By Christy Vogel
It’s been a few years of epic change, as businesses scrambled to deliver goods and services in new ways, in-person events were canceled and marketing plans were put on hold. Undoubtedly, the pandemic has had a profound effect on the way we market our goods and services. Saying that marketing has changed in the past 19 months is an understatement.
Perhaps the biggest impact created by the pandemic has been on trade shows and speaker conferences. Trade shows are a major source of revenue particularly in the business-to-business arena. Exhibitors participate in trade shows to raise awareness of their brand, to meet new prospects and to see current clients.
The cancellation of these events for the last few years left many businesses searching for a viable replacement that could help foster engagement and generate sales. This dilemma led to the evolution of virtual trade shows. Future trade shows most likely will be a hybrid model, combining both in-person and virtual options.
“While we’ve gotten much better at virtual trade shows, there’s still an element that’s missing…the in-person part,” says Thom VanderKlipp, chief strategist at Marketing Direction, in St. Petersburg. “Deals are made during happy hour or at lunch because it’s a more relaxed setting and people don’t feel like they’re being sold to.”
The pandemic has forced companies to be more creative and to shift their marketing channel priorities. “I don’t think live trade shows will ever go away completely, however, COVID-19 has shown us there are other ways to build relationships without having face-to-face contact,” states Scott Craver, chief executive officer, Hine Automation, a designer and manufacturer of vacuum, atmospheric automation systems and robotic components, specializing in semiconductor automation.
Prior to Covid, Craver scheduled four conferences, annually, during which his team managed a booth and met with customers. Since the pandemic, he has shifted much of their budget towards marketing instead. The new plan focused on producing videos, featuring subject matter experts, which were then posted to the company’s website and YouTube channel. They also amped up communication efforts by sending a monthly e-newsletter, containing professionally written content relevant to its existing clients and potential prospects.
“More clients are using digital marketing to communicate with their audience since they can no longer do so in person,” explains Roy Strunin, lead marketer at Marketing Direction. “LinkedIn has become a highly popular platform for businesspeople to reach clients and position themselves as thought leaders in their industries.”
The pandemic has reminded us of the basic premise of Marketing 101: use a multi-pronged approach. For example, if your company just held an online seminar, why not take that information and repurpose it? Develop it into a white paper which you can then post to your website, include in your email campaign and share with your group on Facebook.
The emphasis placed on digital marketing has made an effective content strategy more important than ever, in order to drive customer engagement. Personalization and messaging that supports your customers’ needs, and changing priorities, are critical to keeping them engaged.
“People were looking for information and we were able to fulfill that need by utilizing webinars and social media platforms which we put into place prior to COVID-19,” explains Michael Helton, shareholder at Rivero, Gordimer & Company, CPAs and advisors. “The word-of-mouth that followed enabled us to capitalize on some new relationships in the process.”
One of the biggest surprises that surfaced after the pandemic came about as a result of updates made to data privacy. Previously, companies developed content based on data provided by a third-party source such as Google analytics or Facebook ads. However, that information often proved to have inherent weaknesses in data quality, thanks to remarketing efforts that enabled third-party cookies to follow potential customers, thereby causing companies to experience a decrease in their return on advertising spend.
“It will get messy for marketers using optimization tools that depend primarily on client-side cookies to deliver experiences and collect data,” states Michelle Holguin, lead marketer, Marketing Direction. “Businesses now need to rely on their own first-party data, by collecting it as soon as customers hit your website and continuing to enrich that data. Then you can start sending them personalized emails with information that is relevant to the behavior they’re exhibiting online, which will help supplement that in-person handshake.”
Marketing has indeed been redefined during the “COVID-19 Age.” However, making the sale is still based on building a relationship. What has shifted is how we build those relationships.
Flexibility and fluidity are key to future success. Complement long-term goals in your marketing plan with the ability to shift tactics, and budget, quickly in response to current situations. Those businesses who look ahead with a fresh approach will come out better for it.
Christy Vogel has more than 25 years of marketing experience. Her firm, Marketing Direction, is a proud top 10 member of USF Fast 56 which honors the world’s top 56 fastest growing businesses led by University of South Florida alum.
Contact Christy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813.526.1870.