In a digital world, it’s getting harder each year to determine where marketing begins and ends.
Every customer touchpoint must be crafted with care and precision, from first contact to the research process, all the way up to the point of sale and beyond.
With marketing budgets looking beefier than ever, it’s no surprise to see companies taking on aggressive new strategies while doubling down on the most time-tested techniques.
We talked to some current business leaders to hear their thoughts on marketing to modern audiences with next-gen tech and old-school fundamentals.
There is timeless power in the written word, and it’s clear that blogs and standard social media posts aren’t going anywhere.
But for modern brands, words only go so far. Static images, interactive graphics, and video content are all seeing huge upticks in popularity. The appeal is obvious – everyone loves to look at cool and compelling visuals. If audiences can learn more about products and connect with the brand, these are unbeatable assets.
“We love to use video to market our products,” said Jing Gao, CEO of Fly by Jing. “We like to take advantage of the popularity we’ve gained on our Instagram page to share our videos we make. We created a video series that highlighted our journey with Sichuanese food, from coming up with the idea and testing ingredients to gaining notoriety and combating negative stigmas about our culture’s food in America. The series gained us new customers, along with newfound respect from our peers and critics.”
Brands hesitant to hop into the multimedia game shouldn’t wait a minute longer. This will be a non-negotiable aspect of digital marketing soon enough.
To get ahead in the frenzy of modern marketing, many companies are focusing on the fundamentals of the human experience.
Despite massive technological leaps, the everyday person’s priorities have not changed drastically. Trust, service, and most of all, community – these are the things that matter most. Brands that hit those key criteria are destined for success.
“We chose to build our brand through social media,” said Kaz Amor, Founder of VoCe Haircare. “The beauty industry has one of the largest online communities, so naturally we would integrate into that. Viral marketing and building your community are really one in the same. Social media creates that sense of community within your consumers, as well as helps us nurture those relationships directly.”
When building lasting communities, it’s all about the long game. Upfront effort and cost will pay off down the line once the community gains traction.
Advertise with Accuracy
What good is a brilliant ad campaign if it isn’t targeted to the right people? Poorly calibrated campaigns are about as helpful as throwing money into the fire.
Thankfully, more brands are recognizing the power of precision in the ad game, and there are incredible tools to help them accomplish this exact goal.
Audience segmentation is now the norm, and cross-platform campaigns are surprisingly easy to orchestrate. This has allowed smaller brands to outcompete major players and take market share.
“The way advertising operates online has changed dramatically,” said Jeffrey Brown, President of Big Fig Mattress. “With the pandemic sending the world into shelter in place, businesses need to adapt to the new format. Weaving together social media advertisements and enhanced public outreach are two major components to any success online. Finding ways to reach consumers directly is immensely important and there is no better time to ramp up this practice. YouTube has been a major source of eye traffic we have gained from our advertisements and it is one of the many forms of online marketing that has pushed our business forward.”
With a wealth of resources at their disposal, the next generation of digital advertisers has the chance to create super-efficient campaigns that yield big results.
Branch Out to New Platforms
The heavy-hitters of social media are here to stay, or so it would seem. Instagram took the throne for eye-popping imagery, Twitter is the marketplace of ideas, and Facebook still has the reputation of an online college campus connecting friends and family.
Sticking to the big three might have been a valid strategy a few years back, but the tides are shifting as more platforms make their way into the mix. Brands must be willing to enter the fray on less-familiar platforms to get ahead of the curve.
“Social media has played a major role in our marketing process,” said Steve O’Dell, CEO, and Co-Founder of Tenzo Tea. “Instagram has been our go-to, but TikTok is something that we have slowly started to ramp up to create more content. TikTok is a great way to showcase what a product can provide to a customer in quick and quirky ways. We keep our content lighthearted and showcase the different ways you can enjoy our product. TikTok is not the greatest way to advertise just any business, but one that bodes well to visual appearances can thrive. If your product is visually appealing, then start up an account and see the views roll in as you show the beauty and simplicity of your product.”
Next-gen marketing strategies will empower brands to effortlessly enter new marketplaces and platforms with cohesive messaging and imagery.
Keep the Connection Real
The chaos of 2020 kept people apart in a physical sense, but connections across the internet reached all-time highs. That trend is only going to amplify in the future, but brands can’t forget the power of real human connection as they map out their marketing plans.
