If 2020 was the year the world fell apart, then 2021 is the year it puts itself back together.
But with every act of repair, comes an act of change. Marketing strategies provide no exception to this rule. It is true that lockdown has made customers more dependent on online shopping. However, as a marketing manager, it is crucial to avoid any knee-jerk reactions, promoting customers to spend, spend, spend. True, the government is particularly strident in its message: we should revive a dying economy with a shot of consumer adrenaline sent straight to the heart. But for an ethical brand, or in fact, any brand that strives for longevity, now is time to rethink.
2020 has made us slow down, creating space to curate a brand that stands out in a market vying for quick transactions. 2021 is when we implement these changes.
It is unethical to overlook the impact of advertising on mental health. Any spotlight on mental health has only magnified in a year where we people have been stuck at home, away from their version of normality, and the therapeutic rituals of everyday life.
As many people have had to reconcile with loneliness and isolation, mental health problems now account for almost 1 in 3 sick notes as signed by GPs (for those who still have a job), according to new data from NHS Digital. The Centre for Mental health think tank has estimated that 8.5 million adults and 1.5 children in England alone are going to need mental health support for conditions including depression and anxiety in the coming years.
Now, consider the fact that many social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram employ marketing strategies that are designed to alter the behaviour of the consumer, subtly using the data it collects to serve the interests of an invisible third party. These third parties do not have the mental wellbeing of the consumer in mind, but would see them manipulated, enticed to stay scrolling, clicking and buying at all costs.
This may sound gloomy, but my point is simple: be mindful. Be mindful of ethical marketing, not only will this benefit your brand, but the consumer.
This checklist will help you plan for 2021, detailing the practises to avoid and employ.
1 – Disrupt Disruption
Social media. No longer just social, but mostly media.
Simply, they have become advertising platforms in and of themselves. Jaron Lanier, Author of Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now makes a bold point. “The most important thing about a technology is how it changes people.” What we want is to inspire, not manipulate. The conceit of social media advertising is that of disruption, to stop a person from interacting with their network and to draw their attention to products and services. These subtle strategies can easily chip away at a person’s mood and overall well being.
Now, I would not like to suggest that marketing managers encourage their consumers to delete their social media, however, I do believe that it is irresponsible and outdated to employ the advertising tactic of constant disturbance.
If you are to use targeted marketing, then there are more gracious ways you can do so. Successful digital ads will not disturb a customer’s online experience, they make sense in the context of where they are used. If they are well targeted to the consumer, they will appear relevant and welcome and people won’t feel tricked into viewing. You don’t want to be the company whose advert people are dying to skip when it appears on YouTube.
Turn off autoplay on your videos. According to a HubSpot survey on global consumers, ‘82% of people report that they have closed a web page because of an autoplaying video ad.’ The practice is seen as invasive by consumers, and contradictory – a brand does not appear to care about providing a customer with a solution when they do not respect their time and browsing experience.
2 – Be Authentic
Fake News, it’s a cliched term at this point. But the ramifications of falsehood are everywhere in advertising. Whether it’s a sensationalist headline on a news article, or an unsubstantiated sense of frenzy being used to sell products (just think about the great toilet roll shortage of 2020), fake news is a short term strategy that damages a brand’s long term impact.
Inauthenticity is also in the overselling. Picture this. You’re scrolling through social media and come across an advert for vegan milk. What’s your reaction when you’re told that it will not only save your immune system, but the planet, curing coronavirus in the process? Your eyes roll, indignation flares, and you stick to the brands you know. If you drink dairy milk, you may vow to never once try vegan milk in your life. As a marketing manager, you should plan to inspire a feeling, which feeling is up to you.
3 – Don’t be Desperate
Desperate marketing can be devious marketing. Sometimes, it’s a shrewdly timed price hike before a promotion. Sometimes, it’s delivered with a guilt trip.
Scenario 1, a customer is shown their 5th Cyber Monday discount deal of the day, after a legion of Black Friday offers the week before. The customer, disengaged, has promotion fatigue, and is unlikely to take advantage of the discount.
But what if they do? A lot of marketers fail to distinguish between different types of customers. Black Friday deals tend to attract the type of buyer who has no relationship with the brand and only occasionally makes purchases. Now, of course, if a Black Friday deal makes a product that was otherwise too expensive, affordable, then it has merit. However, marketing plans should be conscious of the dilemma: invest in low-value customers, who make occasional purchases with low-margins, at the expense of high-value customers, loyal to your brand, making several purchases throughout the year.
Scenario 2, January is here, so are the guilt-led gym promotions, as consistent as the rising sun. Most gyms will opt to make consumers feel guilty about gaining weight over Christmas, using phrasing like ‘christmas bloat,’ asking us to ‘shed the unsightly fat.’ Not only is this unethical, and therefore alienting in a year where people may have gained extra weight during lockdown, but when customers fail to go to the gym in the coming year, they’re left with a bad taste in their mouth; resentment. This would turn the customer off to similar promotions in the future. Of course, this is a very specific example, but there is an overarching message: make the customer feel obligated and you won’t see them again, give them a welcome invite, and they may just take it.
4 – Make Sustainable Attainable
Terms like fast fashion and sustainability are fixed in today’s marketing milieu. Granted, it is essential that we strive to make better purchases. We should aim to provide quality products that last. We should move away from cheap, breakable tat, in the customer’s hands for a brief time before its final destination; the land-fill. If ethical is your ethos, then you’ll have more success with an understanding approach. If you preach about sustainability in an overly militant manner, then you are imparting full responsibility for an environmental crisis on the single customer experiencing your branding at any one time. No one logs on for a lecture they didn’t sign up for.
