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While automation can extend a marketer’s efficiency, brands should still be careful to avoid the trap of over-reliance, says Philip Yeap, vice-president and head of marketing for Asia Pacific and Japan at Pure Storage.

Without an end in sight to the Covid-19 pandemic, the unpredictability of the business environment has never been more apparent. In response, patterns of consumption are shifting rapidly as countries grapple with new waves of infections and weak economic performance.

These wide swings in consumer demand have been observed, particularly in the FMCG category, where Unilever has reported growth rates ranging from minus 40 to plus 25 over the past quarters. Most recently, the latest Singles Day sales defied cautious consumer spending intent focusing on essentials and surpassed 2019’s sales numbers.

If anything, this has highlighted the challenges around understanding customer behaviour and predicting purchasing decisions against the backdrop of Covid-19. Marketers need to leverage data analytics and digital platforms in order to reduce ambiguity. However, most marketing functions are still not fully embracing digitalisation and data analytics due to varying reasons, such as limited resourcing or simply not recognising it as a priority.

With Covid-19 accelerating digitalisation and intensifying competition, businesses cannot afford to remain passive in their response to these ongoing trends. Here are the priorities and opportunities for chief marketing officers as they embark on the road to recovery.

Accelerating marketing’s response to digital-first behaviour

Amid global travel and social restrictions, digital communication platforms are now a necessity and no longer just an option for both B2B and B2C companies. Companies need to ensure they have the infrastructure and capabilities in place to deliver the same, if not higher, levels of engagement to their customers virtually. The good news is more B2B companies are starting to re-evaluate their historical preference for face-to-face engagements. In fact, a recent McKinsey report found that B2B companies are seeing digital interactions as two to three times more important to their customers than traditional sales interactions due to Covid-19.

Like most companies, Pure Storage has had to transform our Marketing function to better connect with our customers and partners. This was made even more urgent when the pandemic hit. At the operational level, we moved almost exclusively to online events or smaller gatherings when physical meet-ups were allowed. Recognising the challenges 2020 has brought on, we also enhanced our partner program offerings to help partners sell solutions in a virtual world.

Beyond meeting partners’ and customers’ needs virtually, the shift to digital also presents new opportunities for businesses to delight their stakeholders and increase brand affinity. We have seen various brands, particularly in the B2C space, invest in digital initiatives ranging from live-streaming programs to wellness and wish-list content – all aimed at capturing customers’ affection with novel and tailored experiences.

To this end, B2B marketers who remember that they are ultimately engaging with people, not just businesses, will stand to gain an advantage. The opportunities for enterprise businesses to inject creativity in their customer engagement are there to be tapped.

I have seen the benefits of doing so first-hand in a recent Pure Storage campaign where we ran a series of Zoom sessions with some of Australia’s greatest sporting heroes who shared about their past victories and lessons that they learned which could be applied to business leadership.

Covid-19 has forced us to rethink and reshape our digital posture, moving from physical events to webinars and other virtual engagements are now part of the journey. We now need to bolster our approach, processes and infrastructure in order to enhance the engagement with our customers and partners, paying attention to emerging consumption trends and staying agile.

Cutting through the clutter with data-driven marketing

The emphasis on online has seen a rise in many marketers’ digital presence alongside customers’ online activity. This has pushed us to think of ways to connect better with our audience to stand out in a crowded space.

On this front, the industry has long recognised the importance of personalisation in marketing, with 99% of marketers acknowledging that personalisation can enhance customer relations and 78% agree it has a “strong” or “extremely strong” impact. For those who are yet to be convinced, the proof is in the pudding. Marketers who engage in personalisation tactics have reported increased revenues of up to 15%.

However, executing seamless personalised content and experiences hinges on marketers’ ability to turn swaths of customer data into actionable insights. With the pandemic accelerating businesses’ digital transformation efforts, it is an opportune time for marketing to collaborate with other departments and markets to develop an insights hub for customers. This allows everyone to be updated on the type of audience who’s engaging with the brand, what they want and need, and how the brand can help.

For instance, Pure works with Domino’s Pizza to help them manage and analyze data rapidly. Knowing what customers want in real-time not only impacted how the pizza chain was reacting to their customer’s purchasing habits but also how their marketing team could better channel empathy to customers especially during a difficult time and leverage data to drive personalisation. This has helped Domino’s enhance customer experience and stay as an F&B leader, especially in the food delivery sector.

Driving efficiency and scaling with marketing automation

Companies will also need to ramp up their capabilities in terms of delivering digital engagements that underpin their customer relationships at scale. Forward-looking marketers have started to invest in automation to do so. Hubspot’s recent State of Marketing Report highlighted that more than 45% of businesses are using bots for their marketing initiatives. Leading customer retention initiatives and conversion rate optimization can be enhanced with automation. Its benefits also include nurturing individual leads on a mass scale and converting these to revenue.

While automation can extend a marketer’s efficiency, brands should still be careful to avoid the trap of over-reliance. Marketers should assess and monitor the content in their marketing automation programs on a more regular basis to ensure they are not tone-deaf amidst the constantly evolving pandemic.

It’s imperative for marketing to transform by mastering tech and big data given the critical role these avenues are playing in building brand longevity and lead generation. What’s also essential is having human marketing that customers can relate to, be it a business or consumer. After all, one of the greatest brand currencies in times of crisis is empathy. Marketers’ ability to build and leverage their emotional and technical strengths in engaging with customers will set apart great, authentic brands from the good.

Philip Yeap is the vice-president and head of marketing for Asia Pacific and Japan at Pure Storage.

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