“Many companies have forgotten they sell to actual people,” said Dharmesh Shah, CTO & Co-Founder of HubSpot. “Humans care about the entire experience, not just the marketing or sales or service. To really win in the modern age, you must solve for humans.”
How will the new guard of marketers make their campaigns and service strategies more human in the digital environment?
Personalization, loyalty programs, and VIP treatment will likely play central roles.
Build a Wealth of Backlinks
SEO has been around since search engines first came on the scene. Methods were once rudimentary and questionable tactics prevailed, but now, SEO is looking more like rocket science than ever before.
To keep things simple and effective, brands are going all-in on content marketing, focusing on earning backlinks that boost their reputation in the Google algorithm and encourage new visitors to click on trusted pages.
“Content marketing is one of the most efficient, cost-effective strategies for building links and watching your company move ever closer to that coveted spot on Google Page 1,” said Josh Stomel, Founder of Turbo Finance. “There are numerous forms of outreach that you can apply to your marketing campaign, but HARO is just a no-brainer. An expert can supply a quick quote in exchange for a nice backlink, as well as the added benefit of being noted as an expert on that particular topic. It really is a win-win!”
There may be a few new tactics to employ for content marketing in 2021, but the fundamentals of quality and authority still matter most.
New Focus on Networks
At the dawn of digital marketing, brands could make a splash by simply showing up and checking off all the right boxes. Now, there’s a lot more required to stand out.
That’s why we’re seeing a huge shift towards network-based marketing strategies such as cross-company collaborations and influencer campaigns. The solo rodeo is over – it’s time for teamwork.
“As the economy grows, consumers will feel more confident in making purchases that they may have avoided – especially when it comes to non-essential items,” said Timmy Yanchun, Co-Founder of LTHR Shaving. “So, a growing trend will be that retailers will need to ensure both their visibility and relevance. Targeted marketing strategies will be of great importance, and will require innovative ideas and out-of-the-box collaborations. While many once focused on traditional methods of advertising, ecommerce sites will serve themselves well by exploring campaigns built on networking, outreach, digital PR, email marketing, and more.”
Small, agile brands have an advantage in this arena. It’s the big legacy companies that need to get with the program and embrace marketing networks to stay relevant.
How many marketing mishaps and snafus need to happen before brands learn their lesson? Perhaps it’s just part of the journey, but there are no excuses for tone-deaf ads and bad timing in the current marketing arena.
The crises of 2020 were universal, but many brands simply had the wrong message at the wrong time. Hopefully, they’ve gained some insight and self-awareness moving forward.
In many instances, it’s better to keep messaging simple and clear during tough times and not rock the boat.
“It’s important because we still have to maintain communication and, in a period of crisis and turmoil, your customers, your communities want to hear from you more than ever,” said SAP CMO Alicia Tillman.
Anticipate Customer Interests
The first wave of digital marketing simply put products in front of customers and made an offer. Successive iterations made the experience more targeted and personalized.
Now, we’re watching brands actively anticipate what customers want to buy, leveraging massive swaths of data to position key products and offers at the right place and time.
“Keep a close watch on the purchasing patterns of your customers, and supply an easy way for customers to provide suggestions and product requests,” said Jared Zabaldo, Founder of USAMM. “Additionally, stay active on social media and beef up your interactive content marketing efforts, and have conversations with your audience. This will not only build customer engagement, but it will provide you with a better understanding of which products should be your focal points for 2021.”
To compete online in the future, brands might need a crystal ball to forecast trends. Thankfully, they have plenty of tech and analytics to help them out.
Offer Easy Incentives
Some of the most reliable marketing tactics never went away – they’ve just been revamped and reformatted for the digital age.
This is a refreshing realization for many up-and-coming brands. They don’t need to reinvent the wheel but instead find ways to leverage proven tactics to earn more sales and boost loyalty.
The right incentives can do a lot of the heavy lifting in the early stages of a brand’s growth – that’s a truth that will never change.
“One of the most effective marketing methods for an e-commerce site like Emjay is to remind customers who are ready to check out that they could receive free shipping if they spend a little more to meet our free delivery minimum,” said Chris Vaughn, CEO of Emjay. “Although my company, Emjay, always offers free delivery for our customers in order to keep up with increased customer service standards from ecommerce shoppers, asking customers to spend slightly more to receive free shipping is a great marketing tactic for companies who aren’t yet profitable enough to offer free shipping on all orders. Oftentimes, customers will spend much more than the delivery minimum when trying to meet it, which means that you’ll be able to afford the cost of covering shipping while still netting a gain from this purchase, and you’ll be making your customer feel like they’ve received a great deal.”
