During the pandemic, my buying habits changed. I now shop exclusively at one online grocer, I favor retailers who can deliver to my small town, and I stopped patronizing some brands based on their response to certain events. 


My own changes as a consumer made it all the more interesting to hear an outstanding group of local chief marketing officers at a Nexus Executive Women’s Alliance program speak about navigating their brands through the last year. These star marketing leaders discussed how rapidly consumers’ needs changed, an emphasis on corporate values, and the importance of listening to and caring for customers and employees. I was struck by how brand leadership, like overall leadership these days, involves flexibility and a focus on people more than ever.


Similar themes were echoed in a recent Deloitte report called “2021 Global Marketing Trends: Find your focus,” which stated, “Each of our 2021 global marketing trends shares the common theme of breaking out of our often-defensive mindsets to more holistically — and authentically — meet human needs.”


The study showed when times get tougher, brand loyalty is increasingly tied to how quickly companies adapt to consumers’ ever-changing needs.


After reading this report, I went back to the chief marketing officer panelists and asked, “What are top branding issues all companies should be considering in 2021 as the economy and consumer landscape continues to change?” Here are their responses:


Beth Wood, SVP, chief marketing officer, Global Brand & Experience, Principal Financial Group: One area I expect we will see companies tackle in our next normal is ensuring brand relevance — exploring ways to be even more relevant with their target customer. This means strong voice of customer tools to better understand expectations, preferences and aversions. Subsequently, marketers and customer experience professionals will invest in messages, images and experiences that meet customers where they are, in both hearts and minds.


Tara Deering-Hansen, vice president, marketing and communications, Iowa Bankers Association: This will be the year that consumers and the media will expect companies to follow through and stay consistent with any racial equity statements they made last year. In 2020, many companies shifted their focus to their customers’ online experience. As more people get vaccinated and begin moving about, companies will need to reevaluate their in-person customer experience — striking the right tone between their excitement to “return to normal” and maintaining safety guidelines.


Tracy Ging, chief marketing officer, Kum & Go: I think we’ll see several distinct branding challenges post-COVID. Consumer behaviors will be erratic and fundamentally altered. Brand marketers will have a huge challenge, but also a great opportunity to help people stay connected on a human level while an increasing portion of their lives are consumed by technology. It’s clear people are looking for brands to stand for something. If they give your brand a platform, they’ll want to see you use it consciously.

 

Renee Hamlen, SVP, chief marketing officer, F&G: Branding starts with defining your company culture and employees embracing that culture. Whether employees are new to the company or have been there for years, now more than ever, it’s important to reinforce an organization’s core brand values as we continue to navigate the remote and return-to-work world. More importantly, this will also extend externally as employees are the best brand ambassadors to help bring an organization’s mission to life. 


In 2021, brand leadership will require constant adjustment, meeting customers and employees where they are and truly caring. Will my buying habits shift again? My brand loyalty, like that of many consumers, may increasingly depend not just on good products, service and delivery, but on a company’s values and culture as well.