How digital marketers can navigate future uncertainty

by Lars Lehne
Seismic shifts in post-pandemic consumer behaviour, aggressive new privacy requirements and breakneck advancements in technology have left global marketing professionals more than a little off-kilter. But by focusing on a few key issues this year, marketers can manage this change-induced vertigo and ride out the uncertainty of the next couple of years.

Covid has forced almost every brand to bolster its digital offering and there will be no returning to our old ways. We already loved the convenience of digital shopping and when we were able to apply this to even our daily grocery shopping, we leapt at the opportunity. This shift should give high street stores every reason to pause and think about what their shopping differentiator will now be. Expect to see a lot more innovation from brick-and-mortar stores in the next few years.

First-party data will be the holy grail over the next few years, especially as cookies disappear. This new digital-forward approach will go a long way to help companies get into the mind of their consumers. More than just another revenue opportunity, the online play will become a vital part of the modern brand’s survival toolkit.

Social takes off and must be a key focus for CMOs

As part of its annual predictions, Gartner has said that “by 2026, 60% of millennial and Gen Z consumers will prefer making purchases on social platforms over traditional digital commerce platforms”. While it’s still in its infancy right now, shopping directly from a favourite social media platform, such as Instagram, will quickly grow in popularity over the next three to five years.

However, the rate of growth will be dictated by the level of trust consumers have in the platform brands. So, while Instagram will be the focus of marketers’ attention for the moment, this will be influenced by how consumers view and trust its parent company, Meta.

Social commerce also holds significant opportunities for local companies in the future. SA has shown itself to be a mobile-first country, with consumers quickly embracing mobile payments and generally being fast adopters of mobile innovation. Social commerce should be an obvious opportunity for smart marketers and even if execution is some time off, planning should begin soon.

It’s all about how fast that doorbell rings

The one concern with social commerce growth locally lies not in the medium but in the last mile. Successful social commerce is predicated on immediacy. In Europe, the norm is same-day delivery. If the fulfilment part of the experience is less than great, it will colour the consumer’s experience as a whole. Local CMOs should focus on the fulfilment experience as a key means of gearing up to participate in the growth of social commerce in the next few years.

The second caveat on this trend is that not every agency will be able to help brands deliver on the opportunity. Social commerce is more than having a great website. The complexities of developing an appropriate social commerce strategy as part of an existing channel strategy will rely on the experience and insight of the teams working on the account. While early adopters could gain a real competitive advantage, a badly executed offering could alienate customers, who are unlikely to give a brand a second chance.

A cookie-less future is blurring the path ahead

Looking ahead, the biggest issues we are tracking, and which should be on all global marketing leaders’ radars, are proprietary data and the sunset of the third-party cookie.

The impact will only be understood once we are immersed in our new reality, but there are things that every CMO should be doing right now, including aggressively building their first-party datasets and ensuring they have a good tech stack to manage, control, analyse and act on that valuable information. Investing in this now may seem expensive, but the alternative will be far more costly.

Marketers have navigated uncharted waters over the past 24 months and, while the sun may have poked its head out, there is no guarantee of smooth sailing. For the next couple of years marketing professionals must invest in technology designed to deliver the information required to set the best course.

Lars Lehne is the group CEO of Incubeta

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