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Tech marketers looking to carve out a competitive edge in the post-Covid world are embracing creativity and taking more risks, according to a new survey carried out by Opinium on behalf of creative studio Shaped By. At the same time, social and mobile marketing are key strategic responses to decisive shifts in customer behaviour.
In the survey of over 200 senior marketers at UK and US tech brands, three quarters (74%) say their organisation was more creative with its go-to market approach in 2020 than previous years – while 73% report that the pandemic triggered more imaginative audience strategies.
Underlining the need for companies to adapt to rapidly evolving audience demand, 66% of tech marketers in the Shaped By study assert that creativity in marketing is more valued by their organisation than a year ago. Similarly, design and creativity has emerged as a lead priority for 60%, as tech marketers seek alternatives to tried and tested methods. This is ahead of performance marketing (57%) and market research (55%).
In parallel, the survey shows a trend towards bolder, more courageous, decision-making. 74% of participants in Shaped By’s survey believe the tech sector is ‘brave’, and 66% say their organisation supports courage and risk-taking in their go to market strategy.
That said, just 12% say the pivot towards a more risk-oriented, differentiated strategy is down to Covid-19. Instead, Covid-19 is acting as an accelerant for profound changes already in motion.
One impact of the pandemic is that tech marketers have embraced new communication channels, with 98% expanding activities on lightly used channels or experimenting with new ones. Before the pandemic, online advertising and social media were the most common channels used, mentioned by 42% and 38% of marketers respectively. During the pandemic, channels used for the first time have included:
Online events (25%).
Social media (21%).
The Shaped By survey shows a disparity between large companies (+1000 employees) and smaller companies (between 50-499 employees). Compared to smaller counterparts, big brands were twice as likely to use online advertising and digital events, nearly three times as likely to use social media, and four times as likely to use SEO.
Tactical use of online events and webinars during Covid-19 should not deflect from deeper trends. With over a quarter of tech marketers (28%) experiencing an increase in audience engagement over the pandemic, social media is emerging as a key way in which end users explore and acquire products and services. 39% of surveyed marketers deemed social marketing to be the most important area to focus on. Mobile marketing (34%) was also front of mind, as was purpose-led brand marketing (34%).
Encouragingly, 59% of tech marketers have seen an increase in audiences responding to different types of content and there has also been significant uplift in the ability to get leads (55%). One warning sign, however, is an increase in potential clients dropping off the sales cycle at different times (51%) – probably because of new work patterns. Businesses best-placed to counter this volatility are those that have cemented their bond with customers. For example, the renewal of subscriptions and upselling of products/services remained robust during 2020 with 49% reporting increased frequency and 37% no change.
Shaped By co-founder Nick Farrar believes the appetite for experimentation and creativity shows that tech marketers are switching from a sales approach to a value-driven ethos. “Many tech brands found themselves in the eye of the storm with Covid: their technology was in huge demand, but they also needed to step up in a crisis situation,” he says. “As a result, brands have strived to humanise their offerings, and connect on an emotional level.”
This mindset rings true for Barbara Moreno, head of marketing, NDC[X] at Amadeus, whose airline clients were severely hit when Covid-19 struck, causing a global shutdown of the travel sector. Like 28% of marketers questioned in the survey, Barbara saw a growth in audience engagement last year amid a Rethink Travel campaign her company launched to spark conversations on the best path forward. “This pandemic has forced us not just to be creative, but also to be more empathetic,” she says. “We need to be really understanding about what our customers are going through, and engage them in a collaborative team spirit."
Dave Corlett, business director at Shaped By, comments. “Brands are realising you have to communicate with clients around their passion points, and the problems that you can solve for them. So, it’s about getting back to the basics of core brand identity – and how you communicate on a genuine and profound level.”
Increased emphasis on risks and creativity does not, according to the survey, signal a rejection of the trend towards AI/machine learning and data-driven marketing. 50% of survey respondents say their marketing is dominated by technology with 27% noting a dominance of creativity and 24% reporting an equal mix of the two. The underlying message is that tech marketers need to accommodate creative and tech under one roof.
The new study findings come from Shaped By, a creative studio for tech-fuelled brands that recently underwent a makeover of its own. Founded by Nick Farrar and Steve Goss in 2005, it has steadily grown its influence and expertise within the tech sector on both sides of the Atlantic over recent years, working with companies including Autodesk, Rubrik and Nutanix.