For years, many marketers have bemoaned their lack of influence – or indeed, presence – in the boardroom and certainly battled to be considered the future CEO. Thankfully, over the last decade, the enlightened CMO and their partner CEOs have proven their impact when it comes to embracing new and smarter ways to assimilate consumer insight and behaviour and creating more efficient and beautiful ways of reaching their audience, which in turn converts to revenue and loyalty.

COVID may have derailed so many of us societally and economically in 2020, but marketing is now well and truly up front as we look out toward 2021 – and with it, a whole new world. Facing into the fast and furious landscape of 2021 means pedal-to-the-metal for marketers universally – and especially for those who have taken it upon themselves to embrace real time analytics as companies and brands front up to urgent threats and immediate opportunities. Indeed, this could be the moment marketers are able to show their ultimate value as business leaders – if they can (mostly) get it right.

The constant tension

Yet, we have a contradiction. Research suggests that in uncertain times, consumers reach for the certain and familiar. Witness how market leading brands are growing market share right now – whether you are Persil or Lego – which means brand equity has never been so valuable. And yet, as marketers ourselves, we need to be embracing the uncertain and unfamiliar to ensure we can deal with the volatility and pace at which the world is changing.

We already operate in a VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) yet volatility and uncertainty have never been as confronting as now. Effective marketing can champion the opportunity over the threat. So, where to start?

What worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow, and now, we need to speed up.

In the last year, people’s priorities have shifted as disposable incomes have fallen and purchase behaviours have changed forever. Migration to e-commerce and direct-to-consumer has accelerated five years in just six months. You can see the brands that embraced this migration profiting, and those that haven’t suffering. 

We are going to have to try new things – product innovations, pricing models, media innovations – and many of those will fail. And it’s okay to fail, as long as you know when and how, and course correct quickly. Real time analytics and measurement are crucial here to gauge performance and act accordingly. Test-and-learn remains critical, and seeking advice on which tech partners need to develop with is essential to ensure you move with the possibilities of AI and predictability.

And speed of action will also shape future ways of working. Unmovable annual plans, long creative lead times and protracted media deadlines must be consigned to history. Speed will champion over perfect and a willingness to be iterative versus couturial will help us at this time. That requires bravery from the marketing leader – and that bravery must be championed by the board.

Talent, talent, talent

Exhaustion, social isolation, work creep and health concerns are depleting the surge capacity reserves in our teams’ ability to cope with stress. The forthcoming window of discontent will only compound this. Our ability to look after our teams and help protect their time is the critical foundation in managing through the volatile months ahead. Empathy and understanding have never been so important. 

Amazon marketing offers glimpses of this in openly accepting team members who may not currently be at their peak given the ongoing crisis, so are proactively ensuring the leadership catch them in moments of triumph to ensure motivation remains. They are also offering “care coaches” to supplement those moments where we would normally support a colleague in person after a difficult meeting or decision – it’s our human nature that we must acknowledge and nourish.

Ensuring you are attracting and retaining the specific specialist talent now required within the discipline of marketing is equally essential now. Holding diverse abilities, from data compliance specialists to CX/UX architects – finding the individuals who bring new learning and capability to a team and educating their colleagues is all part of the solution.   

So, left and right brain engagement is required – and marketing’s time is now.