Marketers must adapt to change, the only certainty for global business this decade

The following is a guest post from Bob Feldman​, vice chair of global consultancy ICF Next. Opinions are the author’s own.

The old business maxim that “change is the only constant” has taken on new meaning in the age of digital transformation and, now, social distancing. Entrepreneurs and business strategists talk ad nauseam​ of disruption. But what if the velocity of change is so fierce that it calls the very definition of disruption into question? Perhaps it’s time to update that classic maxim to reflect present innovation realities and prepare for a new decade of technology-driven marketing — a decade where continuous transformation is the new normal.

While the speed of change means that questions remain about exactly how marketing will evolve in the next decade, here are three trends you can count on seeing throughout the 2020s.

Companies will get creative — and potentially disruptive — when building brands

How people connect to brands, and how brands connect to people, will change significantly in the next few years. As avid streaming, tech and content consumers move toward an ad-free lifestyle, marketers will need to think differently about how to reach their audience in places they already are. In some cases, this may take the form of a retreat back to physical advertising in the form of murals, bus stops, highway billboards and events. In others, it may look like brands integrating directly into programming — sponsorship models driven by platforms and technologies broadcasting directly to people within their established routines. In some of the most cutting-edge transformations to date, brand marketers will begin to turn to experiential tech, such as virtual reality (VR), to stand above competitors while being mindful of new risks to consumer privacy tech brings to the table.

Purpose and social good will be essential to business success

In the next decade, environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) will become a crucial element of how corporate brands position themselves. A recent shift from shareholder to stakeholder ethos promoted by the Business Roundtable offers evidence that that tide is already turning. Companies, such as Patagonia, that donate percentages of their profits to causes will multiply as social responsibility becomes table stakes. Agencies and marketers will play a role in amplifying ESG efforts to weave into larger brand identities.

Meanwhile, consumer calls for brands and organizations to give back to society and the environment will intensify. Marketers will need to balance stakeholder demands, onboarding ESG staff and new programs, and consider building teams dedicated to reducing carbon footprints and actively reversing climate issues created by commercial manufacturing. There will be surge in accountability challenges to companies that redefine social good as simply being good business, a core element of change in the 2020s.

Content and data will differentiate competitors

We spend an average of 70% of our waking hours consumed with technology, according to Nielsen. From blogs to email and social media, we are bombarded with brand messages from multiple channels. People are regularly handing over a lot of data — whether they know it or not — to the cloud, apps, platforms and online brand experiences.

Tomorrow’s competitive landscape will require brands to think harder and push more meaningful content to strategic audiences, like General Electric’s launching GE Reports, a digital news site covering transformation across the company. With that, the role of marketers will evolve to become more complicated as new tools and platforms enter the picture. Consequently, marketers will need to drill into which are most effective and essential and leave the others behind.

Clients will increasingly ask agencies to wear multiple hats to better understand their engagement challenges. They won’t just need traditional marketers anymore. They will need data scientists, business consultants, behavioral specialists and humanities experts. To prepare, today’s marketers need to either learn new skills or start working with new and potentially unexpected teams.

Looking ahead through the 2020s

Fundamentally changing marketing methods, modes and models will become normal courses of action. Agencies and marketing departments must diversify hires to capture fresh markets, provide clients and executives with fresh thinking, and reach new audiences with fresh tactics. Marketers will need to be ready to drastically adapt at the drop of a hat or risk becoming obsolete in a futuristic global marketplace. However, in order for brands to succeed, they must become trusted sources of information, leaders in movements that help improve civil discourse and public good, and responsible actors whose actions activate and inspire participation among audiences worldwide.

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