2020 was the year that changed absolutely everything. From the mask on our face to sheltering in place, we did the best with what we had. Aside from personal upheaval, industries and the workforce had to learn to adjust to a brave new work world. Businesses, especially marketing teams, struggled to find the right tone—a formidable challenge in the face of a global pandemic.
2020 also marked a year of racial unrest and calls for justice; an unprecedented presidential election and post-election season; and campaigns of disinformation eclipsing media institutions and free speech.
However, among all of the disruption, the business world had to keep going. There were new consumer behaviors to analyze; important products and services to review; digital trends to define; and insights from experts and influencers on what we could expect next. Although Covid-19 cast a dark shadow, many brands were able to prevail in their marketing campaigns. They remained sensitive to the overall climate while infusing creativity, and understanding, into their work.
2020: Year of Working Remotely
Early last year, as the pandemic quickly became an unprecedented healthcare emergency, employers shut down offices and sent employees home. Nobody knew for how long. It turned out to be the rest of 2020.
People began carving out makeshift workspaces in their home, whether in a formal home office or wedged between stuffed animals. Everyone needed to keep in touch but no one wanted to become the next Zoom horror story. Still, Gallup found that two-thirds of remote workers want to continue to work remotely (if able). Thirty percent expressed concerns about Covid-19 if and when they return to the office.
Meanwhile marketing budgets remained in flux. Gartner reported almost 60% of marketing and brand leaders anticipate moderate to severe cuts in their martech budgets. But amid all the instability, creative campaigns emerged.
One thing is certain. The way we work, how we work, and where we work will never be the same. Whether you were trying to keep your job or supplement your income, the levels of coronavirus stress affected everyone. (As of May, more than 36 million people had filed for unemployment.) In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from July, 53% of U.S. adults reported a negative impact on their mental health.
2020: Year of (In)Security
Not surprisingly, working remotely came with its own set of security risks and higher incidences of cybercrime. Home office networks, for instance, are 3.5 times more likely than corporate networks to be vulnerable to malware. This risk grows when employees use the same device for both personal matters and for work. And then there was “Zoombombing,” which introduced a whole new threat: unauthorized users hijacking Zoom meetings.
2020 also saw a notable rise in phishing email scams. Some appeared to be health information from such reputable organizations as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since businesses sent employees home so quickly, there was little time to consider how to mitigate security risks. Educating your employees and investing in additional secured company devices, though, helped.
2020: Year of Pandemic Marketing
With most marketing and communications professionals at home, the need for virtual contact and collaboration became paramount. And the challenge was clear. How do we effectively work together, in a completely unstable environment, to create something that would resonate with our audience?
The first thing brands needed to do was recognize the pandemic and the impact it was having on absolutely everyone. The need to adapt your brand in a crisis and transform your messaging carried a new sense of urgency.
Content marketers, in particular, became proficient at adapting to this entirely unpredictable work situation. The Content Marketing Institute found that four out of five content marketers considered their pandemic pivots effective. Eighty-six percent of respondents expect some of these changes to stay in place for the foreseeable future. And almost all of content marketers surveyed (94%) said they changed their strategy because of the pandemic.
Source: Content Marketing Institute, 2021 B2B Content Marketing report
During lockdown, an increasing number of people began using social media as their main source of news and information. As a result, pandemic marketing became more reliant on social channels to connect with consumers in innovative ways.
There has been a rise in disseminating messaging through brand journalism as opposed to straight content marketing. Brand journalism and storytelling may be viewed as more credible and trustworthy, which can lead to authentic connections with consumers. In the past year, authenticity proved essential in community outreach and consumer relationships.
The practice of both social media listening and monitoring has become critical to adjusting your messaging. What are people saying about you, about your brand? In order to customize your message, you need to know your audience. Sixty-five percent of customers report using social media for customer service. Responding in a timely manner is key to retaining those customers.
2020: Year of E-Commerce
Not surprisingly, e-commerce grew a significant amount during 2020. Sixty-two percent of shoppers reported shopping online more often during the pandemic. As a result, one out of four businesses say they will increase marketing activities to maintain their online presence.
According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the pandemic effectively shrunk the timetable for widespread e-commerce adoption. The transition from physical shopping to digital shopping was five times faster last year than in any other year.
Small- to medium-sized businesses faced a formidable challenge. An estimated 98,000 establishments which had temporarily shut down went out of business for good. The impact on small businesses could be seen in store closings, loss of revenue and sales, and unemployment. Despite the bad news, however, 57% of SMBs reported being optimistic about their future, citing increased online interactions and payments.
E-commerce sales markedly increased over the holiday season, which were expected to jump by one-third in 2020. Roughly half of sales could be attributed to personalized content.
During the pandemic, companies were faced with new types of consumers—the anxious spender and the Covid consumer. Clearly anxiety levels were up, and this translated into weary consumers and perplexed marketers. Different spending behaviors emerged based on age, employment status, shopping habits, perspective on brands, and the overall perceived impact of Covid-19 on their lives. Some of these concerns will no doubt remain.
As for whether consumers will permanently alter their shopping behavior going forward, 42% say yes.
2020: Year of Virtual Events
The seats were empty. The fans stayed home. Concerts and festivals were livestreamed. And the 41% of marketers who once considered live events and conferences their most important marketing tool struggled to transform the physical into the digital.
However, holding events online did offer some advantages including lower costs. Customer engagement tools such as live chat and breakout rooms stood in for traditional networking. Levering your social media presence across all platforms also proved indispensable in promoting events to a global audience.
Covid-19 hit the sports industry especially hard. As of last May, Statista reported an expected loss of $2.2 billion of national TV revenue. And playing without screaming fans in the stands was, well, a game changer.
2021: Year of Evolution
No matter what our expectations are for 2021, at the very least we can say it’s not 2020. We may still be social distancing but with adaptation, collaboration and authenticity, we made it through the year.