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Digital transformation, interconnectivity and privacy will be big trends in martech in 2021 — we established that in yesterday's post. Shifting gears, I asked marketing executives from Amplitude, Movable Ink, Segment and my colleagues at Braze what challenges to expect this year and how best to prepare for the end (fingers crossed) of COVID-19. Here’s what they had to say.

Actionable Data, Single View of Customer Are Paramount to Any Marketing Strategy

Data will remain a big trend in 2021 as companies continue to collect mountains of customer data. The problem remains that much of this data is not connected and unusable. Customers want brands to listen, understand and act on their data. However, this still isn’t happening across the board due to disparate data sources, marketing technology that doesn’t interoperate well, and the inability to distill insights that translate into actionable insights.

“Many companies don’t have anything close to a comprehensive view of a customer they can act upon today,” said Will Crocker Hay, VP of customer and partner marketing at Braze. “That view is going to get harder and harder to construct the longer they let that project fall by the wayside. It’s martech's challenge to make that migration as easy as possible so that more companies can serve better and more connected customer experiences.”

Peter Reinhardt, CEO and co-founder at Segment goes one step further to link clean data to companies finally realizing the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). “Over the next five years, companies will have clean, good data more readily available that will finally allow them to harness the power of AI/ML applications to do things such as automatically ranking their content or getting the right product in front of customers. Consumer companies will see the most — and quickest — improvement in their AI/ML applications, if they test with customers and iterate. While these use cases, such as content ranking, may not seem futuristic, they will drive meaningful impact on the bottom line of their business and allow for a cutting-edge customer experience.”

Clean and connected data should be a priority for every company in 2021. For those that are proactive with data, the benefits will lead to better experiences for your customers, which will lead to better retention and revenue. For companies that procrastinate, looming privacy regulation will also serve as a forcing function to take their data practices more seriously and focus more on first-party data.

Related Article: How Marketers Can Break Their Third-Party Data Habit

How Should Organizations Plan for the 'End' of COVID-19?

This is the billion-dollar question. With a vaccine approved by most governments and distribution plans well underway, everyone is starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. Companies with a strong digital infrastructure already in place are well set up to weather any unforeseen shifts. However, similar to anything related to COVID, a lot of uncertainty remains, which has become the modus operandi of the pandemic.

Crocker Hay urged companies to seek out technologies that are designed for agility: “COVID-19 is going to change the game forever. Even with a widely distributed vaccine, customer behavior is going to be meaningfully changed for years to come, and the habits that people form digitally are going to stick in many cases. Companies should continue to focus on flexible and interoperable technology that will serve the needs of your customers in any situation.”

Julio Lopez, director of client strategy and retail practice lead at Movable Ink, took a silver lining point of view on how marketers should approach 2021: “Take advantage of your newfound freedom. The pandemic upended the marketing playbook — everything from campaign ideation to execution was subject to change as teams needed to become more agile. QA processes that used to take weeks were compressed to hours. Digital transformation efforts were shortened by years. Executive leadership is now more willing to try new things, be it technologies or strategies, so don’t be afraid to do so.”

One strategy that should never fail any marketer: put your customers’ best interests at the center of everything. Make an effort to understand them and serve their needs — not your own. This will not only lead to a happy customer, but also improved retention and higher lifetime value. “You have to understand what your users are actually doing in their interactions with your brand. It's not enough anymore to just know they visited your website, or logged into your product or clicked one of your ads,” said Jake Schlan, director of growth marketing operations at Amplitude. “Marketing and product teams need to get a full end-to-end retention, engagement, and acquisition engine stood up and fully operating in 2021.”

Similar to 2020, there are a lot of unknowns this year. The advice from these marketing executives will provide you with a running start on strategy and tactics to best prepare for 2021 and beyond.

Related Article: 6 Words for Customer Experience Leaders to Keep in Mind