Brands that maintained a diversified media mix were the most resilient in 2020. The strategy also will help brands weather changes coming in 2021.

Calla Murphy, vice president of digital strategy at Belardi Wong

Marketing is all about meeting customers and prospects where they are, and 2020 proved that one could not assume to know where that is.

Finding and engaging customers requires presence across several digital channels and institutional knowledge about optimizing those channels toward the right outcomes. Rather than prioritize one channel over another, pandemic disruptions have reinforced the value of a broad and diversified digital marketing mix and the ability to be nimble when it comes to spend and strategy.

That’s no small matter. Mastering any new channel is hard and mastering the right mix between them is harder still. But the need for a diversified presence across all digital channels is not going away. In fact, it will only accelerate as the channels themselves transform. Forthcoming changes to iOS14, the deprecation of the third-party cookie, and the looming breakups of the large walled gardens all represent a new layer and dimension atop underlying changes to consumer habits.

Facing this uncertainty, marketers must reevaluate their channel mix as well as their campaign types. For many, this will mean breaking their dependence on Facebook and experimenting with new channels for customer acquisition, retargeting and retention.

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More media changes on the way

If 2020 was about changes to consumer habits and 2021 will be about changes to the channels marketers use to reach them. In the next 18 months alone, we expect to lose Mobile Ad IDs (MAIDs) and third-party cookies, both of which have served as the linchpins of digital targeting for the past decade. The sunsetting of these mechanisms will usher in a new era for digital marketing writ large and impact how brands need to approach their media mix.

Facebook, by its own admission, will be severely affected, particularly in mobile. While Facebook is relatively insulated from the loss of third-party cookies, recent changes to the identifier for advertisers IDFA in Apple’s iOS14 sever the connection between the Facebook App and its Audience Network. This effectively blocks Facebook’s mobile ad inventory from the rich data that has powered it since its inception.

CPMs are predicted to go down by roughly 50%, mirroring the drop in CPMs that open-web publishers are expected to face due to the loss of third-party cookies. Rather than representing a big bargain, these reduced prices reflect the diminished precision that these channels will have due to the loss of their primary targeting mechanisms.

At the same time, dollars are likely to flow to remaining channels that, thanks to their closed ecosystem models, will remain unaffected by the loss of IDFAs. Or, perhaps unaffected isn’t the right word; while their targeting mechanisms will still be in place, the increased demand for their inventory will send CPMs skyrocketing upwards. There is really no channel that will not feel the impact in one way or another.

Test, learn and keep testing

What can marketers do about it? At a high level, the best approach is to cast a wide net and embrace an experimental mindset to testing into new channels. At the same time, marketers should not abandon the channels that have proved successful thus far; instead, they should test new ways to operate within them.

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Here are a few specific suggestions for how to set about that course:

  • Test into new channels that have the potential for scalable acquisition. As Facebook measurement changes and CPMs rise, test into Pinterest, YouTube, and contextual targeting in display to understand which channels are most successful at driving awareness.
  • Ensure you have a strong Facebook reporting structure in place to measure shifts due to Apple iOS 14 policies quickly. This includes 7-Day Click versus last-click attribution comparisons, clear campaign goals around acquisition, retention and retargeting, and a plan for A/B testing audiences and creative content.
  • Test for retention potential in channels other than email. SMS, paid social, and display all can drive retention and turn 1x buyers into 2x buyers.
  • Identify ways to connect to your customers digitally through strong online customer service, groups within social platforms, influencers, media partnerships, or special serves (e.g., gift concierge). This means expanding the idea of experience beyond marketing and ensuring a consistent and helpful presence beyond the ad creative.
  • Refresh and refine your email campaigns. Email, as ever, will remain a solid channel for direct marketing. Marketers should lean in and A/B test new creative, new CTAs and add additional messages to best-performing campaigns. A/B test email acquisition pop-ups with different offers such as sweepstakes or promotions.

The brands that maintained a broad and diversified media mix proved the most resilient in 2020. Those brands that maintain this mindset will be best positioned to weather the equally disruptive changes coming to the media channels themselves in the coming year.

Belardi Wong is a digital and direct marketing agency based in New York City.

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