Marketing Data in 2021: The New Pandemic-Era Best Practices

By Kyle Henderick, Sr. Account Director, Data Axle

Going into 2021, every business is operating in a new reality—one that’s rife with pandemic-related uncertainty and not likely to gain any semblance of normalcy soon. Even as COVID-19 vaccines enter their final stages of approval, we’re still looking at many months, if not years, of continued social distancing, mask-wearing and potential business operation disruptions.

Companies across industries might be prone to disruption in the coming year, but the wheels will keep turning. Whether they’re headed in the right direction or not will have everything to do with whether companies and their marketing organizations properly leverage what they know about their customers to keep pace and stay connected with them throughout this turbulent time. Let’s take a look at the macro trends in 2021 that will influence how businesses and their marketing organizations manage and activate their data resources.

Consumer Privacy and Data Protection

Even though it might feel like much of the world is standing still right now, that’s certainly not the case in the ever-evolving world of consumer privacy. Coming out of the 2020s charged political environment, we find that consumer data protection is as the top of mind as ever among regulators and tech giants. For example, in California, hotly contested Prop 24 was narrowly approved by voters, bringing more teeth to the already-formidable California Consumer Privacy Act. Notably, the proposition gives Californians the right to prohibit sharing of their data, versus just prohibiting its sale.

Prop 24—as with CCPA and GDPR before it—is another wave in the larger tide of consumer data privacy. As businesses reassess their data assets and build their 2021 strategies, they must do so with good data stewardship in mind, which includes prioritizing proper management of their first-party assets and ensuring all third-party data providers are working in alignment with them toward a privacy-first future.

Agility as Table Stakes

As marketers, we’re already talking about the brands that demonstrated the most agility in response to the pandemic—alcohol companies that started producing hand sanitizer, restaurants that pivoted to curbside pickup, clothing brands that rolled out face mask lines and so forth. But the time for pivoting isn’t over. It’s ongoing—and will remain so. Organizations must build agility into their foundations, and that means structuring and employing data in a way that lets companies and their marketers look at their customers in new ways and easily layer on additional attributes when they become relevant.

Strategic partnerships are key to helping organizations increase their agility, and those partnerships are going to look different in 2021 and beyond, as will the partners themselves. Consider Reef Technology, a company that is transforming underused real estate (e.g., parking spots) into distribution hubs and helping companies across industries solve a lot of their “last mile” logistical challenges. In a world where ecommerce is simply the new commerce—and delivery services are becoming table stakes—these are the types of future-focused partnerships that can be activated, provided companies can evaluate and understand customer needs in an actionable, geographically specific way.

Building Brand Connections and Trust Through Goodwill

Amid the pandemic rush to adapt to shifting consumer needs and improve agility for the future, marketers and their organizations are also being asked to do a lot of soul-searching. As recent research has underscored, people are increasingly looking for the brands that they support to stand for something more than their bottom lines. In fact, consumers are up to six times more likely to purchase from and champion brands that are purpose-driven. That means that in addition to understanding who a brand’s customers is from a demographic perspective, companies much also know them on a values-driven level. What motivates them? What causes do they support? And how do they expect the brands they buy to reflect and respond to the issues they consider dear?

Delivering on consumers’ desire to support purpose-driven brands requires an integrated product development and marketing approach. When it comes to issues like environmental sustainability—which six in 10 consumers say is an issue that directly influences their shopping choices—a company needs to reflect this value in their products and services and translate that value into their marketing messages. However, purpose goes deeper than that, particularly as it relates to a company’s employee policies and community involvement. Companies must align their internal programs with their external-facing missions and craft targeted messaging that grants transparency to the consumers who are most likely to care.

Creating Connections Through Experiences

Finally, let’s talk about experiential marketing. Gone are the festivals, tastings, pop-ups and special events that had become so en vogue thanks to brands’ ability to publicize and drive interest in such experiences in a fast, targeted fashion. But that’s doesn’t mean the importance of experiences is diminished. They simply need to be reenvisioned for an at-home world.

Again, marketers need to tap into data and consumer insights when deciding which experiences are most likely to resonate with their customers in the current social climate. Video viewing on platforms like YouTube and video conferencing activity is surging in the pandemic, and therein lies an opportunity for brands. For some, this might manifest as interactive video experiences that enable customers to explore, engage with and manipulate their products. For others, it might be online social experiences, like virtual giveaways and product demo mixers. For some luxury brands, it might be one-on-one sales consultations via Zoom. Again, here is where being able to track your customer’s real-time preferences and needs become key to crafting the right experience.

Going into 2021, brands need to prioritize their data strategies and cleanliness initiatives in a way that enables them to not only understand who their audiences are but also how to segment, target and personalize communications to them. After all, disruption to business in the pandemic might be inevitable. But the disruption to a brand’s customer relationships doesn’t have to be.