starting line of a race
PHOTO: Tim Gouw

With 2020 fading away in our rearview mirror and the vaccines to fight the pandemic starting to become available, the time has come for many CEOs and business owners to focus on how to restart, or jumpstart, their revenue and growth engines. That typically begins with effective marketing and branding, residing under the purview of the CMO.

I spoke with serial entrepreneur and small business advisor Kurt Rathmann and other chief executives and small business owners to take their pulse on what they expect from the marketing side of the house going forward.

2021 Pushes CMOs to Find Creative Solutions

“The onus on the CMO has never been greater to come up with a creative marketing strategy, along with a scalable platform for driving effective, measurable results,” Rathmann told me. “That plan needs to anticipate the unpredictable climate for business in 2021 to capture market share and support revenue growth.”

One tactic that will likely remain mostly off the table in 2021 will be in-person conferences and trade shows and the marketing programs that accompany them. Typically, these events require extensive lead time, meaning the chances of seeing the return of most in-person events before the third or fourth quarter will be highly unlikely.

That said, the virtual cousin of the trade show, the webinar, will undoubtedly grow in popularity. Look for CMOs to identify new ways to attract registrants, leveraging compelling topics, partner channels, and/or creative public relations (PR). While conferences and trade shows will never disappear, webinars will continue to serve as a cost-effective replacement, one that many CMOs will employ in 2021, given that they will most likely be operating with what are decidedly modest marketing budgets this year.

Related Article: Redefining Marketing Success in 2021

CMOs Navigate a Shifting Media Landscape

Revisiting the aforementioned PR discipline, CMOs will surely leverage the media where they can. But the continued shuttering of publications and layoffs of journalists means that the available opportunities are shrinking.

“A press release or media outreach will need to have significant news value to gain traction in the media in 2021,” said Holt Hackney, owner of Hackney Communications. “To offset this, the marketing department will likely need to explore sponsored content opportunities in the media that are tied to its own social media apparatus.”

CMOs can expect pressure from their CEOs to place a continued emphasis on tactics intended to attract traffic to their website, whether that is through reciprocal links with partners, social media, PR, or search engine marketing, to name a few.

Rathmann, who most recently guided ScaleFactor in the cloud-based accounting space, confirmed as much. “With fewer trade shows and dwindling media opportunities, CEOs can anticipate that marketing will redouble its efforts to not only bring people to their website but retool the site so that it converts prospects into customers,” said Rathmann.

Related Article: How to Troubleshoot Your Third-Party Demand Gen Program

Email, Video, Social Media: All Marketing Options on the Table

He also expects his marketing team to maintain its emphasis on email marketing. “Yes, we are all inundated with spam,” said Rathmann. “But email marketing, when presenting a compelling offer and delivered appropriately, is still one of the most cost-effective tools available to a business. And marketing plays a critical role in how that message is received and acted upon.”

Video will be another point of emphasis. Eric Fletcher, a veteran C-level executive in the professional services space, noted that he sees a trend where companies are not only more fully leveraging video platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, but complementing the written word with video wherever the opportunity presents itself.

“In a crowded arena, video tends to stop us in our tracks and engage us. When an audience doesn’t have time to read a 1,200-word blog, they’ll click on a short video clip,” said Fletcher. “And a well-done video segment can deliver a compelling message across social media platforms.”

Social media marketing remains a productive course for businesses that want to improve their brand recognition, acquire new business, and maintain meaningful contact with their customers and prospects during 2021. CEOs who understand the potential value and efficiency that social media offers will expect their CMOs to effectively leverage that marketing channel this coming year, more so than ever before.

Related Article: Social Media Trends to Consider in Your 2021 Marketing Strategy

A Brighter Year Ahead

2021 will undoubtedly be a challenging — but hopefully, also rewarding — year for CMOs and CEOs alike, as marketers focus more effort and budget allocations on enhancing customer experience and customer retention, fostering more human connections, establishing brand-to-brand collaborations, partnering with influencers, implementing and improving agile marketing, producing more interactive content, and leveraging digital transformation.

Here’s to a better and brighter year for us all!