merely paid lip service to the idea rather than taking action. That has to change, and the pandemic may be the precipitating event to make it happen.

In fairness, there’s a lot to be done, it’s not going to be easy, and it can’t be done overnight. No doubt, that’s caused some of the procrastination we’ve seen to date. But the brand marketers that will emerge successful in the post-COVID-19 crisis world will be those with the courage to break things, fight internal battles and try something new.

A consultative approach

Relationships between brands and their service providers can be highly transactional and tactical in nature. That’s OK if you are working with a tried-and-true process where everyone’s role is standardized. It’s not OK when you are forging new paths and paradigms. 

Strong brands need partners that deeply understand their business, bring qualities like strategic thinking and creativity to the table and have their fingers on the pulse of popular culture — not just now in the midst of a Black Swan event but going forward into the new future of marketing.

In other words, your marketing service providers now must be able to play a consultative role in both building internal business cases and new processes, as well as guiding the delivery of results.

An embedded model

Outsourcing has become a standard operating procedure in the marketing world. In too many cases, brand marketing teams simply hand a budget to external service providers to do with it as they see fit. This approach presumes the provider knows best how to execute in its area of expertise and can do so more effectively and economically than the in-house marketing team, but it overlooks a major problem: lack of integration.

Outsourced teams that are only exposed to functions related to what they’ve been contracted for can become narrow and tactical without consideration for other dimensions of the brand marketing strategy. An embedded team, even if contracted for a specific skill set, is closer to other functions inside the organization. Marketing campaigns end up feeling more integrated across disciplines, resulting in better, more unified, creative messaging and customer experience.

An embedded model also enables speed, a critical capability at times when consumer behavior is changing rapidly — like during a pandemic. Brands that can adapt their marketing fast enough to keep pace enjoy a significant advantage and these trends will continue into the post-COVID-19 quarantine era.

First-party data

Consumers, many facing reduced income, are watching brands very closely to see how they respond in the current crisis. They are more motivated to invest in brands that they trust to deliver value within their "new normal" lifestyle.

At the same time, scrutiny around privacy issues is intensifying. General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act are facts of marketing life, more privacy legislation is in the pipeline, and browser technology is limiting the collection of data and what you can do with it. Consumers are increasingly concerned about privacy and increasingly aware that their personal data has value. Brands cannot afford to take a head-in-the-sand approach to these developments.

Going forward, brand loyalty will be driven by consumer perception of a brand’s behavior, its respect for their privacy and its acknowledgment of their personal data’s value. Of course, target audiences expect all of this to be delivered through the medium of increasingly personalized experiences. First-party data is the answer.

In order for brands to deliver an empathetic, personalized, privacy-friendly solution, they’ve got to get closer to the data. It’s time for brand marketers to bite the bullet and invest in a rock-solid data strategy and the infrastructure to support it.

"Fast & flexible creative"

Great creative has always been the cornerstone of effective brand marketing. In today’s environment, it has to be all the things mentioned above and more. COVID-19 changed consumer behavior seemingly overnight, and brands had to create new content just as quickly. 

"Fast & flexible creative" peaks to finding new ways, either in-house or working with partners, to develop assets that are super-flexible, quick and cheap. Hopefully, we won’t encounter another world-stopping event like COVID-19, but the consumer expectation for brands to react quickly has been set. This means a new reality where new messaging must be customized and rolled out to different regions in a global marketplace. 

Therefore, brands must come up with ways to create not just a few versions of their critical messages, but thousands. The opportunity that engenders to speak more personally to smaller segments of your target customer base is immense, but it does require teams tuned for quick-turn production capability and a testing framework grounded in first-party data to be effective.

War has always been used as a metaphor for marketing competition, and it’s apt in many ways. In both pursuits, victory generally goes to the best-prepared and strongest-armored combatant. It’s time for brands to get scrappy in their marketing; transformation is a great place to start.

 

Tobey Van Santvoord is senior vice president of sales for MightyHive’s North American region, where he helps the world’s largest advertisers take control of their digital marketing and harness the power of programmatic. Previously, Tobey was regional vice president of sales for Dstillery’s West and Central regions and was responsible for sales and messaging to agencies and brand advertisers.