For brands that aren’t sure where to start when crafting incentives or deals, it’s better to simply try out something basic and adjust accordingly based on later findings. Overthinking is never the answer.
Become a Bold Storyteller
Marketers have always known the value of storytelling, whether it’s creating a moving ad campaign or mapping out buyer personas that highlight customer needs and pain points.
Just because the world has gone digital, this doesn’t mean the art of storytelling should be forgotten. In fact, this is a great way for smaller brands to make a compelling mark online and attract people to their message and mission.
“In advertising or marketing of any kind, creating a detailed story serves two important end games,” Jordan Dwayne, CEO and Founder of 6ixIce. “It not only describes your product or service to perfection but, with strategically placed keywords, it can also help your content rank so that more potential consumers can become a part of your audience. That definitely creates a win-win scenario!”
As companies map out content marketing strategies, they must not overlook the power of a relatable story.
Provide Rock-Solid Service
The madness of 2020 is still present in the collective conscious, meaning that many customers are hesitant to try new things when it comes to ecommerce. They want to rest assured that their money is going to a good place, in return for a great product with excellent service.
“To reach customer success, it will be important to market your company as one that will provide outstanding customer service,” said Rachel Jones, Head of PR at Hope Health Supply. “As is the promise of 2021, customers will need to know they can depend on your business to offer products and services that will not only fill their needs and expectations but surpass them. Consumers will be seeking safety in all aspects of their life, so allow them to feel safe about their purchases as well.”
Can companies compete with big-box brands on the frontier of customer service? As the numbers have shown so far, smaller operations may have a surprising advantage when it comes to keeping customers satisfied.
Look for High-ROI Solutions
Businesses with massive marketing budgets may be feeling the “kid in a candy shop” sensation at this point, considering the enormous variety of marketing tech and resources available at the moment.
Executives need to keep in mind, however, that every tech suite and service has a price tag, and they’re only useful if they end up delivering more value than they cost.
Tracking ROI will be one of the next great challenges for marketing departments big and small.
“We think SEO can be the best long-term marketing channel for a business if done well,” said Grant Hosking, Co-Founder of Total Hydration. “Traditional paid media sources have done as well for us as well as leveraging Amazon as a distribution channel.”
Customer Loyalty is King
Who said that customer loyalty is long gone? There might be something to be said about the paradox of choice in the digital age, but generally speaking, people want to stick with brands they know and love.
Of course, companies have their work cut out for them when employing tactics and programs to boost customer loyalty. When times get tough (see 2020) they will need to draw on that good will and do whatever they can to drum up business from loyal followers.
“Marketing to existing customers with the goal of retaining and expanding their support has helped us a lot especially after the pandemic slowed down any significant new business,” said Rishi Kulkarni, Co-Founder & CEO of Revv. “Our operations and marketing teams look into data and find customers who we could expand, customers who we could retain, and customers who we could offer free trials for a limited time. This significantly cut our costs on lead generation in times when there were none.”
Segmenting audiences and email lists for unique messaging and offers will be critical to marketing success in the future. The more targeted and time-appropriate, the better.
Capitalize on Social Proof
Even if a company is brand new on the scene, marketers will still need to figure out ways to leverage social proof and make connections with other key players in their space.
This might mean teaming up with publications, social media communities, or influencers that may not have huge followings. The important part is to get started and gain some momentum.
“My partner and I have 40 years of entertainment in our background,” said Artie Baxter, CEO of Paperclip. “We depend a lot on celebrity influence and try our best to leverage our relationships. In addition, we also feel that live experience is a great strategy to gain more supporters. We’ve found that when customers view the products in person and feel the products in person, they are able to see the complexity of the design features more.”
So many brands have started from nothing and catapulted over the competition fast. As long as the products and messaging are focused, any peripheral buzz can only help.
Create a Tactile Experience
It’s easier said than done in a digital world, but brands that can put products and samples in the customer’s hands have a tremendous advantage.
Scrolling up and down on a phone or monitor is fine – experiencing a product firsthand is something completely different and far more powerful. The challenge here, of course, is figuring out a cost-effective way to accomplish this feat.
Now that real-life interaction is making a comeback, it will be fun to watch how brands bridge the gap between digital realms and reality.
