Jennifer Smith is the Chief Marketing Officer of Brightcove, the leader in broadcast-quality video for business.
Now that the pandemic mandates and Covid-19 case numbers are winding down in the United States (knock on wood), the best marketers will seize the most valuable business lessons that arose from the global scourge and transform their organizations for the long term. Others will, no doubt, snap back to tired pre-pandemic marketing practices, which badly needed a shake-up.
It’s too easy to snap back to old ways. During the height of the pandemic, many of us were certain we’d never shake another hand or set foot in another restaurant without a mask concealing half our face. Well, legions of us are doing these things again and, for the most part, it feels good. But the pandemic also taught us that masks reduce contagion, so why not embrace that successful practice and wear them next flu season?
Which Practices Do We Keep?
Marketers have similar decisions to make. Which old practices should we revert to, and which new practices, forced upon us in 2020, should we invest more deeply in?
Some companies will see no reason to do a virtual user conference this fall or next year because we will probably be able to attend in person again. But I urge leaders to look at what organizations like South by Southwest Conference & Festivals (SXSW) are doing. After canceling in 2020, SXSW, a client of ours, put on a totally virtual edition of its massive event earlier this year. SXSW Online 2021 allowed festival-goers to dip into a diverse combination of pre-recorded and live programming — hundreds of hours of content across five different channels that emulated iconic SXSW stages from years past.
Why would organizers not keep the virtual components going forward, getting them more return on investment from their massive conference spending? These companies can now monetize their content by charging at-home “attendees,” in addition to charging fees for on-demand content chunks made available into the future. I believe smart marketers will do this.
Three Trends To Ride
Indeed, tough times teach. Based on my perspectives, here are three valuable lessons marketers learned during the pandemic that should be institutionalized as trends for the long term.
1. Remote interactions work.
They’re great for business. Certainly, we all acknowledge the power of a face-to-face sales meeting or a shared cocktail. But we got so much done during the lockdown, saved so much money on travel and entertainment, used one another’s time so much more wisely, saw our loved ones at home so much more and reduced so much of our carbon footstep by avoiding superfluous travel.
Employee town halls were more inclusive. Virtual conferences allowed us to experience our favorite vendor experience from our homes. We languished in fewer airports. And we got nearly the same business benefit through video conferencing and streaming — the shortfall was more than offset by the new benefits of remote interaction.
2. Integration drives results.
As marketers, we have our favorite customer relationship management (CRM) tools. Too often, they’re simply tracking targets, contacts, content and website visits. Some companies, buoyed by pandemic successes, have begun using the data from these tools to drive the cost-effective delivery of, arguably, the most expensive yet most persuasive form of content: video.
Video consumption data is super powerful. You can learn a lot about your customers and prospects from what they watched, how many times, for how long and how often they abandoned or shared it. With artificial intelligence and machine learning, marketers can offer recommendations of what to view next — and maybe even start their own corporate TV channel.
(Full disclosure: My company, Brightcove, offers an online video platform.)
3. Equity is imperative.
In the pre-pandemic days, an employee town hall was typically a massive conference call. Employees at headquarters got to rub elbows with the CEO, while other workers were ignored, exiled to muted phones. Where was the inclusion? Why were these faraway workers made to feel less important because they couldn’t be there in person?
Zoom and the other group conferencing apps put workers around the world on an equal footing with team members in the central office location. Now, employees in Korea could be just as visible, vocal and included in an employee town hall as those in New York. Let’s keep up the video conferencing. It helps everyone feel included, heard and valued.
Another equity issue to consider is mandatory travel. A young mother, for example, shouldn’t be penalized for her inability to fly across the country for a four-day conference. Using the technologies that served us so well in the pandemic, we can deliver a new kind of employee equity.
“The remote work revolution, long in coming, was accelerated by the sudden and severe coronavirus outbreak,” Harvard Business School professor Tsedal Neeley, a board member of Brightcove, writes in her new book, Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere. “These changes have opened up a whole new scope of untold opportunities for people and organizations across the globe.”
Many of us suffered during the pandemic. It was a painful life lesson. The world closed up. But for business, it was also a valuable learning experience. Marketing opened up to new ideas and made new tools work surprisingly well. It would be a shame if we all snapped back to our less enlightened ways.
I’m a marketer, and I’ll admit our industry needed a shake-up. Let’s capitalize on it.