The ways in which marketing gets done have always been malleable. Even back into the early days of the form, things changed quickly; not only has that not changed into the modern era, but quite the opposite—sometimes it feels like things change at an exponential rate, and it gets harder every year to keep up.
That certainly was the case in 2020. Just like pretty much everything else about our day-to-day lives changed, the ways in which marketers communicate with audiences shifted. And a lot of the changes that we saw aren’t going anywhere.
Part of the fallout of those changes is that now is probably the best time in a long time to take a good, hard look at what your marketing looks like. What are you still doing that’s become suddenly outdated? What are you missing that’s a new must-have? How should you think about all of this?
Audit everything—not just your new material.
It can, admittedly, be very tempting to draw a hard line when determining how much of your past marketing you’re going to be auditing. First of all, an audit’s a lot of work, and if you’ve been in business for twenty years, that’s a lot of marketing material to go through and analyze. Beyond that, honestly if you go back far enough, it might be a bit embarrassing. Nobody loves looking at their old work. We learn as time passes, and seeing ads from back before you really knew who your audience was can make you cringe.
But despite the fact that we’re really talking about this because of what happened last year, that doesn’t mean you can only audit the past couple years of work. To those who have known you for years or even decades, that older work is 100% a part of your story. And as you’re planning for how you’re going to move forward, it’s important that you take that into account.
So here’s the point: you can’t just draw an arbitrary endline in the past and only audit everything from that point forward. Even if you feel like a lot of the things you’ve said in the past no longer apply in today’s new world. Audit all of it, and you might even find new and unexpected inspiration for today from something that’s years old.
Think about how consumer behavior has changed.
A lot about how people act has changed in the past year. Think about this as an example: how did you act when you met someone in 2019? If you were being introduced for the first time, you’d probably shake hands. If you’re family or close friends, it might be a hug or a kiss on the cheek. When’s the last time you saw anyone do anything like that? Probably no later than last March—and with good reason.
This specific example does actually directly connect to what we’re talking about right now—marketing. Before 2020, you could rely on being able to make a great impression on someone in person, especially if you’re selling a service or a big-ticket item like manufacturing machinery or an expensive vehicle like a boat or RV. If your marketing efforts were slick enough to get someone in the door, you could close the sale yourself. But things are different now. Your customer probably doesn’t want to come visit your office. They’re a lot more likely to want to meet virtually if they want to speak face-to-face at all. Some are more comfortable than ever before with the idea of simply doing autonomous research and simply having a brief chat to seal the deal—or they might be comfortable with making even very large purchases without ever speaking to you at all.
What does that mean? It means that as you audit your marketing (especially your currently active campaigns and the ones you’re planning for the near future) you have to take into account that no matter how normal it used to seem, in a lot of cases you’re probably not going to meet your customer. Your firm handshake and witty personality might not mean what they used to. And your marketing is going to have to do a bit more heavy lifting.
How do you communicate with all your audiences?
Of course it’s important that your marketing is resonating with the people who are going to purchase from you. That’s a given. But they don’t make up the totality of your audience. For example, an important part of your marketing communications is what’s called your employer brand, which is basically just your “internal” brand—everything that’s directed towards your employees, whether current or future. It can help attract the kind of employee you want, and once you hire a superstar, it can help you keep them around.
And you also need to think about the people who might not necessarily be buying from you, but are involved in the process of your work—like, for instance, parts of your supply chain. Or as a more specific example, think about a manufacturer who, instead of selling direct to the consumer, uses a dealership model. When your dealers see your marketing, what do they think? Are they excited to be a part of your corporate family? Are they indifferent, ready to switch to your competitor if the money’s right? Or are they actively looking for options because they don’t want to be associated with you?
Here’s the point: as you’re auditing and examining your past marketing work, you need to do so from a number of different perspectives. Your own, as a marketer. Your bosses’, as the people who are signing off on your budget. Your dealers, if you have them. Your co-workers. Your customers. What you create has to hit for each of them in turn. If that’s not something you’ve taken into account in the past, it’s going to come across when you audit.
Before moving forward, know where you’ve been
Auditing your past work is a really important part of growth as a marketer—or really in any venue. Whether it’s brand audits, SEO audits, or creative audits, looking back is crucial before you move forward. It helps you identify what you’ve done wrong and what you need to fix, sure. But it also shows you what you’re doing right.
Things are changing faster than ever before. We see it in life, and we certainly see it in marketing. Before you set off on some grand voyage to remake your marketing for the new world you find yourself in, make sure you refresh your memory as to where you’ve been before. Otherwise, you’re likely to get lost along the way.
Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.
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