5 Digital Marketing Lessons from the Year 2020

Eva Maria Schmidt
December 28, 2020

Digital marketers went into the year 2020 with major plans and expectations of how things were trending and where to allocate budgets and resources. Then the pandemic hit – and nothing was the same. Now, as this turbulent year finally comes to a close, the marketing industry is still reeling from constantly adapting to a new reality that is taking shape.

But then again, there is no such thing as bad experiences in life (and marketing). Only opportunities to learn and grow. And the year 2020 sure offered plenty.

Most visibly, while lockdown measures brought public life to a standstill, the response to COVID-19 pushed the entire marketing industry to get moving on digital transformation efforts at record speeds. According to recent surveys, 97% of marketing executives said the pandemic sped up digital transformation in their companies. As a result, the share of digital or digitally enabled products in company portfolios has accelerated by seven years(!).

With this in mind, we look back at 2020 not as a lost year, but as the source of five valuable digital marketing lessons:

1. Communication is everything!

In a year that rewarded flexibility and adaptive skills more than anything (see 3.), keeping consumers in the loop about the current status quo of their requests was a lifeline for businesses of all sizes. As supply chain shortages affected everything from toilet paper to refrigerators to webcams, maintaining direct communications was key to survival. Plus, with direct interactions canceled by lockdown measures – and industry conferences and events postponed – it was time to find digital replacements.

In the process, a previously niche teleconferencing company known as Zoom experienced 367% year-on-year growth as connecting on webcam became a verb like ‘Skype’ or ‘Google’ in the process. Even in isolation, small retailers found ways to announce new product deliveries on their Instagram stories and arrange for pick-up via direct messages. And as consumers stayed safe at home (also read our whitepaper on the new concept of home), mobile channels and social media filled the gaps created by social distancing measures and the best companies were always just a swipe away.

2. Customers expect seamless digital and real-world experiences

Digital customer experience (CX) was 2019’s main buzzword. But with experiences in the real world cancelled or severely impacted, digital CX became the focal point for consumers looking to navigate 2020’s new reality via their devices. Searches for ‘contactless’ experiences increased by seven times between late April and November, and companies stepped up their infrastructure to deliver seamless omnichannel experiences on a new level.

As consumers now oscillate between digital channels and touchpoints like curbside pickup in real life, they’re constantly updated via live pings on delivery status via email, text or push messages. Behind the scenes, AI technologies enable the speed and personalization needed to bridge that gap.

3. Measure, adjust, and repeat!

In an environment where change is, more than ever, the only constant, marketers need to remain nimble and flexible. Marketers were forced to burn their pre-pandemic calendars, so 2020 brought plenty of chances to flex those adaptive muscles. For instance, Amazon threw everyone a major curveball by moving Prime Day into the middle of October, only to generate 45% year-on-year increase with global sales estimated at $10.4 billion.

In terms of ripple effects, Prime Day jumpstarted holiday shopping weeks ahead of schedule and also helped transform Black Friday from a set day on the calendar into an extended sales season from here on out. The good news in all this change: Marketers don’t have to be flying blind but can rely on the digital tools to measure the effects of current campaigns for on-the-go analysis and optimization. By constantly monitoring what works best, revisiting personas, and shifting content strategies, winning marketers are able to adapt to unexpected events with swiftness (and actionable data).

4. Consumers demand relevant conversations based on trust

Before the pandemic, marketing could seem like one big shouting match looking to attract consumer attention in a sea of noise. But things became a lot more real – and quiet – during lockdown, as consumers shifted their values. Trust is now the major factor when it comes to buying a new brand for 53% of consumers and 46% report trusting most of the brands they buy or use.

Trust-based marketing can take many shapes and forms. In 2020, it led to a resurgence of members-only communications with real benefits, like newsletters informing opted-in customers as the first to know when an in-demand product finally became available. Beyond mere transactional exchanges, this year became the time to take a stand for social causes and get real about building communities – based on trust – around brands.

5. There’s no going back to the old ‘normal’

Looking ahead into 2021 – also make sure to read our brand-new feature story on marketing trends – one lesson is already clear: Even if widely available vaccines clear the path for public and business life to return, the year’s cultural shifts are far too severe for companies to pivot back to their old ways of marketing. And that’s okay, because many of the changes outlined here are actually improvements and efficiency gains when it comes to driving relevant customer experiences.

In a current survey, 63% of global companies expect changing customer needs and expectations to remain after the pandemic, while 54% predict increased customer demand for online purchasing or services to remain. At the same time, consumers will decide more carefully what to buy, who to trust, and who to communicate with moving forward after the crisis.

The common denominator behind all these lessons?

It’s that we need more efficient, more human use of digital technology to solve the challenges of this new reality. It’s a reality that rewards marketers for their creativity and flexible problem-solving. But also one that puts a premium on laser-focused customer data architecture, seamless omnichannel execution, and AI-powered personalization as the marketing technology must-haves for offering on-target CX in a constantly changing playing field.

Ready to explore more? Catch up on our new whitepaper, ‘Adaptive Marketing Techniques for Post-Pandemic Messaging’, for techniques to help you leverage real-time data, using the Selligent platform, to respond to customer expectations with authentic, personalized experiences across channels.