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Digital Transformation During COVID-19: How Can Marketers Lead the Way?


Now, more than ever, organizations must depend on digital channels to maintain customer connections and plant seeds for future growth.

With face-to-face interactions curtailed and brick-and-mortar venues out of action, teams are adapting to the new normal—full-time remote work, digital-only interactions, and the unprecedented shock of entire industries’ grinding to a halt. Every penny of corporate spending is being challenged, reduced, or eliminated. The prevailing ethos is do more with less—and do it now.

How can marketers be responsive and provide leadership during such a crisis?

During hard times, marketing budgets are subject to particular scrutiny. Marketing leaders can distinguish themselves by making certain that every marketing program pulls its weight, every marketing headcount contributes to revenue, and every marketing dollar delivers bankable ROI.

But they can go further. In an era of doing more with less, and doing it fast, marketers can champion a radical reset of traditional marketing strategies. With life in the outside world on hold or permanently altered, marketers have the opportunity to lead the way toward transforming their companies into digital-first businesses.

That’s not an easy feat, but there are best-practices marketers can rely on to ensure rapid and demonstrable success.

Digital Experiences

Where can marketers make the biggest digital impact, in the shortest time, with the highest ROI? Easy. Innovative customer experiences.

Too little creative thought is given to CX innovation in the best of times. In the worst of times, companies become shortsighted and transactional—trying to squeeze every last dollar out of any customer in sight, with little thought for the future. The best brands, however, remain relational; they continue to build customer relationships for the long haul—where the greatest lifetime value and return on investment resides.

A complete program of digital experiences—for every step of the customer journey—is the most effective means of getting there. But it can only happen by design, not by accident.

“The digital customer journey.” Sounds appealing, but how do you make it real? An effective customer journey depends on three key factors:

  1. Emotional impact: Are you engaging customers in the most memorable, surprising, and personalized way so they’re inspired to take the next step on their journey?
  2. Timeliness: Are you providing original, high-value content when customers need it most (striking while the iron is hot), mindful of short attention spans and the need for instant gratification?
  3. Continuity: Is there something enduring and enriching about your brand experience that differentiates you from competitors and creates a sense of comfort, optimism, and loyalty?

How do you translate those requirements into digital experiences?

  • For emotional impact, digital experiences must be quick and immersive, resulting in “magic moments” that deliver a positive jolt of excitement to your consumers.
  • Timeliness requires instantaneous access to actionable data about what customers are seeking to know—right now, and in what form they will best absorb it.
  • And digital experiences under your brand must share a common look-and-feel, consistent and high-quality production values and a unique and familiar voice. There’s little room for sloppiness, triviality, or unsophistication if you want the digital journey to succeed. It’s relational, not transactional.

How can you apply these lessons to your own efforts at digital transformation during a crisis?

Rapidity and Scale

By necessity, marketers are now in the high-velocity digital content business. They’re expected to produce a lot more digital content—faster, cheaper, and more personalized than ever. Most teams will need to do so with far fewer resources than before—making the rapid scaling of digital design, collaboration, and content production paramount.

Examples of brands moving fast to create new meaningful digital experiences in the time of COVID-19 include global furniture dealer Insidesource. The company launched a digital magazine and started an online competition called Quarantine Studios. This crowdsourced initiative invites participants to create furniture made of unconventional materials found at home. The winner will have his or her furniture professionally reproduced by Corral. This is a brilliant example of a brand authentically and creatively engaging with its audience amid crisis.

In addition, Colliers International quickly implemented a digital COVID-19 resource hub to provide its EMEA customers with trends and observations on how to respond absent “business as usual” conditions during the pandemic. The content ranges from webinars and country-by-country viewpoints to sector-by-sector recommendations for managing the rapidly changing real estate landscape. It’s a timely, high-value digital communique consistent with the Colliers global brand. Relational, not transactional.

Autonomy for Marketing

Another consideration: autonomy. Under these extraordinary circumstances, it’s critical for marketing teams to take charge of crafting the customer journey themselves and depend less on technical or outside teams.

Organizations can no longer afford to have development resources or outside consultants handling tasks that marketing teams can now manage themselves. New marketing technologies can help to bridge the gap.

But what new technologies can marketers leverage to make up for radically shortened timeframes, higher expectations of productivity and significantly reduced resources?

‘Code-Free’ Platforms

One place to start is with the new “code-free” platforms, which alleviate the need for expensive programmers to be involved with content design, production, or hosting.

Code-free technologies were created for just this purpose: to enable marketers to do more with less, and do it quickly and efficiently. What once took many tools and laborious collaboration between designers, marketers, developers, and operations can now be accomplished with ease by marketing teams alone.

The result: more digital content, faster, with almost unlimited variety—no coding required.

Analytics

Second, analytics. New visual analytics platforms help marketers “datafy” and visualize the entire digital customer journey, allowing them to respond instantly to individual consumer reactions and spot overall trends before they unfold across entire markets.

Content ‘Webification’

Third, webification. There’s an opportunity to “webify” old, static content—traditional PDFs and PowerPoints—and transform them into a new generation of visually appealing, interactive digital experiences.

It could be anything—from sales presentations and market research reports to product demos, instructional videos, and customer portals. Those new digital experiences surprise and delight most customers and leave them wanting more from their relationship with you.

IT integration

Finally, IT integration. Marketers can help relieve huge IT backlogs by making certain their new marketing systems integrate with their organization’s legacy IT systems, such as CRM, CMS, and e-commerce.

Such integrations enable marketers to leverage the customer data, digital assets, and digital content already housed in those systems. And it dramatically speeds up digital content production from those systems.

The fastest ROI in the world is to leverage existing investments for greater throughput and economies of scale. For the first time, marketers can become heroes to their IT organizations—not adversaries.

Summing It Up

With no choice but to focus online, it’s imperative for companies to double-down on digital transformation—not run away from it. Marketing teams have a unique opportunity to demonstrate agility in the face of massive economic disruption and drive digital transformation for their companies by focusing on new customer experiences. The immediate and positive impact on customers and the bottom-line is inarguable.

Do more with less, do it well—and do it now.


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