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Predicting the Unpredictable: Customer Analytics and Marketing in the Months Ahead

Emma Warrillow

Do you remember where you were at the end of last year’s Q1? Of course you do! The world had just been thrown off-kilter by the global pandemic, and marketing and customer analytics professionals were doing their best to respond, adapt, and (in many cases) pivot to help their organizations survive.  

As we shift our focus to the second quarter of 2021, there are many lessons from the past 12 months that will help marketers navigate the current reality. In an effort to anticipate what the rest of 2021 might bring, below are my predictions for marketing and customer insights for the months ahead. 

Focus on First Party

Privacy regulations, like GDPR and CCPA, and the demise of third-party cookies have shifted marketers to focus on first-party data (along with zero-party and second-party) over third-party data. In a recent Merkle study, 88% of marketers said that collecting first-party data is a priority for 2021. Marketers will adopt digital initiatives for collection, build up their data management, access data internally, and adopt technologies like identity resolution.

Direct Customer Relationships

It has never been more important to solidify your relationship with your customers. First-party data collection will allow marketers to better work on this. It will be key for companies to invest in those relationships directly rather than relying solely on social channels. Data scandals, civil rights, Facebook boycotts, fake news proliferation, and even Netflix movies have fueled distrust in social media. Companies need to protect themselves against overreliance on these channels, particularly when it comes to existing customers.

Deeper Customer Insights

Customer behaviour has changed; understanding how it has changed and what individual customers will respond to has become an urgent priority for marketers.  So, while marketing budgets have decreased, Forrester reports that many companies are still investing in data and analytics capabilities. Customers are demanding more relevant personalized communication that extends far beyond addressing someone by name, and marketers need to respond or else get left behind. Machine learning, data visualization, and AI––and the insights they reveal––will be increasingly critical to success in 2021.

CDP Clarity

The Customer Data Platform offers the promise of being able to act on that deeper customer understanding, making true personalization a reality. But like CRM before it, the CDP world is a very confused marketplace with everyone jumping onto the bandwagon. As a result, there is a need to gain clarity about the role of this technology and its capabilities. Vendors tend to position CDPs as a panacea for all that ails marketing. In 2021, some of the hype will be dispelled, and there will be an acknowledgement of what truly can and cannot be enabled. As BCG points out, for example, “CDPs are unlikely, in most cases, to fill all of an organization’s analytics needs by themselves. CDPs provide a good starting point for capitalizing on customer data, but technology alone isn’t sufficient.”

Remote conferences

While some predict live conferences will bounce back  in 2021, I believe––especially for large events––remote conferences will still be the norm for the better part of the year. Travel restrictions, reduced travel budgets, and consumer hesitancy will make the remote option the preferred one for some time to come. However,  organizers will have to address the problems of “Zoom fatigue” and monetization. For B2B marketers, there will be plenty of opportunities to sponsor online events, but they will have to work to ensure they get the maximum benefit from these investments. For many events, conference attendee registration fees have all but disappeared, making event sponsors bear an even greater share of the costs. Sponsor-focused events may lead to attendee pushback if organizers are not careful, as events feel more and more like paid advertisements.

QR Security Concerns

2020 saw the resurgence of the QR code, technology that marketers had all but abandoned. Used for everything from restaurant menus to retail purchases, QR codes have been a godsend for marketers and retail establishments in a touchless world. But QR codes have inherent security risks. I fear that 2021 will be the year of a massive breach that will hopefully be followed by a concerted effort to figure out how to make this technology more secure without compromising its efficiency. 

No more tokenism in marketing

The world became smaller in 2020, and consumers became more attuned to global societal issues. Whether it be for Black Lives Matter or the environment, corporate social responsibility will be a priority this year. For marketers, however, this has to mean more than using racially diverse models or adding the word “green”. Consumers will demand real impact from brands and will not tolerate lip service. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, three-quarters of Black Americans (63% of all Americans) feel brands and companies need to follow up statements of support for racial equality with concrete action.

While 2021 has at least started in a more predictable manner than 2020, the era we live in remains unpredictable as marketers attempt to anticipate the world ahead. We will need to watch trends closely, listen to our customers, and adapt like never before.

We invite you to contact us for a no-obligation conversation about your customer analytics needs and how we can help you navigate the twists and turns of the road ahead.

About the Author(s)

Emma Warrillow

Practice Lead, Analytics at Trendline Interactive and former President of Data Insight Group (DiG), which was recently acquired by Trendline. Emma has over 25 years experience helping organizations with the strategic use of customer data to drive business results. Her work has spanned a variety of industries in B2C and B2B, including those who market to intermediaries (like brokers).

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