DCMN 2020 Lowdown: Our Five Biggest Learnings from 2020

A year of crisis: 2020 feels like one hundred news cycles rolled into one. There was no escaping the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated global health, societal and financial effects. We all watched the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the globe, while the US election, from COVID-curtailed primaries to the never-ending election week, had a profound impact on us all. The year was so overwhelming that even the Oxford English Dictionary couldn’t decide on a word of the year.

Here at DCMN, we know you will have discussed all these topics extensively. From Tiger King to Trump, sourdough to superspreaders, it doesn’t feel necessary to roundup the trends of a year when nobody missed a minute. That’s why we thought we’d turn the tables. Instead of discussing what happened in this crazy ol’ year, we got together with our colleagues and discussed our biggest learnings from 2020 in a marketing context. And you know what? Even the shoddiest years are packed with valuable learnings and experiences.

What were your learnings from 2020? We’re happy to help you adapt your strategy going forward. Get in touch with us here.

Home Office Mostly Works, But A Hybrid Working Solution Is Best

When discussing 2020 from our vantage point, there could only be one number one. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, marketers (and most other office workers) across the world were forced to work from home. And while originally our stint at home was thought to last for only two weeks for many – including DCMN – it was extended, extended, and extended again. Most companies are now working from home until at least summer 2021.

In the marketing biz, a world which thrives upon in-person interaction, this has been a big transition to make. ZOOM (whose stock price surged by an inconceivable 590% this year) replaced in-person meetings. Slack took the place of the random coffee machine encounter. On our side, we played with Snap Filters and Breakout Rooms, and held virtual quizzes, drinks and (upcoming) Christmas parties! On DCMN’s side, our roundtable discussion series SCALEup went virtual – and we created the bite-sized Marketer’s Snackbox strand in an effort to combat Zoom fatigue. Of course, none of this is the same as the magic of IRL – and we hope it will come back soon.

But for the nuts and bolts of getting the job done, home office does work. Many have said it is just as or even more efficient than working in the office. And for many employees, with the daily commute now void, this led to a schedule where they had more time for themselves. Fitting in the odd house task or two – laundry! deliveries! popping to the post office! – during the work day now became possible. And our very own Digital Brand Tracker survey showed that people really valued this, with better work/life balance coming out as their top positive factor of home office. The biggest thing they missed while remote working? It was the lack of face-to-face interactions.

So what’s next? Our survey shows a hybrid option is what’s favoured, with 64% wanting to stay at home at least one day per week in the future. Two days a week of remote working is the most favoured option, followed closely by one day and three days a week. Make no mistake: the future of work is nigh.

Graph showing how many days a week Germans want to work from home

Brand purpose is very important, but only if it’s authentic  

From black boxes to #StayAtHome: everybody had something to say in 2020 (even if, in some cases, it wasn’t necessary). There’s no doubt that brand purpose is a big topic in marketing right now, with brands left and right making statements about how they responded to the monumental events of 2020. That’s why the importance of brand purpose is one of our biggest learnings of 2020.

In most cases, they were right to do so: according to this Kantor study, purpose-led brands will grow at twice the rate of those without any higher societal aim. We’ve seen the likes of Unilever’s Ben and Jerry’s brand campaign on social issues, for example via their tweets. Take for example this tweet criticising the British government’s policy on migrant boats. According to Marketing Week, this led to “higher consideration (+10.6 pts), purchase intent (+3.5 pts) and word of mouth (+13.3 pts).” It’s clear their focus on these topics has never hurt the brand, with sales up 500% since 2000 to a total of $1.2 billion.

The key point here is to tread carefully. While not saying something will hurt (particularly for the bigger, more influential brands), there’s also a danger it could negatively impact your brand if you are seen to be hypocritical or not appearing genuine. Looking opportunistic and trying to gain cheap PR points and commercial gain is to be avoided, something we call ‘purpose washing’. Take the example of Mondelēz, whose attempt to add humanity to their brand with their ‘Humaning’ campaign induced high levels of ridicule. Then there’s the example of L’Oreal, who, after posting on #BlackoutTuesday, were faced with accusations of racism and discrimination from the actress Munroe Bergdorf. L’Oreal’s response, installing Bergdorf as a consultant on L’Oreal’s UK Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board, was a step in the right direction. For brands faced with similar accusations, apologies followed by a strategy shift and change in course is the way to go.

