Digital Marketing In 2020: Lightening Speed To The New Normal?

With the marketing world moving gradually deeper into the fourth quarter filled with holidays and festive seasons, it seems quite a good time to look back and evaluate the performance of digital marketing so far in the year.

Many experts describe it as a strange year, with bright spots. More people than ever before have moved online, and many others learnt new marketing strategies. Even with this, many customers and our employees faced diverse challenges. So it was obviously a strange mix of bright spots and really dark moments this year.

In Africa, Europe as well as the Americas, there was a remarkable surge in the move to the digital platforms. E-commerce shopping and entertainment platform recorded a mega boom. According to Meghan Keaney Anderson, HubSpot’s VP of Marketing, the first three quarters of 2020 "were a rollercoaster, creating immense challenges which some brands overcame, while some succumbed".

Based on Adobe’s tracking of consumers’ e-commerce digital activity in Europe and America, it was noticed that apparels outstripped overall eCommerce growth early on, in the April to May time frame. People were not buying work suits or even clothes to go out in, they were buying a decent shirt and a pair of jeans and pyjama bottoms so they could go on Zoom or move around the neighbourhood. With groceries, not only did the year witnessed a massive increase in grocery sales, but new shoppers came onto grocery sites in a big wave due to the pandemic. Many new grocery shops also came online, adapting and shifting into more of a habit of online grocery shopping.

In the year, companies were confronted with the necessity of accelerating their digital maturity: in some cases, that just meant accelerating changes already underway.

According to Microsoft’s Satya Nadella: two years of digital transformation in two months. “ It has been tons of innovation here and there. It’s been exciting to watch, it’s been just transformation everywhere.”

But the transformation meant some companies falling by the wayside. In the words of Meghan Anderson, “Some have been able to really accelerate innovation during the crisis this year. but we have also seen other industries and companies that weren’t able to do that and were hit really hard.

“We see that globally and within our own customer base. We forget that not every business has been online. There is this long tail of businesses who don’t operate that way; they haven’t had to. Not just mom’n’pop shops, but we’ve even seen major consultancy firms, which did most of their business face-to-face, needing to figure out an online set-up. That’s the story of the year: the last breath of long-tail businesses that weren’t online but are now online".

“We certainly saw sales pause in the year across all industries,” Anderson continued. “The world took a collective breath. What we were surprised by was that we saw marketing activity really rise".

From observations based on HubSpot's’ 70,000-plus customer base, the year saw huge records being broken in terms of website traffic. We saw giant leaps in engagement with free educational and information materials. We saw email open rates go up, and we also saw big spikes in website chat for customers.

The fear among brand owners was that customers would just go away – but that didn’t happen. What happened this 2020 was they went home, for sure, but then they reached out. They consumed contents. 2020 witnessed such a high level of virtual engagement the world has never seen before. They were engaged in different ways but certainly engaged. Companies that have been able to adapt to that, and learnt from that interest, and change their content strategy a bit to match it, have done okay and in some cases extremely well.

The whole process seems to be speeding with lightning rapidity. Buying cycles have been faster, with fewer decision-makers. There are people who are buying and people who are not; it’s binary, there’s no middle ground. Those that are buying are making top-down decisions to transform, and they’re doing it really quickly.

The digital space has been accelerated in a way that seemed really extraordinary. Everything changed in a second. You blinked. It’s hard to know what will happen a day from now, so what you build going forward from a strategy, people, process and technology perspective has to be virtual and agile.

In the digital commerce space, good customer experiences boost conversions — another trend that was evident, but has taken off like a rocket. Online shopping experience becomes that much more important.

. But are these fast pace changes in 2020 transient, or have they come to stay?

Many observers feel indeed there’s been a lot of really cool innovations, but as things straighten out in 2021 we may end up in more of a hybrid approach. Will we continue to integrate some of the old things we used to do pre-COVID 19? Sure, because nothing replaces handshakes and face-to-face communication, but I do think people have been hugely successful right now with digital, so they’re excited about it. But it’s about what the prospect or buyer wants to consume.

In the commerce space, we saw is an initial strong shift to the new normal, and what we’re all wondering is what that new normal will be in terms of online commerce. In March and April, everyone was going online – many for the first time – to buy clothes, groceries – things they would normally have gone into stores for and online sales skyrocketed up 80%.

However, we’ve seen it come steadily down through July, August and September

Definitely, the availability of a safe and effective vaccine, would change things remarkably, but consumers do seem to have settled into steadily making online purchases of staple goods they would normally have purchased offline. Steady gravitation towards digitalization seem to be reasonably consistent over time this year, but it’s a bit early to effectively call this the new normal till some times probably after COVID 19 cure or vaccine is available.

It’s will not be very easy to predict with precision what’s going to happen. Another big question in every mind now is, how good or bad will personal employment and disposable income situation become in the coming months and year?

This, indeed, is an uneven crisis that is hitting some people harder than others. Some people are doing phenomenally well coming out of it, but sadly some are not.