PPE, the acronym for personal protective equipment, quickly became known by most of us as the Covid-19 pandemic strengthened last year. Now there’s a new attribution coming on strong—especially for marketers.
PPE can also stand for the post-pandemic economy, and you’ve got to wrap your head around this concept fast because both B2C and B2B marketing has been profoundly changed by consumer behavior.
Things won’t go back to normal. Marketing for the post-pandemic economy is the new normal. Here’s what you need to know.
Digital ecommerce has gained dominance
According to media and research organization Digital Commerce 360, the coronavirus pandemic has put ecommerce at the forefront of retail. The U.S. Commerce Department reports that from 2019 to 2020, growth was 44 percent. In dollars and cents, the pandemic pumped an additional $174.9 billion into the ecommerce engine—pushing it to a level not expected to be reached until 2022.
We can’t think of digital commerce without looking at Amazon. The growth in increased traffic to the site is no longer explosive. For example, total visits to Amazon were up 20 percent in January 2021 compared to the previous year. That’s meager compared to the 54 percent year-over-year growth Amazon saw in December of 2020.
It’s easy to think that the titan known as Amazon is eating everybody’s lunch. In some ways, though, it’s been a safe (although some would argue, greedy) harbor for small businesses that otherwise couldn’t make it on their own. We’re talking about Amazon Marketplace, the ecommerce platform owned and operated by Amazon. It enables third-party sellers to sell new or used products on a fixed-price online marketplace alongside Amazon’s regular offerings.
Amazon reported that Marketplace sellers sold 3.4 billion products in the 12 months leading up to May 31 of 2020. These sellers saw average annual revenue jump from $100,000 to $160,000 during that time. Marketplace products account for more than half of all merchandise sold on Amazon.
Meanwhile, more than 20 of North America’s best-known retailers filed for bankruptcy in 2020. Between April, when statewide COVID-19 lockdowns began, and the end of the year, we saw strong brands ranging from Neiman Marcus and J.C.Penney to Sur La Table and Brooks Brothers file for protection against creditors.
It wasn’t all bad news for retailers. Many pivoted to offer curbside pickup as a way to retain shoppers. By June of 2020, in the retail apparel segment alone, more than 34 percent offered this feature, up from less than 2 percent at the start of the year. The branding impact for retailers taking this approach? Customer acquisition and increased sales. Target said that web orders fulfilled by curbside pickup increased by 734 percent by August of 2020.
These are crucial observations from a PPE perspective. Businesses are reinventing themselves by creating strategic alliances. Your marketing has to account for where prospects are now looking for what you sell. You have to because the majority of e commerce purchases are from new or low-frequency buyers. Sniffing out these new opportunities require innovative, technology-enhanced approaches using artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Brand loyalty: going, going, gone
You might have experienced walking into a grocery store at the height of the pandemic to find mostly empty shelves. It was no longer about choosing your preferred brand and more about just finding any brand.
Manufacturing and logistics contributed to a massive change in both B2C and B2B attitudes about brands. Loyalty was shattered, with nearly half of all consumers trying new brands based on availability and word of mouth. It’s also estimated that up to a third of consumers are opting for private-label brands due to budget constraints caused by salary cuts or job loss.
Even as we ease out of the worst of the pandemic, consumers continue to abandon firmly held brand preferences. They’re open to persuasion, and brands that increase promotional activity to reinforce relationships will emerge the victor. Forrester Research predicts that marketers will increase spending on loyalty and retention by at least 15 percent through 2021. They will cannibalize their product- and performance-based marketing budgets to do so.
Did you know who or what Zoom was before the pandemic? Today, this engagement facilitator is indispensable for B2B marketers who seek to reach decision makers at all stages of the buyer’s journey. Demand drives supply. Organizations of all sizes—from enterprise to small business —are learning the necessity of relaxing rigid IT policies and embracing the “bring your own device” (BYOD) approach for a distributed workforce that works from home. As a marketer, how do you identify a prospect who holds a C-suite title but who’s working from home and is anonymous behind a cellular carrier’s IP address?
What does this mean to you as you look at how to differentiate yourself PPE? Brand equity is a diminished playing card. Consumers are quickly discarding preferences and will be receptive to new brands for just a short time. You’ve got to get there first. Your prospects continue to push for anonymity, or you have no direct connection with them because you’re renting the privilege to market to them via social media platforms. The most effective approach is AI-powered Identity Resolution.
