In an ever-changing digital landscape, there are few constants but change itself. Emerging trends shift customer behaviors, Google algorithm updates drive Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to new practices, and prominent social media platforms extend the already erratic customer journey. The unprecedented circumstances surrounding COVID-19 also affected it significantly, from altering customer behaviors to informing their reprioritized spending habits. Thus, in such a challenging proverbial arena, brands within and outside the AEC industry strive to maintain brand relevance. Indeed, while it alone cannot future-proof a brand, this metric offers immense financial stability and can ensure continued success.
What trends mandate for brand relevance in 2021?
Initially, it is worth examining trends that will dictate how 2021 unravels as regards brand relevance. From one’s business website to social media strategies, such overarching digital marketing trends as the following should be noted.
Keeping clients engaged
A persisting challenge, arguably in the AEC industry even more so than some others, lies in customer engagement. Lead generation strategies have taken a firm hold, and building brand awareness is an ever-worthy goal. However, impressions are only one metric – and businesses now strive to keep clients interested and engaged across channels.
Simultaneously, search engines maintain their express goal of providing users with value. From matching user search intent to refining local searches, their course dictates that value, not marketing alone, will elevate a business. Indeed, Google notes that “[c]reating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any […] other factors”.
Customers themselves have also shifted their priorities within the past few decades, now valuing perceived ethics higher than perceived competence. Tellingly, the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer quantifies the former as 3 times more valuable toward securing sales than the latter. Thus, to maintain brand relevance in 2021 and beyond, brands need to adjust to this consistent shift.
A sense of purpose
It is perhaps because of this that cause marketing has also thrived as notably as it has in recent years. EngageForGood notes the renewed efficacy of cause marketing in the US, finding majorities of marketers, customers, and employees in agreement. Combined with the aforementioned, brand relevance may often hinge on rallying audiences behind a noble cause for the collective good.
Adopting a customer-first philosophy
Finally, perhaps as a direct response to these new challenges, marketers have started to reconsider the sales funnel model itself. Perhaps most notably, Hubspot has coined the “flywheel” model, which holds that customer satisfaction must take center stage. This model echoes the shift toward the User Experience (UX) and Customer Experience (CX) that the AEC industry now embraces. In brief, it holds that maintaining brand relevance hinges on satisfaction and retention, which develop into trust and advocacy.
Maintaining brand relevance in 2021
Within this framework, one can identify multiple ways to build, enhance, and maintain brand relevance in 2021 and beyond. Among many options, the following four may be worth the consideration of AEC professionals.
1. Build “relentless relevance”
An initial, albeit still theoretical, concept to follow may be “relentless relevance”. Coined by Prophet and reported on by Forbes, this concept finds itself as applicable today as it was in 2015. True to its name, it identifies four conceptual pillars that timelessly and directly address today’s trends.
The focal point of customer-first strategies, “relentless relevance” holds that brands must exhibit a proverbial obsession with customers. Acquiring insights, engaging across all channels, and providing a stellar CX are its foundations.
Scott Davis then identifies focused, team-wide inspiration as a pillar to success and brand relevance. He specifies that brands should be “aggressively positioned in their ambition” and “deliver the promise and essence every single day”. This, too, echoes the contemporary SEO focus on both quality and consistency.
Similarly, “relentless relevance” holds that no brand can maintain relevance without innovating. In this regard, not embracing change and adapting to emerging trends can spell irrelevance for any brand.
Finally, “ruthless pragmatism” dictates that brands should “have to be accountable for driving the growth agenda” of their companies. A responsibility of management teams, it holds that brands should continuously strive to fill “growth gaps”, reflecting the above.
2. Leverage social media and maintain open communication channels
One may then apply this theoretical set of principles across branding efforts, including social media. In this regard, there are multiple ways to maintain brand relevance through social media, including the following.
Excel in omni-channel, brand-driven storytelling.
Social media channels are reshaping storytelling, helping AEC brands forge their unique identity in innovative ways. In this regard, social media can serve as avenues for sharing stories that do so for you. Consider what your content tells of your brand, how it speaks to audiences, and how it helps maintain brand relevance. Simultaneously, ensure your story spans across all of your channels, from your paid ads to your website. In the customer journey, consistency is key.
