In forecasting his trends for 2021, Hallam CEO Julio Taylor’s first point was that the post-COVID reality is permanent:

The rapid rise of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns throughout the world in early 2020 compressed years of global digital transformation into just a short few weeks.

The expanding role of technology to work, play, and stay connected have shaped new and permanent digital habits that will change the world’s economies forever. Now is the time to reset and think big to transform business operations to match these new digital expectations.

As the landscape shifts, we as marketers need to shift with it to remain relevant and viable in what McKinsey has dubbed the Next Normal. The increased competition online, the digital fatigue our customers are experiencing and their need for real solutions right now make our job more important than ever.

So if you’re ready to reset and think big for the year ahead, here are 7 ways to make your marketing more effective in 2021:

Start with the end in mind

When it feels like things are constantly changing, it’s essential to have a long-term strategy that ties everything together but that has enough flex in it to allow you to respond to current events and external factors.

When I was learning how to sail years ago, I quickly discovered that getting from one side of the lake to the other wasn’t a simple matter. The conditions could change at a moment’s notice, and all I could do was to move with the wind. Seen from above, my circuitous route may have looked like two steps forward, one step backward at times. But by trimming my sails and tacking right and left, I eventually got where I wanted to go.

It’s the same in business. The overall strategy keeps you pointed in the direction of your desired destination while your quarterly and monthly tactical planning enables you to respond to the winds of change appropriately.

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Refresh your knowledge of your customer

There have been huge shifts in customer behaviour over the past 12 months – from the adoption of remote working and schooling, video calling, online shopping of everything from grocery essentials to gardening supplies, and streaming our entertainment virtually.

How have your customers adjusted? Has this flagged up new pain points and challenges that you could address?

The best way to find out is to ask them. Host an online focus group with a small number of customers or speak to five to ten of them individually to get some qualitative feedback on topics like:

  • How they use your product or service now
  • What is working
  • What no longer works in our current environment
  • What else they need that you can deliver

Once you have that information, follow it up with a survey that goes to your wider email database and social audiences that will help you measure the extent of the sentiment.

Be sure to adjust your strategy based on what you learn.

It’s all about relationships

Whether you work in a B2B or B2C environment, this is the time to double down on relationships.

For B2B marketers, this might mean a structured account based marketing strategy for your key accounts or it might be simply picking up the phone to check in on the people who buy from you. Whatever you do, don’t start the conversation asking for a sale.

relationships-are-important-whether-you-work-in-a-b2b-or-b2c-environment

Think about how you can add value to your contacts. You could:

  • Share headlines and research you come across that are relevant to your customer’s industry
  • Invite your contact to smaller and more intimate events like discussions and panels where they can ask questions and be part of the event
  • Offer access to thought leaders in the business through short one-on-one calls
  • Create content that addresses their concerns and flags new opportunities for them

If you work in a B2C environment, start getting to know your customers outside of how they normally interact with your brand.

You don’t need to pivot your entire strategy or do something inconsistent with your branding, but it’s worth the effort to create a more personal connection with your customers. You could hold small focus groups, invite direct messages on social or test a more personal content strategy with 10 or 20% of your activity.

Ask your audience about what they’re experiencing right now, create content around wider trends like work-life balance or how to stay strong and healthy right now, and celebrate the content they create from your channels through a user generated content strategy.

Don’t forget that the second part of this step is active listening. When people start sharing how they’re feeling and what they’re going through, think about new and better ways you can serve them.

Time to get user friendly

Google’s Core Web Vitals is the latest in a series of updates to the search engine’s algorithm that prioritises a person’s experience of your website. The update – coming in May – will be assessing the speed, responsiveness and visual stability of your website, which will influence your ranking in search engines.

If you haven’t done user experience work in the past, this is the perfect time to get started. And you don’t need a massive budget to overhaul your entire online experience in one go.

Take it a step at a time. Map out the ideal customer journey and then watch to see if your customers are following it. You can install a tool like Hotjar or Crazy Egg to see how people navigate your site, ask them about the experience through a pop-up survey and then take it one fix at a time.

Balance existing and new customer activity

In a recent Gartner survey of CMOs, they found that 73% are focusing primarily on existing customers to drive their growth. And while your current customers are certainly important, there are opportunities to cast a wider net in today’s landscape.

COVID has disrupted our routines and quite a few supply chains. Customers have been experimenting with new brands out of choice or necessity and it’s likely that many of these new buyer behaviours will stick.

Now is a good time to try a broad-reach campaign to introduce your brand to new customers who may be looking for an alternative.

Lead with purpose

A public health crisis, social justice demonstrations, political uncertainty, climate change – there are fundamental challenges facing all of us right now. And people are looking for businesses to lead.

A poll conducted by B Corps and ReGenerate found that 72% of the UK public believe businesses should have a legal responsibility to the planet and people, alongside maximising profits.

But do understand that transparency and authenticity are key here. Before you put out a statement or start doing ‘socially conscious marketing’, look at your company through the eyes of the public and ask a few questions:

  • How diverse is your board of directors?
  • How sustainable is your supply chain?
  • What sort of transparency do you have through the supply chain to verify how people are being treated?
  • Do you have business practices that harm the environment?
  • What is the pay difference between your highest and lowest paid employees?

The public sees right through brands that aren’t living up to the values they project. So make sure you have your house in order before you speak out.

Invest in yourself

The year ahead will continue to be uncertain, with huge shifts still to come in how we work, shop, play, connect with each other and have fun.

One of the best ways to prepare is by investing in your own skills and knowledge. Not only can this increase your confidence, it can also help make you more resilient and adaptable.

Learning a programming language like Python, developing your critical and strategic thinking skills through LinkedIn Learning courses or simply reading and listening more broadly about the trends happening around you is a great place to start.

So there you have it – 7 ways to make your marketing more effective in the coming year.


To dive deeper into some of the more tactical activities across various channels, be sure to download your free copy of Hallam’s The Future of Digital Marketing (2021 edition).

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