As most of the world gets back to normalcy, companies have an opportunity to reorient their systems and processes to reflect the demands of a changing marketplace. Some of the most agile organizations have recognized that sales trends post-Covid will not be a replication of the pre-pandemic world. They understand that there is no going back to the old way. Things have fundamentally changed, which necessitates a relook at the age-old conventions. Remote selling, remote marketing, social commerce, hybrid events, and influencer marketing are only some of the defining changes of the past 18 months. The pandemic disrupted our professional, personal, and social lives. All the norms that we had presumed to be unquestionable had to be rewritten. A year and a half after the virus first disrupted our lives, we now know that you don’t need to be in an office to work or physically attend a school for education. We know that we don’t even have to be in the same room as our physician for a diagnosis. These are not temporary deviations from the norm. These are the new realities that companies must address if they have to consistently differentiate their brands, and acquire and retain customers. A broad overview of the marketing trends post-Covid shows us these six themes developing in this new normal.
1. Shorter go-to-market span
Gone are the days when companies had the freedom to spend years researching, designing, and marketing a product. Over the past 18 months, organizations across categories have realized the need to dramatically improve their go-to-market timelines. It could be the launch of a new product or doubling down on digital distribution.
One of the biggest sales trends post-Covid is that companies don’t have the luxury of time as the ones who can adapt fast will gain disproportionately. While software firms were the early adopters of fast-paced rollouts, companies in other sectors, notably in FMCG, have also reworked their systems for faster launches.
Unilever is a prime example of how an organization can reimagine its portfolio to reflect changing customer preferences. The FMCG giant introduced new cleaning products to meet the changed behavioral preferences of their consumers in China. A process that might have taken years was completed in a few weeks.
This calls for an organizational rethink on the flexibility of internal systems and distributional networks. Marketing needs to lead from the front in spotting behavioral changes and integrating those into demand-driven products and services.
2. The expansion of e-commerce
There was a steady and perceptible shift towards e-commerce even before the pandemic. But the disruptions in offline product discovery and shopping have significantly added pace to the move. Companies that were slow to integrate e-commerce functionality have been blindsided by consumer adoption of online buying.
The pandemic has not only encouraged existing online shoppers to buy more but has also shifted previously reticent shoppers to buy online. Moreover, among existing shoppers, there’s an expansion into newer categories. By all accounts, this won’t be a temporary shift as consumers discover the efficiencies of a safe, contact-less, fast, and inexpensive shopping experience online.
For marketing heads, this calls for comprehensive investments in their e-commerce channels with a focus on agility and seamless user experiences. Secondly, sales tactics should be seen from the new product discovery models that websites and mobile apps deliver. Offline behavioral insights derived from big box retail outlets may not be relevant to an e-commerce buying process.
Thirdly, there is a need for imaginatively bundled offers within and across categories. This may require sales teams to partner with products and services from other companies or domains. Marketing should focus on adding value to the customer and acquiring them for longer durations instead of seeing it as a one-off event.
Finally, the focus should be on personalized shopping experiences. With efficient data management, marketing should offer individualized recommendations borne out of the customer’s shopping history and professed interests. These are online marketing trends post-Covid that are here to stay.
3. Content is your differentiator
From being social media posts and landing page copy, content has evolved to one of the main drivers for consumers to discover and engage with brands. The traditional construct of content as product description and “reasons to buy” has undergone a sea change. Brands that understand this have leveled the playing field with legacy brands in far less time.
Product features and time-bound discounts aren’t the only reasons for people to follow brands on social media. People want to know more about the brand’s character, attitudes, voice, creativity, and engagement with its audiences. Marketers should create interesting brand stories and conversations that add value to their followers.
There should also be medium-specific incentives tailored to the insights of the platform. Brand launches used to need multi-media marketing campaigns even as recently as a couple of years ago. Now, creative marketing teams can demand that their advertising and digital media partners create customized launch events for social media that won’t need substantial investments.
