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The Next Normal: 7 Business Innovation Trends for 2021

Discover how strategic content marketing can boost your business, increase engagement & drive sales. Learn about the benefits of a calculated approach to content marketing

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2020 has been a game changing year for businesses around the world. As the full scale of the COVID-19 crisis began to set in, businesses of all sizes were forced to pivot… and fast. What resulted was a series of business transformations which had been expected to take years to implement, being rolled out in just a few short weeks. Digital transformation was no longer a pipeline dream for businesses, but a necessity for survival.

Times are changing. You may have heard the term ‘the next normal’ already. But what does it mean for you? What are some of the key marketing innovation trends to result from the global pandemic, and how can businesses keep pace with the rapidly changing global economy to ensure the survival of their business? Let’s explore!

1. Hybrid teams

Before the pandemic, the idea of employing remote workers or granting employees the ‘privilege’ to work from home one day a week, was too steep for most businesses to indulge. But as the pandemic taught us, having a remote or hybrid team shouldn’t be seen as a weakness to accommodate, but a strength to embrace.

The increase in remote working capabilities brings with it a swathe of additional benefits, including increased employee satisfaction, higher retention rates and an increase in productivity without increasing costs. While managers may feel powerless to track worker productivity and monitor project progress as easily as when working in the office, they need only look at the statistics which reveal happier workers, are more productive workers.

Yet despite the statistical benefits, the growing emergence of hybrid workforces presents new concerns for managers about employee engagement. A study by KPMG suggests leveraging innovation activities to drive the engagement of remote workers using collaboration tools and innovation platforms to connect employees and co-create new ideas. It’s a win-win for everyone, as higher employee engagement results in increased morale and productivity.

2. Management style

With so many businesses forced to adapt to work-from-home (WFH) setups, many managers found themselves bewildered with how to effectively manage and motivate workers to ensure deadlines were still met. These new circumstances called for a new approach to leadership.

Interestingly, the key foundational principles which underpin the new style of leadership demanded of managers in a post-pandemic era, relate to communication. The challenge of hybrid teams becomes apparent when managers are no longer able to simply stroll across the office floor to keep pace with project timelines and checkpoints.

New imperatives for managerial communication in these instances include building mutual trust with employees; setting clear expectations for work; agreeing up front on communication methods and expectations; and focusing on the outcomes and achievements, not daily tasks.

3. Lead generation

As the COVID-19 crisis made its mark on the global economy, one of the first liabilities businesses discovered was lead generation. With the sudden decline in outbound lead generation ROI, businesses were left scrambling to fix their lead generation issues, vainly chasing those pre-pandemic numbers. As it turns out, they were running the wrong way.

With the sudden increase in market volatility and decrease in job security, consumers around the world begun tightening their purse strings and shied away from business investment. Why? Because the usual outbound digital marketing techniques were no longer working. This is where the importance of inbound lead generation systems really comes to the forefront.

Content strategy has often been relegated in digital marketing schedules as nothing more than a ‘nice to have’. It always seemed like a digital marketing budget blackhole: “Who reads blogs anyway? Aren’t Facebook Ads the way to go?” But the effects of the pandemic have revealed an inherent need for businesses to invest in their digital content marketing strategy, even if only for one reason: to establish digital authority through thought leadership.

Thought leadership is becoming increasingly important in an era where everyone has access to digital publication. Thought leadership is a way of building your digital authority on a certain topic within a certain market, then leveraging the ensuing increase in demand for inbound lead generation purposes. To complement this, an audience building strategy is a great idea, whereby businesses seek to expand their sphere of influence and grow the organic reach of their digital marketing efforts.

But how can you become a digital authority? The secret is found within the word authority itself: become an author. Becoming an author doesn’t necessitate writing a book. It’s as simple as frequently publishing valuable, timely and relevant content for people within your sphere of influence.

4. Marketing automation

With the rise of remote and hybrid teams comes exponential opportunities for marketing innovation with digital marketing automation. Among these, is the opportunity to increase the agility of inbound lead generation systems through outsourced content marketing pipelines.

But what does marketing automation mean for you? One of the key findings that has come to light since the pandemic, is the need for brands to continue investing in their marketing. The 2020 Advertising Council Australia report found that brands who increased or even just maintained their levels of marketing expenditure despite declines in business revenue were rewarded with an increase in market share-of-voice post-pandemic, as most of their competitors had lost market share-of-voice by scaling back their marketing budgets. So how can businesses go about optimising their marketing budgets during a pandemic while remaining agile?

