Let’s face it, product trends are difficult to predict. For example, could any of us have predicted the massive surge in toilet paper sales (+190% increase in March) spurred by the onset of COVID-19? Or the skyrocketing sales of tabletop puzzles (+300% increase in March)?

No one could’ve predicted these trends, because the pandemic itself was unpredictable. Certainly all retail and e-commerce brands have been impacted by it, and have had to respond to the shifting trends (some positive, some negative) across all sectors.

However, some brands have been able to respond better than others. Why? Did they have a crystal ball to help them see into the future? Not likely. Instead, they had the right digital marketing strategy (and technology) in place to enable them to respond accordingly.

One of the most important lessons to be learned from COVID-19 is that, although you can’t always predict product trends and consumer tastes, you can position your brand to be agile and personalized enough with its marketing to accommodate changes in demand and remain connected to customers. Brands achieve this through their use of data and analytics, marketing execution, and omnichannel customer engagement.

Learning from Data (So You Can Take Action)

Marketers are privy to vast amounts of data. But the value in data isn’t in quantity — it’s in how you use it. Brands that know how to learn from their customer, product, and sales data and then act on those learnings will have the most successful business results.

Using Data to Identify Product Trends

Remember, it’s quite difficult to truly predict product trends. But great data allows you to quickly identify trends as they are occurring. The sooner you identify a trend, the sooner you can respond.

Seek out data sources that can tell you about product trends relevant for your industry. Reliable, up-to-date data sources aggregated from large amounts of consumer data — like ccinsight.org — gives you actionable information about the latest product trends, regional observations, and industry insights.

Resources like ccinsight.org give you up-to-date insights about current product trends, as well as region and country trends.

Using Your Own Data

Your customer, product, and sales data are also sources for finding new opportunities. Understanding what opportunities exist in these data sets will help your brand accelerate business outcomes.

You’ll be able to infer quite a bit about product trends based on what you see in your own product data. By looking at your sales data, you can see what’s working or not working, which will tip you off as to whether you need to adjust your marketing efforts.

Leveraging these data sets is key in order for your brand to be more responsive to future trend shifts — whether caused by an act of nature, changes in culture, or otherwise. And if you can have all your data centralized, you can respond to these unexpected changes with even greater urgency.

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Agile Marketing Execution

As lockdown protocols in many nations are slowly being eased, we will see shifts in product trends, and more notably, consumer behavior.

We’ve already seen the obvious change in consumer behavior caused by COVID-19, which is: Increases in online shopping and the widespread embrace of e-commerce.

Retail brands who had already embraced a digital-led strategy (and e-commerce brands who already had a strong digital marketing strategy in place) were the best prepared to accommodate this change in consumer demand. For these brands, an e-commerce-first mindset, along with the right marketing technology, rendered them more agile and responsive to the industry-wide shift.

Agility Starts with Finding Opportunities in Your Data Sets

Data tells you where opportunities lie. To take advantage of those opportunities, your martech solution must allow you to rapidly align customer engagement and marketing strategies to the business outcomes you desire. Then, having found those opportunities in your data sets, it will become easier to execute in an agile way.

What You’ll Find in Your Data Sets

Customer, product, and sales data will show you opportunities around where engagement is happening. For example, look to data sets to identify what products are driving the most traffic (based on browsing behavior).

Using this insight, you can plan your supply chain and how you’re currently marketing to existing customers who’ve viewed these products. Then, deploy product-specific campaigns to target these customers.

What You’ll Find in Product Trends

Product trends will guide you on how to prioritize your inventory, and how you can market to existing or new customers. What products are selling? Plan your inventory fulfillment accordingly and optimize around what people want to buy.

Look at the product trends and ask: What products have seen a drop in sales? Are there marketing use cases at your disposal to help increase engagement on these products, and drive sales? Which programs should you de-prioritize?

Flexible Approach to Marketing

Going forward, some customers will revert back to the old ways, and brands will begin to see revenue from in-store purchases slowly return. However, these brands need to be prepared for the large portion of their customers that have grown used to the conveniences of online shopping, and intend to rely on this as their primary form of engagement with a brand.

Your customer engagement platform should allow you to be agile and flexible when it comes to your marketing.

As trends and customer behavior fluctuate, so too will the marketing use cases and engagement strategies you want to employ. Even your business objectives may shift. Some of these changes may be time-sensitive, and you’ll need a platform that allows you to achieve this in days, not weeks or months.

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Personalized Omnichannel Customer Engagement for Now and After COVID-19

The move toward personalization in marketing was accelerating even before COVID-19 hit. It’s now a customer expectation, and brands must be able to deliver true 1:1 personalized omnichannel experiences in order to win and retain more customers.

Look to product trends and your data sets to fuel your personalization. These sources give you the material needed to create and deliver the right message to the right person at the right time, and help you win back customers, and/or build customer loyalty.

Also important: delivering through the right channel. Which is why an omnichannel approach is vital today, and will continue to be long after COVID-19 passes.

If you’re a traditional brand who has acquired new customers during the pandemic, and those customers have been engaging your brand through digital channels, that may be the only channel through which they “know” your brand. Once stores open, you’ll need to be able to continue engaging with them offline as that option becomes available.

Conversely, if you’ve previously engaged customers primarily or exclusively in-store, you’ll want to use digital channels to engage the new pool of customers who’ve grown accustomed to online shopping over the past few months.

What’s key: Your data and marketing should be unified on a single platform, so that you’ll have a complete single view of the customer.

Going Forward

When it comes to product trends and consumer behavior, flawless predictions are rare. However, your brand can use marketing to generate predictable business outcomes. It starts with accessing the data, technology, and expertise you need to inform your marketing decisions, and implement actions that lead to measurable business results.

COVID-19 was an unexpected anomaly, one that had a swift and profound impact on retailers and e-commerce brands alike. But we’ve learned something: Even though you can’t always predict shifts in product trends and consumer shopping behaviors, you can prepare your brand to respond when these shifts occur.

Learning from your data and analytics, maintaining agility in your marketing execution, and incorporating personalization into your omnichannel customer engagement will ensure your brand is ready for anything.

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