Covid consumer behaviours are here to stay, say CMOs

corona 1Marketers still resisting the Covid-inspired “new normal” – triggered by changes in consumer behaviour during the pandemic – need to think again and fast; the changes are here to stay and are likely to have a major effect on future activity.

That is one of the key conclusions of the WARC Marketer’s Toolkit 2022: Global Trends Report, designed to help brands speedily identify, adapt and successfully meet the challenges of the year ahead and turn them into opportunities for growth.

Now in its 11th edition, the study brings together insights from a survey of 1,500 marketing executives, one-to-one interviews with more than 25 leading chief marketing officers, and a review of WARC’s latest proprietary research, best practice guides and case studies.

With vaccination rates rising in many countries, many parts of the world are starting to see a return to normal. However, even in these markets, consumers are rethinking and evaluating lifestyles, resulting in different behaviours, preferences and buying patterns.

Marketers can benefit from these changes if they carefully adjust their strategies for this inconsistent and incomplete return to “normal”, WARC reckons.

It insists that social and environmental practices are becoming more important. Consumers are spending more time at home and becoming more concerned about their local surroundings. Personal and family health and wellness are being prioritised. Customer journeys are more complicated as consumers switch between digital and in-store channels.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of brand owners in the survey felt changes in consumer behaviours would have a significant impact on strategies for 2022. Another quarter (24%) felt these changes would have at least some impact – totalling 97% of all respondents.

Boots chief marketing officer Pete Markey commented: “The big lesson, I think, has been around strengthening our digital presence: investing behind that to be there when people need it the most, and also using the physical presence to provide the extra depth of interaction and a level of customer experience that I think only an in-store [environment] can really offer.”

Meanwhile, nearly half (47%) of marketers now believe the environment and financial growth are of equal importance.

Sustainability is increasingly becoming an important priority for organisations. With consumers holding brands up to scrutiny on their record, brands will have to ensure that they deliver not only on traditional growth metrics, but also on a clearly identified framework for sustainable practices, WARC claims.

The “double bottom line” – valuing profit and the planet – is now a reality for 46% of survey respondents who say they afford the environment and financial growth equal importance. Actions include changing manufacturing, packaging and distribution, making public commitments they will be accountable for, and encouraging green consumer behaviours in their messaging.

Nearly three-fifths (58%) of participants agreed sustainability and purpose initiatives should to be distinct, but there is still work to be done on measurement with a quarter (25%) viewing sustainability as a “general goal” rather than using specific metrics.

DeBeers chief marketing officer Martha Velando said: “Today, consumers expect brands to do what they say, have the right values, and be able to tangibly show what they’re doing to make a positive impact in communities and on the environment. It’s our duty to be true to our word, and to make sure that we find the right mechanisms to show progress we’re making towards those goals.”

When it comes to marketing effectiveness, more than half (54%) of WARC respondents view market penetration/customer gain as the most important barometer.

Advertising measurement is in a state of unprecedented flux as a result of increased privacy regulation, the end of third-party cookies by Google and Apple’s opt-in to ad tracking.

The third-party data slowdown means marketers are exploring new advertising metrics, particularly more probabilistic measures, which could blur boundaries between short- and long-term measures of advertising.

Over half (52%) of those surveyed by WARC said they are also looking to find “new measures of effectiveness”, while 42% acknowledge the need to invest in new technologies to measure audiences.

As advertisers focus on converting target audiences, more than half (54%) of respondents now view market penetration/customer gain as the most important barometer of marketing effectiveness, up from 44% last year.

Kellogg Company SVP/global CMO Charisse Hughes said: “Probably the best way that we’ve been much more advanced is in our data and analytics, and because we have such rich data and analytics – we’re on this journey with our first-party data – I think we’re able to test learn, adapt, and adjust our messaging much faster than we ever thought we could.”

The report also reinforces the rise of social commerce, with three-quarters (75%) planning to increase send on this channel.

As livestreaming and other combinations of social entertainment and digital commerce become more important, brands will have real opportunities in this space if they can find effective ways to work with creators.

Amazon director of global media, portfolio and insights Kari Callahan commented: “We’ve really been finding some interesting models of working with creators where they’re creating and producing and building and our creative teams are stepping away… being able to have fun with it, being able to sometimes make fun of ourselves a little bit, and letting the stories go where they will naturally go. We’ve seen some great success, the more we put it in the hands of the creator versus trying to take ownership or control of some of the pieces.”

Meanwhile, nearly four-fifths (78%) of respondents expect to spend more on ecommerce, creating new opportunities to optimise brands.

This is creating a need for alignment (and in some cases integration) of marketing and ecommerce teams, which WARC claims, could result in a potential clash of cultures, but also presents an opportunity for marketers to play a broader role if they can identify the right strategic balance.

According to the survey, while 78% of expect to spend more on ecommerce, 25% are adopting an integrated approach by merging ecommerce and digital branding teams.

Ford chief marketing officer Suzy Deering explained: “As our cars are more and more connected, the way that we think about ecommerce shifts pretty dramatically, because it’s not just about the purchase at that point; it’s about the lifelong relationship that we’re going to build with a customer that really creates more everyday interactions.”

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