Nielsen research has revealed a jump in time spent by consumers accessing online content through their mobile devices. In Australia the jump in March 2020 compared to March 2019 was 52%, while in the US this jump became a leap to 215%. This huge increase in online traffic offers businesses greater opportunities for audience building and digital marketing innovation. It has become more important now than ever before for brands to invest in audience building or risk becoming irrelevant.

Perhaps the most time and cost-effective method for expanding market share-of-voice is through human-centric marketing automation, whereby businesses find content creation partners to help reduce overheads and increase productivity through content creation pipelines. This also affords businesses the opportunity to better track their marketing ROI at a time when accountability and optimisation is a matter of survival.

5. Digital transformation

While digital transformation can seem like an enormous undertaking, it doesn’t need to be. In fact, strategic business pivoting decisions are not only more effective when implemented speedily, but more cost effective too. As a result of the pandemic, the adoption of digitisation and automation technologies has accelerated.

Businesses have been aware for a long time before the pandemic, the imperativeness of developing a digital strategy. But with the arrival of COVID-19, this mandate was brought into sharp focus. Businesses who had been reluctant to implement their digital transformation strategy pre-pandemic suddenly found themselves to be the first ones hit when consumers were forced into lockdown.

On the flip side, businesses who had already developed and even implemented a digital transformation strategy found themselves much more insulated and resilient to the immediate consequences of the lockdown, being in a much stronger position to pivot than their ill-prepared competitors.

But all is not lost just yet. The same research shows that businesses who had already invested in their digital transformation pre-pandemic but chose not to continue investing in it as the recession hit, quickly found themselves overtaken by non-digital competitors who were suddenly going all-in with their digital strategy investment, overtaking them with the latest digital strategies born during crisis.

6. Brand relationships

Consumer behaviours and expectations are rapidly changing in a post-COVID marketplace. While some consumers are finding themselves with less discretionary income due to job loss caused by the pandemic, others are finding themselves with more discretionary income as a result of being unable to splurge on entertainment and dining experiences during the lockdown. With these two categories of consumers in mind, let’s take a look at their evolving behaviours.

According to Nielsen research, there are six key areas of consumer consumption which are being affected by the pandemic as we move towards the ‘next normal’. One particular area of interest is what Nielsen terms the resetting of brand relationships.

With the arrival of the pandemic, marketing campaigns of early 2020 quickly became outdated. Any brand that continued running the earlier campaigns which gave no acknowledgment of the growing crisis were deemed as insensitive and out of touch. The longer the brands ‘remained dark’ and struggled with their new tone of voice, the more their customers turned to other brands who were quicker to pivot and implement their new marketing message. The values of authenticity and empathy quickly rose to the fore, resonating with consumers suddenly finding themselves in a strange new world.

This provides businesses with an exciting new opportunity. As market share and brand allegiances continue shifting, opportunities present themselves to brands willing to take action in discovering, refining and publishing their message to the marketplace. Mistakes can be forgiven, but inaction caused by corporate indecision and extended approval processes has resulted in a downtown for many large corporate brands.

Another simple way for businesses to increase their empathy perception, is by giving back to the community in times of crisis.

7. AI augmentation

We’ve known for a long time that augmenting human-centric solutions with AI data insights is the way of the future. The limitless capabilities of AI coupled with its inherent capacity for data analysis means that businesses wishing to future-proof their digital marketing and business operations need to start thinking about the role of AI within their organisations.

With numerous new roadblocks and challenges arising from the pandemic, businesses can begin their AI strategy by using AI-assisted tools and software to uncover marketing innovation opportunities. In the short term, AI tools can help businesses discover new solutions to new problems or help discover new avenues for revenue generation within an existing business model. They can also assist businesses with marketing automation, increasing efficiency and decreasing overheads at a time when every dollar counts.

In the long term, human-AI partnership will see an increase in adoption due to the exponential possibilities for optimisation and increasing ROI yield. With 76% of executives identifying the need for AI implementation within reengineered systems, there’s never been a more opportune time to consider the role AI augmentation could play in your business’s future.

What lies ahead…

The road towards 2021 and beyond is filled with challenges. But with every challenge comes the opportunity for growth. The key takeaway is this: businesses who act fast to develop marketing collateral which is authentic and empathetic will increase their market share-of-voice and thought leadership status.

This process builds brand resilience and consumer loyalty, resulting in businesses bouncing back stronger and faster than their competitors. When times are hard and more consumers than ever before are accessing unprecedented levels of content, digital authority matters.

If you would like to explore how digital content strategy can increase your business’s resilience and market share-of-voice, fileroom offer a range of specialist content creation services to help your business survive the pandemic and thrive in The Next Normal.

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