The 2020s are roaring for marketing, as data has enhanced the precision by which we can market to people, and e-commerce/omnichannel has changed the way people shop. Combine that with the increased importance of brand purpose and corporate reputation driven by millennials -- especially around sustainability -- and we’re in unchartered waters.
The four forces I’ve identified below are truths, not necessarily trends, as many of these have become reality. But how marketers adapt to them will be critical, as we are quickly learning that this decade will be very different from the last.
1. The collapse of the funnel
This is certainly not a new idea, but it’s worth pointing out that while marketers refer to a collapsed funnel, they also still deploy both upper- and lower-funnel tactics online. A collapsed funnel is a good thing for marketers if you truly adapt to it. People want convenient, seamless shopping experiences. They want to buy whenever and wherever they want.
Similar to impulse purchases in-store, when people see something online, they want the option to purchase it. If you don’t give them the opportunity to do so, you're leaving money on the table. The former chairman of Coca-Cola famously said that Coke should always be "within an arm’s reach of desire." That expression can be updated for 2020 to say that your product should be “a click away from a whim.”
The solution to the collapsed funnel is to make your online content shoppable, whether it’s through a social media post, digital display ad or a video. Fortunately, platforms have made it easy to make their ad units shoppable. On Facebook and Instagram, for instance, you can add a "shop now" button to any ad and display multiple retailer "shop now" buttons in the same unit. The call to action (CTA) can direct people to your site, Walmart.com, Amazon, etc., all within the same ad.
It’s important to note that this doesn’t only apply to conversion-based content. You can run brand-equity or purpose-driven creative and still give people the opportunity to buy via a "shop now" button. This is where the funnel has truly collapsed. Everything can be performance-based. You’re not offending anyone by offering them a chance to purchase from a purpose-based (or upper-funnel) ad. In fact, they may be even more likely to buy after a purpose-based ad.
There are some exceptions to "shop now," such as if you have discreet first-party data goals and are driving people to your site to provide some sort of utility or value exchange for their data. But, otherwise, you shouldn’t run digital ads without an option to purchase. Don’t pursue dead-end marketing!
2. Mass personalization
Personalized content comes in many forms. In owned channels, it comes from creating personalized experiences on your website and in emails or texts based on your first-party data. Mass personalization is tailoring your advertising to multiple audience segments based on signals people send about their interests/affinities or triggers such as geography, weather, seasonality, time of day and even mood (for example, you can sponsor playlists on Pandora that are based on mood). Context is king.
You can achieve this through second-party data from media platforms and publishers or retail partners. The more timely and relevant your content, the more effective collapsing the funnel will be. And make your personalized ads shoppable. If you’ve gone through the trouble of finding the right audience and serving them content tailored to them, the least you can do is enable them to purchase with just a few clicks.
3. The rise of omnichannel
Omnichannel retail has given people many different options to make a purchase. But is has to be a frictionless shopping experience. This also means the distinction between e-commerce and “traditional” marketing is going away, especially online. If you are a direct-to-consumer (DTC) company, this is self-evident. But if you are not, look at your e-commerce and traditional media spend holistically and interchangeably.
Retailers have created many ways to purchase, from ordering from their websites for delivery to in-store pick-up to pop-ups on Amazon and in Walmart and Target. And there’s the meteoric rise of Instacart. Make your brand accessible everywhere. It’s all the same to consumers, as it should be to marketers.
4. Brand reputation
Let’s not forget about reputation and purpose. Just look at the Super Bowl ads this year. Purpose-driven ads were everywhere, from Secret to Michelob Ultra to Olay and on and on. People want to know a company’s values and buy products from companies that share similar values or have an overriding purpose that makes them feel good. This is especially true with millennials, which is why this is a bigger force now than it’s ever been before.
Brands and companies need to stand for something -- especially single-brand companies like Starbucks or Harley-Davidson, where the brand is the company. Whether you're an ESG environmental, social and governance (ESG) company or brand that demonstrates their higher-order purpose or not, how you’re perceived matters. As the expression goes, your reputation is all you have.
I hope these truths are self-evident. While the marketing communications landscape is complex, there is a convergence around a few key areas that make the rules fairly simple. Have your brand or company stand for something bigger, and use data to create target-relevant content that makes your product or service easy to find and purchase.