To say 2020 was a dynamic year would be to underplay the huge impact COVID-19 has had on everything from our private lives to the way we do our jobs. Businesses large and small have had to make sudden shifts to respond to changing customer needs — and many are sticking to that agile approach as they get ready for 2021.
Reflecting on the conversations we’ve had with local brands and agencies this year, here are five lessons from the pandemic marketers from the Nordics and Benelux regions will hold onto in the future.
Now is the time for accelerated digital transformation
Buying chocolate can be so personal and emotive that our customers often find the packaging as important as the product itself. For this reason, we’ve always prioritised the in-store customer experience. Fortunately, we had started to invest in digital through our teams, partnerships, and systems before the pandemic hit. When Belgium’s lockdown measures started just weeks before Easter, we were ready to accelerate our digital growth.
E-commerce will continue to be key to our success. Yes, the pandemic changed customer behaviour, but it was moving in that direction anyway. COVID-19 propelled marketers several years into the future: without the necessity of change, it could have taken us a lot longer to get to the level of digital adoption we have reached now. But when it comes to digital transformation, there’s no time to waste.
Stay on top of audience behaviour
The pandemic has been a struggle for sure, but I’ve also learned so much from it. One of our hardest hit clients this year was a Norwegian travel company, who lost nearly their entire international market back in March. Forced to think creatively, we decided to look at search behaviour as well as audience targeting. Much to our surprise, we discovered that avid news readers were suddenly producing 1,000 e-commerce sales per month. At the lowest cost per acquisition I’ve ever seen.
Through this, I learned that conversions can come from anywhere. What people search is important, but being on top of who searches it, and how this changes over time, can really help marketers make smarter decisions. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen next year, but paying closer attention to audiences is a lesson we at Sempro will definitely take forward.
Automation is the key to success
In the last year, we managed to increase the global conversion value of our search advertising by 30% through automated bidding. It showed us that automation is key to success, but it also prompted questions around the use of first-party data. How much personalisation is too much? We thought about the importance of privacy a lot and we’ll continue to address it in the new year.
With the growing importance of automation, the role of SEA marketers will also change. Other than just collecting data, we’ll need to spend significant time on ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’, that is, identifying which data points are valuable and which ones are not. The higher the data quality, the better we can optimise our campaigns. If we get that right, we’ll be able to handle whatever challenge the future throws at us.
Try something new, even if it fails
Many businesses may have been tempted to respond to COVID-19 by playing things safe or doing what they’ve always done. At Qred, we took a different approach. When it comes to digital marketing, we firmly believe in trying new things. If you don’t, you’re going to fall behind.
This year more than ever has shown how important it is to be flexible. If a new idea that sounds implausible is presented to us, we're not going to shoot it down if there's at least some potential in it. We have to be willing to try it out. If it doesn’t work, fine. If it does, great — start from there and build around it.
Use data for branding as well as activation
The pandemic revealed just how crucial it is to collect and activate first-party data. When lockdown started we saw product demand grow steeply as people spent more time at home, but local carriers couldn’t handle the rise in parcels accordingly. First-party data enabled us to pivot and focus our paid search campaigns on product groups and customer types with a high margin profile, allowing us to get the most out of sales.
But that is only the beginning of how we should use our data. There is much more we want to do with it to improve and personalise customer journeys across our different branding channels. Reaching them where they are, with bespoke messages, will allow us to build an even better connection with our customers.