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Thought leadership

New research into the state of play for 250 U.K. marketing leaders by Iterable, a leading cross-channel marketing platform, revealed that over 90% saw their organisation as mission-driven in 2020. This doubling down on purpose was a core part of marketers’ work to stay connected with customers in a difficult year. Indeed, 91% of respondents reported that last year, their company had to change its marketing strategies to better build consumer trust.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced brands to communicate differently in 2020. Almost a quarter of companies (24%) shifted to more empathy-driven customer communications last year – only sales (27%) and crisis response (27%) rose more in U.K. brands. The marketing landscape appears permanently altered, with 89% of marketers anticipating maintaining these new customer messaging priorities in 2021.

Alyssa Jarrett, Director, Brand & Content Marketing at Iterable said: “Tapping into how customers are feeling will be a top priority in 2021. Only by understanding how customers feel can a brand effectively connect. We must strive to learn what our customers want from us—what can we provide them that they cannot get on their own at this very moment? Asking this question helps better empathize with your customers’ experiences and distil the message that serves them best.”

Aside from the global pandemic, a number of other social issues took centre stage last year. Iterable’s research revealed forty-two percent of companies issued a public statement on racial inequality in 2020, with gender inequality (35%) and climate change (34%) also high on the agenda. Just 15% of brands did not release a statement on any issue in 2020.

U.K. brands campaigned on these issues in a variety of different ways. The most commonly reported tactic by U.K. marketing leaders was either to partner with an organisation on an initiative to benefit those affected (56%), or by creating social media content advocating for the issue (54%). 2021 looks unlikely to be less issue-driven for businesses. Nearly 4 in 5 respondents (79%) plan to continue campaigns this year with messaging on one or more of these issues.

This year, marketers are mindful of focusing on campaign messaging suitable for the business. In one sense, U.K. marketing leaders are ambitious for brands to go even further to speak out on the major ethical and moral issues cared about by customers – 45% of respondents claimed, in fact, that there were issues they wished their company had been more vocal about in 2020.

However, brands are careful to keep their campaigning away from party politics. Eighty-five percent of respondents agreed that as a consumer brand, it is their responsibility to maintain a neutral stance towards any political party. When asked why they avoided aligning with a political party, the top response was it would be unethical to bring party politics into their brand (42%); closely followed by 35% fearing that party political positioning would not resonate with the brand’s target audience.

Jarrett concluded: “This year ethics and morality look set to be critical components of building trust in a brand. Our research highlights marketers’ success in communicating with sensitivity on the multitude of societal issues about which customers are passionate. As marketers, our responsibility is also to consider how our individual audiences are feeling, so we can communicate with tact. The more mindful we are of their perspective, the more effectively we can connect with them.”

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