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Our top 5 marketing articles of 2020 [plus trends for 2021]

Posted by Veronica Wainstein on January 25, 2021 at 4:57 PM
Veronica Wainstein
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People on a roller coaster at a fun fair

2020 was a roller coaster ride if ever there was one. Marketers had to navigate their way through uncharted territory - trying to remain relevant, relatable and helpful amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of this, we’re looking back at our top five marketing articles from last year and sharing a few key trends to look out for in 2021.

If you stayed up on New Year’s eve just to make sure you saw the last of 2020, we wouldn’t blame you. That was quite a year! Luckily we’ve made it into 2021 having learnt a lifetime’s worth of lessons on how to pivot our marketing strategy and work within the constraints of little to no marketing budget. 

In honour of the dumpster fire that was 2020, we’re looking back at our top five most popular marketing articles from last year. 

Our top five most read marketing articles from 2020

In order of popularity, here’s what Penquin’s readers enjoyed most on our blog in 2020.

  1. Always-on vs. campaign-based marketing during uncertain times
  2. Outsource vs in-house marketing agencies: which is best? [INFOGRAPHIC]
  3. Quick wins: what are they, why you need them, and when you don’t
  4. How to get the most bang for your buck from media
  5. Think fast and pivot! How to turn your next event into a virtual event

But first, our CEO, Veronica Wainstein, shares her thoughts on why these blogs performed so well and what this means for marketers as we plan our strategy for 2021. 

Trends that will shape your marketing strategy in 2021

Economic uncertainty following the pandemic sets the scene for businesses in 2021

With the pandemic still in full swing, and no immediate signs of business-as-usual returning any time soon (at least not during the first half of the year), a lot of the marketing strategy from 2020 will carry over into this year. 

“In 2020, many South African businesses spent a lot of time focusing on how to gear themselves up in a digital world. This took priority over maintaining ongoing brand building campaigns which may have had an impact on sales. Additionally, the lockdown prevented many businesses from operating which would also have had a profound impact on sales. 

So, marketing managers were looking for ways to be more creative (with their budgets, campaign concepts and choice of media) and digital skyrocketed. This trend in researching creative ways to get the best possible marketing ROI on a budget came through strongly in the content that performed well on our blog last year. Marketers were looking for how-to guides and comparing the benefits and pitfalls of various strategies in order to sift out the quickest wins for their businesses,” says Veronica.

However, now that most businesses have adjusted their strategy, processes and technology to suit a socially-distanced world, this year’s primary objective will be to revive sales. 

So, what does this mean for marketing managers in 2021?

Make sure you’re investing in digital innovation

“I think 2021 will see a huge uptick in digital innovation. There’s so much clutter online that brands have got to become more creative  - not only conceptually but also in how they use digital technology - to stand out and be ‘seen’,” says Veronica.

Apocalyptic scene with TV screen in rubble and man playing trombone

In 2021 we’ll be competing for share of voice

“I think, now, the ability to really think outside the box and create some creative masterpieces in terms of marketing collateral is what’ll be the next big thing. We won’t be competing on media spend - we’ll be competing for share of voice. And share of voice comes from talkability and from being bold and different,” says Veronica. 

GIF of two woman dancing and clapping

Creative, emotive brand storytelling is more important than ever

Creative marketing has always been a topic of discussion, even in traditional media, and ultimately that comes down to the essence of your brand. You stand out because people know who you are, what your brand stands for, the quality of your product and your service delivery / customer experience. A strong brand comes from the longevity of campaigns that have built that track record,” says Veronica. “So, while the short quick-win type campaigns may have been an effective way to survive in 2020, marketers need to focus on a sustainable, long-term brand building strategy. You need to establish a strong, viable, credible, authentic, vulnerable, open, relatable brand. And, you’ve got to be very clear on what your value proposition is because that’s what will help you get through the roughest of times.”

