Today, a Q & A with Amy Scissons, who is the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Russell Reynolds Associates, a global leadership advisory and search firm. She is a results-delivery marketing executive with an exceptional record of success in leveraging digital and traditional platforms to support business growth objectives. Amy brings over 20 years of experience leading and developing go-to-market strategies for firms across the globe. Skilled in end-to-end marketing management, her expertise includes integrated marketing strategy, demand generation, customer-centric digital/data-driven marketing and leading high-performance teams.
Prior to her current position, Amy served as Chief Marketing Officer for Mercer’s International Region, where she led marketing operations in more than 100 cities and 41 countries for the global HR consulting firm.
What are the top challenges that you expect marcomms professionals to face in 2021?
2020 was an unprecedented year for business processes across the board. But in particular, the pandemic ushered in a fundamental shift to how companies approach marcomms. Right off the bat, priorities switched from new business sales to retention and new channels were embraced to better coordinate teams and reach customers. But in 2021, we will likely see even more developments fully ferment and come to a head.
One of the greatest impacts will be mounting pressure for marcomms departments to prove their worth and deliver more value. Inevitably, thanks to budget cuts, marcomms professionals will likely be asked to do less with more. According to a survey by Dun & Bradstreet, 70% of senior marketers reported their budgets had been cut as a result of COVID-19. No surprise there, but 76% are now confronting an “increasing pressure to deliver leads since the COVID-19 outbreak.” In this environment, marcomms professionals must maintain a laser focus on the return on investment for all campaigns and quickly make adjustments to spending as needed. Analytics will of course play a pivotal role, with data driving business decisions and budget allocations.
Another formidable challenge will be proving brand credibility and authority in a saturated marketplace where consumer loyalty levels continue to plummet. Marcomms professionals must cut through more noise than ever before to capture the right audiences’ attention, despite attention spans being distracted by reeling crises. A possible solution for this, especially during a time when traditional media advertising budgets are being slashed, is to develop an effective content strategy. If brands are able to draw from the expertise and passion of their people and share with audiences, they’ll be able to cost-effectively drive more credibility and trust with customers.
Apart from adapting to mass virtualization and volatile economic conditions, what is another lesson that the marcomms industry learned in 2020 that will affect activities in 2021?
In particular, 2020 sparked the need for brands to be sensitive, compassionate and thoughtful throughout all messaging, whether internally with employees or externally with vendors, customers and communities at large. Companies truly needed to walk the walk, not just talk to the talk. Perhaps one of the positives of so-called ‘cancel culture’ is that, especially surrounding the pandemic and the emergence of social issues throughout 2020, accountability is being driven in ways we’ve never seen before. I won’t name names but those who didn’t walk the walk were publicly called out. Rhetoric has been replaced with meaningful action, which will further steer marcomms activities towards purpose and cause in 2020.
Brands can no longer fly under the radar and, for many, this was a challenge in 2020. But marcomms professionals have risen to the occasion to conduct “sensitivity audits”, comprehensively evaluating all marcomms activities, messaging, customer service practices and business strategies to ensure they are sensitive and align with world events.
The sensitivity audit also serves businesses in navigating a new environment where social interactions remain limited and digital technology is playing a role in our life to replace traditional human interactions. In this environment, human touchpoints become all the more scarce, all the more novel and, in many cases, all the more appreciated. New tools hold great promise for marcomms but they are not a panacea– and they certainly should not function without human guidance. They often lack ethical boundaries and common sense, which is something we’ve seen since AI has been implemented into some products and business practices. Marcomms professionals must identify the limits of technology, fully understanding what tools can and cannot do. Human touchpoints must remain at the heart of technology adoption in 2021 so that marcomms activities can personalize experiences for all stakeholders, rather than dehumanize it.
What changes do you expect for traditional media and non-traditional media strategy in 2021?
Traditional media is expected to remain largely focused on the unfolding timeline of the ubiquitous pandemic, as well as ensuing economic, political and social effects. However, there are still opportunities for marcomms professionals to connect with reporters and fit brand stories into the news cycle, especially if experts can be made available to comment on the sub-angles such as the economy, innovation, consumer habits, workplace shifts, health and more. Now may also be a time to look at local media outreach if a business is engaging local communities.
Notably, the pandemic accelerated marcomms’ shift online. Digital channels now accounting for almost 80% of multichannel budgets, according to Gartner’s CMO Spend Survey 2020, and we’ll likely see the results of this great shift in full-swing in 2021 with search advertising and social marketing on top of the priority list. While digital media is certainly nothing new for marcomms, companies have amplified efforts as consumers’ screen time increased and people migrated en masse to social platforms to.
Digital channels are now key, not just for work, but for staying connected with family and friends. For brands looking to stay connected with customers, social media is no longer an option but a must. However, customers are not just looking to be assaulted by a slew of irrelevant ads. They’re seeking meaningful and personalized engagement, entertainment and education. Social listening will become more important 2021, assisting brands in understanding consumers better so they can create more effective campaigns.
What other trends should marcomms professionals keep a pulse on to stay ahead of the eventual pandemic rebound?
Apart from more digitalization, personalization, data intelligence and purpose-driven marketing campaigns, marcomms should also note other emerging marketplace trends that could influence how they interact with consumers in 2021. Firstly, the pandemic is not over so many of the trends we saw in 2020 will continue. But as we do return to normalcy – whatever the “next normal” looks like – I expect there to be some return to traditional models of marcomms. But some of the new ways of virtualization will never go away. Therefore, harmonizing the old and new will become critical and the balancing act will present new challenges for marcomms.
Furthermore, other recent trends will continue to materialize throughout 2021, such as nostalgia marketing which is proving to be very popular with consumers. Also, DE&I will arrive at its next phase in 2021, with brands now expected to extend inclusivity beyond just their workforce and also infuse standards of inclusivity and equity into their marcomms activities. To achieve this, elevating accessibility becomes critical, taking extra measures to ensure all consumers have the opportunity to interact with your brand.
Other possible consumer trends to note are user-generated content, minimalistic UX design and voice search optimization. In the B2B space, rising trends for 2021 include employer branding, buyer enablement, buyer intent, account-based marketing and, of course, more user personality insight tools such as Crystal Knows.
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