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Relationship Marketing 107: To Infinity and Beyond

What’s in this article:

  • The 7th installment of PostFunnel’s Relationship Marketing series
  • How to prepare for consumer relationships as the future of marketing is here

It’s been a long journey for relationship marketing. From the earliest days of personal branding centuries ago to the modern-day struggle to keep up with countless advertising channels, the marketing industry has always been in a state of constant evolution. Yet one thing has remained the same: the importance of forging lasting relationships with consumers.

So, what does the future hold for marketers and consumers? Right now, things are once again in flux. New legislation and privacy policies are changing the way advertisers collect data and target ads, while a global pandemic has permanently impacted the way brands and fans interact. In other words, prepare for consumer relationships to be tested in new ways, because the future of marketing is here.

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The battle for consumer privacy heats up

In June 2020, Apple hosted its annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference, albeit in digital format courtesy of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It was here that the tech giant issued the shot heard ‘round the world: starting with the release of iOS 14, iPhone users would be able to opt-out of app tracking if they desired to do so. The privacy update, which Apple delayed until April 2021, essentially crippled the Identification for Advertisers (IDFA) and made it easier for users to see which apps were tracking them.

iPhone owners viewed this as a massive victory for consumer privacy. Advertisers, however, weren’t quite so enthusiastic. Facebook has been particularly critical of Apple’s privacy changes since its lucrative Facebook Audience Network ad service was built on the personalized information that the IDFA collects. Regardless of how Mark Zuckerberg feels, these changes are here to stay.

Apple isn’t the only company challenging long-held notions about consumers’ right to data privacy; Google recently announced that it would be doing away with cookies in its Chrome browsers starting in 2022. Meanwhile, legislation like the California Consumer Privacy Act is changing privacy policies at the legal level. Sorry, Zuck — fighting this wave of change is futile.

Marketers need to develop new strategies for reaching their intended audience, such as taking advantage of SKADnetwork on Apple devices. This also means customer loyalty is more important than ever, as brands will need to rely heavily on repeat purchases, positive reviews, and word-of-mouth recommendations to create buzz and reach new audiences.

The pandemic effect lives on

For better or worse, 2020 was a memorable year. There were plenty of newsworthy and history-shaping events throughout 2020, but most people will probably remember it as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of the coronavirus spread were unprecedented in modern times. Schools and offices transitioned to remote operations, patient numbers pushed medical institutions to their limits, and face masks became an essential accessory.

Naturally, the pandemic also impacted the way brands connect with consumers. A “new normal” of quarantine marketing emerged within a few months, prioritizing transparency, digital experiences, and — you guessed it — customer relationships. Fast forward to May 2021, and there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel; over 100 million Americans are fully vaccinated, leading the CDC to loosen its mask guidelines.

Even as the world prepares for yet another new normal, marketers can’t ignore how the coronavirus pandemic has permanently impacted consumer perceptions. According to the Harvard Business Review, “When the coronavirus hit, digital transformation accelerated overnight. This, in turn, sent consumer expectations skyrocketing in terms of what companies could do for them with a more digital experience.” Those expectations aren’t returning to pre-pandemic levels, and marketers shouldn’t expect them to.

According to Rob Davis, President & CMO of Novus Next, “Two growing marketer needs that were accelerated by the pandemic will extend into 2021: flexibility and customization.” In the same Forbes interview, Publicis Media Americas CEO Tim Jones echoed this sentiment: “In order for brands to succeed in a platform world, they must be digitally-resilient, have identity systems to provide personalization at scale, and have the infrastructure set up to deliver relevant and meaningful experiences.”

In a post-COVID marketing landscape, knowing your customer goes beyond simply anticipating which products they might purchase. Marketers also need to understand consumers’ motivations for buying in the first place. Many consumers have made significant investments in their home life and comfort over the past year. They may want to continue to focus on home improvement in the immediate future.

Vaccination rates by area will play a large part in economic recovery and discretionary spending, so geographical targeting is a must. Naturally, after an event like this, some consumers are more focused on their loved one’s health, and that concern guides their purchasing motivations. While we’d all love to leave the pandemic in the past, there’s no denying that its effects on consumers will live on.

Coming full circle

Ever since the massive adoption of the consumer internet in the 1990s, brands have shifted their marketing efforts from traditional channels — billboards, television, and other non-internet-connected mediums — to digital. In the 2000s and 2010s, digital marketing accelerated even further, thanks to the advent of Wi-Fi and smartphones. These days, consumers are bombarded with paid and organic advertising almost everywhere they turn, including social media, streaming services, smart devices, mobile apps, and so on.

That said, there’s still a place for out-of-home (OOH) marketing — especially as the pandemic wanes and consumers feel comfortable leaving their homes. However, don’t expect a return to static, repeated messaging that previous generations expected. According to a Linchpin report on 2021 trends in OOH advertising, “Today’s consumers are much smarter and well informed than they were 30 years ago; therefore, merely repeating a message to the average individual is not a viable strategy for return on investment.”

Instead, expect outdoor advertising to go digital. Digital billboards aren’t new, but they’ve proven to be an effective way to communicate, with this subset of the industry growing to $41.06 billion in 2020. Unlike traditional billboards, switching up the messaging to avoid being tuned out is quicker, simpler, and more cost-effective with a digital format. There are also more mediums for these digital ads: airports, public transportation, waiting areas in various offices, and just about any other place where internet-connected screens are on display.

Like OOH advertising, television ads are here to stay — with some modern upgrades. The rise of smart TVs with built-in internet capabilities and connected devices like Roku have allowed marketers to make television advertising more targeted, relevant, and up to date. This approach is known as “Connected TV” in the marketing industry, a blanket term that refers to in-stream ads, pre-roll ads, and home screen ads.

Going back to that Forbes interview, VideoAmp’s SVP of Marketing Esther Maguire said, “It’s important to reach people when they’re most receptive to consuming ads, that’s why Connected TV will remain as a powerful medium for connecting the dots between awareness and attribution in 2021.” As Maguire puts it, Connected TV ads allow marketers to connect with the right audience at the right time, becoming more of a challenge in a marketing landscape with heightened consumer privacy concerns. Additionally, Connected TV allows marketers to be more flexible, responding quickly to metrics and adapting as necessary.

Where does that leave non-digital formats like print ads? Oh, they’re still around, of course, but even they’re not immune to the marketing trends driven by emerging formats. In 2021, even print ads are personalized and targeted, with advertisers exploring different creative strategies to grab consumers’ attention.

The future is personal

Expectations are changing, and technology is evolving at breakneck speeds. As marketers struggle to stay ahead of these changes, their relationships with consumers will be what offers a lifeline. Modern consumers may not always know what they want, but they know what they don’t like: pushy, intrusive, and irrelevant ads. Instead, they want to feel like their favorite brands understand them. Like all of us, they want to feel seen and heard. They want a genuine connection.

That’s always been the story of relationship marketing — it’s all about those connections between brand and consumer. The difference is that the future marketing landscape requires far more nuance and flexibility than in years past. Ongoing privacy changes and legislation might make personalization more difficult, but it just means advertisers need to find creative new ways to reach their intended audience without breaching consumers’ trust. For marketers willing to invest in those critical consumer relationships, the future looks bright.

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