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Marketing Lessons Learned: What 2020 Has Taught Us

9 minute read
Dom Nicastro avatar
Marketers shared what 2020 has taught them and how it has made them stronger.

Marketers likely remember the headlines from earlier in the year. "The COVID-19 crisis will stun U.S. marketing" is one that comes to mind. In that May report from Forrester, researchers reported the remaining months of 2020 will see the loss of 469,000 marketer jobs, subtracting $162 billion from the payrolls of CMOs. We've followed up this month with those researchers to see if that pans out. Stay tuned there.

The forecasts likely left many marketers lucky enough to maintain their positions uneasy at best. Disney reportedly laid off 50 marketers last month. Marketers who kept their jobs may very well have had to cope with budget decreases (60% of marketing leaders expect moderate to severe cuts to their martech budgets, according to Gartner), drastically-changing consumer buying habits and, not to mention, potential personal trauma and anxiety that comes in a world health pandemic.

We've caught up with some of those marketers who were kind enough to share some of the lessons learned from marketing in 2020:

S. Adam Rizzieri, CMO, Agency Partner Interactive

Without a doubt, I learned of the importance of creating redundancies and always having a back-up plan to satisfy the requirements of our marketing service contracts. As a partner and CMO of a digital agency, in a very strong way, I experienced the value of cross-training my marketing specialists to perform multi-channel marketing tactics. My SEO experts were trained to have a working knowledge of PPC, and my search marketers were cross-trained to understand the basics of running an SEO campaign.

During the pandemic, we had over nine people sick with COVID at one point, but that doesn't mean our clients' marketing needs just disappear. During specific points in the year, we have had to rely on certain team members to step up and fill the gaps as they came. Moving from this, I will always understand and appreciate the peace of mind that comes with having a back-up plan for everything, especially staffing and resource needs.

Simon Elkjaer, CMO, avXperten

The challenging year has taught me to be even more sensitive when it comes to making campaigns and look for ways to market our brand while still being in touch with the situation and how it could affect our customers. This made me see how empowering marketing can be and how it can uplift others.

I now see personalized marketing differently. This personal, more "in touch" type of marketing that promotes kindness and concern is something that I’ll definitely take into 2021 and beyond.

Jerry Han, CMO, PrizeRebel

Here’s my most potent marketing lesson during COVID-19: Invest in upskilling digital marketing knowledge and skills. Marketing during COVID-19 proved that digital marketing would one day overtake traditional forms of marketing like print, television, and radio. Even if businesses reduced their budget for other marketing platforms, many shifted their budget to digital marketing. The decision helped brands connect with consumers who increased their internet browsing time during the pandemic. Since many marketers have a lot of free time during this pandemic, they should develop their digital marketing skills. Doing so makes their quarantine life more productive.

Related Article: Why Marketers Are Thankful This Thanksgiving

Corey Pattakos, CEO,

After two years in business, I noticed a big increase in sales with the onset of COVID first wave restrictions early in 2020. Many people were panic shopping and basically just buying anything they felt they might need during an extended home lockdown. We focused our marketing efforts on social media, and had the biggest year so far in our ecommerce business.

Moving recently into what we believe is a second wave of COVID, we’ve noticed a more conservative approach to purchases and people just aren’t buying the same way. Sales have dropped as shoppers aren’t impulse buying to the same degree, perhaps because they know the landscape and are confident that supplies will still be available.

Our social media engagement is still healthy, but it hasn’t worked as well as before, so we are switching a proportion of our budget to influencer marketing. We believe this is the way forward, because people are at home on their phones, and connecting more with big-name influencers who were previously less available. These influencers are locked down, too, and promoting more domestic products. So for us, as a beauty and health brand, it feels like the right move to make in order to maintain our strong market hold. I learned an incredible amount as a marketer, and look forward to more learning and increased growth in 2021.

