This article originally appeared in Forbes.
The last 12 months have been about surviving — not only the hardships caused by a global pandemic but, from a business perspective, evolving customer habits, remote working and social distancing.
For marketers, a new year traditionally ushers in opportunities for reinvention and growth. But this year also comes with hurdles as companies continue to pivot and prepare for post-pandemic life. With this in mind, here are the five priorities I think every CMO and brand marketer should focus on to reshape and propel your business in 2021.
1. Be Vigilant For Potential Disruptions
Since March 2020, the way in which businesses operate has been irrevocably transformed, demonstrating how a global health crisis, supply chain issues or social movements can wreak havoc on unprepared brands. These challenges presented an opportunity to shine a light on key social or political issues for some brands. For others, the turbulence threatened business models, and in some instances, customer relationships were severed.
So what has changed in your business sector? Conduct tailored research to gauge how consumer or client behavior, loyalty or preferences have altered. Monitor the marketplace — especially if there are significant events — to identify any changes in purchase drivers. Don’t forget about internal disruptors, such as layoffs, that impact employee engagement or performance. Elicit feedback from your employees about the business, any new procedures or processes implemented, and their expectations.
2. Go On The Offensive With Demand Generation
Brands went on the defensive in 2020, reorganizing operations to adjust to the new reality. As brands begin to shift from survival mode to growth, they won’t be without obstacles. The world economy is still recovering from last year’s economic downturn. Consequently, demand generation will likely be more challenging. Be prepared for customers to be more financially savvy. Some customer segments might have vanished, requiring companies to identify new targets. This is why your demand generation needs to work harder than ever.
Brand messaging must go beyond the benefit of a particular product or service and reflect your values and purpose. Don’t rely on intuition; research and two-way feedback are essential. Conduct internal workshops to get a pulse off of your employee base. Using this feedback, revise your customer experience touchpoints. Carefully review new campaigns to make sure that nothing can be construed as tone-deaf. Ensure that any new demand generation tactics stay true to the core brand principles.
3. Remember That Customer Experience In The Digital Realm Is Crucial
The pandemic widened the chasm between brands; some quickly evolved and pivoted, and others lagged behind. From what I’ve seen, businesses that have empowered their frontline workers with information and skills to communicate with customers are winning. Brands that have invested in their digital brand experiences are better navigating the shift in customer expectations. The focus on digital is likely here to stay. The slow rollout of Covid-19 vaccines has demonstrated that large gatherings, such as conferences or trade shows, and business travel probably won’t be returning anytime soon.
But every crisis presents an opportunity. Conduct research to understand every touchpoint’s role in the current journey and determine what needs to improve. It’s not merely about rebounding from a global pandemic; it’s an opportunity to drive meaningful differentiation.
4. Re-imagine And Adapt Brand Culture
Our work environments look drastically different from how they looked this time last year. As people slowly return to office environments, the need for remote culture-building has never been greater.
The fundamentals of great company culture have not changed: a unifying purpose, authentic values that come to life across the company, strong leaders who set a clear vision for the company, and collaborative and inclusive work environments.
Herein lie the opportunities for CMOs and brand marketers to partner with human resources and senior leaders to evaluate culture and determine how it has adapted to the new working reality. In the absence of in-person gatherings, companies need to assess how they can improve and grow employee engagement. Communications about return-to-work policies need to embody the organization’s brand, value and purpose.
5. Let Purpose Be Your Guide
Any company that has yet to clearly define its brand purpose most likely found this past year even more challenging. We’ve learned many lessons from the pandemic — one of which is how purpose-led companies tend to respond to crises better. They often can act faster and inspire and mobilize employees, customers and stakeholders because the decisions are grounded upon their purpose.
Companies have an opportunity to continually evaluate and communicate their commitment to purpose — does it guide the brand or is it something that only shows up in advertising campaigns? Purpose should be truthful, enduring and compelling. Allow it to shape culture, employee experience and organizational activities. Examine new ways to communicate to your employees the vital role they play in being ambassadors for your company and how they can embody your purpose every day.
This year has given us a fresh start to escape the woes of 2020. It presents a prime opportunity for purpose-led brands and leaders to grow and engage customers. With preparation, careful thought and a strong, clear purpose, companies can — and will — set themselves apart.
Jason Cieslak is President, Pacific Rim