“Digital” One Year After the Outbreak: My Perspective on What “Marketing” Now Is

How The Most Effective Digital Leaders Will Help Their Clients Post-Covid, and Why Past Actions Molded My Present Perspective

Like most every businessperson on Earth, this past year has been incredibly eye-opening for me. I’m now in the 10th year of my digital marketing career, and the most recent 12 months may have been the most educational yet. 

And so with everything I’ve encountered, experienced and observed, I believe now — 12 months since the United States outbreak of Covid-19 — is an ideal time to reflect and share on my actions and learnings. Hopefully, for the benefit of digital leaders and marketers everywhere. 

My “Oh Shit” Moment: This Could be Big for Business, and Bigger Yet for My Industry

When the outbreak unfolded in mid/late-March, something immediately resonated in me that coronavirus was going to be a gamechanger for both business as a whole, and digital marketing as an industry. 

Sensing the gravity of the moment, as well as a generational learning opportunity, I committed to do two things in particular:

  1. Be significantly better about perceiving, and listening to, what was going on with everyone I came into contact with. This was not one of my strong suits at the time. I needed to become much more of an active listener, and work much harder to read between the lines of what people were not only saying, but what they were doing. I simply had to dial in to my fellow humans more effectively. 

2. Take as many notes as I possibly could, especially through the above viewpoint. Document everything. I needed to note not only my own feelings and perceptions, but other peoples’ as well. And for the life of me, I needed to pay very close attention to what I noticed was working while I was doing it, and keep a running log of them which I could refer back to. 

Essential to my job as a marketing agency CEO and Creative Director is the ability to understand people and society at-large. More specifically, how to effectively connect with them, so that they are persuaded to take an action that benefits my clients. 

And I sensed Covid was about to write new rules for all of that. 

Spotting Societal and “Shopping” Themes

Fortunately, the two commitments I made above would crystallize a formula for digital success in the covid-era relatively quickly for me. 

The major recurring themes of my notes were:

  1. Everyone was being pushed to the internet and/or their smartphones for basic survival and human interaction. This was completely erasing the old lines “offline” and “online” experiences. 
  1. That people were clamoring for businesses, brands and even entertainers to somehow, some way fulfill the experience for the consumer wherever they were. (Or, at least them consume it in a different way, such as with to-go cocktails.)

Envisioning a New Marketing Approach

It’s an obvious tenant of good consumer business to “serve the customer where they are.” And I noticed that businesses that were doing this quickly became leading destinations for consumer commerce. And digital was largely the mechanism by which it got there. See: Domino’s Hot Spots.

Going back to my other major theme above: Since online was the only brand interaction possible for many, this conditioned consumers to view their digital interactions as the brand. Consumers were equating — or conflating — their digital experience with the Brand Experience. And brands with the best digital experiences were, again, magnets for consumer commerce. 

After a short time deliberating how Lincoln Digital Group could put my early observations to work for our clients, the rubber met the road. 

We invented and marketed new fulfillment services for some clients. 

We built new delivery tracking and re-ordering experiences for others. 

For others still, we amplified digital tools that spotlighted ecommerce options, as well as how to “size” the right product for them, from the comfort of home.  

An Approach Becomes a Winning Formula

The type of actions exemplified how I was thinking. If we wanted our clients to be successful post-outbreak, this viewpoint in terms of how to serve the consumer needed to be our new ethos. And so I began strategically designing these solutions and tactically incorporating them whenever I could. 

It didn’t come easy, and there were a few testy moments where I probably sounded like a big jerk telling clients this was how it needed to be. But my commitment to the “formula” above — to the exclusion of other marketing approaches — began to payoff significantly toward the end of Q3. 

Our clients were not merely in the early stages of a recovery. The numbers said they were primed to thrive.   

Based upon seeing our clients consistently outpace their peers and competitors, this is what I’m confident saying one year after the outbreak: The combination of convenience and digital fulfillment capabilities, along with a commitment to customer satisfaction (as always), win big. 

And to win, these attributes must now permeate your marketing and digital properties at every turn. 

What “It” — Marketing and Digital — Means Now and in the Future

I believe this means digital agencies, marketing partners — whatever you want to call us — must be thinking how we both spotlight andenablethe entire buying experience in the post-pandemic age. 

This means it’s not about “creative.” It’s not about “media.” It’s not about “digital vs. traditional” or “experiential.” Covid and its acceleration of new experiences to facilitate business means everything is viewed as one integrated experience for the consumer. 

Shoppers don’t delineate between channels or campaigns. To them, it’s simply a brand interaction brand. Period.

