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01/12/2021

CG Brands May Bring Joy Back to Marketing in 2021

Lisa Johnston
Senior Editor
Lisa Johnston profile picture
Clockwise from top left: WPP’s Carol Reed (moderator), Walgreens’ Alyssa Raine, Verizon Media’s Ivan Markman and Harry’s Gabby Cohen
Clockwise from top left: WPP’s Carol Reed (moderator), Walgreens’ Alyssa Raine, Verizon Media’s Ivan Markman and Harry’s Gabby Cohen

If 2020 was the year of learning to market during a hurricane, then 2021 may shape up as the year of giving back and reconnection for consumer goods and retail marketers — and perhaps a moment to not be so serious all the time.

Forging a deep connection with consumers remains the hallmark of any successful marketing strategy, and last year saw many brands forced to abruptly adjust what this looks like. For example, when it quickly became apparent during the start of the pandemic that customers weren’t going to be renting clothes from Rent the Runway, the company instead focused on developing content that would make them smile.

“It wasn’t about asking them to sign up or purchase anything,” said Gabby Cohen, who served as Rent the Runway’s SVP of brand, communications and business development until last month, at a CES 2021 panel. “It was just something to make you happy and get you through these crazy days.”

The practice enabled the company to build trust with its customers and better understand what they needed from them.

Walgreens’ consumer marketing strategy is now firmly centered on leveraging data and technology to help take care of their health and wellbeing during the pandemic. The retailer is continuously using the data from the 100 million customers in its loyalty database in order to connect them with COVID-19 testing and now the vaccine, said Alyssa Raine, Walgreens Co. GVP, customer marketing platforms, while recent advances in ad tech and martech are helping deliver more personalized experiences and solutions.

This doesn’t mean purpose-driven marketing is going anywhere. Cohen, who recently joined Harry’s Inc., a personal care brand that donates 1% of all revenue of every purchase to social good causes, noted that authenticity remains crucial or consumers will sniff it out in a second. Developing a social mission can’t be a side hustle that’s unconnected to a brand’s mission, or it will come off as merely a corporate box getting checked off.

At the same time, not every company requires a giveback program, especially one that doesn’t make sense for its brand. “Consumers are smart and won’t be hoodwinked,” Cohen said.

Defining and entering the new normal of 2021 means brands and retailers are tasked with creating messaging that demonstrates they’re getting back to business while balancing the sensitivity of consumers managing a form of PTSD as they come out of the pandemic.

Walgreens is leveraging its pharmacists in its stores and through digital chat to create personalized content, solutions and information to help customers understand what they can and can’t do during the vaccine process (such as information around wearing masks).

Still, brands have the opportunity to infuse things with a sense of humor and bring a bit of levity to the situation. “Not every purchase has to be a deeply thought purchase and so serious. How do we bring joy back into the experience?” said Cohen.

Ivan Markman, chief business officer, Verizon Media chief business officer, noted that he expects virtual commerce to remain as one of the pandemic-induced sticky behavior shifts. (Also expected: plenty of “welcome back” and crowd-cheering messaging.)

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