Hold On, We’ve Entered a Digital Marketing Time Warp

How performance marketers can leverage accelerated industry trends

By Jessica Hawthorne-Castro

Digital channels were well on their way to becoming an advertising delivery mode of choice for performance marketers when the pandemic emerged in March 2020.

In the months that followed, the global crisis pushed digital marketing forward anywhere from five to 10 years (depending on whom you ask). This disrupted the normal timeline of marketing, throwing the industry into warp speed—and it’s unlikely to slow down.

These changes cut across generational lines. With millennials and Gen Z having grown up with mobile technology at their fingertips, they became the first logical targets for companies moving their advertising to the digital space in the last two years. But the pandemic-driven shutdowns and restrictions also impacted Gen X, baby boomer and silent generation consumers, who turned to the virtual world for their content and entertainment.

Moving the needle quickly

Digital marketing matured to a point that it wasn’t expected to reach until at least 2026, creating opportunities and challenges for performance marketers to meet consumers in their new customer journey and timeline. Favorite engagement points included online video, pay-per-click advertising, social, CTV/OTT, sponsored content, mobile and email.

Consumer product good giant Unilever is honing and optimizing its marketing plans, while also setting its sights on reaching consumers at multiple touch points. Performance marketers can borrow a page from this playbook as they lay out their plans for 2022 and beyond.

“We have to change with our consumers, engage with them differently than before on digital,” Unilever’s Min Kang stated in Marketing After Covid: Brands & Marketers on Their Biggest Learnings. “Digital allows us to be agile and flexible, with a strategic approach to promotions that balances scale, efficiency, and effectiveness.

“The key is to understand all these different dynamics and consumer preferences and deliver a rich consumer engagement that brings value at scale,” Kang added.

Social takes off

With face-to-face experiences replaced with virtual interactions, social media became a shining star for performance marketers working to reach younger generations of buyers. From TikTok to Facebook and Snapchat, the number of advertising opportunities proliferated as more brands turned to social media platforms to spread awareness about their products and services.

“With concerns about brand safety, supply chain distribution, daily changes in shopping behaviour and more, advertisers learned the importance of needing to be able to adapt quickly within their social campaign strategies,” Quotient’s Drew Hall states in the same white paper. “This included cross-platform designs and changes in media targeting and creative messaging.” 

Be ready for anything

With the upcoming year promising new opportunities and challenges for performance marketers, it’s time to start honing those plans with a ready-for-anything mindset. Be prepared to make quick pivots, pay attention to consumer trends—including any generational-specific developments—and come to terms with the fact that this digital marketing time warp that we’re all experiencing may carry into the new year.

As Janet Balis wrote in the Harvard Business Review, getting to know your customer segment better is the perfect starting point for marketers trying to adjust to this new normal. She advises brands to communicate in “very local and precise” terms, understand the situation on the ground (by country, state, zip code, etc.), and create personally relevant messaging for the target audience.

Using a blend of art and science, performance marketers can effectively reach, engage with and sell to consumers in any business environment. Balis added, “Creating a personal, human connection within any commercial message requires defining consumer segments that describe people according to multiple dimensions that influence their purchasing behaviour, from their psychographics to attitudinal characteristics.”

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