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A Pulse on Digital Marketers: What’s Driving the People Running Brands in 2020

Jaime Lee

Head of Content Strategy @ AdRoll

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2020 has been nothing if not unpredictable. Eight months into the year, brands and marketers are still struggling to find their footing and anticipate the next turn on this wild ride. 

Earlier this year, AdRoll put together a report on consumers to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people shopped. As we approach the start of the holiday season, we want to check out how the people powering brands are dealing with the world we find ourselves in.

The AdRoll Customer and Community Sentiment Survey was sent out to users of our platform, including company CEOs, agency owners, brand managers, and marketers. Our goal was to find out how marketing has changed as a result of the pandemic — and to see how marketers felt about these changes. 

Feeling Optimistic

The most surprising finding was how positive marketers and other brand leaders feel overall: when asked, “How are you personally feeling about the rest of the year overall,” more than 70% responded that they were feeling positive. Only about 5% of responders were discouraged that they were considering giving up marketing and switching careers. Given the belief marketing is the first thing to get cut in a recession, it’s good to see many marketers remain optimistic about the industry.

But optimistic isn’t the same as “not stressed.” When asked to rate their overall stress level from 1 (not at all stressed) to 5 (very stressed), most put themselves at a four — just shy of “very stressed.” Surprisingly, few people rated themselves on either extreme of a five or one. Stressed or not, our survey takers seem to have a positive outlook on the future.

New Challenges

That’s not to say that marketing isn’t changing or that marketers don’t have new worries and new challenges to overcome. Many marketers are having to take on more responsibilities and bring more capabilities in-house. 

When asked, “Have you had to take on new responsibilities as part of your role due to COVID,” over a quarter of all respondents said they have had to start working on content, and an additional 23% have taken over creative duties at their companies. It appears as the economy changes, brands are putting their contractors and agencies on hold and now rely on these services to be completed in-house.

This is supported by looking at how brands are changing their marketing priorities. When asked, “Have you had to deprioritize any marketing activities in the last four months,” almost a quarter of survey takers responded that they had cut back on advertising, and nearly an additional 30% had cut back on either social media spend or evangelist and community activities — tactics likely outsourced to agencies and vendors. 

These new roles and responsibilities come with new challenges to overcome. Unsurprisingly,  most marketers (63%) reported that “hitting revenue goals” is their biggest overall challenge in the remainder of 2020. “Staying top of mind with customers” came in second with just over 50% of respondents. Less than 15% are concerned about keeping their jobs, a surprising figure, given current unemployment rates. Only about 10% are starting to think about the holidays, likely because the survey was in the field a little early for holiday planning.

But not all marketers care about revenue as their top goal. Specifically, marketers who feel the most positive about the future are less likely to report revenue goals as their biggest challenge. Instead, they’re focused on “staying top of mind with customers.” This forward-thinking approach will set brands up for success once the economy recovers and consumers resume normal shopping habits. Taking the long view may also explain why these responders are more positive overall.

Finding Time

With new tasks to complete and new challenges to overcome, marketers are doing more of everything. When asked, “Have you seen a change in these activities? [working, learning, reading, collaborating],” 66% said they are working more than before, while 42% said they are learning more. Approximately 36% are reading more, and 28% are collaborating more. 

Across the board, marketers are doing more of everything. And doing more is highly correlated with a positive outlook: respondents who are pessimistic about the remainder of the year are more likely to be working and collaborating less than optimistic respondents.

As for solutions, respondents are pretty united on what would help the most: more data. With the uncertainty surrounding 2020, 60% of marketers responded to the question, “What would help you solve these challenges that you don’t have right now?” with “data to help me make decisions.” Coming in second at about 40% each was a tie between “tools to help me manage my workload” and “a bigger budget.” 

As with other questions, there’s a large gap between respondents who are optimistic and those who aren’t. The former overwhelmingly preferred more data and better tools. The latter were more in favor of a larger budget and bigger staff. Optimists, it seems, are happy to do more with less — as long as they have the tools they need to do the job.

What Does It All Mean?

Let's break down our findings:

marketers infographic

It’s safe to say most people are tired of the word “unprecedented,” but there really aren’t many other ways to describe what we’re going through right now. Looking at the fundamentals, it may seem like the world is ending: unemployment is at record highs, the GDP has contracted by a record amount in the last two quarters, and COVID-19 infections are out of control across most of the country. 

Despite the doom and gloom, many digital brands and the people behind them remain upbeat and positive. With customers trying their best to quarantine and social distance, many online companies are experiencing a surge of new business, so online agencies are working overtime to keep businesses operating smoothly and visible to consumers. 

However, with the expanded unemployment from the CARES act having expired at the end of July, it’s difficult to predict what shape the economy will be in by the time the holidays arrive. For now, brands and marketers aren’t very worried — most are too busy keeping up with the sudden surge of virtual demand over the last few months. And as winter looms closer, AdRoll will be putting another survey into the field to help brands prepare for the holiday season. 

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