Picture: 123RF/rawpixel
Picture: 123RF/rawpixel

Battered last year by the Covid-19 restrictions on business, the marketing fraternity, globally and locally, is poised for a better 2021.

The World Advertising Research Council (Warc) says in its latest report that recovery is apparent across most of the indices that make up its global marketing index, as businesses worldwide regain confidence that economies are improving. Last year began in slight decline, with a dramatic drop in the index over the first half, reaching a record low in May. But 2020 ended with three consecutive months of growth.

However, Warc believes it will take at least two years for the global advertising market to recover fully, driven mainly by larger digital and mobile budgets. TV remains a resilient channel. And radio, out-of-home and press budgets have started a slow recovery.

Cautious optimism is also being voiced by the local marketing sector, though hard work lies ahead. Ogilvy MD of public relations & influence Sara Butchart says: "More than ever, 2020 has shown us the importance of top talent. If you’re not investing in people — and that means a lot more emphasis on communication — you are unlikely to succeed."

Butchart says one of Ogilvy’s key trends for 2021 globally is the connection between employee experience and business growth. "Marketers are realising that with the loss of the grapevine and water cooler — informal channels — there is a major gap in employee understanding, engagement and alignment to purpose. They are looking inside their organisations for their employees to be advocates of brand and business messaging in the face of declining budgets." So, effective marketing this year will be about personal engagement, whether from a journalist, a blogger, a celebrity, a business leader, a stakeholder or an employee.

A balance between digital marketing tactics and real voices is also important. Veteran marketing strategist Thomas Oosthuizen says that last year many brands used budgets to empathise with their customers. "I am not sure consumers will even remember who said what. To many consumers, brands just disappeared. So unless they still address basic consumer needs they will erode even more. Social commentary is not the reason people buy the vast majority of brands." For marketers to maintain a strong recovery, consumers need value with something extra. Oosthuizen advocates co-operative marketing of different and noncompeting brands working in unison.

Dale Hefer, CEO of the Nedbank Integrated Marketing Conference, says marketers need to do their best with the knowledge available and should not become disheartened by things that are out of their control.

The pandemic has engendered a culture of instant gratification, Hefer adds. "Customers have seen how the digital bar has been raised, and expect this level of innovation and service across the board. To deal with this, marketers need to keep exploring ways to deliver better and faster."

Hefer believes one of the main drivers of marketing success this year will be an accelerated social media strategy. "Creating relationships through social media platforms via promotions, relevant content sharing and appropriate influencer activity is critical."

Warc cautions that while marketing budgets are expected to be up this year on 2020, they won’t necessarily increase on 2019. There is growing pressure on brand investment, agency and vendor fees and sponsorship. The council says the pandemic has accelerated e-commerce, and most marketers consider responding to this trend a priority.

Engaging at-home consumers is another key focus. "With restrictions on consumers in many major markets expected to last well into 2021, the at-home lifestyle will remain a driver of change … For brands, this means discovering where and how to become a welcome part of consumers’ at-home lives."

However, marketing website CMSWire says there could be a snapback to in-store shopping, or a version of it. Consumers who don’t feel safe in stores due to Covid will try to relive the experience digitally and are more likely to use apps that create an experience they miss and want.


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