Originally published on Forbes
I believe that hope is the theme for 2021. Around the world, we are emerging from the most difficult year in generations, and while 2021 is starting with residual turbulence, we see the light at the end of the tunnel.
We are in the middle of what I think of as the “big reset,” marked by changes like the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines and the agenda from a new U.S. administration. Confronted by unprecedented challenges in the past year, we have demonstrated our ingenuity and resilience. We learned how quickly companies could pivot in a crisis, and no one took technology for granted. Now we have the chance to transform what we’ve learned into action, to address not only the pandemic but also the other big challenges facing our planet. Priorities like fighting climate change, poverty and inequality need our attention now more than ever.
We should all be hopeful because we’ve proven that we can innovate and resolve immense problems. But hope isn’t a small or short-term project. We need to take advantage of the momentum we’ve built and accelerate it to tackle the world’s most pressing problems.
One of the biggest takeaways from 2020 is the crucial role companies must play in shaping the world we live in. Large technology companies kept us connected as we learned to work, shop and socialize from home. Innovative tech tools made it possible for many businesses to continue providing services, paying salaries and generating revenue. Pharmaceutical companies developed vaccines in record time, giving us hope for a return to some sort of normalcy in the near future.
People have more faith in companies than in governments to address societal problems and drive economic prosperity, according to global survey data compiled in the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer. Business scored 61 on the survey’s public trust index, compared to 57 for NGOs, 53 for government and 51 for media.
Companies will never replace governments, but ideally, they will work with governments and consumers. Alternative fuels? Sustainable agriculture practices? New job opportunities? I believe companies can lead the way in developing intelligent solutions to all of these complex problems and more, but first, they need to step up to the challenge.
But because of the pandemic, we’re also seeing the biggest shift in buying behavior in recent history. As we are working from home and doing more online shopping, we are open to trying new products and breaking old buying habits. This can be either a danger or an opportunity for a brand, depending on how a brand’s CMO decides to react.
There is often a disconnect between CMO and CEO agendas within a company. While the CEO and board are making commitments to meet ambitious goals within a certain period of time — “All of our products will have plastic-free packaging by 2025,” for example — the CMO has historically not been a part of this strategic planning. As a result, a brand’s marketing messages often fall flat and fail to connect with what matters most to customers.
CMOs must take on more leadership in shaping this agenda. They are the main liaison between a company and its customers, and they should be responsible for developing a relationship that is based on shared values and goals, not transactions.
Here are three steps you can take to develop a new level of strategic thinking and align your company’s actions with your customers’ expectations.
Understand what is truly important to your customers. Look beyond the products you want to sell, and get to know them as individuals. What are their preferences and priorities? What are they worried or stressed about? What are they hopeful about? What do they expect from you as a brand, and are you delivering on that promise?
When you understand what your customers value, use that knowledge to transform your messaging. Too many messages are marketed to customers: “You should like this thing! Buy this thing, and you’ll be happier.” Instead, communicate with them based on what you know about them. Create meaningful digital interactions where you show that you’ve been paying attention to them: “Hey, we noticed you love X because you value Y. This is a way you can do more of X and support Y with us, are you interested?” This is how you develop brand equity.
Make sure that you are spending your marketing budget in a way that aligns directly with the CEO’s agenda. Is the agenda designed to drive growth? How are your marketing efforts connecting with customers to reach those growth goals? How are you developing persona descriptions and decision journeys to incorporate meaningful customer insights? Be able to document the business impact of your results.
We are starting 2021 with a message of hope. As you look to the year ahead, think about what goals you want to work toward with your customers for the greater good.
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