2021: Marketing Strikes Back!

We’re all watching the clock, waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine to arrive at our doctor’s office or local pharmacy. Once we reach the other side of the pandemic — and start living in the “New New Normal” — how will the world change? And what will that mean for marketers?

We reached out to some of our most-thoughtful colleagues to get their hot takes …


Chris Helle, Chief Marketing Officer, Premier Dental

Empathy and agility are two must-have capabilities for resonant marketing strategies in 2021. We need to genuinely address consumers where they are emotionally to demonstrate that our brands understand them and are here for them. On the media side, we must embrace highly flexible, micro-planning cycles to capitalize on real-time marketing opportunities that can fuel market share gains while also being pragmatic and strategic with the timing and amount of our marketing investments. While I’m optimistic about the longer-term economic climate, the inherent uncertainty of the post-pandemic recovery — which will likely be measured in years, not months — means we must be agile and able to pivot quickly.


Kathy Meara, Director, Customer Marketing, Erwin

A crystal ball will surely come in handy in guessing when the world decides it’s safe to come out. From a customer marketing perspective, will we maintain our commitment to industry events? Should those events — first virtual, then hybrid, ending in-person — recruit and receive approvals from their constituents to attend? From my perspective, we are approaching 2021 in SAFE MODE. By that, I mean we will assume that whether we want to act normal, normalcy will be slow in resuming. We will invest in grand gestures to engage our audiences through video and multi-channeled approaches to reach, educate and recruit our audiences. Focused interaction with customers and prospects alike will yield customer loyalty — and as a customer advocate, that is my 2021 goal.


Tom Wingert, Manager, North America Key Cities, Lululemon

If you look at the increase in personal savings in 2020, it doesn’t require much logical jiu jitsu to understand that there is only so much people are willing to spend from their homes. Much of this is due to restrictions on what businesses can operate and where you can go, but simply removing restrictions up won’t open wallets back up. People pay a premium to live where they live, and the uncaptured wallet share is due to all the spending associated with that place being limited. The uncaptured wallet share isn’t from things people wanted to buy but now can’t, it’s because they want to feel like they’re somewhere other than their house. Marketers should focus less on “it’s safe now” or “we’re open,” and more on celebrating the places we’re able to enjoy again.


Ron Wagner, Senior Vice President, Marketing, The Judge Group

It’s hard to say what the post-COVID marketing playbook will look like. There will certainly be a snap-back to pre-COVID behaviors, but some new behaviors will stick — creating new customer engagement opportunities. Here’s one guy’s opinion what could happen as the future unfolds:

  • Old meets new meets old again: Coming back to the office will take time. B2B direct mail will take a hit; B2C direct mail could surge.
  • Digital burn-out: We’ve had enough of Zoom and e-mail assault. We might be entering a true era of customer respect marketing, and full realization of the promise of personal marketing journeys.
  • But, Zoom is here to stay: This could be the new frontier for account-based marketing with on-screen product placements and sponsorships.
  • Product placements: More and more boxes are arriving on porches. Amazon and others could offset costs by selling ad space on box exteriors and promotional placements of coupons on the inside.
  • IOT is real: Personal and professional tasks continue to blur while WFH. Marketers need to help people with speed, certainty and simplicity of digital engagements.


Selma Costa, Group Manager, Exhibits, Globus Medical

With Covid-19, people learned there is much more that can be done in the virtual world. Traditional businessmen and women who believed important business could only be successful if held in person, learned that it is very possible to have a similar success virtually. More customers will be looking for new ways of learning about products without having to leave their office or hometown. With that will also come an increase in competition in the virtual world and the need to step-up the game on social media content, videos, webinars and virtual reality. (AR and VR, in particular, will be expected to be incorporated more often, as people continue to look for more virtual opportunities to learn about a product or a service.)


Frank Yohe, Global Director, Natural Materials, DSM

We have adapted to the challenges presented by COVID, but I believe there will be a residual shift in lifestyle and culture as the pandemic is treated. Face to face meetings will be possible, but perhaps not as frequent as before COVID, and conference formats may be redefined forever. To marketers, more importantly, messaging will have to adapt to the value of corporate vs. product branding. Does your brand address the well-being of society and the individual? The industry response to COVID was significant as companies adapted in order to meet their financial goals. There was already a global shift toward sustainability, I expect corporate brand value will increase as companies leverage their investments and play to public sentiment.


Emily Spitale, Associate VP Strategic Marketing & Communications, Temple University

Much of what we know as marketers, especially in the higher ed space, has only been illuminated by COVID. For colleges and universities, I think the need to prioritize the student experience took center stage when adding a global public health crisis. That doesn’t just mean looking for new opportunities for engagement. When your ability to interact with your customers is gone or significantly reduced, every touch point becomes critically important. That needs to be understood across the enterprise, now more than ever, and that is not going away.

John Neilson, Global Digital Marketing Leader, SUEZ

The pandemic put digital marketing in the spotlight and two key trends have emerged that will lead to successful outcomes in whatever the “new normal” looks like. First, customers went from needing products and services to truly needing support and help through difficult times. Many organizations found creative ways to be empathetic and that focus on the customer has grown into an expectation. Going forward it will be critical to find new ways to delight customers across their lifecycle. A second and more tangible trend will be the increased use of augmented reality. Experiential marketing has demonstrated it can replace many tasks that were handled through human interaction. These new experiences will open up opportunities from prospecting to asset care and customer service.


Greg Ippolito, President & Creative Director, IMA

Once things “open up,” the liberated masses will flood to restaurants, movie theaters, beaches, etc., to overconsume all the things they’ve been missing. But after a honeymoon period, expect things to regress back. The pandemic has taught us how to live a different way: how to work, shop, socialize and be entertained, all from the comfort of our sweatpants. That’s going to permanently change how companies do business. The culture will also shift as more of us spend more time in isolation; expect the concept of “The Individual” to take on even more importance going forward … if you can imagine that. (Also, expect gaming to make another leap. And look for YouTube, Facebook, Netflix and Twitch.tv to see a secondary spike in usage, following the aforementioned honeymoon period.)


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