Rules of marketing and brand building need re-scripting – and pandemic lessons will help

The pandemic upended a marketer’s playbook, by challenging existing rules about customer relationships and building brands. There’s no going back to the old normal. Here are seven new marketing belief systems required to drive growth in a post-Covid world.

The pandemic crisis reinforced what we already know: that brands must communicate in very local terms, targeting specific consumers based on their circumstances and what is most relevant to them. That means understanding the situation on the ground, country by country, state by state, zip code by zip code. For some businesses, it may even mean tailoring communications store by store.

Beyond geography, we have learned marketing messages needing to be personally relevant, aligned to an individual’s situation and values, as opposed to demographics. Creating a personal connection within any commercial message requires defining consumer segments that describe people according to multiple dimensions that influence purchasing behavior — from their psychographics to attitudinal characteristics.

Utilizing customer segmentation can bring deeper insights into media strategies and creative marketing approaches. Better still, these insights can be carried through to inform the full customer journey.

You are not competing with your competitors

Consumer expectations were already on the rise before COVID-19. Gen Z grew up with technology seamlessly integrated to their lives. When the coronavirus hit, digital transformation accelerated overnight.

This sent consumer expectations skyrocketing in terms of what companies could do for them with a more digital experience. The customer expects so much more than just a seamless digital transaction. Since now the companies have their personal data, their customers want personalized experiences across the entire journey map.

Customers do not hope you have what they want

If the bar just keeps rising, we must aspire to new values ​​around customer experiences — in both a B2C and B2B context. Consumers expect that any experience will be frictionless, anticipatory, relevant, and connected. They are concerned only with getting what they want, when they want it.

Creating these experiences requires companies to place data and technology at the core of their organization. This likely means building some degree of machine learning and/or AI into the mix. Why?

Because data enables us to create more relevant experiences across one or more dimensions of the four Cs: Content, Commerce, Community and Convenience.

Marketers need to reinvent the rules further – the pandemic-created changes will run quite deep.

Courting customers is not like dating

Marketing was largely about buying mass reach or targeted reach at the best rates in media and hoping to convert it. Basically, it was like going to as many parties as you could in the hope you would find that special someone. It was a world of spontaneity, serendipity, and frankly, a lot of face-to-face encounters.

Enter online match-making and swiping through apps. Now, finding your perfect match may be less about chance and more about data and algorithms. In marketing terms, we have seen a shift from brand marketing to building reach to performance marketing to generate leads. The pandemic’s acceleration of digital channels only exacerbated this.

While performance marketing enjoys a strong and important position in the mix, I have recognized that it is a fine balance of brand and performance marketing that delivers the best results.

Customers must not just sit at the heart of your marketing strategy

The concept of customer-centricity is not news. However, the functional silos that interact with customers are often disconnected because of politics, organizational charts, technologies, or geography. The key to success is to conceal these internal disconnects from the customer, who assumes that the whole company knows them holistically.

We must remember that marketing is often just the beginning of a relationship with the customer. In a B2C context, we go through a journey of engaging them, converting them to a sale directly or indirectly, and then hopefully retaining them so they become advocates and potentially open to upsells and cross-sells. Marketing must be viewed in the context of the full end-to-end journey and, where possible, work to connect the dots.

A brand should not be about great products alone

The pandemic truly challenged brand loyalty. In fact, key themes from a study show that while quality, convenience, and price still matter very much to consumer choice, factors like sustainability, trust, ethical sourcing, and social responsibility are important to how consumers select their products and services.

Hence, marketing has an opportunity to educate the broader C-suite on the importance of brand values ​​when it comes to differentiating in a post-pandemic marketplace.

Marketing should not only be viewed as important for the growth of a brand

There was a time when marketing was a cost center within companies for which the principal accountability was to maximize return on investment. In tough periods when topline results were compromised, it was often one of the first areas to get cut.

During the pandemic, marketing has been elevated within the C-suite as a driver of digital transformation, a key leader of the customer journey, and the voice of the consumer — all of which are paramount to other functional leaders. Without the understanding of the marketplace, the C-suite cannot adjust to the threats and opportunities and navigate to the future.

COVID-19 has created a leadership culture of immediate collaboration focused on the urgent need for resilience. Marketing now has the opportunity to seize an ongoing central role in that dialogue, thereby driving the organization’s broader growth and innovation agenda.

These new marketing belief systems embody this blend, highlighting the confluence of strategies, operations, and technologies required to drive growth. Embracing them represents the path to pandemic recovery and long-term success.

Anurag Kashyap

The writer is a healthcare marketing and media enthusiast.