Sharon van Donkelaar, CMO, Expandi

While this year has been very stressful for work, there has been more time to learn important lessons about marketing. This year, more so than in years before, marketing online has been more important. This is, in part, because so many people are working and going to school online. So, it’s only natural that people are spending more time browsing online stores and using social media.

Other than actually viewing work created by online marketers, graphic designers, and the like, it also seems easier to hire people to produce and spread  advertisements online during COVID-19. Again, this is because more people are working online. This doesn’t just mean that more people are working for their original employers from home, but that there are more people who are using freelancing websites in 2020.

No one can predict the future and say whether these marketing trends are here to stay forever. However, the trends do seem like they will be sticking around at least through 2021.

Paige Arnof-Fenn, CEO, Mavens & Moguls

Istarted a global branding and digital marketing firm 19 years ago in Cambridge, Mass. I am very concerned about thespread of this virus and the short- and long-term impact it will have on the economy.I did not think the government bailout would fix this crisis so an idea I shared with my community is to look at all the groups we are a part of (industry/trade/neighborhood/alumni/women/hobby/religious/non profit) and suggested we startour own stimulus packages by agreeing to support/buy from each other directly and refer business proactively to each other too.

Learning Opportunities

We cross promoted the products and services in newsletters, follow/like/retweet on social media and vice versa.We bought gift certificates from each other too which is thoughtful and very much appreciated in times like these. I bought gift certificates (all still unused) from some of my favorite local restaurants and shops while they were closed in fact and am now supporting them since they opened. The corner store even carried out your bag toyour car if you called them and said you needed some cereal, milk, candy and lottery tickets if you asked.It gave me joy to help my neighbors and network thrive and so we can all get through this together stronger.

Maybe the silver lining is that this crisis reminds us that we have always needed each other and we have learned that everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show our humanity and compassion while we look out for one another.With Zoom, social media, cell phones, etc. we see that technology does not haveto be isolating it can be used to build our real world communities and relationships, too.

Related Article: How to Strike the Right Tone With Your COVID-19 Marketing Message

Will Ward, CEO, Translation Equipment HQ

I am a serial entrepreneur and have built multiple businesses. Right now I'm putting a lot of my energy into Translation Equipment HQ, a B2B ecommerce company focusing on translation equipment. Though the pandemic affected sales, it forced me to experiment and learn new things.

The first thing most companies did was cut their marketing budgets. I did too, in the beginning. But I had to find channels to sustain my business. I was tinkering with the Google keyword tool and was shocked to see that ad-placements were suddenly dirt-cheap. Then it all struck me. As most companies cut their budgets, the demand for ad-placements went down. Lower demands meant cheaper ad-placements up for grabs. I decided to test and see what kind of results I'd get.

As expected, the conversion rates were quite low. However, now that the ads weren't costing as much, I could afford to have low conversions. Overall it was still a fruitful strategy. I cautiously scaled this strategy, and it literally kept the business going during all the chaos outside.

The biggest takeaway for me is to explore marketing channels others refrain from using. Sometimes, going against the norm or best practices can work in your favor just because there are very few doing the same thing. In 2021, I am going to explore channels that my industry is scared to venture into because it's a "non-B2B" space.

Flynn Zaiger, Founder, Washington Digital Agency for Marketing

2020 has been a time to learn to appreciate what we have as marketers in creative industries, and the opportunities our agencies provides to truly make the world a better place. At our agency in particular, being able to assist our healthcare clients spread the word about COVID-19 best practices helped our staff feel that we're making a difference in the community.

2020 forced our agency to take a serious look at how we were giving back to our community. It led us to dedicate more time, resources, effort and money into actually supporting the causes in our community that our staff find important. I believe that moving into 2021, organizations that have community-minded aspects of their organization will grow at a faster rate than those thinking only about themselves.

This is particularly important since it's a crucial thing that millennials look for when they're considering agencies to join. Agencies that support their community will be able to recruit better talent over time.