Challenger panel sees more empathy, direct communications with customers
Marketing in 2021 will probably be more human and less creepy as practitioners wrestle with COVID-flu impacts and manage increasing dependence on consumer data and analysis. It will be more about empathy and listening to customers, not shoving campaigns in your face.
A panel of practitioners discussing marketing trends expressed the self-realization of how marketing affects people, especially in current health, social justice, and political climates. Wpromote, a California digital marketing company, hosted the webinar.
Julian Duncan, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of social responsibility and impact for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, said you can have all the data and data connections but if you’re not meeting unmet human needs your marketing won’t work.
He said 2020 has been rocked with issues and concerns that have pushed the nation apart, and he thinks people are anxious to come back together, “they’re craving to do that.”
For marketing, that means companies must provide a high-touch experience even digitally.
Duncan referred to the superhero film “Deadpool” based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. The character often turns to speak to the audience, bringing audience members into the movie.
“People want more experiences with the (company’s) brand and it’s incumbent on marketers to break down that wall to bring people in,” he said.
Grace Kao, head of Instagram’s global business marketing, started the conversation recognizing that the COVID pandemic has drastically changed consumer behavior.
“People have a need to connect on a whole other level,” she said, envisioning more co-creation with customers on content, live input, and digital participation to connect with them.
Courtney Fadjo-Biro, head of growth marketing for eyewear firm Zenni, led off saying customers want to know what reality is and marketers should focus on immediate needs of now with truth and authenticity.
“Using social media, streaming, and other digital technologies, we should be evolving to meet customers where they are today,” she said.
The webinar posed panel questions about social responsibility, authenticity, agility/adaptability, and empathy.
An informal poll of webinar attendees revealed that agility and adaptability will have the biggest impact on their brands in the coming year. The surprising response was more than twice that of identifying social responsibility as a major brand impact.
Agility was defined as being able to respond to urgent issues with focused and brand-aligned purpose. Companies must maintain a “North Star” to guide company direction and vision, Duncan said, but also adapt to current challenges within that broader corporate vision and mission.
That often takes risk and bravery to accomplish.
The panel agreed that marketers must listen more and understand their customers emotionally to achieve a sense of empathy, especially in times of challenge and trial.
“Consumers are expressing themselves daily and are inviting brands to be part of their community,” Kao said. “We have to make sure we listen and respond, and not be afraid to have a two-way conversation.”
Duncan said marketers must treat people as human beings, regardless of color, creed, or wallet size. “It’s not about social responsibility, it’s about human responsibility.”
Data is an incomplete sentence without the insight that connects that data to human needs and concerns. Marketers must complete that sentence, he said.
Be your customer’s advocate
Kao said data should drive customer advocacy and put customers first – it’s what you do with that data and how you translate it into an advocacy behavior from a marketing standpoint.
Panel moderator Michael Mothner, founder and CEO of Wpromote, said customer service and advocacy should be integral parts of your marketing. Mothner pointed to Tony Shea, recently deceased CEO of Zappos, who said his company is a service company that sells shoes. Mothner said consider customer touch points as marketing moments, not sales costs.
“The most powerful moments in branding are not the big, polished TV ads, it’s the ‘wow’ moments when the brand stepped up when something broke,” he said.
Kao said marketers should realize that their customers are not in the audience but actually are one of the players on your team.
Panelists said they are seeking more two-way communications and Fadjo-Biro said she is investing in more private, direct-channel responses and communications related to individual questions or circumstances.
The panel cautioned marketers to follow through with what they say to ensure authenticity for the brand and to connect with customers with empathy – whatever the initiative is.
Mothner summarized this discussion by saying you don’t’ just adjust a page headline and think it’s addressing the issue.
“If your brand doesn’t stand for the position you take, don’t take a position,” he said. “That’s OK.”
Duncan agreed, saying don’t get into the game if you’re not going to play.
New Year’s Resolutions
The marketers shared a few 2021 New Year’s resolutions.
Kao said she’s will focus on amping up creativity. Seeing the amazing things coming from people on Instagram, she wants Instagram to be as creative as the people using it.
“Creativity has helped us all get through 2020 and build resilience…. It’s where people are finding energy, inspiration, and momentum.”
Fadjo-Biro said she wants to enhance Zenni’s culture to increase corporate empathy. She sees doing that through leading by example, demonstrating humility, strength, and character, and building stronger, more empathetic teams.
Duncan said he will work on “being more “Deadpool,’” that is, breaking down walls between the Jaguars and their customers and creating deeper touch points and experiences.
Mothner said he appreciated the panel’s discussion on bravery in marketing. “I want to be sure things that we make progress on, we continue, and that initiatives will become values. Efforts to do the right thing become core values, and sometimes that takes bravery.”