By G Shainesh
Interruptions caused by Covid we continue to affect every aspect of our lives as we become obsessed with rates of infection, social distancing, masks, quarantine, blockages, and travel restrictions while waiting for the promise of relief through vaccination. Covid has transformed the way we live, work, learn, shop, consume, play, pray, entertain, travel, and connect with others.
Although many have taken advantage of digital technologies to cope with these disruptions, Covid has accelerated the adoption of digital by both consumers and businesses and governments. We have been forced to buy almost everything online, work from home, reduce trips and visits to shops, restaurants and theaters, attend digital classes and consult the family doctor virtually. After the initial hiccups, rapid improvements in technology and adaptations in digital tools have improved their acceptance and adoption. Now digital has been infused into almost every aspect of our lives. Improving access, convenience, and lowering costs also mean that the use of digital has become a habit. Habits die hard.
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Marketing, as with all other organizational functions, has not been left intact with this digital march. Switching from physical to digital stores for retail and mass online and social networks for accelerated promotions in 2020. Rapid advances in personalization, targeted video content, virtual and augmented reality (VR&AR), shareable interactive content, proliferation of user-generated content, affordable publications, and influencer marketing they have revolutionized digital marketing. As consumers, across demographic and socio-psychographic segments, become fixated on digital devices for their daily dose of information, entertainment, communication, learning and shopping, these trends will strengthen in 2021.
The broadest trend will be defined by 3I, that is, individualized, integrated, and interactive, as shown.
Individualized – The large amount of purchase and use data that companies automatically collect when combined with consumer fingerprints on social media platforms and review sites will be leveraged through smart automation tools to provide a very shopping and use experience customized to millions of customers. Traditionally, services such as retail, healthcare, online education, financial services, and hospitality enjoyed an inherent advantage in customizing their offerings due to the ability of front-line staff to understand requirements and tailor service to individual needs. The incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will now lead to the deployment of robots, with natural language processing skills, to perform these tasks very effectively. Rapid advances and affordable technology now allow for customized products through mass customization by incorporating individual preferences into the design and assembly of products ranging from toys to furniture.
Integrated – The integration of marketing, sales and customer service roles with internal functions such as operations, finance and human resources will continue to be important in providing a seamless omnichannel experience to customers. The rapid adoption of automation and analysis will help streamline processes to integrate internally while aligning companies externally with partners, suppliers, and customers. The growing trend to integrate experiences, experience, and feedback from the voice user community will increase due to digital tools that can quickly leverage data to make automated decisions.
Interactive – Merchants will quickly replace physical and direct interactions with digital ones as they devise new ways to connect, relate, and connect with customers. Experiential marketing, which includes interactive and immersive elements, will be a vital part of the marketing strategy to relate to customers throughout their journey with the brand from the pre-purchase, purchase, use and post-purchase stages. These interactive, digitally delivered experiences will create powerful differentiators for the winning brands.
These trends will have profound implications for marketers as they compete to attract and retain experienced customers concerned about health, safety, well-being and social and environmental concerns. Balancing profits with people and the planet will be the hallmark of purpose-driven businesses in the new decade.
The author is a professor at IIM, Bangalore. The opinions expressed are personal.