One other pointer: don’t play the hero either. Let’s leave that to those who really deserve it (i.e. the essential workers). In the meantime, authentic messaging is to be saluted. Focus on fostering diversity in your business first, before making grand statements about it. And if you do it right, consumers will remember, which will pay dividends in the long-term post-COVID future.

Digitalisation is both the immediate and long-term future for brand

Cyber resilience was a term that got thrown around a lot this year. Companies with a strong technical infrastructure and end-to-end digital processes were able to shift to working digitally quite well. But for other traditionally or partially offline companies it was trickier – they were often either forced to change their business model and move online, or to shut down operations entirely.

Urban Sports Club was one brand that took on the digitalisation challenge when COVID hit. Their VP Marketing Torsten Müller starred in our edition of SCALEup: the Marketer’s Snackbox, explaining how they were forced into making big changes very quickly at the start of the pandemic. Previously only providing a platform for users to access in-studio classes, they increased their offering on the digital front. Together with their partner studios, they pivoted to a whole host of different online classes on their platform. This was something they had wanted to work on for a while, but in Torsten’s own words, 2020 was the “kick up the butt” they needed to make it happen. These were also steps taken by other traditionally IRL fitness companies, from BEAT81 to McFit/John Reed (part of the RSG group). It was perhaps this, plus strong customer service, that led Urban Sports Club to experience the bathtub effect, with a big fall in active users countered by only a small dip in paying memberships.

Documenting the fall in active Urban Sports Club members during the COVID-19 pandemic

In comparison, many bricks-and-mortar businesses without strong digital presences began to have difficulties. This was particularly apparent in the UK, and particularly in retail, with the recent administration of the Arcadia group, including the once-dominant brand Topshop. If you’re reliant on the IRL shop experience, and haven’t bolstered your online operations, you’re looking at the exit door. That’s why widespread digitalisation is one of our top learnings from 2020.

Health and safety is now a pillar of brand experience

Brand experience is conceptualised as sensations, feelings, cognitions, and behavioural responses evoked by brand-related stimuli that are part of a brand’s design and identity, packaging, communications, and environments.”

In this most turbulent of years, the sensations and feelings that took hold were related to health and safety. Our new COO Hillevi Lausten and Senior Marketing Manager Eric Vissers even discussed this in their deep dive into marketing for a COVID-19 summer at the first digital masterclass event from OMR. In times of crisis, we move down Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for how we define our psychological needs, with security, safety, food, water, warmth and rest taking precedence over things like prestige and accomplishment. Brands needed to note that, with health and safety taking the most prominence in a health crisis like COVID-19.

We saw this across many different verticals. Food delivery brands in India thrived, but it was crucial to give their brand a safety shine in order to appeal to consumers. This was particularly apparent with the tie-up of virtual restaurant chain Rebel Foods with EatSure, who put their hygiene measures at the forefront of the marketing materials.

Mc Kinsey claims there are four things to focus on in the future: „focusing on care and connection, meeting customers where they are today, reimagining CX for a post-COVID-19 world and building capabilities for a fast-changing environment.” We’re inclined to agree. Safe is the new brand.

Despite streaming, TV is a resilient performer
 TV's resilience was one of our learnings from 2020

Time for the last of our learnings from 2020. Alongside the continued domination of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, the streaming wars saw the launch of Disney+, and the likes of HBO MAX, Peacock and the dead-on-arrival Quibi. But despite these disruptors coming to the entertainment business, TV held its’ ground this year. With millions across the world staying at home, linear TV managed to capitalise in this, with increasing ratings, viewing time and contacts seen across the year.

Here’s how: back in March and April in Germany, our figures show average viewing hours were up 15% in March and 17% in April. With ad spend down as many businesses removed their spots, this provided the perfect opportunity for many brands to test TV. And while the increases dipped in the summer months, that also coincides with television’s low season, when Germans go on summer vacation (or this year staycations).

What about now? Now Germany is back in a second lockdown since November 2, we are already seeing increases in all important metrics. In comparison to November 2019, viewership is up 17% with viewing time also going up during Lockdown Two, now at an average viewing time of 4:30 hours. That’s a whopping increase of +12% year on year. And Germany isn’t the whole story, ratings have gone up across the world, in the likes of the UK, US and India. It was definitely one of our most surprising, and welcome, learnings from 2020.

That’s why if you’ve had your eye on testing TV, now could be your moment.

Those were our learnings from 2020. Onwards and upwards into 2021! Let’s discuss your strategy. Chat with us here.


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