I think everyone can agree this year has totally upended the marketing world. It's also had marketing leaders looking closer at what they do, how they do it and where they spend their resources (I know I have been!).
The Covid-19 pandemic led to big changes and lots of opportunities worth investigating. As 2020 finally ends, here's where I've seen the most significant disruptions — and how marketers can prepare for the future.
Websites As Virtual Experiences
This year, virtual events exploded as marketers adapted to buyers staying on their couches. Good marketers quickly learned the difference between a webinar and a true virtual event/experience. Those who crossed this chasm saw success and shared their thought leadership with bigger virtual audiences.
The way I see it, the future isn't necessarily about more virtual events but rather ingraining amazing ones into your website. Imagine prospects at the right funnel stage who are triggered into an always-on event and engaged through multiple means — like Netflix meets Slack. There's on-demand video content, a live stream playing and a community of users and fans creating a unique, engaging place to be. Prospects learn about your solutions and then, after videos and chats, they immediately meet your product team.
It might be a stretch now to hit that Netflix/Slack combination. In the meantime, marketers should consider playing around with dynamic website experiences.
The Rise Of Micro-Certifications
My kids aren't in college yet, but I'd be grouchy about paying $30,000 a year so they could sit in their dorm room watching never-ending Zoom classes. It's a temporary setup, I know — and I'd never discount the value of a four-year degree and great college experiences.
Yet staying fresh in a functional area takes more than a two-decade-old degree. We should always be learning, and where we go to learn is changing. When my son wanted to learn how to use a 3D printer, he didn't check out a book at the library. He enrolled in the University of YouTube.
This should really interest marketers. People want to learn and will go outside of universities to do so. One option that's surging is micro-certifications. They're a bit more involved than one YouTube video, but micro-certifications from companies like Salesforce and Microsoft demonstrate knowledge much more relevant to job requirements, and they can be completed quickly and affordably. IT is already recognizing them: In a Linux Academy survey, 35% of respondents said micro-certifications helped them get a job or advance their career. And 94% agree that micro-certifications give entry-level folks a leg up in the hiring process.
Brands have a huge opportunity. People hate to be sold but love to be educated, so are you providing enough educational content and experiences? Marketers should consider rotating out top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) blogs and resources and instead develop their own micro-certification courses. A badge people could earn that certifies they know your solution — what an incredible value add for your audience!
Condé Nast Experiences From Home
Traveling the world will be a dicey proposition for a long while, but people still want those special, Condé Nast-style experiences. Savvy marketers can incorporate that feeling into buyer experiences to stand out from the crowd.
For example, my team recently took prospects on a virtual tour of Barcelona. Alongside seeing the sights, they virtually met with a designer to create a custom pair of locally made espadrille shoes. Afterward, their unique pairs were shipped right to their house or office.
Marketers can now combine lessons from prospecting in a virtual world with key buyer insights to build standout engagement opportunities that make prospects feel one of a kind.
The CMO's Role: Representing The Market
As the pandemic forced entire industries to stop buying, companies couldn't rely on lazy strategies like going to trade shows and capturing random leads. Instead, they realized they needed a shepherd of the market who could help them pivot. Strong chief marketing officers (CMOs) rose to the challenge, crafting and executing new strategies to solve new problems.
It's a positive shift for our function. Too often, marketing is relegated to the "-ing" — how many marketing qualified leads (MQLs), blogs and website visits you're generating. While those have value, they're not what defines a CMO’s function and role. Their role is to represent the market.
I hope this trend continues. To do that, marketers should seize the opportunity to understand and shape markets, align company strategy and mobilize go-to-market (GTM) strategies to capitalize on market trends. CMOs operating at this level will transform their roles from chief marketing officers to chief market officers.
How Strong Is Your Community?
Humans have a basic need to connect. You can eliminate the medium of a trade show, coffee shop or dinner meeting, but the need persists. So, people cooped up in their homes have explored new ways to connect, and communities have emerged as both a means to connect and a space for continuous learning and job hunting.
I love a good Slack community. I have a lot of besties because I Slack them all the time. I've never met them in person, but exchanging best practices between funny emoji has connected us. This isn't an isolated case — from Slack workspaces to Zoom huddles, communities of bespoke audiences are growing.
You might already be considering building one. After all, how hard could it be? Well, starting a Slack channel is easy, but it's actually very hard to curate a community. It takes skills and a serious investment of time and money. But I believe smart marketers will learn those skills and staff their teams to support a community function because they know their future brand equity rests in the strength of their community.
Nobody can predict the future, but I see these trends growing as marketing keeps adapting to Covid-19's effects. No matter what, it's most important to get a firm grasp on your market and champion its needs — that's how marketing prepares for any future.
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