The turbulent state of the UK economy in light of the Coronavirus pandemic means marketing budgets have been hit hard. Recent statistics revealed the last quarter of 2020 saw the biggest drop in UK marketing budgets in twenty years. The future is uncertain, but businesses must prepare versatile and flexible marketing strategies in order to keep up with the changes and challenges that the remainder of 2021 may bring. Not least, because in the most recent CMO survey, 73% revealed that marketing had become more important to their organisations during the pandemic, and will continue to play a vital role in helping business to recover.

So, what steps can marketers take to ensure they are as prepared as possible for the long-awaited return to ‘business as usual’?

Advice for marketers to help prepare for the return to business as usual in 2021

Futureproof your marketing strategy

Ensure your marketing strategy is able to cope with the demands of an uncertain future. Where previous threats may have come in the form of new technology, or increased competition, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought greater challenges. Attitudes and demands of consumers have shifted, meaning marketers must have a strategy that can quickly adapt to accommodate these changing preferences and behaviours.

Easier said than done. So, how might you develop a futureproofed strategy? Not committing to one immovable approach for a start. Make sure your strategy can be pivoted to keep up with new challenges as they emerge. Consider reviewing your marketing strategy quarterly rather than annually, and constantly review your audience and market data to spot what’s changing. By taking a more flexible, responsive approach, you can ensure your marketing strategy is always fit-for-purpose, especially when your market returns to the ‘new normal’.

Plan for the best and worst case scenarios

Planning for the best and worst case market scenarios comes as part of futureproofing your marketing approach. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that major changes can happen rapidly and without warning, and all that planning may have to be thrown out of the window – including campaigns you may have spent months developing (yes, it’s heart-breaking, but we’ve had to abandon campaigns too). By forecasting the best and worst outcomes and building a strategy and response around these, your business will be as prepared as possible for whatever the future throws your way. The hope is that we are almost back to normality by this summer and business will return to pre-pandemic levels, but it’s essential to plan for the tides to change.

Using social listening

Keeping track of the rapidly shifting market landscape is tough at the best of times, not least during a pandemic. Social listening can help, and is a key tool for businesses to keep track of, and analyse the key narratives about them and their market category on social media. Doing so can help to identify opportunities for growth, changing consumer and market insight, giving you competitive edge, and responsiveness.  This approach can help brands avoid ‘tone deaf’ marketing that flies against public sentiment, something we saw a lot of at the start of the pandemic.

Social listening is not just about data though, it is key to extract insight from the numbers and act on it. It’s not simply counting how many mentions your business has received, but more about understanding the sentiment – how do people feel about your brand and the market? What are the opportunities? It’s also an integral part of helping to plan for the future and predict changes before they happen, allowing you to adapt your marketing strategy to meet these potential changes of direction.

Responsive marketing

Responsive marketing involves leveraging current events or a trending story to create relevant content that ties your brand to the event or is likely to attract significant engagement. This is a trend that has been gathering momentum for some time, but the last 12-months have really seen it explode, largely as a result of major daily events happening as a result of the pandemic.

While this can be focused on brand-building, and fun (for example, piggybacking on a meme) it can also be more serious and purpose/values-led (for example, the recent pandemic loneliness campaign we carried out for Interflora).

Keeping on top of what is trending requires a consistent commitment to insight, and tracking/scanning the news, social media, top shared content as well as having a deep understanding of consumer sentiment. Timing and tone is absolutely key; leave it too long and your response will be yesterday’s news. But equally, leverage an event in a way that is opportunistic or insincere could backfire.

Learn from 2020 and move on

The impact of the pandemic on businesses over the past 12-months has been unprecedented, but it has also served to highlight flaws in marketing and operational strategies, and can act as a learning curve to not make the same mistakes again.

The lockdowns have also led to a range of permanent or semi-permanent  changes in consumer behaviour, such as people spending more time online (with research estimating this could be as much as an extra day a month). Similarly, ‘one-in-4 online purchases are now made via an interaction with a social media platform’ and there has been a significant increase in the number of people shopping online. This inevitably has an impact on marketing and the pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the move towards digital marketing and highlighted a reliance on technology that can be used as a marketing advantage going forward. However, the challenge will lie in marketers understanding what changes are fleeting, and which are permanent.

Sharper, faster, more accountable 

One pandemic development we welcome is an increased focus on marketing being sharper, more accountable and with a greater focus  on ROI. With marketing budgets under more pressure than ever this trend is understandable, and is likely to stay with us for the long-term. For brands, now is the time to challenge your agencies to demonstrate value.

At Prohibition we work with a range of brands across all sectors and industries to help deliver marketing strategies that deliver real ROI. Get in touch with us today to find out how we could help you:

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About Ella Cairns

Blogger & Account Director @prohibitionpr. Vogue obsessed! Love the ‘f’ words; fashion, food, family, friends, females. Based in Leeds.