Engage and build communities.
In a similar vein, it is arguably crucial to remember why audiences use social media at all. Hootsuite identifies the five main reasons as the following, in descending order:
- Staying up to date with news and events
- Finding entertaining content
- Filing up spare time
- Staying in touch with one’s friends
- Sharing photos and videos with others
Researching products, general networking, and plain peer pressure follow. While marketing may still offer value, engaging in meaningful ways and building communities speaks to these factors.
Treat social media as a customer service platform.
Finally, few practices address the concerns over engagement, retention, and CX as accurately as using social media for customer service. The power of customer service through social media cannot be overstated, as Nextiva notes, citing Statista, Microsoft, and AE:
- “48% of consumers expect a response to social media questions and complaints within 24 hours.”
- “65% of people aged 18-34 believe social media is an effective channel for customer service[.]”
- “33% of people aged 18-34 have contacted a company’s customer service via social media.”
These statistics should underline how increased digitization affects customer expectations in this regard. Moreover, Microsoft finds 55% of people aged 18-34 have “used social media to praise a brand or its customer service”. In tandem, these findings should best illustrate how this practice can not only increase CX and, in turn, retention, but also directly incentivize advocacy.
3. Speak to your customers’ needs and engage to foster trust
These aside, maintaining brand relevance in 2021 may arguably hinge on addressing your customers’ needs. Between a flywheel-based model and retention as a substantive goal, it may no longer suffice to market traditionally.
Personalize your customer journeys.
The customer may not take center stage within your branding efforts unless you personalize their journey. While this is a positively massive undertaking, a plethora of business solutions may help you do so. Consider such assets as:
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software
- Third-party analytics tools
- Website analytics tools such as heatmaps
These and other assets can assist you in personalizing the customer journey in its entirety. From crafting accurate buyer personas to mapping journeys across channels and phases, maintaining brand relevance in 2021 necessitates personalization. Through it, you may enhance email marketing copy and timing, inform customer service based on past interactions, and holistically improve CX to elevate your brand into one deserving of audiences’ loyalty.
Homogenize your brand experience.
In turn, convoluted, erratic customer journeys directly require a homogenized brand experience to maintain brand relevance. To do so, you may consider such branding factors as:
- Logos, slogans, and other brand identifiers
- Mission statement and projected values
- Style and tone
These and a plethora of other factors make up your brand experience. To do so, they need to remain consistent across your channels and material, including:
- Your Google My Business (GMB) profile
- Social media profiles
- Your website
- Pay per Click (PPC) ads
- Printed material
It is only through unfaltering consistency that customers will maintain a solid, favorable view of any given brand. In turn, it is these psychological associations that will help ensure unfailing brand relevance.
Returning to a lucrative social media trend by most accounts, influencers can also boost your AEC brand. Addressing the above trends, they can inject authenticity into your marketing, humanize your brand, and substantially raise brand awareness. Moreover, should they be authorities within your niche, they can foster trust with engaged, knowledgeable audiences who seek authoritative brands.
4. Innovate and adapt
Finally, to maintain brand relevance in 2021, innovation must follow your healthy foundations. While this is by no means a concept that allows for easy, universally effective guidelines, one may identify two distinct types of innovation.
Industry innovation entails edging ahead of the competition within one’s industry. It requires that brands identify emerging trends before their peers, and address them meaningfully, creatively, and decisively. In the AEC industry, this may manifest in cutting-edge web design, championing sustainable architecture, or leveraging partnerships with influencer pioneers. The possibilities are endless, but the end result should always speak to the industry itself before all else.
Instead, creative innovation refers to the creative processes behind branding, engaging, and overall content marketing. In this regard, one may innovate by using emerging content formats or technologies, like VR and AR, in groundbreaking ways. The AEC industry arguably resists technological innovation in this regard more than others, so doing so creatively may present immense opportunities. Still, creative innovation should never become an isolated, self-serving aesthetic endeavor. Instead, it should always speak to audiences’ needs and desires, being informed by thorough, reliable data and research.