5 digital marketing predictions for a post-pandemic economic recovery

Carolyn Scott, Miguel Avalos / September 2020

COVID-19 has severely impacted businesses and the economy. Throughout the crisis many companies responded to accelerated digital adoption and changing consumer needs with short-term solutions. As the shift to digital is here to stay, now is the time to assess what this means for the remainder of this year — and into 2021. Digital tools have been a lifeline during lockdown and they will be a catalyst for the comeback. But what else will be key during this time? We have five predictions for this post-pandemic economic recovery to help you focus your strategic efforts and drive renewed growth for your business.

1. Digital transformation will be key to accelerate economic recovery and business growth

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With 2021 bringing no clear endpoint to uncertainty, businesses will need to shift their focus from short-term solutions to long-term digital transformation. Consumer behaviour is already predicted to have permanently shifted more in favour of online shopping, making customer journeys more virtual whilst consumer needs and interests evolve quickly.

Capturing this changing demand requires organisations to fundamentally rethink their business models; structuring for agility, upgrading technical capabilities, and prioritising data-driven decisions. Smarter automation and measurement can be especially useful tools to capture fluctuating demand and gain higher value from your marketing spend. Digitally mature companies can gain an edge in building long-term customer relationships by using first-party data strategies based on the transparent value exchange framework. By structuring teams to be alert and responsive to changing consumer needs, it can be possible to stay competitive in these dynamic times.

The global acceleration of digital adoption has only heightened the need for digital marketing maturity. Businesses that use this moment as a catalyst for digital marketing transformation, will not only be more agile in responding to markets today, but will have a more sustainable framework for the future.

2. Increased e-commerce adoption drives greater need for an evolution of multichannel

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With the world turned on its head, it’s easy to overlook the purpose and potential of the in-store experience in driving your recovery. Overcrowded, messy, and disorganised stores are typical pain points for offline shoppers. The pandemic poses the additional challenge of limited store visitors, long queues, and health risks. It has also fueled a rapid digitisation over the past few months, with offline transactions shifting to online.

However, there is more to the story. Shoppers are now navigating between channels more than ever before, combining offline and online interactions within single purchases, with the expectation of a seamless customer journey. This means that the physical shopping experience can and will remain crucial. The offline shopper has fundamental demands, they are driven by immediate need and the hands-on, physical experience.

The retailers of tomorrow will need to reimagine the in-store experience, creating a comfortable and safe environment, transforming physical stores into engaging multichannel showrooms that prioritise what customers value most. Deciding factors include flexible click-and-collect pick-up options as well as a variety of payment methods, such as contactless mobile payments, self checkouts, and paying online.1 The Grow My Store tool can help you assess your retail site based on these factors so you can provide what shoppers value the most.

3. Apps will be a bigger driver for growth, but the experience you offer matters

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Apps have become more present in our lives than ever before. They have allowed people to stay connected, healthy, and informed while being safe at home. In the beginning of 2020, time spent in apps grew 20%, as much of the world’s population was under some form of lockdown. As we work towards economic recovery, apps will allow businesses to improve service and customer satisfaction while maintaining social distancing and lowering cost by more accurately predicting sales through advance orders, for example.

Take a look at Starbucks. The coffee company has been able to open stores and maintain social distancing by utilising in-app ordering. Investing in their app allowed the chain to reduce in-store waiting time and alleviate lines at peak hours. They are even shifting physical locations to a model focused on ordering within the app, making it easier for customers to get their coffee with a smaller physical footprint. On top of enabling social distancing, app orders generally lead to 37% higher spend for retailers. Fintech apps also saw a huge surge during lockdown, as cash, ATMs, and branches usage dropped by 60%. This created an accelerated digital adoption in financial services, driving a 72% rise in use of FinTech apps.

Brands from across verticals can help consumers during the economic recovery by investing in their app presence. It’s important to do this strategically, rather than replicating an website experience, to add additional value for consumers. For example, by adding helpful functionalities such as remote check-in in hotels and rewards programmes. That way customers can interact with their favourite brands easily, often, and in new ways.

4. Cross-border shopping behaviours and the comeback of international trade

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Around half of international shoppers in EMEA haven't changed their cross-border purchasing behaviour since before the pandemic, despite disruptions to global logistics chains which have led to extended shipping times and growing unease.

However, new cross-border trends have emerged as a result of COVID-19. Research shows that 20-40% of people across Western Europe now buy their food and personal care products online more often than before the outbreak. And, with accelerated digital adoption, 12-25% of EMEA consumers purchase more frequently cross-border.

The reasons shoppers have increased their cross-border shopping include:

  • Spending more time browsing the web and discovering new products
  • The convenience of purchasing online vs in store during lockdown
  • Lack of availability of products locally and having access to a greater choice of prices and products online

International trade will play a key role in driving business acceleration in a post-pandemic world. With global trade anticipated to intensify in the next five years, we will see companies diversifying with new geographic strategies to capture this global demand and future proof their business. Businesses can prepare by looking into the best markets to move into using performance during the pandemic and the Market Finder tool as starting off points.

5. Consumer trends will be central to 2021 planning

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Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen an acceleration of changes in consumer behaviour. Many of these changes were not new - but already underway, and only exacerbated by the disruption of COVID-19. As we have shown throughout the crisis, we can observe these changes in how and what people search. Today more than ever before consumers:

  • Are driving businesses to innovate. Their increased appetite for digital solutions have uncovered new areas for innovation, including, searches for ‘virtual gym’ in Spain, which have increased by 1000% year-on-year.
  • Have a heightened need for live information. They search for businesses ‘near them’ and ‘open now’ and try to operate in the ever-changing environment by searching for specifics such as ‘can we go shopping together’ in France.
  • Have fluid expectations across product categories. They expect things that they used to pick up in-store to be delivered directly to their homes. New, niche searches have emerged, for example ‘afternoon tea delivery’ in the U.K..
  • Are driving the shape of demand with increasingly dynamic shifts in behaviour. In Germany, search interest for ‘online shopping’ has grown by 80% year-on-year — and shows continued growth as we move towards the economic recovery phase.

In order to prepare for the industry changes in the next 6-12 months, businesses must stay on top of these shifts in consumer behaviour; this will be critical to both recovery and growth. Moving forward it will be increasingly important for businesses to be:

  • Insights-led and understand consumer shifts
  • Agile and respond to these changing needs early and often
  • Data-driven to learn when to surface right information at the right time
  • Privacy first in this data-driven approach, to continue to build trust with their customers.

As marketers, we strive to always stay on top of consumer needs and deliver the most helpful experiences. It may be daunting to aspire to this now, especially after such a time of change, but following these four principles will allow you to work towards growth and recovery in 2021.

COVID-19 has accelerated digital adoption — the time to transform is now