By Livia Zufferli

And I would have said that even before the COVID-19 crisis emerged as a once in a century calamity that would bring the biggest nations and economies to their knees. Or even before the social uprisings resulting from an untenable reality of systemic racism and disadvantage.

Companies began 2020 with their strategies and business plans in place and growth objectives ratified. Brands had their marketing plans largely blessed by finance and properly socialized throughout their organizations. Marketing, media, creative and technology partners had a sense of their mandates for the year from their clients, large and small, and resourced accordingly.

And then, the world seemed to hit the pause button. And insights into existing consumer motivation, behaviour and intent captured pre-March 2020 seemed to lose all meaning. Brands scrambled first to ask, “should we be marketing? If so, how do we do so in an appropriate way for the world we now find ourselves in?”

As I said at the beginning of this, it was already a complex time to be a marketer prior to COVID-19 hitting. Why do I say that? I have met with several marketing executives over that past year or so, discussing the evolution of their roles, particularly that of the CMO.

When once — years ago — the CMO may have been principally known as the Brand Steward and Chief Storyteller of the organization, driving brand affinity and that ever-elusive unicorn of ‘achieving brand love’. Today’s marketer is being called upon to be all of those, and a mix of Chief Growth Officer / Data Guru / Customer Experience Champion and more. This is a tall order, even before we throw in a global pandemic.

Global trends
Earlier this fall, Deloitte published our 2021 Global Marketing Trends Report to acknowledge this massive consideration set that marketers must now concern themselves with to best support their brands and organizations.

And perhaps surprising to some, the seven trends outlined in the trends report (Purpose, Trust, Agility, Human Experience, Participation, Talent and Fusion) remained the same as those from the year-earlier — but now from a different vantage point.

Purpose was no longer a nice to have; it’s now a must-have. Customers are demanding to know the values that govern a particular brand or organization. Trust: where to start on this topic? It’s wavering, it’s more important than ever, and it’s hard work for a brand to cultivate and it will take far more than just a clever spot or advertising campaign. You get the point…the trends were real before, but they are even more critical to consider now if you are a marketer wearing the multiple hats that your organization requires.

The one question that I receive every time I present the Trends Report is whether there are differences between Canada and the U.S. or the study’s global findings. That’s why we wrote the Canadian perspective to sit as an accompanying piece on the main report. And while I would say there aren’t significant differences, given we are all facing so much of this unprecedented turmoil, at the same time I would say there are ways of framing the insights in a way we’ve found helpful and think that Canadian businesses could benefit from.

In the Canadian perspective document, we introduce the Respond, Adapt and Connect model. It suggests that while the crisis raised as the first priority, the need to react and respond in a way that was true to our brands, but which was also in the best interests of society, customers and our employees. That there are also other higher order needs we as marketers can address.
• Respond. More than three-quarters of a year into a global pandemic, we’re realizing that it’s not the initial reaction to the pandemic, it’s the ongoing response amid enormous unknowns. Of the Global Marketing Trends, three address the ability to respond: agility, talent and trust. Being able to move, support and enable people, and the trust built by walking the walk all ladder: up to a successful response.

This second wave has created more significant uncertainty, but the opportunity has been realized in how Canadian businesses have responded. Brands that have responded well to the crisis — those who have invested in proactive listening, trend analysis, and been open to agile ways of working and delivering — have proven resilient.

• Adapt. We, as marketers, can work with our customers and create new ways of addressing evolving needs. The political, social and health crises of 2020 have accelerated change from a customer behaviour standpoint.

A push from our comfort zone that, in the end, will ideally better meet the dynamic needs of our customers. Participation and fusion are the Global Trends necessary for adaptation. Participation is the new currency, exchanging value between brand and consumer.

Brands that have adapted are starting to see new business models with finance around flexible funding. We see these companies overinvesting in martech and eCommerce to become more proactive in their messaging and respond in real-time. CMOs have the unique position to set the tone for that exchange, using fusion as the springboard for incorporating and adapting what value means for consumers.

• And lastly, Connect — what I like to call the silver lining of this crisis. Core, fundamental values of a brand are on full display and humanity’s role is unquestioned. It’s also where brands can get stopped up. Consumers are paying attention to how brands are responding and adapting.

An August 2020 Deloitte survey showed that 37 percent of Canadian respondents would purchase more from brands that have responded well to the crisis (largely defined by taking care of their talent, customers and community).

Connecting isn’t about adding the word “human” to ads or making commercials that highlight “we’re all in this together”. Connecting is about tailoring the message to the customer’s needs you’re targeting and thinking about content that can support their broader context or relationship with your brand.

This is where the two Global Trends of purpose and human experience create meaningful and enduring connections. Purpose-based companies show empathy in a time where consumers seek to feel understood. Human experience satisfies expectations and addresses needs beyond just the purchase journey. These are both realities that marketers must look to deepen relationships and solidify connections. If it’s done intentionally, the connection will last.

I’m so excited for all of you marketers out there and this expanded role that you play in a customer/consumer/citizen’s life. Hopefully, our reports provide the space to elevate beyond the tactical, everyday demands of your roles and consider the broader impact you can have on your brand, employees, customers, and society-at-large.

Livia Zufferli is a senior marketing executive with more than 20 years of experience in retail and consumer goods. A leader in Deloitte’s Customer and Marketing practice, Livia’s areas of focus include brand strategy, marketing strategy and an integrated marketing planning, communication strategy, and creative/content development. Livia has an innate ability to build brilliant teams. Her current team includes Lauren Bradeen who contributed her expertise to this piece.

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