“Thus far, the marketing strategy that’s worked best for us is simply any strategy that gets our product in front of potential consumers where they can see Smile for themselves and try our products firsthand,” said Tyler Giroud, VP of Operations at Reason to Smile. “It’s one thing to see beautiful images online, but nothing can compare to holding our product in your hands and the experience we’re creating around our line of CBD. From there, word of mouth and naturally occurring positive feedback has been able to generate enough buzz around Smile for us to really begin scaling the company and developing new products.”
Sharpen Your Unique Edge
Gone are the days when companies could be shapeless, faceless, and operate from the shadows.
Today’s audiences want to know way more about the brands they buy from, and this gives marketers a golden opportunity to shine the spotlight on their own companies.
Social media and content marketing are perfect environments to share stories and connect with audiences on a personal level. The next generation of brands will be familiar, relatable, and transparent about how they do things.
“We’ve got an amazing story to tell,” said Eric Gist, CEO of Awesome OS. “Our story tells it all. At Awesome, we focus on culture and people. We are confident that what we do makes a difference in our people. One strategy we are currently executing is the redesign of our website. We also want to let it be known who we are and want everyone to get to know us individually. We use Facebook to tell our story from both business and recruiting aspects.”
Find a Winning Niche
Every brand has a reliable following from a certain segment of its audience. While there’s no harm in trying to branch out and connect with different people, there’s plenty of value in playing to one’s strengths and maximizing impact in a particular area.
The focus is digital-heavy right now, but many brands are turning back the clock as well, looking to make a real-life impression on people and create memorable live experiences.
“Marketing to college students is very important because campuses have a wide variety of people,” said Louis Leidenfrost, CEO of Paint Your Numbers. “If you’re looking for diversity and inclusivity, college is the way to go. One way to market to college students is attending fairs or any events they have, and setting up a booth. Having a speaker to talk and market to the students is a great way to gain a college audience.”
Recent events might have put a damper on in-person gatherings, but there will hopefully be plenty of room for these marketing efforts in the future.
Showcase Satisfied Customers
Marketers can talk all day long about how great their products and services, but sometimes audiences want to hear what real customers have to say for themselves!
Reviews and testimonials are so powerful in the current marketplace, so brands need to learn to make the most of any positive feedback they receive.
“We’re a digital marketing agency. When we zoom out, we find that it’s simple website optimization, improving content, and being responsive about social media that speaks to what we do best,” said Jonathan Snow, COO and Co-Founder of The Snow Agency. “We have a target persona in mind and provide an emotional incentive to choose us among all our competitors with solid evidence-based content of our client success. Their success is our best marketing tool.”
Keep in mind that this style of content should be used intentionally and for specific purposes. There still needs to be a balance with informative, educational content to keep things balanced.
Stay Current and Topical
There is no shortage of current events and social movements for brands to engage with, and marketers have had reasonable success with these strategies in the past few years.
The downside, of course, is failing to connect with certain audience segments or missing out on opportunities to do the right thing.
Marketers need to tread carefully and make sure their involvement with current events is appropriate and relevant to their mission.
“As a law firm and advocate for Veterans we tend to keep an eye on the news and watch for opportunities to be interviewed and respond to what’s topical,” said John Berry, CEO of Berry Law. “This gives us exposure, credibility, and evergreen links that help grow our SEO. As an outgrowth of being quoted or interviewed, we tend to get more opportunities to be mentioned in other places. So it’s a positive growth pattern that’s effective and relatively easy.”
Reward Your Favorite Followers
It’s human nature to want to feel unique, but at the same time not be singled out in a negative way. Brands must strike this balance by encouraging certain followers to express themselves in online communities and get involved, provided they earn rewards.
This is connected to the user-generated content trend gaining traction and signals a big shift in the way content will be produced in years to come. We’re already seeing ambassador programs and user-centric campaigns – what’s next? It all starts with a clear and close connection.
“At Mother Dirt we have an innovative solution to skincare involving the science of healthy bacteria,” said Ashley Troutman, Senior Director of Brand Management at Mother Dirt. “It’s a unique approach to skincare will work better if we foster deep connections to our buyers. For us, text message marketing campaigns help us stay close to our customers by offering mobile discounts and special offers. We follow-up after purchase and invite them to find us on social media and become a part of our community to see how others are transforming their skincare routines. Our community builds loyalty, valuable insights, and organic referrals.”
Marketing is in a unique spot right now, with roots in the past and an eye toward the future. Watch these trends take hold in the years to come and see which brands come out on top.