Broadway theaters in New York are scheduled to resume performances in September 2021—18 months after they shuttered in the early days of the pandemic.
It’s one of the clearest signs yet that a “new normal” is on the horizon.
Indeed, with about 110 million Americans fully vaccinated as of May 2021, other pandemic-era restrictions are starting to lift on public spaces like bars, restaurants, gyms, and stadiums across the country.
Things really are starting to come alive this time around, and your business (and customers) should be too. That’s why we’re covering seven ways to prepare for and leverage the positive changes to come, according to top digital marketing experts across a variety of industries.
One tactic is to return to out-of-home advertising and live events, which have understandably been neglected in the last year.
For his part, Dan Cassidy, CEO of Shopify agency Brand Hopper Digital, is advising ecommerce clients to prepare for a boost in demand for products in categories like apparel and beauty “that will help people feel good and look good as they reenter the public.”
“After being cooped up, people are ready to get out into the world and we predict that more people will be traveling, at live events and in public spaces than ever before,” said Krista Neher, CEO of digital marketing and social media training program Boot Camp Digital. “This is a great time to capitalize on this.”
In fact, she noted Boot Camp Digital plans to increase its investment in live events in order to have a bigger presence when they return.
“We expect attendance will be up. However, sponsorship and exhibitor rates aren’t changing,” Neher added. “This creates a golden opportunity—we can reach more people for the same rates as in the past.”
Lars Skjold Iversen, search engine explorer at CMS platform Umbraco, agreed, noting we all have Zoom fatigue by now and will likely opt for in-person events over webinars if given the choice. That makes live events “a great place for us to be.”
For his part, Chad Burmeister, CEO of virtual assistant platform ScaleX.ai, likened Summer 2021 to “the Summer of Love 2.0,” which will “put business professionals back on airplanes … [and] marketers investing once again in trade shows.” However, his prediction is hybrid physical/virtual events will be the new normal.
In a similar vein, industries that have struggled during the pandemic—events included, along with travel—should brace for comebacks.
Per Andrei Vasilescu, CEO of coupon site DontPayFull, that means focusing on recall.
“They have to re-establish their brand existence in the market,” he said. “Businesses must reclaim their brand presence in order to regain their consumers in 2021.”
After a challenging year in many respects, brand messaging will likely shift in multiple ways to appeal to consumers as they cautiously reemerge from not only a pandemic, but a recession, and face an ongoing climate crisis and racial justice movement.
Naturally, there is no one-size-fits-all guidance here, but there are some overarching themes.
Juan Pablo Sarmiento, CEO of content network ByPeople.com, agreed brand messages must be “softened, more human and less machine-like.”
For Brand Hopper’s Cassidy, it’s striking a balance between “the realization the past year has been difficult for many and some experienced serious loss” and “excitement as we get back to a sense of normalcy.”
Planet Fitness has incorporated safety and cleanliness into its brand messaging, even trademarking the term “Cardio Distancing.”
Meanwhile, Chris Vaughn, CEO of Pacific Consolidated Holdings, a holding company focused on cannabis and other vice industries, expects more nostalgia as consumers crave “the simplicity of their youths.”
He added, “Consumers are more likely to develop brand loyalty for a company they feel emotionally connected to and nostalgia marketing harnesses the positive, optimistic associations between customer’s good old days and funnels them into a brand.”
On the other side of the coin, Catie Fromknecht, digital marketing consultant at consumer behavior research firm Clicksuasion Labs, noted consumers are more likely to be susceptible to scarcity marketing tactics following a year of substantial losses—but this tactic should be used sparingly.
In addition, brand messaging should adjust to reflect positioning on social responsibility.
Citing figures from consulting firm Accenture, Arthur Iinuma, president of app development firm ISBX, noted COVID-19 has prompted a shift in consumer consciousness as 45% have adopted more sustainable habits and plan to continue to embrace these choices.
