6 Essential Marketing Lessons Learned in 2021
6 Essential Marketing Lessons Learned in 2021 1

It’s important to take time to reflect on the marketing lessons we’ve learned and integrate the knowledge into our upcoming strategies as we move into the new year. We’ve seen all kinds of changes in the past 12 months, from the way people behave online to how technology is used. They’ll play a crucial role in how people interact with your brand, where to apply your marketing budget, and how to maximize your ROI in the coming year. Below, I’ll go over six of the most important lessons, so you can start applying them in your marketing strategies today.

1. Stay Flexible

The return to “normalcy” has been a long and winding road. Despite spending being up six percent compared to pre-COVID rates, the vast majority don’t believe their routines will return to normal until 2022 or later, according to McKinsey research. Moreover, uncertainty grows as each new strain surfaces and impacts consumer behavior as well. Because of this, brands must take an agile approach to marketing and be ready to pivot with the times.

For example, companies focused on in-home products or experiences continue to thrive across the board. However, upticks are being seen in areas like apparel and cosmetics, particularly with younger generations who have a more optimistic perspective. As confidence grows and more activities occur outside the home, the rise is even more pronounced.

2. Digital is More Important Than Ever

In previous years, the big marketing lesson was to go digital. No doubt, with 11 million internet users gained in the U.S. alone between January 2020 and January 2021 per Hootsuite data and 10 million social media users gained, being online as a business was a no-brainer. Time online rose sharply, too, with 31 percent of adults saying they’re online almost constantly and 85 percent logging online at least once a day per Pew Research.

But, what many don’t realize is that consumer behaviors changed quite a bit too. Large swaths of the population took up online hobbies, engaged in social media, or performed research in ways they hadn’t before. In all, 16 percent report becoming online shoppers or changing their shopping habits per Pew. In addition, Gen Z and Millennials spend an additional 43 to 46 minutes per day shopping online, according to research presented by HubSpot.

Being nudged into new behaviors for an extended period, consumers have developed new habits, which means it’s even more important to be digital now.

  • Content Marketing: Going forward, businesses will want to shore up their content marketing to aid people in their searches and improve their search engine rank. It’s a good time to reevaluate the topics being covered and the mediums being used as well.
  • SEO: Because search volume is growing, brands will do well to examine their search engine optimization techniques and keywords being used. Retailers, especially, have much room to grow.
  • Social Media: Because Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks have picked up more users, it’s also a good idea to reevaluate social media strategies to make sure you’re leveraging the ones most likely to deliver maximum impact.
  • Omnichannel: Customer expectations are much higher now. They want a seamless experience no matter how they’re interacting with a brand, and as much as 70 percent of consumers are researching and purchasing both in-store and online per McKinsey. Those who focus on ensuring the customer experience flow from virtual to brick-and-mortar will outperform their peers.
  • Rigorous Testing: Changes in privacy guidelines and how Goliaths like Google and Apple handle data will necessitate moving away from third-party cookies and similar tracking tech. While marketers can still win with them today, savvy businesses will spend the upcoming year working on alternate strategies and testing in advance of the changes.

3. Empathy is Key to Maintaining Relationships

People continue to face new challenges. Zoom culture is alive and well. Despite schools largely moving back to in-person learning, parents are still spending more time at home with kids due to hybrid schedules and outbreaks. Remote work remains the norm, with 45 percent of full-time employees working at least partially remote going into the fourth quarter of 2021, according to Gallup. These types of challenges have led to widespread burnout, with 89 percent of employees saying they’ve felt burned out in the past year per Visier. And while depression rates were expected to subside as people adapt to the new norm, levels remain high and even worsened this year, according to the Boston University School of Public Health. Experts say that social distancing, financial difficulties, job loss, and childcare issues are to blame, especially for low-income or unmarried adults.

From these key takeaways, it’s easy to see that empathy matters. People are still struggling, and each day is a matter of survival for some. Therefore, it’s important to lead with empathy in each customer interaction. Having adaptability for the needs of your employees matters too. Big companies like LinkedIn, Hootsuite, and Bumble have chosen to shut down for a week to give employees time away to curb COVID burnout, according to Fortune. While your company may not be able to afford such extremes, remember that a well-supported team is much better equipped to respond with empathy, especially in times of crisis.

4. Attention Spans Aren’t Short

You’ve probably heard that attention spans are short. In fact, a pre-pandemic report from Microsoft noted humans were down to just eight seconds of focus. News outlets were quick to point out that this new stat shows goldfish have longer attention spans than humans. The problem: it wasn’t an accurate assessment to begin with, BBC reports. Surely now, in light of COVID, people are far worse off, right? That’s also a firm “no,” according to data published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications. So, what exactly is happening with how people consume information?

In short, people are looking for different things at different times. For example, the team at Google Search Central noticed that, when people were searching for information on Google and came to their interior pages, they wanted quick answers to their questions. Those landing on the home page were more interested in in-depth learning. So then, It’s no surprise that digital marketers noticed some serious shifts in website traffic after the latest Google Search algorithm updates, especially those who used a lot of storytelling to answer basic questions. Previously, Spotify noticed something similar with their listeners too. About a third specifically listen to podcasts because they’re screenless. In other words, people consume different types of content for different reasons at different times.

Going into 2022, your marketing strategy needs to address this. Consider each type of content you’re creating, the circumstances under which someone will be consuming it, and how that will impact their behavior. Is it social media? Short and sweet will continue to win the day. Focus on brevity in both written content and video. Use good imagery and ensure your videos can be understood without sound. Writing blogs? Consider whether your audience is looking for resources or simply wants an answer, then create a piece of appropriate length for the situation. Google will continue to reward content that delivers on customer expectations. Your overall content strategy needs to be diverse to meet people’s needs for different reasons to win at SEO.

5. Stand by Your Values

The values your company operates and lives by are more than just an internal compass. They impact customer behaviors too. More than 70 percent say they prefer to buy from companies that share their values, according to research presented by Small Business Trends. When it comes to Millennials, the number skyrockets to 83 percent. In other words, your values influence buying behavior and loyalty. Considering that brand loyalty is markedly down, and 30 to 40 percent will continue to switch brands or retailers in the post-pandemic landscape, per McKinsey, anything you can do to get a boost is important.

6. Keep it Simple

You need the agility to capitalize on marketing trends as they emerge, but that doesn’t mean you need to do everything, let alone all at once. The landscape is far too diverse and, if you spread yourself too thin, you’ll diminish your marketing ROI. This is true whether you’re a solo entrepreneur with no employees or are lucky enough to have a whole team. Instead of using every social platform, focus on just the ones your audience uses. Instead of running advertisements for everyone, whittle it down to a very targeted audience and work with A/B testing to ensure you’re getting the messaging right. The more you use analytical insights to drive your digital marketing decisions, the less you’ll need to do and the better your results will be.

Get Help Applying These Marketing Lessons

I stay on top of the marketing landscape because I’m a digital marketing consultant. I’ve helped multinational corporations and Fortune 100 companies bring their business goals, sales teams, and marketing into alignment and scale dramatically. But, I’m most passionate about helping small and midsized companies—the type that has serious passion and is eager to create results. If that sounds like you, let’s chat. Contact me for a complimentary consultation.

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Husam Jandal

Husam Jandal is an internationally renowned business and marketing consultant and public speaker with a background that includes training Google Partners, teaching e-business at a master's level, receiving multiple Web Marketing Association Awards, and earning a plethora of rave reviews from businesses of all sizes.

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