The world has changed dramatically over the past 12 months and businesses are under intense pressure to build growth. Amidst a chaotic news agenda and competitive corporate landscape, marketing is more critical than ever – to maintain brand profile, retain consumer loyalty and turbo-charge sales.
So why is it that marketing is still sometimes perceived as the ‘creative outpost’ of a company, and surplus to core business functions?
Despite the evident challenges of the pandemic, there has in fact never been a better opportunity for marketers across all sectors. After years of boardroom battles to prove their return on investment, it is time for marketers to claim their true status as rightful business partners.
Supercharging website-led conversion
Pre-pandemic, one of the historical challenges we had as marketers is the different teams across marketing, sales and operations have been driven by different goals. Business siloes were literal – and final. Marketers strove to raise brand awareness, the sales team focused on the rate of ultimate conversion, and operations teams managed all the key details that keep everything running at peak efficiency from start to finish.
Everyone was pulling in different directions at different paces and distracted from the overarching goal – that of serving the customer better than our competitors. But then came 2020, when the world finally took a huge leap forward into something it had been playing with for a while: mass digitisation. And yes, the pandemic may have hit the fast-forward button to really push us all there, but where we have ended up is – at least in my opinion – a productive place to be.
With the website now acting as more than just a shop window – indeed, it is the shop itself – consumers are expecting tailored support at every step of the online customer journey.
Because while the doors of bricks-and-mortar shops were firmly closed, the online worlds that sit behind brands expanded. And these virtual spaces, these brand websites, became more than an aesthetic front for products. They became the vital point of connection between marketers and the public – the main hub of conversion and sales growth.
And with this new laser focus on the one sales portal, business siloes rallied together, bringing their priorities and their goals into the same space to try and drive business success in unprecedented circumstances.
The role of marketing has become more essential to business survival than ever. The race to digitisation has well and truly begun, and those not moving forward will not survive.
Redefining customer experience in the online world
The pandemic has called for a step-change in the approach to the entire customer experience. An average customer, for example, only buys a new TV every seven years. It is a big deal, which is why they will usually discuss their queries with excellent customer advisers in an electronics shop or department store.
But with in-store footfall down 40% during lockdowns, brands are increasingly moving their expertise online to survive. Basic chat bots no longer suffice from a customer experience satisfaction standpoint and will end up damaging brand reputation. From 2021 onwards, we will see more brands offer video chats directly between customer and product experts, combining human and digital elements to boost conversion.
With the website now acting as more than just a shop window – indeed, it is the shop itself – consumers are expecting tailored support at every step of the online customer journey. In the pre-Covid era, shop assistants and customer service teams at department stores would organise smooth home delivery. Now, though, the pandemic has put this ball right in our marketing court.
By ensuring a high-quality, engaging browsing and shopping experience via digital channels, including website and social media, marketers can significantly enhance the customer experience. It enables them to truly drive the customer experience strategy on behalf of the business.
From the awareness of products via an online advert and strategic social media targeting, through to consideration while browsing on our website, to purchase, home delivery and after-care – a digital-first approach enables consumer-centricity to dominate from start to finish.
Out with siloes, in with cross-team econometrics
Lockdowns have without doubt brought tremendous pressure to marketing departments across the globe. But they have given us the encouragement to grow and innovate, too. As marketers we must grab the bull by its horns and use it to make a greater impact with our work, driving sales as we boost customer experience.
Step one is for marketing teams to push for an internal overhaul of sales processes. Restrictive siloes must be eradicated. We must ensure marketers lead from the front with a customer-centric and digital-first approach, enabling everyone to work to the same end goals, shouldering the pressure together. This will bring all channels and business efforts in sync throughout the sales funnel – putting the customer first.
Once these foundations of collaboration have been built, marketers must then adopt evidence-led thinking alongside their creative clout. Econometrics, a proven regression model that allows you to scientifically demonstrate how many pounds of incremental sales you get back for every single marketing penny spent, will highlight the progress of the marketing-led conversion funnel.
And it is about time, too. Because the reality is, while marketing creativity has continued to fuel business growth, we as marketers have often failed to prove our worth at C-suite level. Marketing is often seen by CEOs and CFOs as merely a cost centre – an ‘events’ department focused on expensive promos and champagne parties.
But no more. The past year has seen the marketing department grow to be a single P&L in its own right. Even when customers will begin to shop in-store again as restrictions ease, lockdowns have rendered the clout of online marketing permanent. With consumers more accustomed than ever to making a purchase from their sofas, 2021 and beyond will witness a sustained growth in online shopping.
The race for better digitisation is therefore an opportunity to be seized. Now is the time for marketing to mature, to step up and take its rightful place in the boardroom.
Benjamin Braun is CMO of Samsung Europe.