Three key brand need to knows for 2021

punched by 2021 - icrossing

‘Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth’ – Mike Tyson

It is fair to say 2020 didn’t turn out as anyone expected; from the continued uncertainty around Brexit, a controversial US election, the rise of anti-racism, and of course the global COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic downturn. 

2020 hit the world with event after disruptive event.

Any 2020 predictions went out of the window and, going into 2021, it would be foolish to start predicting what comes next. 

Need to knows

So rather than make predictions, Tim Lawrence, Head of Strategy & Planning at digital marketing agency iCrossing UK, outlines three key things you need to know to avoid being hit by them unexpectedly.

Or at least have a plan for when you do…

Tim Lawrence icrossing
Tim Lawrence, iCrossing

1. Beware changing consumer sentiment

The past few years have seen brands accused of racism in their campaigns or lack of diversity in the board room, so when brands changed tack during the pandemic with an outpouring of emotive campaigns not all were well received – 66% of consumers claim they can recall when brands acted in self-interest — such as raising prices on essential items.

Brands are a key component of our society and play a role in shaping the national mood. 2020 saw a number of advertisers reflect public opinion by boycotting Facebook advertising for a month, but reactions during the initial stages of the pandemic were often hit and miss as many brands tried to empathise but failed to convince they were truly understanding. This was highlighted by the similarity of many pandemic ads.

Moving into 2021, as people feel stressed and nervous, expect sensitivities to be heightened when targeting or messaging doesn’t feel right or isn’t authentic or empathetic. Just 21% of people say they want brands to ‘show that they care’, with over a third preferring ‘actions not words’ (Source: Hearst Instant Insights). 

Consumers’ sensitivities are now heightened, and brands must consider messaging carefully, being truly authentic in ‘purpose’.

Consumers are clear that deeds are more important than words on key topics: 43% said ensuring ‘diversity in senior management’ is the most important thing business can do to support Black Lives Matter; whilst paying employees fairly (79%) and stopping supporting companies that fail to prevent fake news (69%) are important to rebuilding trust. Few actually believe organisations will do this (Source: Edelman).

diversity and BLM
Consumers care: Brands need to show more movement on equality, rights and fairness, according to iCrossing’s Lawrence.

With physical interaction removed, the slew of ‘we’re with you’ emails became wallpaper as brands struggled to find new ways to stay in touch with consumers. 

With more time spent on social platforms brands are shifting the role of social to be a communication channel to keep consumers informed of updates; 67% of business leaders say they increased their presence on social media in 2020.

What this means for marketers

Empathy is an increasingly important trait for brands to have – World Federation of Advertisers president Raja Rajamannar believes “empathy and flexibility are the name of the game, going into 2021.” 

Even pre-pandemic a study found that UK consumers were 54% more likely to engage with a brand when it effectively demonstrated human communication.

To inform this, brands must use consumer research and data to understand the situation that their consumers find themselves in, as well as having a robust series of checks and balances for creative/copy, ad placements and frequency to avoid being caught out.

2. The end of the cookie is nigh

As the world settles back to ‘normal’, privacy and personal data protection will return to the agenda. 

GDPR – the Global Data Protection Rules – seem like a distant memory, but that, and the drive towards a cookieless internet, will continue unabated. 

While the biggest news won’t actually happen until 2022 when Chrome (the world’s most popular browser) will phase out third-party cookies, meaning cookies will be blocked by all major browsers, its magnitude means preparation needs to begin now. 

Although cookies will be blocked, personalisation will still be possible with other available solutions (such as first-party data, location- and time-based messaging, and contextual targeting).

cookies are going from tech
Cookieless: They’re going from our tech, but thankfully not our kitchens.

For large enterprise businesses – particularly in retail or finance, where customer activity is frequent – we’d expect that first-party data collection is not a new ambition, having collected data through compelling value exchange for several years. 

If this is the case, being able to connect this data to a data management platform (DMP) will allow for valuable audience segmentation, alleviating many concerns of the cookie phase-out.

The impact is likely to be greater for small to medium-sized enterprises, and industries where first-party data collection is difficult or slow (ie pharma and travel). For these businesses, being unable to collect first-party data at scale has led to reliance on third-party data through cookie use.

What this means for marketers

In either scenario, we would recommend a full audit of cookies used across your websites, to obtain a clearer understanding of which tools/technologies you currently might use and that might be at risk of being blocked at the end of this transition.

3. Change as usual

2020 was an accelerant for digital behaviours as well as disrupting buying habits, (63% of us tried new shopping behaviours). This change correlated with nearly a sixth of UK consumers switching a brand/retailer. Half of them are expected to continue this behaviour once normality returns, according to McKinsey. 

Brands that performed well were those with innovative, consumer centric strategies. With the outlook for 2021 uncertain we can expect more fluctuation.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development claims that UK e-commerce share of retail rose from 20.3% to 31.3% between the first and second quarter of 2020, over three-times the growth in the previous two years. Nike hit its target of online sales accounting for 30% of its business three years early.

It was not just consumer behaviour that changed. March to August 2020 saw remarkable changes in the value of brands; after taking 42 years to become a $1 trillion company, Apple took just six months to reach $2 trillion and Tesla increased in value by 242% to become the world’s most valuable automotive company (more than Toyota, VW, Daimler and Honda combined).

time for change
Constant change: Corporates need to get used to change as a new constant, says Lawrence.

However, once behaviour returns to ‘normal’, as restrictions on our lives disappear, what is important is not what happened in 2020 but where we are now – which behaviours remain, and which are still in flux. 

A Deloitte survey of C-suite executives showed 41% (the highest of all responses) said they wanted to implement more digital technologies and platforms to react more quickly to customer needs.

What this means for marketers

It is important to have a clear picture of your market and consumer; the foundation for agile marketing often requires a clear and single-minded view of the customer and who you want to target. 

We recommend better connecting data sources to enable faster decision making as well as investing time and energy in ongoing consumer research such as social listening or brand tracking.

See also:

Advertising and media – the key factors set to dominate 2021