The events of 2020 have created a new reality – with new challenges – for how marketers engage consumers with thoughtful promotional strategies. Predictive analytics and data-driven insights will prove increasingly critical in the new year for targeting time-constrained and experience-hungry consumers in relevant, personalized and timely ways. This includes having a deep understanding of what inspires consumer engagement and delivering dynamic content in an environment where consumers will have more control over their data.

To gain additional insight on how brands and marketers can prepare for a successful 2021, I sat down virtually with some of my Valassis colleagues, gathering their expert advice for the year ahead. Here’s what they had to say.

Multichannel Strategies Reign Supreme

There is a clear need for marketers to deliver effective strategies across channels. Here are a few channel-specific trends to keep on the radar:

  •  Consumers found a new affinity for the post office and direct mail engagements. Print media plays a prominent role in engaging consumers whether they are shopping online or in-store. It is a vital part of a brand’s omnichannel approach and with people spending more time at home, it provides marketers a way to spur discovery and make a connection. Valassis’ findings show that compared to before the pandemic, 37% of consumers are more excited to receive their mail each day and 30% are spending more time reading marketing and promotions that arrive in their mailbox.

    – Curtis Tingle, Executive SVP, Product

  • QR codes make a comeback, making print ads more shoppable. QR codes have made a resurgence in the retail and restaurant industries as a contactless way to share information amid the pandemic. As QR technology is now built into most smartphones and usage is more commonplace, this creates a unique opportunity for making physical advertising more shoppable by integrating fluid digital connections. We expect to see QR codes continue to permeate the print advertising space as a means for deeper and personalized engagement.

    – Marc Mathies, VP, Product

Each Industry Requires a Nuanced Approach

While the pandemic impacted all industries over the past year, it’s important to take a closer look at the trends within each category to inform a nuanced approach. Our vertical experts took a look at what retailers, CPGs and SMBs will need to do to be successful moving forward:

  • Physical stores will always remain an important part of retail. However, the future belongs to the retailers that understand the omnichannel ethos and figure out how to integrate the convenience, speed and power of e-commerce with the sensory appeal and excitement of physical stores.

    – Dave Cesaro, Executive Director, Client Strategy

  • CPG brands will leverage shoppable ads across channels to personify products. Amid inventory challenges and supply chain disruptions during the pandemic, many consumers tried new brands and products outside their typical buys. This is a big opportunity for CPG brands, who are challenged with brand loyalty without unique physical or digital storefronts. To help regain loyalty and sustain new customers, leveraging shoppable ad content on social platforms, in print media (with QR codes) and more, helps brands stay directly connected to consumers despite changes along the purchase journey. These highly interactive ads offer touchpoints with consumers to provide in-store availability, add-to-cart options or even instant-buys.

    – Meggie Giancola, Head of CPG Sales and Strategy

  • Visibility is key for SMB recovery: While SMB advertising budgets may be smaller compared to pre-COVID-19, it’s important that all efforts focus on personalization to remain in the consideration set. Maintain a strong social media presence that drives a trusted relationship within the community. It’s equally important to create unique customer interactions through pathways such as direct mail and e-mails as you cater to consumers’ desire for savings by offering incentives such as coupons, discounts and gift cards.

    – David Murphy, SVP, Valassis Local

Consumers Crave Value and Connections

An increased desire for savings and value, resulting from the pandemic’s economic impact, will continue in the new year. According to our 2020 Consumer Intel Report, 70% of consumers say they have increased their saving behaviors and 76% are confident their new practices will continue over the next year.

In 2021, marketers will focus on making personalized connections with consumers in new ways. Using technology to drive deeper engagement is where we’ll see marketers focus in 2021 and beyond. Even if normal looks different, consumers will remember the brands that delivered value — of all types — based on their timely needs during uncertain times.

Sarah O’Grady is the Senior Director of Brand for Valassis. As a 15+ year veteran of content, brand and social media marketing across CPG, beauty and technology, she brings an experienced yet experimental point of view to brand-building and customer engagement.