“Brands must align with the new consumer sentiment and consider how they can promote a more ethical model of consumerism,” he added.
“Many consumers now expect brands to show support in the fight against discrimination and other social issues [or they will] fall victim to the financial and moral consequences,” said Eden Cheng, co-founder of invoice platform WeInvoice.“
This has led to us making major commitments in our content marketing strategies that help emphasize our support in the fight against racial discrimination, as well as active participation in lending a hand to the local community through various social causes.”
Live video is a digital strategy that helped brands connect with consumers from afar during the pandemic—and marketers expect to continue using it after a fundamental shift in behavior during the pandemic.
That’s true for Derek Devore, founder of luxury real estate touring platform Duvora, who said he saw a “massive” uptick in adoption in 2020 as customers used live video in their searches for homes.
“Going forward, we are investing 90% of our efforts into live video,” he added. “This interaction and ability to reach luxury home buyers in any part of the world instantly has proven to be the best channel for us.”
Per figures from Dustin Porreca, SEO manager at B2B marketing agency Elevate Demand, clients have seen an average 68% increase in video content consumption on YouTube since March 2020 (more post-covid stats here).
“YouTube provides an opportunity to explain your products or services in detail and provide the authenticity users are looking for,” added John McGhee, owner of digital agency Webconsuls.
Social media is another trend that isn’t going to go away—although the specific channels marketers use may shift.
Even when the world opens back up again, consumers will continue to use their favorite platforms, which Porreca said justifies continued investment.
“In any marketing strategy, your goal is meeting your buyers where they’re going to be at any given time,” he said.
In addition to YouTube and Facebook, which a recent study from Pew Research Center shows are the most popular platforms with U.S. consumers overall, brands would be wise to turn their attention to video-sharing platform TikTok, which reportedly saw usage climb 75% in 2020, as well as another up-and-comer, audio-based app Clubhouse.
`“A little-known secret is you can get great results in some industries by advertising on TikTok,” said Dennis Consorte, small business consultant at review site Digital.com. “There isn’t much competition, so ad costs are relatively low.”
Speaking of lower costs, while digital platforms remained an important avenue to reach home-bound consumers during the pandemic, Timothy Robinson, CEO of review site InVPN, pointed to dropping CPC prices in the coming months.
This, he said, presents an opportunity to reach customers online at even lower costs—even if brands themselves have faced budget cuts.
“Other advertisers are likely to go offline at this time, allowing companies to capture more traffic and conversions,” he said.
Neal Taparia—entrepreneur, investor, and co-founder of Spider Solitaire Challenge—agreed, noting PPC advertising is “a great way of maintaining additional presence online, as well as reminding your customers that your business is going strong.”
Local marketing has arguably been more important in the last 12 months than ever before—and that, too, will continue.
Per Amy Dixon, digital marketing manager of digital agency Hydra Creative, this is because of “a huge positive change in attitudes towards local businesses” during the pandemic, which is expected to continue after lockdown. In the U.K. for example, 38% of consumers reportedly shopped more at small businesses in 2020—and 88% say they are more likely to shop locally moving forward.
As a result, marketers should continue to optimize for “near me” searches and solicit customer reviews. But they should also consider local media like radio ads, which Sabrina Beaumont, CMO of house plan site Passion Plans, said she intends to do to “hopefully allow us to gain some local goodwill” in the markets in which she operates.
Your Google Business Profile is the key to showing up in “near me” and Maps searches.
Whether or not workers return to offices full-time remains to be seen. In the meantime, Solomon Thimothy, co-founder of marketing dashboard Clickx, agreed marketers should focus on “all things local” as “most people will continue to work from home even when they can already go back to the office.”
In a similar vein, Iversen said he stopped sponsoring podcasts when commuters stopped going to offices. But that, too, could provide a new opportunity for brands as consumers return to work.
And there you have it. Data-based, industry expert-given tips to meet your customers where they’re at as the world starts to reopen. Let’s quickly recap:
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