When you look back at events that have unfolded in the beginning of 2020, what is the story you want to tell? I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately. It’s come up in the video chats I’ve been hosting on LinkedIn and in conversations with my peers and across the leadership team at Sitecore. I am finding it helpful to reflect on our current situations and exchange ideas for navigating through uncertain times. Here are five ways that some of the people whom I respect and admire are preparing for the future:

  1. Honing our communications skills with Armand David, Brand2Life
  2. Adjusting the marketing mix with Christine Crandell, New Business Strategies
  3. Revisiting brand purpose with Margaret Molloy, Siegel+Gale
  4. Understanding consumer behavior with Patrick Munden, Wunderman Thompson Commerce
  5. Watching global trends with Gerry Brown, IDC

1. Honing our communication skills

“Pause, reflect, adjust,” says Armand David, a communications expert with Brand2Life, a public relations agency based in London. In a two-part video chat, he reminded us that differentiation still matters, but it’s super important to consider the tone we’re using to reach our customers. We have to be honest about whether yesterday’s messages feel appropriate right now. At the same time, Armand suggests, “Ask yourself if every part of your audience needs to hear the same ‘we’re here for you’ message?” Communication during crisis should be nuanced. Remember, it’s much worse to get an inappropriate communication than no communication at all. 

2. Adjusting the marketing mix

Trend spotter Christine Crandell from New Business Strategies has been watching two defining trends develop: People are seeking real human connections, and they also want to learn new skills. 

With this context in mind, she recommends that businesses take this opportunity to map their customer journeys. This is hard work in the best of times, and I know from our recent experience at Sitecore, it can be difficult for teams to carve out the necessary space to do it right. If you haven’t tried to see what’s really working and not, this could be the time to dive in, while other priorities have been tabled.

Christine also urges companies to prepare for the future by modeling some different marketing mixes. A variety of AI solutions can help you automate this process. (For example, Sitecore AI helps you identify visitor trends, create audience segments, and modify page elements to deliver personalized experiences.) “The key going forward is not having a plan; it’s having probably four plans,” she says. With several options on the table, you can adjust your approach instantly as the future becomes clear. 

Once you have new campaigns ready to go, Christine advises revamping content strategies to focus more on educational material and less on broadcasting the features of your products. Think about whether you can offer free classes, or can you find other ways to expose customers to new ideas?

Christine and I discussed how people are on a quest for connectivity right now, and we don’t see this trend changing anytime soon. We have to figure out how to bring down the walls and engage with customers as human beings.

3. Revisiting brand purpose

"Brands will be remembered for how they respond to this crisis," says Margaret Molloy, Global CMO for Siegel+Gale. Margaret sees tremendous tension in the decisions CMOs are having to make this year. They have to consider the safety and well-being of their employees along with the need to preserve revenue. They are worried about long-term brand building and still having resources for performance marketing. Above all, they want to ensure the health of the enterprise while also supporting their communities.

Many of these decisions come down to having a clear sense of company purpose. “COVID-19 is stress-testing ‘purpose’ in our organizations, and the CMO is at the forefront of that conversation,” she says. “Companies that have a purpose know how to bring it to life when context changes.” This fact rings truer than ever to me right now. Each decision we’re making at Sitecore comes down to whether it supports our stated company purpose, to create human connections between brands and their customers. If you can’t articulate a clear purpose as part of your company positioning, make that a priority right away.

4. Understanding consumer behavior

When Wunderman Thompson Commerce released its fourth annual Future Shoppers Report last month, it included data from within the pandemic timeframe – the first such research I’ve seen that gives an idea how consumer behavior may be changing. 

Chief Growth Officer Patrick Munden and I had a lively chat, during which he revealed 52% of shoppers go to Amazon first for inspiration, before they’ve settled on buying any kind of product. When it comes time to search for a specific product, 63% go directly to Amazon, skipping all other search sites in the process. This behavior leads to Amazon claiming one of every three dollars spent online. Wow!

We also talked about delivery trends. Online retailers have to address delivery, in one way or another. But interestingly, COVID has taken some of the pressure off same-day delivery expectations. As businesses cope with supply chain interruptions and test out contactless delivery procedures, the key criteria for consumers has become, “Is the product I want in stock?”

Takeaway: The 2020 Future Shoppers Report is packed full of many more insights like these. I highly recommend giving it a read to see how these developing trends may affect your e-commerce business.

5. Watching global trends 

It’s easy to get caught up in what’s happening locally, so for the latest video chat, I wanted to zoom out to other regions of the world. Gerry Brown, Customer Experience Research Director with international analyst firm IDC, joined me to talk about his research on emerging trends in EMEA in the wake of the pandemic. 

For starters, 81% of the European enterprises he’s surveyed indicated they will see a decrease in revenue in 2020 due to the crisis, and 60% of them expect the drop in revenue to be more than 10%. This reality is causing line-of-business and IT leaders to reprioritize their technology spends. In the short term, building trust with customers is job #1. Looking ahead to the rest of 2020 and into 2021, the top initiatives are CX engagement and investing in CX products and services to deliver digital experiences.

“CX in the short-, medium- and long-term has risen dramatically to the top of the agenda for line-of-business and IT leaders,” Gerry says. “People have become laser-focused on the need to retain customers.”

Gerry and I also discussed how empathy has risen to the top of the CEO agenda – and how it’s easy to say, but very difficult to do, especially at scale. Gerry suggests that new machine learning technologies can help businesses analyze historical context with in-the-moment observations such as facial expression, giving us a powerful combination of human elements and technology elements from which to build out customer engagements.

As we look ahead to the rest of this year and beyond, the foundational principles of marketing may not change, but how we position our businesses in this new context will matter most of all. Many companies will pivot, and entire industries may never be the same. Let’s keep the conversation going.

Watch the full video chat series on Sitecore’s YouTube channel.

Paige O’Neill is Chief Marketing Officer at Sitecore. Find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.