There's no debating that COVID-19 changed life as we know it around the globe. But what is debatable is when — and if — we'll really return to normal. From a business perspective, companies and organizations can count on one thing: Many of the shifts and trends in digital consumer behavior we saw over the past year are here to stay. In fact, some industries are already operating 5 to 10 years in the future thanks to the pandemic.
While there are many insights to take in as we continue to navigate the first quarter of 2021, we wanted to get a first hand account on how businesses are adapting in order to not just be digital first in their approach, but "digital best" to ensure they're not just surviving online, but rather thriving. We spoke to a few of our customers and partners to get their takes on the biggest trends of the past year that were most relevant to their business, their strategies as we move forward, and a few bold predictions for 2021.
Up first in our multi-part series, we have Adam Edwards, Global Head of SEO at Reprise Digital, a performance marketing agency that provides comprehensive digital solutions.
While 2020 was a case study in unpredictability, it was also a year of tremendous transformation through innovation. What shifts or trends stood out most to you in your industry?
AE: Several. The first is the acceleration of ecommerce: Some of our clients said they had to advance what they already intended to do by 5 years, so many previous longer forecasts are now completely out of date. The struggle is for companies to keep up with this new level of expectation when not everyone's systems or workforces are ready for this new way of doing business.
Second, I think we really saw an increased need for very specific, sometimes granular messaging. The pandemic highlighted the already existing need for marketers to provide better data to customers at a more granular level. National messaging is no longer adequate when health guidelines change regularly on a more regional or local basis. There was always upside potential to providing more options (e.g. custom creative dependent on geography); now there are real risks to not doing so (e.g. directing people to a store that has closed).
You need access to platforms that can personalize content based on geography or apply and schedule updates down to the local level — as well as people who are versed in such technology.
And finally, the user experience has never been more important. What I mean by that is: Unpredictability tends to be a challenge for advertisers, which is why we saw worldwide gains in our work relating to owned assets year-over-year despite economic challenges. Overall marketing performance can be improved through landing page efficiency, and that comes from a more holistic view of SEO as search experience optimization by consulting on conversion rate optimization.
This budget shift combined with the increase in ecommerce demand above means that there is simply not enough talent with experience in our industry to fulfill business requirements using in-house teams alone, so agencies and technology partners will be even more critical in 2021.
You mentioned the real risks in not providing accurate, localized information online in a world that has gone increasingly virtual. In light of that, how has your view of digital changed this year, and what do you think will be its importance looking forward into 2021?
I have been in digital for my entire 20+ year career, so my view on how to think about digital has not really changed for my enterprise clients: invest in owned media. Brand recall is critical, but so is discoverability. Estimate potential impact, generate compounding returns, and make sure the results are measurable.
My bigger concern is actually for local businesses who are not online experts. I live in Manhattan and am surrounded by numerous restaurants that have closed over the past year. You can have the best flowers, artisanal coffee, et cetera… in the city, but you can no longer keep it a secret or rely on loyal customers and word of mouth. [Digital] marketing is your lifeline. If that is not your passion, find someone who will treat your business like their own.
Make a bold prediction about your industry: What's going to happen — or emerge as a hot new trend — in 2021?
I'll give you three:
A dedicated device (other than smartglasses) will be unveiled to entice consumers to engage in visual search.
The first major penalty for a CCPA or LGPD violation will be announced.
A massive partnership between a corporation and a social movement unlike anything seen to date will transform brand expectations for years to come.
In 2021, it's no longer enough for businesses to be digital first. Instead, it's about becoming "digital best." How are you thinking about continuing digital transformation in order to be best in class? What strategies will you continue? Which will you sunset?
Look, it was hard to be enthusiastic in 2020, even in industries that were growing. But, now that we can see some light at the end of the tunnel it's time to optimize.
First, we are expanding our dynamic creative capability to address the granular messaging trends I mentioned previously.
Next,I think site search will finally start getting the attention it deserves as a key component of a best-in-class digital strategy. Marketers have neglected site search as the last mile for far too long. By that, I mean something you do only once everything else has been optimized.
Historically this functionality was managed as an IT cost center instead of the marketing profit center that it can be. With customer service teams maxed out and enterprise digital marketing beginning to mature, people are finally looking to solve this long-standing challenge due to the potential opportunity.
Finally, being digital best is also critical for professional development and office camaraderie is, as that can only help boost momentum in business. People join agencies for the collaboration and fast-paced nature which are difficult to maintain while working at home without burning out. We started to make major eLearning and talent recognition commitments in late 2019 even prior to the pandemic, but we have to do more.. We are increasing our investment in 2021 because it is the right thing to do — and we know it will pay dividends this year and beyond, as some form of remote work is here to stay.
And not to make it all about us, but: How do Yext solutions fit into your business's transformation in 2021?
We are proud to have been named Yext's first ever agency partner of the year back in 2018, so our teams around the world are already getting certified in the new Hitchhiker program. We are also standing up our own sandbox to stay on top of innovations added to the Answers search platform, as site search is an increasingly important component to our holistic strategy.