Observations on the Evolution of Marketing

  • by Beth Pyne
  • Nov 22, 2021

With the collision of the pandemic, social justice efforts, and politics forcing so many changes in such a short amount of time in 2020, it’s easy to understand why people say we underwent a seismic shift. For some, the “shift” was catastrophic. For others, it was a course correction. Whether they were caught flat-footed or mid-stride, organizations, people and entire industries had to modify their behaviors as well as their mindsets.

But the challenges and changes we’ve continued to experience throughout 2021 didn’t all come out of nowhere–few aspects of life these days are static or immune to incremental change. Marketing is a strategic and agile discipline. We operate by rules and a playbook of sorts, but by its very nature marketing is constantly adapting to the world around us.

Over the course of my career I’ve noticed three areas in particular where marketing has transformed to meet a need or shift in perceptions. And I think these areas proved to be key during the events of the past 18 months:

  1. Marketing’s role in “the funnel.” When I first started in marketing, the focus was on brand marketing. Nobody really looked at the bottom-line impact or the ROI of the work we were doing; it was about building awareness. While awareness is important as an investment in the future, marketing is also an essential strategic component in creating an end-to-end customer journey. That comprehensive approach to customer care is particularly necessary during a crisis, when brands must provide customers with multiple touchpoints to get what they need, where, when and how they need it.
  2. The rise of martech.  The landscape of tools and systems now available to support, monitor, manage, engage and automate marketing activity has grown more than 5,000% over the past decade. As overwhelming as that seems, it also means there’s something available to address any issue you might be facing. The savvy use of martech takes some strain off marketing team members, opening incredible opportunities for marketing innovation. It also gives marketers breathing room to strategize and strengthen partnerships with other areas of their organization to create a more seamless and satisfying customer experience. 
  3. The impact of social media channels. Even more so than martech, the explosion of social media channels has changed the way marketing operates. With each channel having a distinct demographic, purpose and tone, social media strategy has become its own area of specialization. Social has changed the brand-consumer dynamic as well, forcing brands to abandon one-way messaging in favor of active dialogue. But social marketing is a two-edged sword: there’s immediate insight into customer sentiment coupled with the exponential effect of a highly connected, highly communicative customer base. As some brands have discovered, one misstep can quickly go badly. Done right, however, social offers insight and assurance for customers that a brand empathizes and is willing to adapt to what customers need in the moment.
Setting the next stage for marketing

Clearly 2020 forced marketers to re-evaluate how we operate. Not just in terms of where to reach customers, but how to engage with them on a more visceral, personal level. So, after significant change in a field that’s built for change, the logical thing to ask is, “what’s next?” 

For the first time, many brands joined discussions around health, safety, social justice and politics, despite past examples where taking a stand meant risking digital ire and calls for boycotts. But at the end of the day, marketers want to ensure they’re delivering something authentic. So, this demonstration of leaning into larger conversations was a refreshing reveal of the strength and humanity of those brands that chose to participate. And, perhaps, a hint of more to come.

The opportunity that lies ahead for marketing is maximizing ways to develop and maintain those value alignments and touchpoints with customers in the face of our ongoing challenges. We’re not in a “post-COVID” world and we may not be for some time. Brands that have already adapted events to virtual platforms and shopping to interactive online experiences will continue to innovate with AR, VR and other emerging technologies. Safety and the “cool factor” may have been initial drivers, but convenience will bring more of these options from the fringes into the mainstream.

And, of course, marketing will continue to evolve to meet these new environments and consumer demand. There’s no debating that the playbook was thrown out the window in 2020 and everybody had to pivot. But now it’s not as simple as shifting one way or the other. Not yet. Our world will probably be a hybrid of digital and in-person experiences. Which means we’re all going to pivot a bit more until we get to a place that feels more stable, and then we can define the marketing playbook for our newest normal.

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Categories:Best Practices, Marketing, SalientMG


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