Hands stirring tea in a tea cup

Examples of the power of branding

“An example that comes to mind is a brand like Woolworths where, even though times are tough, consumers are willing to pay a premium for groceries because the brand is known for quality, convenience and innovation and known for sourcing locally. They stand true to their value proposition everywhere - their brand represents it, their stores reflect it and their online presence reflects it. It’s that holistic view of the brand that served them well during lockdown (keeping in mind though that groceries were still considered an essential item),” says Veronica. 

Another excellent example of a brand that continued to deliver on their value proposition despite the lockdown is Virgin Active who stayed true to their tagline “Live happily ever active”. They quickly pivoted to a digital environment, developing online workouts for customers that focused on exercises which could be done at home with little to no gym equipment. These online workouts were available on their social media platforms and within their app. Even though gyms were empty, the Virgin Active team cheerfully continued to keep South Africa motivated and moving. 

Their online workouts have become a permanent fixture and they’ve found an alternative way to deliver the same great services in a predominantly digital and socially-distanced environment.

Screenshot of Virgin Active's new packages during COVID-19

Now on to the details of our top five marketing reads from 2020...

1. Always-on vs. campaign-based marketing during uncertain times

Always-on vs. campaign-based marketing strategy

There’s always been a debate in advertising when it comes to which approach marketers should take for the best results: an always-on (brand awareness) strategy vs. a campaign-based (retail / sales) strategy. 

This article investigates the benefits and pitfalls of both strategies, and how you can leverage a combination of the two to make your marketing budget stretch further. Read more → 

2. Outsource vs in-house marketing agencies: which is best? [INFOGRAPHIC] 

Hands holding puzzle pieces

With marketing budgets shrinking at an alarming rate, marketing managers are having to weigh up the pros and cons of outsourcing their marketing activities to an agency or building an in-house agency of dedicated resources. This article weighs up the pros and cons of both options using the three C’s (cost, capacity and competency) decision making framework

During an economic recession, the flexibility of working with an agency on a project-based basis allows you to access the marketing specialists you need without having to take on full-time resources at a fixed monthly cost. Read more → 

3. Quick wins: what are they, why you need them, and when you don’t

Illustration of a first prize trophy

Growth hacks have been on the rise and have become the obsession of digital marketers with good reason. They claim to offer a cost effective way to show almost instant marketing ROI. 

That being said, however, there’s a time and place for quick wins. A long-term, sustainable marketing strategy is still necessary to build brand equity. This article helps you identify when to shoot for a quick win vs. when you should opt to play the long game instead. Read more → 

4. How to get the most bang for your buck from media

Man in sunglasses holding a sparkler

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent national lockdown forced brands to rapidly shift their marketing budget to different media channels to reach people in their homes. 

In this article, our media experts share tips to help you identify the most effective media channels to get you in front of your target audience. You’ll also learn a few industry secrets to help you negotiate the best price on your media packages. Read more → 

5. Think fast and pivot! How to turn your next event into a virtual event

Chandler, Ross and Rachel pivoting the couch up the stairs in Friends

The value of face-to-face interaction will never go away, but now is the time when going virtual is a necessary part of your event strategy. The advantages of virtual events are plenty and often far outweigh those of an in-person event. These include:

  • wider audience reach
  • increased brand visibility
  • on demand event content
  • enhanced community engagement
  • reduced event production costs 
  • post event analytic and reporting stats

Our events expert, Michele Rogers, shares her top tips to help you turn your next virtual event into a resounding success. Read more → 

In summary...

The theme for 2021 is very much “let’s get creative”. 

Whether you’re demonstrating creativity through digital innovation and the creative use of technology to improve your value proposition and customer experience, or just doing some damn good creative storytelling, this is your year to show the world what you’re made of.

While short, campaign-based marketing was the order of 2020, marketing managers need to start thinking about the bigger picture and getting back to their always-on brand building strategy. A combination of quick wins and long-term loyalty will ensure your business is prepared to weather the storm during economic uncertainty.

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