2020 was a tumultuous year that changed nearly every aspect of our lives. Everything from how we work to how we shop has been altered and our old perception of “normal” may never return. The Digital Age has always been a conduit of rapid change, and now more than ever, businesses need to be aware of the shifting tides. As we enter into the second week of 2021, we’ve already experienced some additional upheaval and must stay alert to current events. Today, we’ll look at five marketing trends to leave in 2020.
1. Corporate Neutrality
Customers have come to expect corporate responses to major issues. While corporate responses have always had a role to play, their importance was multiplied tenfold in 2020. Starting with the Covid-19 pandemic and extending through the Black Lives Matter protests. Customers want to know where businesses stand with current issues. They use this as a way to gauge if a business deserves their patronage.
While neutrality may seem like the most logical thing to do, it can have a detrimental effect on brand loyalty. Brand loyalty has been faltering across the board in every industry for quite some time. There are several factors that have played a role in it, but the biggest one is that customers are more interested in finding companies that support their personal stances on issues. Customers may choose to patronize another business that has taken a public stance they agree with rather than remain with one that hasn’t made their stance clear. If a customer finds a company that supports the issues important to them, they are far more likely to remain loyal to that company.
Providing an authentic corporate response not only reassures current customers but may also bring in new ones. As we’ve discussed before, however, inauthenticity and unaccountability can be a disaster. If a company attempts to simply provide lip service, it can lead to a massive backlash. Corporate stances and responses must transparently reflect real brand values.
2. Tactless & Tone-Deaf Marketing
There have been many distressing events throughout 2020 and leading into 2021 that have affected people in all walks of life. Care and nuance must be demonstrated when marketing. People are more than potential customers or clients, they’re human beings. Tactless marketing ploys during social unrest and an uncontrolled pandemic can leave a permanent dark mark on a business. From promoting free toilet paper with a purchase during a nationwide shortage to this bizarre tweet by GameStop in the midst of the Capitol riot, tone-deaf blunders like these can turn customers off of a brand permanently.
It’s imperative to show tact when marketing. Between screenshots, cached pages, and internet archives, nothing is ever truly gone from the internet. It’s safe to assume that as soon as something is published, somewhere there will be a record of it for all time. It’s far better to show care and compassion when creating content rather than to try to fix a massive PR nightmare later on. Informed buyers want to buy from informed brands that understand the current atmosphere of the world.
3. In-Person Group Events
Seminars, expos, conventions, and trade shows have been forced to go digital over the last year. Despite vaccines rolling out, the Covid-19 pandemic is still raging and a new, more contagious strain is spreading. States across the country are still limiting social gatherings to cull the spread and many people are still very uncomfortable being in large crowds. While in-person events have always been a staple of marketing & networking, it is both detrimental and careless to host a large group of people in close proximity during a global pandemic. Nearly 2 million people have died from Covid-19 globally as of January 8, 2021, and that number rapidly rises daily. Until the pandemic has passed, it’s safe to conclude that large group gatherings are off the table.
There have been a few great benefits to going digital for events. More people are able to attend events that they were previously unable to attend in person and the return on investment is high. This opens doors of opportunity to interact with potentially untapped markets and generate leads. Online events save on overhead costs as well, reducing the need for travel expenses and venue rentals. Going digital has also allowed for more personal interaction with customers via video conferencing software, emails, and social media. Customers like to stay where they are appreciated and being able to personalize interactions helps promote that feeling.
4. Repetition Instead Of Repurposing
Customers are spending most of their time at home, which means they’re likely to encounter more online advertisements & television commercials. Buzzwords and keywords are integral to marketing, but at this point, everyone is tired of hearing the words “in these uncertain times” and seeing the same advertisements repeatedly. Bombarding customers with the same content in the same medium can annoy potential customers to the point that they completely tune out or even block your advertisements.
Repurposing content is different from repeating content, and it’s important to acknowledge the difference. Repurposing content is defined by HubSpot as “either changing the format of the content and/or changing the target audience for the content.” Repurposing is meant to alter, add, and remove existing content to use in new ways, target different audiences, and/or use on different platforms. Properly repurposed content can increase SEO, draw in new customers, and help establish your company as a credible resource. It also keeps current customers engaged by presenting information in a different way instead of repeating the same thing over and over.