5 – Avoid Overconsumption
Overconsumption is dangerous. Both to people and planet. You can have an environmental ethos without pressuring the consumer. A good start is in the avoidance of overconsumption. You don’t need to read this blog to know that the extreme mining of our natural resources worsens the breakdown of our environment. Needless products for the sake of selling depletes our planet’s resources, leaving us short on materials needed for our everyday life.
Marketing techniques such as bundle deals, using Klarna or other buy now credit-schemes, incentivising wasteful consumption are problematic. There may be no better example of this than the Subscription Box, a service that markets the warm and fuzzy sensation of opening an unknown present and sells it to a consumer for a monthly fee. The very same drive that has popularised the YouTube unboxing video has been monetised to produce a temporary and wasteful buzz. Each month a customer opens a box of treats for the appeal of the surprise. The contents have become inconsequential, and sadly, expendable.
6 – Go Back to the Start
To return to the essence of marketing is to return a core principle: a successful campaign inspires change. When you’re asking someone to change their finances and situation, it pays to empathise. Put yourself in the mindset of your audience. Consumers are unlikely to appreciate an invasion of ads, the undiscriminating deal-beasts, that they are. Your audience is an individual with particular aesthetic tastes, core values and escapisms. What would this person want from a brand? What would inspire them to buy your t-shirt? Are they someone who finds a sense of wellbeing watching raindrops on the window, listening to nostalgic music set to lofi beats, with a Beetroot latte in hand? If this is the person you’re marketing to, every aspect of your brand, from ethos to design, should communicate the message they’d like to hear.
Think of the Champs Tea brand, made with an invigorating blend of ingredients. The kettle boils, the water is poured. The spiced aroma of the tea diffuses throughout the room. The customer slows down, enjoying their post-workout ritual. Champs Tea knows that a tea-break is an experience.
7 – Start Storytelling
Storytelling is your weapon to combat consumer fatigue. Where spam adverts invade, annoy, and pester, a well-considered narrative activates an audience. When you invoke universal themes and emotions, you have a greater chance of maintaining your customers’ focus. This is how you win the fight against high bounce and poor conversion rates.
Don’t focus solely on your brand’s products, reveal what makes them unique. How did your brand come about? What hardships did you overcome? How did these lessons improve your product? Do so on an emotional level. If you connect to your audience’s sense of compassion, they will be more likely to support your brand.
A word of warning – strike the right balance here. We want to avoid the guilt trip and leave your customer feeling positive. Ultimately, consumers, like anyone, remember not what was said, but how they were made to feel. Your story shouldn’t be contained to the ‘About’ section of your website. Punctuate your content strategy with posts that show your people, your human side, your ethos.
8 – Content Creation
The next stage of your marketing plan concerns content creation. Creating fresh content provides many advantages to your brand. Companies can easily overlook its importance, concerning themselves with sales and KPIs over an equally important factor to eCommerce success: the relationship with your customers. Simply, creating insightful content, both written and video, makes you feel like an expert to the customer, even if it’s not directly selling to them.
Gone are the days when SEO marketing involved saturating your content with as many relevant keywords as you can. Curating a catalogue of well-researched and informative content is the best way to promote the web optimisation of your site. This in turn, while developing your relationship with your existing customers, makes it easier to attract new viewers.
9 – Branding with Impact
Now you have a brand ripe with quality content, we can talk about the way your product is delivered. Yes, it’s important to spotlight the ways in which you offer something unique, but it is key to ensure that the way you sell is also individual.
There are a million and one eRetailers out there. The successful ones aren’t trading in fabled golden fleeces. In fact, they’re selling something very similar to their competitors, but understand that eCommerce is all in the how. Think of a brand with a strong, consistent persona. Branding is in everything they do, from the fonts, packaging, colours, design, tone of voice. If their ethos is environmental, the materials are ethically sourced. A consumer has a clear idea of what they are being offered.
Born from a longing for escapism, 2020 has been a year where ‘aesthetics’ are on the rise. Scroll through Instagram and you’ll see hashtags like ‘dark academia,’ and ‘cottage core’ everywhere, turning the app into a digital mood board. You soon get a ‘feel’ of these terms, what they invoke, what they entail. If your brand too has its own aesthetic, it will find its own audience.
10 – Constant Consistency
Make sure everything you do, say and present is unified. Embolden your brand identity. Stick to your ethos. You can spot an article from The New Yorker before you read a word of its content. When you do, you find the pithy tone you come to expect. When you download a mindfulness app, everything from the background music to the color scheme is designed to calm a busy mind. There’s no jarring font, clashing palette, annoying loading screens.
Maybe this involves rethinking your message? Are you a humorous, serious, down-to-earth and relatable company? A company who knows who they are is strict about what they’re not. That’s because any messaging that detracts from your brand persona. Are you using the right language? Would your audience best respond to a formal or informal tone? Will technical jargon alienate or inform?
Once you have a strong picture of who you are, there’s work to be done in ensuring that all your content and communications, past, present and future, gives your company a clear identity.
You can be successful and ethical.
2021 presents an opportunity to reorganize your marketing strategies. As the world adapts to both a viral pandemic and economic crash, customers will interact with your product differently. As consumers respond to such a seismic shift in the very way they consume, your 2021 marketing plans should be mindful of two things – cutting and creating. You should be cutting outdated and alienating marketing pitfalls and creating opportunities to deepen trust with your customers. Luckily, this is achieved with a single approach – an authentic brand message.