For marketers, 2021 continued to provide a number of challenges. The global pandemic has now stretched to almost two years with new variants, once again, stretching some healthcare systems to the limit and sending positive cases in the wrong direction. The ripple effect of the pandemic has impacted inventories and supply chains for a wide range of products and services. With pent up demand and money saved during the pandemic, consumers have helped drive up inflation to levels not seen for three decades. While Black Friday and Cyber Monday spending levels were down compared to pre-pandemic levels according to Adobe Analytics, overall holiday digital sales are expected to hit $207 billion between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, a 10 percent increase according to Adobe Analytics.
In spite of this fluid, dynamic and ever evolving landscape, channel marketers have persevered and excelled in 2021. As the year comes to a close, it’s time to take stock of three takeaways from 2021 that have impacted marketing in general and channel marketing, in particular, then gaze into the crystal ball to see what to look for in 2022.
The increased significance to define and measure marketing outcomes, the importance of program flexibility and adaptability, and the continued resurgence of QR codes were three distinct, yet interrelated, marketing trends in 2021.
Focusing on Outcomes
Measuring program results has always been a key tenant of any successful channel marketing program. In 2021, there was a movement toward measuring outcomes of all kinds to help determine the overall success of a brand’s channel marketing program. In addition to measuring return on investment results and overall program performance, brands looked to assessing the engagement of their channel partners, utilization and optimization of co-op and market development funds as well as monitoring brand awareness and engagement throughout the sales process. This started at the top of the sales funnel and continued all the way through the path to purchase and post-sale retention with an eye on the role dealers and distributors play in that process.
Flex and Adapt or Suffer
Successfully measuring and reporting outcomes is one thing. To maximize channel marketing outcomes in 2021, successful brands leveraged real-time data and insights to quickly flex and adapt their programs. By having tools in place to monitor program elements on behalf of their channel partners, brands were able to quickly adapt or modify existing program elements or pivot to new tactics depending on key performance indicators. Brands that followed the mantra of failing fast, as necessary, and dynamically moving forward by iterating and evolving their channel programs throughout the course of the year delivered the most value to their channel partners and, ultimately, maximized their desired outcomes.
The Comeback and Importance of QR Codes
One simple piece of technology continued its resurgence and prominence in all kinds of marketing and promotions in 2021. What had become an afterthought among marketers, the mighty QR code has reached new heights in terms of its utility. Brands are using QR codes prominently in TV ads, including creating versions of their logos that are QR codes, and placing them on in-store signage to create offline to online shopper experiences. Television stations are using them to drive consumers to weather apps or additional coverage online during their newscasts. This holiday season the Salvation Army is even using QR codes to make donating to their red kettle campaign easier. Simply scan a QR code and use your mobile payment app to contribute to the Salvation Army.
For channel marketers, QR codes are making their way into a variety of programs and campaigns. This trend will undoubtedly continue in 2022, as channel marketers work with their partners to create closed-loop and highly measurable programs and campaigns to drive and measure desired outcomes.
What to Look for in the Year Ahead
For 2022, channel marketers should seek out partnerships that provide incremental value and go well beyond delivering tactics, technology and support services. Here are a few trends brands should be on the lookout for in the coming year:
1. Turnkey ROI
2. Increased utilization of artificial intelligence and machine learning
3. “Last-mile” support and services for channel partners
For all types of marketers, the ability to truly measure ROI is the holy grail. For channel marketers, what if you were able to deploy a paid search campaign on behalf of your dealers or distributors and say definitively that an impression and subsequent click and call to action led to a specific transaction or purchase? That’s the type of turnkey ROI channel marketers should expect in 2022 and QR codes, once again, will play a key role in making that happen.
Building on the previous example, let’s say a consumer is researching new tires on their phone and is served a paid search ad that promotes a specific offer. When the consumer clicks on the ad and is taken to a landing page, the call to action is to download a QR code to their mobile device and take the code to their local tire dealer to redeem the offer. When the consumer arrives at the local tire dealer and has the QR code scanned, the offer is fulfilled and, most importantly, the scanned code is reported on the backend of the brand’s channel portal system. Once again, this is the type of turnkey ROI channel marketers should look for in the coming year.
While QR codes will play an important role in channel marketing programs in 2022, brands should also expect an increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), especially as it relates to how a channel partner supports a brand’s program. With AI and ML embedded into the systems and technologies used to support dealer or distributor interactions, channel partners will have the ability to analyze sentiment and make recommendations in real-time, resulting in higher brand loyalty, more efficient and effective support, as well as improved distribution partner satisfaction. The insights derived from intelligent support systems will also help reps be more informed and engaged by anticipating, extrapolating and adjusting to the needs of dealers and distributors.
A third trend to look for in 2022 is the continued enhancement and importance of local marketing programs and solutions that provide “last-mile” support for a brand’s dealers or distributors. By simplifying the marketing and reporting process for dealers and distributors, brands allow their distribution partners to focus on what they do best – sell their products and services!
In the coming year, brands should also expect the bar to be raised in terms of the innovation, value and simplification of local marketing programs provided by their partners. For example, ensuring the successful deployment of the turnkey ROI campaign utilizing QR codes mentioned previously doesn’t happen without a partner whose local marketing team is aligned with the overall channel marketing strategy established at the brand level and is able to simplify the implementation and measurement process for dealers and distributors.
The year ahead will most certainly provide unexpected challenges and opportunities much like what was experienced in 2021. While there is no guarantee the global pandemic or inflation will go away, or that the global supply chain challenges will magically disappear, there certainly is hope and optimism that will be the case. As channel marketers’ approach 2022, continuing to focus on outcomes, being flexible and adaptable, and leveraging simple technologies such as QR codes will set the stage for ongoing innovation – turnkey ROI, AI and ML that enhances customer support and advances in “last-mile” local channel marketing – that will drive channel marketing forward and deliver desired outcomes.
About Channel Fusion
For nearly 20 years, Channel Fusion has provided brands and their channel partners with a wide variety of solutions and industry expertise. We continue to invest in the overall ecosystem of our channel marketing offering to ensure our clients provide their partners with an optimal customer experience. Our core technologies and configurable platforms are supported by a team of customer-centric “Fusers.” Let us know if you’d like to learn more about how we deliver desired outcomes for brands and their channel partners.