Your Recipe for the “New Normal” Marketing Secret Sauce

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After the past two years, it feels as though 2022 could bring just about anything. Whether we want another eventful year or not, the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and its extended effects are likely to make 2022 another year for the books. Ways of working, consuming products and services, and building and maintaining communities are each at a notable point of change. Each of these pandemic-related disruptions is augmenting underlying non-COVID trends like younger generations bringing their beliefs and values to increasingly powerful positions in business and government.

For marketers, times of flux can take us out of our comfort zones, but they also offer opportunity for creativity, experimentation, and fresh approaches to connecting with customers and prospects. The key questions for marketers preparing for 2022 are:

  • How do we connect with customers and prospects amid the flux of 2022?
  • What messages will resonate with our audiences this year?

Critically, marketers will need to determine which tried-and-true strategies will continue to be effective and which are exposed most to disruption and may need to change or be abandoned. In this post, we won’t be revealing a secret sauce for marketing amid pandemic flux—we’re in the kitchen experimenting too! What we will discuss is the ingredients we have at our disposal, including some of the nuances of the current social and business landscape onto which we’ll be pouring our reformulated secret sauces.

The mood

At the beginning of the year, the world is cautiously optimistic that we may see a new normal stabilize in the workplace and in civil society. Optimism is a hallmark of starts to the year, but this current optimism is at least grounded in current realities: the virus is becoming manageable, and the world is positive about some of its consequences, like more flexibility around work.

Marketers must remember that we have the opportunity to affect as well as reflect the prevailing mood through our communication. We must develop messages that are digestible, but we also have an opportunity to explain why our firms are building a little piece of the new normal we hope to find this year.

Working life

In addition to the potential for some amount of remote work to become permanent, last year’s “great resignation” leaves us with some questions in addition to the resultant labor market crunch. Why are workers dumping their employers en masse? Is there anything businesses can do?

The Duke psychologist Dan Ariely suggests that employers haven’t done enough to inspire commitment in their employees. As in a new romantic relationship, it’s just too easy to walk away when the going gets tough or the connection is frayed by remote work. The same concept holds true for firms’ relationships with customers. In a period of social disconnection, there is an appetite for commitment. Customers want to have serious, long term relationships with companies they trust and whose products and services can become part of their “new normal” identities.

There’s also little to suggest the labor market will shift favorably toward employers anytime soon. In many industries including high tech, jobseekers have held the power for years, and the pandemic shakeup has extended this dynamic to nearly every industry.

Privacy and security

The world continues to get more serious about the importance of online privacy. In the past, governments have led the way with laws like GDPR. Now, private firms are taking sides on the issue, with moves like Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature in iOS 14.5 forcing other big tech firms to explain where they stand on data use and tracking.

Analytics and data have become the hallmarks of digital marketing, and if these trends take hold, marketers will need to be prepared to explore managing campaigns differently than we’re used to now.

The increasing insidiousness of cybersecurity attacks, including by foreign governments and highly developed cyberattack organizations, is leaving experts and the public on high alert. Undoubtedly the awareness of high profile incidents like the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack is contributing to the public’s caution around data use and privacy as well.

Consumers are more cautious than ever about engaging with firms that might use their data in unexpected ways, or who might facilitate their becoming the victims of cyberattacks. The sophistication of bad actors can blur the line between exploitation and legitimate marketing practices. This is the time for marketers to bone up on the ethics of our trade and use extra caution in adhering to them.

Doing the right thing

Several facets of life over the past two years have demonstrated a demand by consumers on both companies and other people to do the right thing. Mask mandates and vaccines have elicited more than one ardent stance on doing right, and elements of the privacy discussion and the great resignation can be viewed through this lens as well.

2021 was a rough year for extreme weather, and the concrete here-and-now effects of climate change are top of mind. A survey that found 60% of Americans blame climate change on Big Oil is telling of the dim view the public has of those they believe have not done the right thing. Electric vehicles will undoubtedly have a strong year, and oldschool automakers like Ford are helping to mature EVs for fleet and personal use and bring the technology to new markets.

Generation Z (age 10-26 in 2022) is becoming more influential in the workplace and as consumers. Their outlook seems to value trust and stability highly. Gen Z also seems to be more risk averse, and they’re even drinking less alcohol (as a cohort).

Finding formulas to build trust and messages, products, and services that demonstrate firms are doing the right thing will be a critical marketing move in 2022.

Getting the message out

Understanding the collective mood and background and crafting a message is only half the battle. Getting that message to the right audiences requires an understanding of how communication mediums are evolving.

Short or long?

The debate about whether short-form or long-form content continues. On the one hand, SEO continues to favor long-form written content loaded with original work, and long-form podcasts have gained an impressive following. The appetite for the deep dive continues in written and audio form, but video is another story. Video platforms, notably TikTok, have popularized short-form video, making the long-term popularity of traditionally long-form video platforms like YouTube a bit more uncertain.

While long blog posts still offer an impressive SEO kick, there’s no doubt that short-form written social media, notably Twitter, has been gradually absorbing many functions that blogging previously monopolized. Whether long-form is on a long-term decline isn’t clear yet, but there’s no doubt there are audiences you’ll never reach unless your short-form game is strong.

Email is here to stay

2022 is a world away even from 2019, but somehow the decades-old medium of email continues to throw its weight around. In spite of a mood of heightened security concerns, email remains on top as the trusted business communication medium, and a pillar of marketing strategy.

Don’t despair

There’s a strong temptation at the start of 2022 to reflect on the past two years and wonder if this one could be better. Even if it is, much of what we considered standard operating procedure has been irrevocably shaken up. We may have a lot of work to do as we build a “new normal” for society and in business, but as marketers we have a unique opportunity to help write that narrative.

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