I believe this means success is about how we understand our clients’ audience — their expectations, their needs, and what’s most important to them — in order to deliver the best total experience in their buying journey. At Lincoln Digital Group, we call the total experience of the buying journey “digital sales enablement and fulfillment.” 

In less marketing-speak, it simply means moving as much of your buying and aftersales/re-sales cycle online as is possible. From research to product service/delivery to retention, our viewpoint is simply: how can we move more, or all, of it online? 

“Traditional” and “Digital” Lines Got Very Quickly Blurred

For us, this goes back to something that I began perceiving in Q2 of 2020: The digital acceleration would blur the lines between offline and online experiences. 

My “bet,” so to speak, was that convenience and the ability for consumers to do as much possible with your business (ie. Fulfill their buying needs) digitally was and remains the path to victory. It’s not rocket science. Primarily, it results from the convergence of technological capabilities and lockdowns.

Thinking back: How else would you effectively conduct business in a “lockdown” environment, other than to use your website, app or social media to fulfill your buying and/or service experiences for your customer

Covid Conditioned New Consumer Expectations, and How Marketers Now Meet Them

The takeaway from all of this is that it conditioned consumers to expect this type of convenience and capability from their preferred brands going forward. 

So we need to always be thinking about how convenient we help our clients be. What tools, services or experiences can we conceptualize for them to make their customers’ lives easier? 

Because “easy” — a synonym for “convenient” to your customer — wins today’s business battles. It what everyone ultimately prizes, and in many cases, pays a premium for. 

I believe consumers are now conditioned to think this way: Make my life easier? I’ll pay you more. Make my life harder? My savings or discount doesn’t mean much. 

And why is that? Because the “big illuminator” of covid for shoppers was time and it’s importance. Life became more urgent in numerous ways. The importance of how we spend our time became shockingly clear. 

So for these less complacent, more time-conscious shoppers, easy and convenient can be why I choose a brand. It makes my life better. It tells me you “get me.” 

And that’s ultimately our job as marketers — to connect with the buyer as effectively as possible, by whatever means possible. 

The Third Piece of the Formula: Creating Confidence in Your Offering

The other big takeaway from the past year for me regarding how a business “wins” is confidence. More appropriately, how we as marketers develop the strategy to communicate confidence for our clients. 

Not every business can be 100 years old. 

Not every product can be backed by a lifetime warranty.

Not every last detail needs to be shared. (In fact, we always recommend leaving something for the customer to ask about as a next step.)

But with more products on the market than ever, and more noise than ever, the stakes are higher than ever.

And every business must give the customer enough tangible information to be confident in their purchase:

Relatable scenarios of how it can work for them. 

Clear examples of how your support can help if there’s an issue. 

Easy ways to find where or how they can buy it.

This type of understanding and service builds confidence in brands. So great marketers must plan to navigate these realities of the competitive landscape in order to create confidence in their clients.

Shaping the Buying Experience as One Convenient Interaction

As marketers, developing these parts of the buying experience is now incumbent upon us in this new age. And note that none of those things are truly “creative” or “media” — they’re simply “the buying experience.” 

Ultimately, the entire buying experience what a great digital partner shapes and advances in the post-pandemic era. From soup to nuts — from how they find you, to how you deliver (eg. Fulfill) your product or service to them, to how they pay — marketing is in the best position to devise a solution for all of it since it’s all the consumer experience. 

As marketers, we need to be thinking about things like: what’s the best delivery tracking tool or experience for our audience? What’s the best way to prompt re-orders or up-sales? How do we track and allow the redemption of loyalty points? What about referrals? 

And moving many of these things aspects of the buyers’ journey from the physical world to digital world: How do we design and build these aspects of the customer experience? What does enabling commerce in 2021 and beyond really mean? 

This is what I believe it means. This is the challenge. This is where the best agencies are and will orient their thinking. If you haven’t realized by now, it’s where I’ve oriented mine. 

One Year Later: Marketing Success Re-Defined for the Future

Covid forced all of us to slow down, take stock and assess what’s best (and safest) for our lives. When consumers did that, they realized that digital was simply the best idea-mechanism for delivering on these needs as a whole. 

From traditional ecommerce capabilities to new ways to interact with brands, watch events, visit “the doctor,” discover new life hacks or business solutions, digital could deliver it all. And so digital in many ways usurped brands — it became the brand.  

Understand, following Covid, you audience views it all as the same brand interaction at the end of the day. 

The question is: do you have a marketing partner that views your buyers’ journey — and your ability to enable digital commerce — the same way?