There is also the need to instantly engage with customers online. These should be with a pre-determined tone and manner befitting the platform and the brand personality. These conversations have the potential to become content in their own right. They can also offer organic online traction without having to invest to increase their reach.
The importance of content has also given rise to social media influencers with exceptional follower bases. Creatively crafted content in sync with carefully chosen influencers can give marketers extraordinary reach within a short span. This is particularly relevant as increasing digital usage is weaning people off traditional media like television.
Another marketing trend post-Covid that marketers should keep in mind is that content has become media agnostic. You can repurpose customer-created content into mass media marketing or convert your blogs into short-form videos.
4. The importance of purpose
People don’t want their brands to live in ivory towers. Customers want them to live in the real world. That means being aware of the larger issues in society and taking appropriate stands. While earlier, it may have been convenient to remain on the sidelines during any major social, political, or environmental movement, brands can’t afford that anymore.
Before voicing an opinion, marketers should internally define the brand’s larger purpose. It has to be demonstrably beyond sales and revenue and has to resonate with the social and political needs of its consumers. Consumers endorse a brand because they’re drawn towards its belief systems. In the age of progressive social activism for greater inclusion, justice, and fairness, it’s only logical that they expect their brands to endorse their views.
Socially conscious brands will find greater resonance among consumers. But it has to go beyond a tweet or a commercial. Consumers expect their brands to be behind progressive causes and to engage in tangible initiatives against climate change, for example. This calls for supporting organizations involved in social activism, and consistently voicing those views in their marketing communication.
Brands should also incorporate those endorsements into their production and distribution processes. Companies that use organic ingredients, employ environment-friendly practices, treat their employees fairly, and are inclusive, will find their marketing communication received favorably by customers.
5. The rise of social commerce
Shopping was always supposed to be a communal activity that one did with family or friends. With social distancing and the ensuing rise in e-commerce, unfortunately, shopping became a solo act done at a granular level. This robbed the process of its group endorsement and feedback.
One of the most enduring sales trends post-Covid will be social commerce which brings back the group element to shopping. Aided by social media and platforms designed specifically for it, social commerce is making shopping a group activity. It gives customers an option to share their preferences with their network and seek feedback.
Social commerce is what happens when social media meets e-commerce. Now customers can discover products, give and seek feedback, and complete the transaction without leaving the social media platform. While earlier, it was driven by paid media ads, now there’s a focus on organic transactions.
For organizations analyzing sales trends post-Covid, this should demand greater focus on their social media management. A brand’s social media page alone can now become an omnichannel experience that delivers everything from product discovery to checkout.
This means marketers will have to develop platform-friendly catalogs designed for conversion and seamless user experiences. It will also require brands to constantly learn from user behavior and incorporate those audience insights to further refine their social commerce functionalities.
6. Agility as an advantage
To view challenges as opportunities, especially from a marketing and sales perspective, organizations should restructure their processes to be more agile and responsive. That should start with a thorough examination of the existing systems and an objective analysis of how they performed during the pandemic.
Did your organization take too long to shift to an e-commerce play? Were there significant delays in getting cross-domain support for the move? How fast could you spot inefficiencies in the system? These are questions that marketers should answer to successfully overcome any disruptive challenges in the medium and long terms.
Sales and marketing teams should invest in capacity augmentation, enhancement of digital delivery modules, and invest in customer engagement. Along with those, marketers should also visualize emergency scenarios and develop appropriate and agile response tools to address the same, including, remote marketing.
Wherever possible, marketers should also create hybrid models that have both offline and online components. Product launches or time-bound offers could be rolled out through these models to see which platform delivers the highest returns. Finally, marketing and sales should have the budgetary cushion to deal with emergencies without having to start the process from scratch.
Changes will get institutionalized whenever the participants see long-term advantages in them. Post-Covid trends are likely to redefine the marketing landscape as there are demonstrable benefits to customers and brands. Companies that learn from these are more likely to be resilient to any future disruptions or sudden shifts in customer behavior.