Marketing in 2021: Universal ID Race and Creative Efficiency

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With 2021 already dubbed the ‘Year of Pandemic Advertising,’ marketers face significant challenges as they navigate new realities—from deciphering which consumer behaviors are temporary and which are permanent, to realigning customer experience with shifting sentiment. Not surprisingly, advertising budgets remain as unpredictable as Covid’s trajectory. Only 10% of ad buyers feel like they have a clear handle on their budgets, while seven out of ten report “little to no” clarity.

Given the continuing uncertainty, it seems futile to make any marketing and advertising conjectures for the next six to 12 months. However, there are some trends that look they have staying power across our community of brand marketers and agency and data partners.

Universal ID Race

The universal ID space will see leaders emerge, but Amazon DSP is a dark horse to watch.

As the industry inches closer to Google’s loose 2022 deadline to deprecate cookies, expect to see a continued thinning out of third-party data providers and traditional data marketplaces — balanced by the organic rise of new data marketplaces that aren’t beholden to cookies.

Moreover, next year we are unlikely to see the crowning of a single player that best evangelizes and gains adoption for its own universal identity method. Instead, several leaders will emerge. In 2021, the industry will be forced to navigate a whole slew of questions surrounding identity.

The Trade Desk has charged ahead with its Unified ID 2.0 initiative—recently inking high-profile, collaborative deals with LiveRamp, Criteo, and Nielsen. If TTD’s UID becomes a widely accepted standard, what might that mean for a company like Oracle? Also consider independent players like ID5—as they gain traction, how will their competing “universal identity” solutions peacefully coexist? Will they play nice with cohort-based initiatives that browsers and tech providers are testing?

One outlier to keep an eye on is Amazon DSP, which continues to grow and establish staying power for a post-cookie world with audience targeting built around logged-in users rather than cookies.  The industry will also look to CTV/ATV for a way forward, with stable targeting based on logins (CTV) or determinist set top (ATV) identities. These use cases are already delivering targeted audiences at scale without cookies.

Flexible ad strategy

Marketers will adopt more flexible advertising strategies across channels to keep up with consumers’ quickly shifting behaviors.

Covid has completely changed the landscape of consumer behavior. With people spending more time at home and in virtual meetings this year, marketers have seen increased engagement in both direct mail and online channels. With vaccine distribution underway, we may see another quick shift in consumer behavior. So for 2021, marketers will need to stay nimble; and while many continue to invest in direct mail, they must stay flexible with more creative online programs. This aligns with a recent survey of Alliant’s DataHub Members, which found that while many plan to maintain email, display, and direct mail spending in 2021, they also plan to dramatically increase spending in social marketing.

One example of adjusting acquisition strategy to align with new consumer behaviors involves one of our clients, a leading grocery delivery service. Due to Covid, the brand experienced a boom in business from consumers choosing not to shop for groceries at their local retailer and instead opting to order online for home delivery. However, an unanticipated challenge emerged. In urban markets such as New York City, with many consumers no longer tied to a commute, customers were relocating outside the city to underserved delivery areas (e.g., the Hamptons). Not only did the brand expand their delivery services over time, but they also focused resources on data hygiene and recency, as well as communicating the expanded capacity to existing shoppers.

The example above illustrates how in 2021, marketers will continue to play catch-up with changing consumer behaviors and dramatically rethink how, when, and where to engage.

Creative efficiency

Creative development efficiencies will accelerate.

This year, marketers’ ability to nimbly execute cross-channel strategies was tested more than ever before. Covid forced them to accelerate campaign timelines to keep up with changing consumer behaviors, and also reevaluate and recontextualize their brand promise.

Top global brands accustomed to evolving their strategies and adapting ad creatives in real time such as McDonald’s, IKEA, Ford, and others successfully responded to the emerging pandemic with uplifting messages. For example, Guinness’s St. Patrick’s Day message went viral in March with comforting reminders of community resilience and assurance. Unfortunately, not all brands have the budget or production horsepower to conceive and adapt creative as quickly to different mediums. In 2021, marketers will be forced to rethink the creative development process and how to make it more efficient for stakeholders and across channels.

Beyond responding to consumer behavior, nimble creative will also let marketers make the most of audience targeting, by serving the same campaigns and offers across channels.

While it would be easy for marketers to file their takeaways of 2020 under disorientation and uncertainty, this year delivered an incredible opportunity to build new muscles and strengthen strategic capabilities. Great brands never let a crisis go to waste: By integrating key learnings into their 2021 plans, brands will walk away stronger than ever before as they evolve in the era of pandemic marketing and advertising.

JoAnne Monfradi Dunn is CEO at Alliant.

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