As you'd expect at the start of a new year, a lot has been written about lessons
from the past and trends for the future...
Looking at the bigger economic picture, GDP is forecast to grow, albeit by a small amount, but many marketers agree that 2011 is likely to be a very challenging year, depending on the sector you work in. Manufacturing and banking, for instance, will arguably have a better year than the public sector. From a consumer perspective, with VAT and many other price rises across the market, a lot of consumers will be worse off than last year. Google Trends figures for the UK's leading comparison websites show that visits to these sites have boomed over the last 12 months, indicating a tendency towards more considered purchases. Outside the UK, the emerging world promises to be sunnier than the developed world, particularly India.
With this challenging backdrop, I wanted to remind you of some of the core lessons we've all learnt from marketing through the downturn and the implications for 2011:
1. We don't know where the money is going and what value it's delivering.
The recession led to a great deal of deep analysis of where money was going and what that investment was delivering. The result was cost reduction, cost reallocation, the creation of more robust reporting technology and KPI dashboards as well as an increased demand for benchmarking data so that marketers could see how they compared with others.
What does it mean for 2011? Continue to invest in marketing to acquire new customers and keep the ones you have, just make sure you're clear on the expected return so that you can adjust and refine the course to hit the target. You'll need skills in planning, predicting and analysis.
2. What's the right balance between optimisation and innovation?
Marketers who invested in digital were able to focus on improving and adjusting programmes using analytics to boost ROI. Others embraced emerging channels such as social media, taking advantage of free distribution platforms such as Youtube, Flickr and Facebook, and delivered some outstanding results.
What does it mean for 2011? Keep optimising digital programmes so that they deliver more for less; but allocate some time and money for thinking about new stuff and have a structured approach to innovation so that you can keep experimenting, learning and integrating.
3. We don't really know our customers.
The recession changed the rules of many games as customers' worlds changed as did their behaviour. Many businesses who hadn't anticipated the changes were caught out.
What does it mean for 2011? Keep close to your customers, which may be easier if you have few big b2b clients, but is equally relevant if you have 1000s of consumer customers. The important point is that you have a system in place for gathering, analysing and interpreting customer feedback & behaviour so that the business can act on this insight. Don't forget also to keep an eye on what your competitors are up too! As well as your own analytics tool and market research programme, there are many free tools available to provide both customer and competitive intelligence (see further information section below).
4. We don't have a holistic view of the total experience our customers have with our brand.
With fewer customers to go round, brands became a lot more focused on customer retention with sophisticated 'customer development programmes' implemented to try to keep their business and turn them into raving fans (an objective that is hard to achieve!). To achieve this, more and more b2b brands tried to use customer experience as a differentiator which led to a deeper understanding of the customer journey, and the realisation that customers are often putting up with a fairly disjointed experience with a brand.
What does it mean for 2011? Customer retention should remain a big part of marketing programmes, but break out of silos so that you can understand and optimise the full customer experience.
5. We treat every prospective customer the same.
Traditionally, many brands treated every potential customer the same, irrespective of the stage of buying they're in. Over the last few years, more sophisticated marketers, particularly in the technology space, have now completely overhauled their messaging, focusing more on issues rather than offers. This approach has led to an explosion in the requirement for content marketing which has challenged marketers to think more like multi-media publishers. It has also led to a more integrated way of thinking about media with digital and traditional channels working together to deliver a more consitent and impactful message to the marketplace, with a better ROI.
What does it mean for 2011? Understand the different stages that your prospective customers go through and think about the content that could help those prospects move to the next stage.
6. What technology do we need?
Throughout the recession, technology has continued to innovate to enable marketers to increase productivity; analyse customer behaviour and deliver far more sophisticated marketing programmes than ever before. Depending on your perspective, marketing in 2011 is definitely a lot more complex than it was in 2001, but also a lot more exiciting.
What does it mean for 2011? Think about what customer benefit the technology will deliver and don't expect technology to be a silver bullet. For instance, a marketing automation system should will allow you to deliver more targeted communications from a brand which must be good for the customer, but only if the system is implemented well and used effectively. Similarly, more people are connecting to the internet through their mobiles than their computers, a requirement that can only be fulfilled through the use of technology.
7. What knowledge, skills & behaviours do we need?
The recession saw many businesses slim down their marketing departments; slash their training budgets and outsource many of their services. With so much changing in the marketing space, you need to keep a balance between tight cost management whilst investing in development initiatives for your internal people so that they keep learning, growing and delivering.
What does it mean for 2011? Create a development plan for your key people to include technical marketing knowledge and skills as well as other core soft skills required to enable marketers to operate effectively in your organisation. There are some great training organisations that you can work with which I have listed below.
8. Do we really need to do this in-house?
The reduction in marketing departments, combined with a growth of microbusinesses has meant that marketers are able to outsource projects to a plethora of freelance marketers in the UK and, indeed, with internet services such as Elance, overseas. Similarly, in some cases, whole functions have been outsourced to agencies to reduce internal overheads and provide a more flexible resource.
What does it mean for 2011? This outsourcing trend will continue and you should have a think about what things make econonomic sense to retain in-house and what could be outsourced effectively. Don't forget though, the resource required to manage and keep outsourced partners engaged to get as much value for your money.
9. The last click won't win the long-term game.
As you'd expect, the downturn led to a short-term focus with direct response initiatives popular. 'We want leads'; 'We want sales', was the cry. Whilst this will never go away, many brands took one of their most valuable assets, their brand reputation, for granted during the recession and have paid a price.
What does it mean for 2011? Keep focused on managing and communicating your brand reputation. Why? Just consider for a moment how your customer acquistion costs and your pricing strategy will change if you weren't able to use the brand you currently do. The answer of course will be different depending on the maturity of your brand.
I wish you all a very happy 2011.
Article by Lawrence Mitchell (RBI-UK)