Channel Marketing Trends and Priorities for 2021

Sarah Cucchiara | November 23, 2020

Channel Marketing Trends and Priorities for 2021

Between a pandemic, a recession, civil unrest, and a tense election, 2020 has disrupted daily life and business operations alike. Chances are, your channel marketing strategy has gotten a bit lost amid the chaos. To get it back on track and drive more revenue in 2020, use these trends revealed from Forrester data and marketing behavior from some of the biggest U.S. brands to plan your marketing spend and prioritize the most effective tactics:

1. Plan for Later Economic Recovery

The COVID-19 crisis has stunned the economy and marketing is no exception. With consumer confidence wavering and a shift in buying behavior, U.S. marketing spend has fallen significantly. Forrester has predicted that the most likely scenario is a longer recovery period, where the economy begins to recover midway through 2021 and marketing spend will follow shortly after.

In the meantime, if your brand is part of the countless marketers working with a reduced budget, you may need to shuffle priorities or take a different approach than pushing a hard sell with advertising. This year, there’s much less “buy now” activity is going on. Instead, marketers are investing in long-term brand stories and things like product innovation, placement innovation, and pricing strategies. For example, Purple, the mattress brand, is broadening its product portfolio to offer goods that are more relevant for what a buyer needs today. The company is now making seat cushions for people who are unexpectedly working from home on uncomfortable chairs. This type of marketing investment isn’t necessarily all about promotion—it’s about being there for customers in new ways during a challenging time.

2. Don’t Stop Marketing

Broad economic studies that have examined decades of previous recessions have shown that continuing to market during a recession drives the best business outcome. One McGraw Hill study specifically focused on the recession between 1981 and 1982 found that companies that marketed aggressively during the recession had 256% higher sales than those that didn’t continue to market. There are two key reasons for this:

• If you’re marketing when no one else is, you have a much louder voice.

• Marketing drives sales. Shutting it down will freeze your sales pipeline, whereas continuing to market keeps it in motion.

Despite the fact that the best course of action is to continue marketing, the reality is budgets are tightening and consumer buying behavior is changing. Rather than slashing spend completely, companies should reevaluate their marketing strategy, messaging, and how much money is being spent on the most effective tactics.

3. Pivot Your Marketing Strategy and Messaging

Now is the time to reinvent your marketing purpose and process. In a climate where everything has changed, it’s actually more risky for you to do nothing different than for you to overhaul your current strategy. Certain tactics, particularly offline media, are no longer as effective due to the change in consumer behavior. There are fewer people commuting to work, a decline in in-person events, and capacity limits in public spaces, which can limit the reach of traditional advertising tactics. Meanwhile, internet, streaming, and social media usage has skyrocketed. Pivoting your marketing strategy to leverage digital tactics and meet consumers in their own homes is the logical move for your 2021 ad spend.

Many brands may also find that the messaging around the products or services they provide is no longer relevant to the current moment. For example, pizza restaurants are notorious for planning promotions around sporting events. But in the absence of professional sports, Domino’s changed it’s tune and began advertising it’s safe carryout and delivery process. Making this kind of messaging shift ensures your brand is being sensitive to the evolving situation. Carrying on with business as usual is a sure way to be phased out of the consumer conversation.

4. Reduce Friction

There’s an inherent friction between corporate objectives and channel partner goals. To keep your channel partners marketing through downturns, you must find ways to make it easy for them to execute on your corporate objectives. Provide educational materials that enable them to manage the execution of your campaigns locally. Develop a simple approval process for customizing and printing advertising materials. Share creative assets with them that align with your new positioning and can be tailored to their location. Finally, incentivize those behaviors through your fund management program so partners can see what the benefit is on their end.

5. Allow Channel Partners Flexibility and Agility

With the virus, economic situation, and political climate playing out differently across the U.S. and the world, channel partners need the ability to quickly adjust their marketing spend, use their MDF or co-op funds where they need it the most, and tailor their messaging to be locally relevant.

When the pandemic hit, businesses across the board had to pivot quickly to stay afloat. One noticeable channel marketing trend is that some of the rules for fund management programs were lifted so that partners had more flexibility to use corporate funds for rent and other operational challenges rather than just advertising. Companies also leveraged their brand management platforms to distribute updated assets with new messaging and products that supported safety to their channel partners. Finally, local businesses that had marketing execution support were able to consult with experts on how to adjust their media buys and shift to more relevant digital tactics. Having a flexible platform for fund management, brand management, and marketing execution that empowers partners with the tools to access new brand assets and rapidly bring them to market is invaluable during this volatile time for marketing.

6. Create Value for Your Customer

Value is created when a customer perceives that they get more than they give up. Value isn’t limited to just monetary or economic value—and you may actually find that your company can’t afford to be the most economical option, or maybe it’s not appropriate for your brand. There are numerous ways to make your customers feel your product or service is worthwhile, including:

• Functional value – Functional value is about product excellence. Sometimes your customer is willing to pay a premium for something of exceptional quality.

• Experiential value – Experiential value is when something is delightful to a customers’ senses. Experiences can be elaborate—like attending a live concert—or simple—like putting on a luxurious lotion.

• Symbolic value – Symbolic value is the feeling that your customer gets when they purchase something that brings meaning into their life, like the protection of a reliable insurance agent. Or, maybe buying from your brand makes them feel proud, nostalgic, or like part of a community.

Aligning your brand promise and marketing strategy with one of these types of value will help focus your messaging and take a few steps back from a hard sell. Marketing should drive customer obsession, not just one and done sales. Having the customer at the center of your decision making is key for making your 2021 marketing strategy poised to drive revenue over the long-term.

Going into 2021, there are a lot of unknown factors. As the trends discussed above indicate, one of the most valuable ways to prepare for an uncertain year is to have the infrastructure in place—which includes people, processes, and technology—to pivot quickly and adapt to an evolving situation. Recovery may seem far off, but it is more within reach to businesses that continue to market and make intelligent adjustments to their products and messaging.
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