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Covid-19: the greatest ‘digital accelerant’ of the decade? By Heriot-Watt University’s Dr. Paul Hopkinson

Partner content: In a post-Covid era, many companies have had to embrace digital transformation or accelerate their effort in order to succeed. But what are the implications for marketers?

It is widely acknowledged that 2020 has seen the world change in ways we never imagined. Amongst others, it has changed the way businesses operate in all sectors and regions. And of all these changes, the one that stands out most are the changes that have taken place in the area of digital transformation. In a few short months, digital adoption across the board has taken a quantum leap. In fact, a survey by McKinsey & Company finds that the response by businesses to Covid-19 has speeded the adoption of digital technologies in several ways. For example, the survey discovered that companies have accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years and have accelerated their share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios by seven years. Similarly, a whopping 97 per cent of enterprise decision-makers believe the pandemic sped up their company’s digital transformation, according to research undertaken by Twilio.

For marketers, the focus on understanding consumer behaviour and requirements will continue to be equally important in the post-Covid-19 world as it was before. However much of these have undergone a sea change, and digital transformation can help address these new behaviour patterns and requirements.

In this backdrop, Dr. Paul Hopkinson, associate head of Edinburgh Business School for Heriot-Watt University Dubai and academic lead for Heriot-Watt Online shares some tips to help marketers succeed in a post-Covid marketplace:

  • Creating distinctive and relevant digital experiences – The biggest hallmarks of the pandemic era have been the curtailing of face-to-face interactions and brick-and-mortar venues being replaced by online where possible. Budgets are being slashed and the goal, in general, is to do more with less. But equally, marketers have been able to use digital technology to interact with consumers in new ways and shrink distance, primarily by improving the customer’s digital experience. All too often, during an upturn, the digital experience is taken for granted. And during a downturn, companies tend to become transactional and attempt to extract maximum value without thinking long-term. Post-Covid is a great time to re-design the customer journey effectively. Some points to be considered while doing so: digital experiences must be quick and immersive, engage consumers in emotional and cognitive ways as well as behaviorally. They also need to be timely in providing marketers with access to actionable data on consumer behaviour patterns and should be consistent in look, feel and quality.
  • Moving faster than before – with the growth of digital content, marketers are now expected to produce plenty of it, and very quickly. However, post-Covid, many businesses are having to do so with fewer resources and smaller budgets than before, without compromising on the quality of engagement. Marketing teams may also need to own the crafting of the customer journey themselves and depend less on technical teams. Whilst all of this can undoubtedly put more pressure on teams, the focus on creating new and meaningful digital experiences will ultimately result in brands engaging more creatively with their target audiences. In the backdrop of current consumer behaviour, some trends which should be considered whilst creating digital content are:
  • Timing has never been better to increase existing presence online, compete on quality of content and work harder to obtain customer engagement in order to secure more customers.
  • With consumers spending more time at home and on social media, the potential for ROI on digital ads has increased. Therefore, investing in digital ads would help you reach out to relevant target audiences as well as serve as a way to remind customers that your business is alive and well and changing to suit changing requirements. Bear in mind though, many others would be doing the same, resulting in more clutter and therefore the need to work harder to cut through it by being distinctive, timely and relevant.
  • It is more important than ever before to be empathetic. The pandemic has resulted in financial hardships and personal losses for many people. As marketers, nothing could be worse as coming across as uncaring or insensitive. It is key to listen to customers, understand their current situation and create better quality, more distinctive experiences.
  • Consider whether you require an overhaul of your communication strategy in general, given the changing environment.
  • From data to insight – For years, marketers have depended heavily on data and analytics to help them craft campaigns which are successful. In a post-Covid era, data and predictive analytics aided by technologies such as artificial intelligence technologies will continue to play a large role in helping marketers understand their customers better. More content and more activity may mean more data, but it also means that marketers will need to work harder than before to extract insights from data to gain a competitive edge. Analytical capabilities need to go beyond just tracking campaign results, consumer preferences and behaviours to enabling predictive insights, automated content delivery and rapid responses to opportunities or threats. 

In every challenge, there lies an opportunity, as the saying goes. And this is true of the current situation as well. The post-Covid era comes with its own share of challenges, however, it is also an opportunity for marketers to demonstrate agility in the face of economic disruption, using digital transformation as the tool to do so. Courses such as Heriot-Watt University Dubai’s M.Sc. in Digital Marketing and MA in Marketing, both of which will launch in September 2021, will go a long way in helping marketers understand and address these changing market requirements.