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The Covid-19 global pandemic forced businesses to try making sense of the present by adapting and responding quickly. We’re all asking similar questions about the rest of this year. Will things ever return to normal? Will 2021 continue to demand rapid response to change? How much longer until we get some sense of relief? It’s hard to predict what the future holds. Likewise, we can’t change history, but we can revise the lens in which we look back at it. 


Better days are ahead. It’s important to take the best of history and apply it as a lens to look through for planning for the future. If hindsight is 2020 – here’s what to take with you into 2021. 


1. Revision begins now 


If your business were to grow two, three, even 10 times the size that it is now in a year – it’s critical you have a solid answer to this question: what breaks? 


That question may have been answered when heavy constraints were forced upon businesses earlier this year. Marketing channels like physical events were eradicated from any 2020 plans, not to mention likely heavy budget cuts across all of marketing. Businesses can no longer survive without a strong digital infrastructure, period.  


With that reality comes an increased level of saturation and competition across digital experiences. Just as the pandemic brought forth new demands and forced companies to pivot at a moment’s notice because of a pandemic, it’s important to avoid complacency even if you already had the means of running your business digitally and with some agility. Whether you’re just launching your digital journey or you’ve been at it for a while, the gaps need to be filled with a sense of urgency that allow your organization to rebound at a moment’s notice and evolve quickly to meet the needs of your customers. 


For the near future, and the long run, digital needs to be the foundation upon which everything is built to last. 


2. Empathy 2.0 


Communicating that you understand your customer’s challenges, you know their needs better than they do, and that your business can offer them a solution that motivates them to trust you is any marketer’s goal. That’s usually the underlying idea of customer-centric, or empathy based, marketing. 


2020 has been hard for all of us – as individuals and as a collective group, personally and professionally. In business, we’re used to being able to collaborate with colleagues, grab coffee with a mentor, attend conferences, or sit in a room with solution architects and sales teams to experience a product demo in person. While some of those experiences are making their way back, they are by no means the standard yet.  


Marketers are doing their best to mimic human experiences across digital channels to fill the physical void and customers are starting to expect it. Every digital interaction is consequential as a result. Companies need to be able to read their customers’ digital body language in real time. Whether it’s personalization at an individual level or unique content offerings that are highly valuable to their operating realities – your messaging needs to be authentic and empathetic to every human behind the interaction and delivered in the moment that its needed. 


3. Surround sound data 


Marketing is as much an art as it is a science and digital can only be evidence driven. When it comes to the digital strategy of your organization, marketing needs to lead the way. Acquiring data and insights across digital touchpoints is going to give you better outcomes across every front. When you deeply understand your customers, you can build and execute the experiences they desire, and nowadays expect. 


The best way to gather customer data?  Listen to them. Your customers voices come in many forms and listening is paramount both in 2020 and in the years to come. Their needs and habits can pivot quickly and it’s critical to be able to respond in real time. The data is never going to be perfect, but it needs to be measured consistently. The delta in their behavior is always going to be more interesting than the absolute value. 


4. Permission 


At Episerver’s virtual user-conference, Ascend B2B, when asked what leadership meant to her in terms of driving a digital experience forward for her company, Gabie Boko, Global Vice President of Digital at Hewlett Packard Enterprise said. It’s permission. I often look at my team and look at everything we’ve got on the docket…I want to give them permission to go be as creative and as bold as they can be, knowing that we all have to ground ourselves in the big growth numbers...If we’ve done it really well for the last six months, but something happened and it’s not working, then let’s take a look at it. And if it’s not going to continue to work, then let’s move away from it and focus on something that can fix it. 


This needs to be reflected from the inside out, outside in, and every direction possible. With teams working remotely, and thus likely most of your customers as well, people need to feel empowered to pave their own path. Empowering your employees may manifest as giving your physical events team the permission and budget needed to move forward with virtual events and create plans for hybrid event models that bring the best of physical and digital together. It may be reflected in your digital strategy to permit your customers to choose their own content journey on your website. Good intentions aren’t enough. The only way to do this is to make sure you know your employees and know your customers so you can truly give them permission to voluntarily pave their own way. 


5. Managing mindset through change 


Scaling a process, a team, a business – it’s difficult. Covid-19 mandated digital transformation for so many businesses. In many cases, digital became the sole method of selling or interacting with customers.  Some may throw technology at a problem and call it a day. But, acquiring new technology isn’t just about having the technology – it’s about an entirely new way of doing business and can prompt internal process change. Even if your marketing technology is perfectly stacked, the trust that it takes to successfully implement new software internally is very nuanced and can be a bit uncomfortableAdding to the complexity, automated systems may recommend content that was different than what a marketer originally chose. 


Episerver customer, Genpact tackled this with a simple method: clear communication and learning to trust the technology based on the results it delivered. Julian Billups, Genpact’s Head of Web and Web Strategy said, “Genpact has a huge gamut of offerings, it’s a huge matrix of industry offerings, service lines, all of that stuff. That presents a real challenge when you’re trying to figure out what content goes on what page. You have to be able to tell your internal audience and say - look, it’s doing that for a reason. The fact is, the click-throughs on those are twice what they are much of the time for return visitorsThere needed to be a lot of communication internally about what’s going to happen, why something is there, why you’re seeing something there, why your user might see something different there than you necessarily did. We’re thinking from the outside-in, and that’s been the biggest change.” 


Understanding the how and the why of a digital strategy is imperative to its success in execution. Preparing and supporting the collective individuals of a marketing team, harnessing the best of both people and technology, and leading with empathy, is what is going to separate the forward-thinking marketers from the pack.  


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