The Covid-19 pandemic has profoundly changed the way marketing works. It has forced businesses and marketers to work in the face of uncertainty and constant change.
A year later and some businesses are still struggling to adapt to the new normal - with lockdowns coming on and off.
As a business owner, how do you deal with the changes? What does marketing look like in 2021? What do you have to do to retain your customers?
We speak to marketing expert Amelia Lim to address these questions.
Amelia has 20 years of experience in the field of marketing, communication and CRM (customer relationship management) work. She had worked in various industries and specialises in building sustainable social media followers organically.
1) Amelia, thank you for joining us again. It's 2021 and many countries, including Malaysia, are still in lockdown. People are still restricted from going out, dining out, and etc.
What does this mean for marketers - going into Q3 & Q4 of 2021?
I think there should be more emphasis on going digital. Marketing strategies cannot rely on traditional ways. Let me give you a few examples.
First, utilise social media channels to communicate your offering.
Having a simple website and then linking it to your social media channels would give end-users more confidence in knowing that this is a legitimate business.
If you have products to sell, setup a simple e-commerce website, there are plenty to choose from the internet. You would need to do research to find out what works best for your business.
Examples include shopify.com, wix.com, volusion.com and bigcartel.com are suited for solopreneurs, micro-entrepreneurs, or small businesses.
You can even setup e-commerce links within the social media channels, the likes of Facebook and Instagram have these easily available. Your customers and followers need not leave the social media ecosystem for any purchases.
Next, make use of the 'live' functions.
Utilise the social media “live” sessions or virtual events to engage with the target audience.
Of course, in the beginning you will need to build your network/base as businesses would be new at hosting such events, but if done correctly, you will be able to garner enough traffic to host a larger scale virtual event.
Amongst your family and friends, there will be some who are more outspoken and willing to be the face of your “live” sessions. Get them to help. The hosts need not be Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) or influencers. They can be micro-influencers or everyday Joes/Janes.
Look into organising virtual events.
I have participated in several large-scale events in Q4 2020, and I expect more to come in 2021 considering many countries are still restricting visitors. Even within Malaysia itself there are still the inter-district and interstate travel restrictions. So, think creatively in what and how you can market and publicise your products and services.
Tour companies have also jumped on the bandwagon of virtual tours/events. On Facebook, there are a few virtual tours like ‘A Virtual Tour of Gaudi’s Barcelona’. For those who are travel-deprived, this can ease the pain.
Education institutions have also taken to conducting virtual open days, examples include The British International School Kuala Lumpur and Sri KDU International Schools, especially in the current climate where physical distancing is needed to be maintained as part of the standard protocol.
2) What are some important things that businesses should be doing in 2021?
Brands should have started to personalise in their engagement with their audience.
This new normal does not ease it at all, but rather it will amplify the need to personalise and seed out offers and posts that resonate with the customers’ preference.
Customer Relationship Management is something brands need to take note of. In the past, retailers had floor staff/floor walkers/sales personnel to attend to their customers.
“With the growth in digital data, businesses would need to adapt and find ways to engage with their loyal customers.”
It is not enough to just recommend products or services to your customers, but also have after-sales service to ensure that those customers become returning customers.
You want to maintain a human connection with your customers. Human connection is not about personalisation alone, it is about letting your customers know that you are in this journey together, that you are creating memories together, be it good times or bad.
"But how?", one would ask. Try email marketing.
But you would need to pace out your correspondence with them. Try a few topics if you do not have the advanced AI tool to help you. Look at the analytics to work out the types of topics that work with certain groups of customers.
3) Speaking of personalisation, what are some ways that brands can take personalisation to the next level?
Look at ways to intimate your offering. Cater to a more localised group of customers.
Instead of using influencers, try micro-influencers or everyday Joes and Janes to communicate with their fans and followers. These everyday Joes and Janes would have some group of people they reach out to/connect with, and they would be able to speak in these groups’ language.
Instead of being product-centric in the post content, have a more lifestyle angle that is not hard sell, not “shoving the products in your face” type of posts. Monitor and research your competitors and improve from there.
What about customer service?
Have you invested in this, be it digitally or ensuring that calls that come in through your main line are attended to during office hours, especially during the period where everyone is encouraged to work from home?
If you have not, now would be a good time to do so, and set up the basic FAQs so that simple questions can be addressed by bots on your social media and your website.
Filter through the more complicated questions that require human interactions.
4) What are your predictions for marketers in 2021? What should they be doing differently?
Video content is the way forward if you are not already doing this. By video, I do not mean the high-resolution type, but rather the easy use of a smartphone and then upload - or do live - on Facebook or Instagram stories and even TikTok - the new video channel that has overtaken YouTube in terms of Gen Z’s video consumption.
On average, the attention span of this group is merely 8-seconds. So, creative ideas are definitely needed to best communicate your brand proposition, product values and call-to-action in a short and snappy way. You can experiment and move forward with what works best for your audience.
When you plan your events, do not think of what was done in the past but think ahead on how it can and should be done on a digital level. You would want to think about having more engaging sessions to avoid the “Zoom fatigue” that everyone is experiencing.
Also, after the events, you need to think about how you want to continue the conversation with the audience. This is important to have continuity since they took the time to attend your event.
Follow up with your audience after the events.
Think about whether you want to set up a WhatsApp/Telegram (or whatever channel works with your group) for this conversation; or would it be on social media like a closed Facebook group.
The basics of marketing still have not changed. What has changed is the method this is delivered.
When you follow up with your customers, be it in group chats or mass-email blasts, you need to customise customer communication and experiences based on their preferences and interests (which you can obtain from the analytics).
You would need to look at various touch points for your potential customers, because the digital world is vast!