WFH and Product hygiene-fication
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) chief scientist warned that even as we continue with successful global vaccination rollouts, herd immunity is highly unlikely this year. We’ll continue to see an increase in contactless activities and growth in activities promoting distancing.
More than ever, you’ll have fewer opportunities to make physical impressions to facilitate engagement. At the same time, we spend more time in a single place for both work and at-home activities. Multiple surveys show that up to 75 percent of consumers say they’re hesitant to resume regular activities outside the home—or to allow non-family members into their homes. Restaurants, gyms, hair salons, and other related businesses will continue to take a hit. Service-based businesses such as plumbers, electricians, and heating/air conditioning repair will struggle with ways to convince prospects and leads to convert.
The good news with this last segment is that service-based businesses will continue to see growth because we’ll spend more time at home and we’ll stress our residential services. It’s truly a first world problem, but try getting a plumber if you winter in the Hamptons this year. Even businesses are looking for your product or service right now, but it’s a struggle to tell them that you can actually help. If you can connect, be ready to prove you can employ measures to ensure customers and employees stay safe with increased hygiene measures and “contactless appointment systems.”
Offices will remain closed and working from home will become the new normal.
This last aspect has massive implications. As we continue to retreat to our homes’ safety, ways to reach us with marketing will change dramatically. A growing number of planners believe that COVID-19 will result in a reversal of the urbanization trend. We are already seeing this in the housing market with homes in rural or vacation areas being snatched up by work-from-home employees who can now live wherever they want to as long as they have electricity and an Internet connection.
The way you used to reach prospects or generate leads will not work in the post-pandemic economy. Identifying a B2B lead because their IP address is related to their business isn’t possible if the workforce is distributed and prospects have home offices. Prospect identities will be more fragmented than ever—or even completely anonymous.
Remember when actual cold calling at an office was a thing? PPE, that’s simply not even possible. Physical cold calls as personal visits will not return, so how will you compensate?
The consensus is that 67% percent of a buyer’s journey happens digitally. They are at the consideration stage by this point—or even ready to make a decision. It’s too late if you are only just now finding ways to identify these prospects. They’ve probably already chosen a vendor, or they’re ready to abandon a preferred brand.
And what about in-person events and trade shows? These have always been the mainstay for lead generation. And for good reason. More than 80 percent of trade show attendees have buying authority. It’s why there are more than 10,000 trade shows held every year in the US alone. Or, there was—prior to the pandemic.
Trade shows will make a comeback, but they will not be the same. Many trade show event organizers have discovered that a virtual experience is the pathway to higher attendance and engagement. One of the advantages of virtual attendees is that marketers can capture behavior and nurture leads using AI-powered Identity Graph tactics.
Your most potent ally in the post-pandemic economy
This is not news to you. Cold calls, SEO for organic search, social media, and other traditional lead generation methods weren’t working well before COVID-19. They’re performing even worse now.
Using traditional methods in the PPE, you can no longer confidently identify prospects and leads, nor can you successfully nurture a lead by accompanying them on the buyer’s journey. You can no longer reach them via traditional methods such as cold calling or in-person events. We’ve already looked at how quickly today’s PPE consumer discards a brand. Those prospects are ready to buy right now in your market, but how do you know who they are?
In the post-pandemic economy, you know less about your prospect than ever before. You don’t know WHO they are, WHAT they are shopping for, WHERE they are shopping or WHEN they are shopping for it. But—and here’s the takeaway—more information about your prospects is available now than ever before.
You just need to use the right tools to gain access to it.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning provide a robust and efficient solution. It dispenses with the need to wait for a prospect to visit your website. It sifts through billions of points of behavioral information to assemble valid names, contact information, and precisely what your prospects are searching for, as soon as they begin searching for it. Don’t confuse this with companies or even social media platform programs offering look-alike audiences. What they offer is “might be interested.” What you need is “actively looking to buy right now.”
This process is known as Identity Resolution. It’s the game-changer that will fuel your success for lead generation in the post-pandemic economy. It’s so powerful that Mark Cuban advises businesses to use it or face the prospect of becoming a dinosaur.
Learn more about how AI-powered Identity Resolution delivers exclusive and qualified sales leads for your business. Visit our website and learn more about how we can help you.