Your customers are changing fast. But can your marketing operations keep up with them? 

I’ve always said that savvy marketers reach customers because they truly understand who they are, what they want and how they behave. But the step change of 2020 has made this more difficult than ever.

The pandemic hit the fast forward button on already changing customer expectations and behaviors. There’s no hitting rewind. Customers are no longer predictable. They are shapeshifters, changing fast. This has serious implications for how marketing organizations must operate. And it adds to the pressure that marketing leaders face to manage today’s complexity while driving tomorrow’s growth.

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The speed of customer change is outpacing marketers’ ability to respond or adapt to it.  

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Goodbye old friend, hello stranger

When it comes to customer change, we all know that digital has been a force to be reckoned with for two decades. But 2020 was a watershed year for digital migration with global e-commerce sales growing by 27.6%. 1 With stores closed, communities in lockdown, and health and safety at stake, we all turned to digital channels to meet even basic needs. Many of us tried digital for the first time for some product categories. Eighty percent of people who used more digital channels during the crisis say they will continue doing so in the future.2 

The massive migration to digital channels catapulted customer expectations for speed, convenience and personalization several years into the future in just months. With the digital Pandora’s box wide open and e-commerce expected to increase even as we return to stores, marketers will be dealing with the fallout for years. It will have a ripple effect on how we segment, who we target, the journey to adoption and more. 

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63% of consumers say that they changed the types of brands they buy during the pandemic. National and local brands are benefitting from the decline in purchases of global brands.3

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As we inch toward life after the pandemic, I believe that customer change will continue to be fast and fluid. There is so much uncertainty swirling around which pandemic behaviors will fade, and which will stick. What will happen to consumption patterns that emerged as the home became the center of life?4 Which experiences like click and collect and online car buying will we prefer over the old ways of doing things? What’s the long-term impact of the brand choices we made during the crisis? With these questions so hard to answer, it’s no wonder that CMOs in a global survey ranked understanding pandemic-related behavior changes as their top challenge over the next six to 12 months.5

Chasing the speed of change  

 As I see it, keeping pace with the changing customer context in terms of efficiency, analytics, insights, and agility is putting enormous strain not just on CMOs, but on entire marketing organizations today.  

 It’s not that marketers haven’t gone to Herculean lengths to connect with customers during this time. I’ve been inspired by their creativity and innovation. UK bicycle company Brompton is one brand among many that comes to mind. The company’s “Go the Social Distance” campaign tapped into booming interest in biking as a socially distant way to exercise and get around without using public transportation. The brand also tapped into its enthusiastic cycling community to create content for new riders.6 

In another example, Hershey’s discovered a jump in chocolate bar sales in geographies with high incidences of COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic. It seems that people were spending a lot of time by the firepit enjoying s’mores during quarantine. By following virus progression, the chocolatier rethought its media strategy and creative imagery. Hershey’s reports that the early months of the pandemic were its biggest-ever season for s’mores.7 

 But I know how difficult this kind of data-informed, fast-twitch campaign development is, especially in marketing organizations that are not set up to be adaptive. Unfortunately, many marketers find themselves in exactly this situation. Their marketing organizations are designed to serve predictable customers whose needs change incrementally. The reality is that customer change is happening faster than marketers can respond or adapt to it, and they need to catch up.  

Optimizing today. Shaping tomorrow.  The power of brilliant basics 

How can marketing executives rewire their organizations to meet the speed of customer change? By redesigning the basics of marketing operations. Done right, this creates a springboard for marketing transformation with brand purpose at the core. When I think about marketing basics today, I consider the following:

  • Talent. Orchestrating the right internal teams and external partners to work in efficient, effective and cohesive ways.
  • Structure. Building a flexible operating model that supports the agility and speed required to keep pace with change.
  • Process. Codifying and connecting ways of working that strike the right balance between standardization and agility.
  • Technology. Using enabling technologies to improve efficiency and deliver quality outcomes at speed and scale.
  • Insights. Fueling the marketing engine with data and predictive insights to anticipate customer needs and elevate experiences.

By industrializing these “brilliant basics,” marketers can unlock financial and human resources to improve marketing performance overall and deliver next-level brand experiences in a much more sustainable way. With marketing operations a well-oiled machine, marketing leaders can dedicate their investments and their team’s mindshare to bringing the brand purpose to life, fostering creativity, and sparking engagement and innovation. 

 Marketers will need these things more than ever. Amid all of the uncertainty of this period, marketers can be certain of this: Reopening will not be a return to 2019. The customers they used to know will not exist as they once were. The terms of engagement will be continually rewritten  and experience expectations will evolve at pace, and in unexpected ways.  

 Marketing organizations that unlock their own flexibility with brilliant basics can keep up with this new customer context. They can get the agility that digital-native competitors are born with. And marketing executives can meet a pressing mandate: optimizing performance while driving growth. This is not about doing everything in marketing faster. It’s about doing things better by fundamentally rethinking the basics.  

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References 

1 eMarketer, “Worldwide Ecommerce will Approach $5 Trillion This Year,” January 14, 2021 at https://www.emarketer.com/content/worldwide-ecommerce-will-approach-5-trillion-this-year 

2 Accenture, “Accenture Retail COVID-19 Consumer Research,” August 2020 at https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insights/retail/coronavirus-consumer-habit 

3 Accenture Research, “Closer to Home: Targeting the New Epicenters of Consumption,” March 2021 

 4 Ibid 

5 Dentsu, “Into the Unknown: CMO Survey 2020,” at https://assets-eu-01.kc-usercontent.com/44bc0180-e274-014f-6b99-e5fc8ab7f759/2a57586f-3fbd-484b-8bc1-2ab431476bd8/CMO%20survey%202020.pdf 

6 Nicole Ortiz, “These 3 Brands Adjusted Their Campaigns to Capitalize on the Bike Boom,” July 10, 2020 at https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/these-3-brands-adjusted-their-campaigns-to-capitalize-on-the-bike-boom/ 

7 Jelisa Castrodale, “Hershey’s Found a Surprising Connection Between the Pandemic and...S’mores?,” February 5, 2021 at https://www.foodandwine.com/news/hersheys-smores-covid-cases-correlation 

Nevine El-Warraky

Managing Director – Interactive, Marketing Advisory

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