The COVID pandemic has changed the way businesses sell and market their products and services to customers, and there is likely no return to the old normal.
Prior to the pandemic, enterprise marketing efforts were largely focused on in-person activities, such as conferences, exhibitions, trade shows and activations. Fast-forward eighteen months and the overwhelming majority of marketing activities now take place in the digital realm.
According to Dumisani Moyo, Marketing Director at SAP Africa, this raises some fundamental questions. “The role of marketing has changed forever, and marketers now have to get to grips with what the future holds. Will marketing activities remain digital, or will they evolve into a hybrid of digital and physical, especially as vaccination rates rise and the world returns to some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy? And what are the implications for the types of investments marketers and their organisations must make to win the hearts and minds of current and prospective customers?”
Moyo says marketers have valuable lessons to learn from the pandemic as they plan for 2022, and will need to focus on delivering high-impact marketing initiatives that can help their organisations grow faster.
“Marketers should focus their efforts on understanding the customer journey, using technology to fuel innovation within the marketing discipline, and stay close to customers and their data in order to provide frictionless omni-channel experiences across the customer value chain.”
Moyo points to three rules organisations need to follow to succeed in the post-pandemic era:
Rule #1 – (Really) understand customer journeys
Marketing’s primary role is to connect with customers at the right time and at a touch point where the customer’s purchasing decisions can be influenced the most. However, analysts have pointed out that the traditional marketing funnel does not capture all modern customer touch points, partly due to the emergence of empowered and informed customers and an abundance of choice thanks to digital channels.
“Marketers need to thoroughly understand the customer buying journey, and apply data-driven insights to understanding the complex and often non-linear buying processes that customers are likely to follow in their purchasing decisions,” says Moyo. “Empowered and informed customers are conducting online research prior to making purchasing decisions. Having an accessible and – in Africa especially – mobile-friendly online presence helps ensure customers have the most relevant information to inform their decision-making.”
In addition, marketers should align their resources and messaging to the customer touchpoints that offer the greatest impact on or influence over the customer’s buying decision.
Rule #2 – Use technology to drive innovation
Technology is essential to marketing success in the post-pandemic era. A recent CMO survey found that 43% of marketers are investing in technology to improve customer interactions, and 42% are investing in data integration to enable end-to-end customer tracking throughout the buying journey.
“This is an astonishing 71% year-on-year increase and illustrates marketers’ growing appetite for access to data-rich tools,” says Moyo. “Marketing technology solutions can help automate processes, integrate siloed customer data and enable marketers to utilize a broad suite of digital channels to drive sales both online and in-store.”
Despite major growth in the adoption of digital tools, some marketing solutions providers are predicting that the volume of digital marketing may decrease in the post-pandemic era. “Marketers are shifting their efforts to making campaigns more targeted and personalised, with technology enabling marketers to optimise their digital marketing efforts across customer touchpoints in online, mobile and in-store environments.”
Rule #3 – Stay close to your customers – and their data
Recent insights from the Harvard Business Review reveal that post-pandemic customers have high expectations of frictionless, anticipatory, relevant, and connected purchasing experiences across physical, online, and other platforms.
“To create such experiences, companies must ensure that the management and utilisation of customer data is at the heart of their marketing activities,” says Moyo. “This requires the use of intelligent tools that employ technologies such as predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning.”
Putting data at the heart of marketing enables organisations to create more relevant and tailored customer experiences. “By analysing customer data, marketers can create hybrid experiences that prioritise personalisation and convenience. For example, through the seamless integration of physical and online experiences that allows a customer to virtually try on make-up prior to purchase.”
Moyo believes that marketers will be focused on using intelligent technologies to better understand customer journeys for the immediate future. “Marketers and their organisations will continue to embrace technology, and apply data to create tailored and personalised experiences for customers in the post-pandemic era.”