Marketing 2021: Rebound, Personalization, and Digital Honesty

4 min readJan 7, 2021

Prioritizing cost-cutting can’t guarantee companies will make it through the year.

Whether it’s health or business matters, we’re all focused on survival — under pressure to prioritize efficiency and productivity over human-centric activities. What does this mean for marketers in 2021?

In the past, a corporate strategy based on cutting costs has signaled the death knell for marketing activities. But today is not the usual economic downturn.

“The situation we find ourselves in today is not the typical business slump in which we’re dealing with systemic challenges to the economy, as we saw in 2008–2009,” says Christophe Wurst, CFO and Partner at FRED & FARID. “We’ve been sidelined by a health emergency which has forced us to take drastic, temporary steps.”

The key word there is “temporary,” and industry analysts are already seeing green shoots of recovery.

The Rebound Challenge

For example, Zenith Marketing Charts anticipates a rebound in 2021, forecasting that ad spend will recover by 5.8% globally. But no one expects the pandemic to improve as rapidly, so the challenge this year is to accommodate our customers and keep business going while we learn to live with the virus. And that’s a double-barreled challenge.

“The pandemic has made customers — B2C and B2B — even more demanding,” says Olivier Lefebvre, President, ECD & Partner at FRED & FARID Paris. ”They expect companies to make full use of digital technology to ensure great service and make personal connections tailored to customer needs.”

That means ignoring the “human” part of our business model to cut costs is short-sided and foolhardy.

The consumer has changed, and you may no longer be alongside him. For example, do you know your customer’s journey to purchase? What is still true? What has changed? How can you adapt your own processes so that you can respond in a useful and timely way?

Fortunately the technological advances and widespread adaptation that have kept us going for the past year also provide the means to allow us to get to know our customers all over again.

“Your digital strategy can help put your customers front and center of your marketing plans,” says Karen Ge, Head of Strategy at FRED & FARID Shanghai. “No longer can you do mass messaging and expect everyone to respond because one size no longer fits all.”

Targeting the Consumer

Developing customer personalization and target audiences are essential skills as today’s marketing becomes more human-centric and authentic. This isn’t counter to the need to cut costs: influencer marketing, for example, can give brands a lot of bang for their buck, compared to native ads on social media.

There’s proof: More than 70% of consumers surveyed for Deloitte’s recently-released Second Marketing Trends report agreed they valued digital solutions that deepened their connection with other people, and 63% believe they will rely on digital technologies more than they did prior to the pandemic even well after it subsides.

And 58% of respondents could recall at least one brand that quickly pivoted to better respond to their needs; 82% said this led to their doing more business with the brand.

“Personalized marketing is replacing the face-to-face human value that many businesses have now been forced to forego as people work from home,” says Chelsea Steiger, Creative Director at FRED & FARID Los Angeles. “Speaking to your audience like real people is effective, especially during multiple crises as we have today.”

Deloitte’s report shows marketing today is not just about selling stuff to customers. As a result of the pandemic and our changing view of the world, brands are expected to act as social advocates, to stand for something.

Nearly four in five people surveyed could cite a time a brand responded positively to the pandemic and one in five strongly agreed it led to increased brand loyalty on their part.

Conversely, more than 25% of those who noticed brands acting in their own self-interest walked away from those brands.

Brands Must Participate

Consequently, brands are becoming aware of how important participation in their community is to customers.

“We’re already seeing that reflected in campaigns,” says Jules Chaffiotte, New Business Director at FRED & FARID Los Angeles. “Our campaign with the outdoor advertising giant JCDecaux, for example, shared messages of ‘being in this together’ on bus stop shelters in major cities across the US last year.”

Additionally, 2020 brought bold promises about diversity and inclusion efforts in the corporate world. Now consumers are demanding to see concrete proof that brands are progressing toward an equitable future, and companies will need marketing to help them demonstrate their commitment in 2021.

Editing tools and open-source software programs make creating these sorts of communications relatively straight-forward, but in these cost-conscious times, chances are we marketers won’t be doing it alone.

“Brands will want to try the DIY approach because digital makes the creative process simpler,” points out Amanda Hellman, General Manager & Partner at FRED & FARID New York. “Keeping agencies and professionals in the mix means brands won’t sacrifice quality, and agencies will have to respect brands’ desires to go it alone sometimes.”

Marketing 2021 will not be business as usual, but it’s an opportunity to be more creative in how we use our digital resources to reach the customer, to learn how brands can better “walk the talk” to establish and maintain customer loyalty, and how to better accommodate our clients. And that can help lay the groundwork for the “new normal” we are all eagerly anticipating.

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CREATIVE / CULTURE AGENCY. Purpose driven company based in Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Shanghai.