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While the last year will always be remembered as a moment of great change, Charlotte Smith, associate director for marketing and communications in Asia Pacific at Tag, says the pandemic acted as a cover for many transformations that were already underway.

There isn’t fundamentally anything new in what marketers are doing but the context in which we are doing it has evolved.

The proof is in the consumer journey – consumers continue to oscillate between channels, and it is still a marketer’s job to minimize the friction and optimize the ease in which they can do this. It’s the emphasis, rather than the strategies, that require change.

Take digital. It has always been an important part of the marketing mix, but brands that were quick to adapt and hasten the pace of their digital evolution in response to Covid-19 gained a competitive advantage. We saw the rise of purpose-led brand marketing, with consumers making decisions based on what a brand stands up for and how they stood out by doing it. Yet enduring brands have always been anchored by purpose. Yes, there has been change, but it hasn’t been the sweeping industry-wide transformation that many in marketing many would have you believe. 

In 2020, brands able to meet new demands won. Look at DHL, still a logistics business – but in 2020 it connected families and friends who couldn’t physically be together. Amazon still sold products online – but in 2020 they provided safety and security to customers unwilling or unable to visit a physical shop. YouTube was still a social media platform – but in 2020 they provided home-bound consumers a means of exercise and entertainment.

None of these brands changed what they did. Instead they reframed the value of their services and products to fit the evolving needs of their customers, standing up for something bigger than what they sell. They focused on human-centric marketing, utilizing their assets across channels to achieve maximum impact, building deeper consumer connections in a time when the distance between us has never been felt more. These weren’t big changes, but necessary small changes with big impact. This tactic not only yielded short-term results in difficult times, but also opened the pathway to future growth. 

What 2020 has done is force us to not only reexamine what we are doing, but to actually act. All of the ideas that we’ve always had about how we could do, or what would be better for our customers, have been forced into action. Many unmet customer needs have become more apparent, providing new opportunities for brands to effectively reach and engage at different stages of the buying journey.

As we start the new year, we are moving away from survival-orientated actions. The focus should shift to small and sustainable changes that can help create momentum rather than ushering in big change that is going to reinvent how we do things. We all know that keeping a customer costs less than gaining a customer, but keeping a customer will become impossible unless we truly listen to what they want – and evolve alongside them. 

Past behavior can be a useful teacher, but it can also be a deceptive guide to the future. With our environment now in a constant state of flux, we need to be making smarter, more agile decisions. By marrying point-in-time data to customer feedback and an understanding of fast-changing macro-environmental forces, we can gain an honest and holistic view of where we are, where we need to be, and how we get there. 

Change doesn’t have to be revolutionary, it does take time and resource, but isn’t necessarily the giant task and risk we sometimes think it is. As we settle into the new year armed with our new confidence in doing, we must build on the momentum, appetite and ability our organizations have for change.

Charlotte Smith is the associate director for marketing and communications in Asia Pacific at Tag.