5. Resisting Change
The world has been completely changed by the events of 2020 and continue to change throughout the first week of 2021. The ability to be flexible has never been more important. Market volatility, constant uncertainty, social unrest, political situations, and public health issues have all affected the way businesses operate. Ideals, concepts, services, and products that were once important may no longer be, and things that never really mattered to consumers & businesses before have become integral.
2020, unfortunately, ended many businesses that were unable to adapt. Pivoting, working remotely, humanizing companies, and taking offline processes into the digital world have helped other businesses stay afloat and weather the storm. Having the ability to be versatile has become essential. Understanding customer needs and being able to provide for those needs is what makes a business successful. In our “new normal,” those needs may change rapidly depending on what’s happening in the world.
The events of 2020 and into 2021 will have lasting impacts for years to come, and it’s quite possible that we’ll never return to the “old normal” that we lived, learned, and worked in. Some of the things that we learned in college about marketing, PR, and advertising may very well become moot. We must have the ability to learn new technologies & techniques, shift our business practices to keep up with the ever-changing world and pay attention to what our target market wants & needs. No one knows what the future holds, and now more than ever, businesses need to be adaptable to thrive.
6. Greenwashing, Woke Washing, and Flat Out Lies
Amazon.com put a Black Lives Matter banner atop their website after the brutal murder of George Floyd. Founder Jeff Bezos responded with a strong defense of their choice, even stating that he didn’t mind losing money from white supremacists (an easy thing to say as someone who could live 10 lifetimes on his existing fortune and have some left to spare), but because their actual business practices don’t line up with the statements. Activists were quick to point out the anachronism. While other companies like Ben & Jerry’s made clear and direct statements that could be backed by a long history of social consciousness and certified B. Corp status, Amazon has no history and no footing as a socially conscious company. Amazon was woke washing to make a buck and everyone knew it. They angered the people who couldn’t align themselves with the Black Lives Matter message, and they infuriated the people who were passionate about that very issue.
By 2002 the majority of U.S. households had access to the internet, thus people have become increasingly empowered to learn and know more about the brands they do business with. It takes a couple of keystrokes to learn if you might have been lied to. Yet many companies still live under the misapprehension that they get to drive the narrative about their brand. Woke washing is just the latest in the series of lies brands are telling thinking they can capture sales from conscious customers. In fact, public utilities were the first to exploit a cause. In 1970, the year of the first Earth Day, Public Utilities spent 300 million on advertising themselves as “clean and green,” which was eight times MORE than they were actually spending on environmental initiatives. The Keep America Beautiful campaign was funded by beverage manufacturers hoping to stave off regulation of disposable beverage containers in 1953. All of this came to be known as Greenwashing, and sadly it’s still common. (FYI–it took me 3 or fewer seconds to find the article in the previous hyperlink and countless others like it.) In fact is’s SO pervasive there are actually categories of Greenwashing, sometimes referred to as the “six sins.”
It’s really hard to lie and get away with it for long in a world with Twitter, the 24-hour news cycle, and dare we say Tik Tok? People are exhausted, overwhelmed, and trapped in their homes. They have more time than ever and less money to spend. That adds up to people thinking twice about every dollar they spend and doing so with brands that share their values.
So now what?
- Be who you are. If you’re Chick-fil-A nobody’s gonna buy it if you try to do a PRIDE campaign. Just sell the chicken and lemonade. If you’re Patagonia, double down on saving the earth, your customers REALLY care about that and so do you.
- Read the room. If a crisis is happening, maybe pause your cheerful ads and redirect the sales team to efforts that don’t involve direct selling. Getting a sales call during the insurrection at the capitol building is a sure-fire way I’m never gonna buy from you, Bob.
- Adapt already. We don’t know when or if “normal” is coming back. Figure out how to thrive right now regardless.
- Be honest. Nobody ever actually liked the “wolf of Wallstreet” types, and today nobody has time for that crap. Say what you mean, mean what you say. It’s not actually that hard, to tell the truth.