How can brands reach consumers with creative, effective messages? How can organizations put their best foot forward in a world still unsure about face-to-face engagement? And what can we do about a global economy still struggling to get unstuck from supply chain tangles?

Top minds in consumer engagement and business strategy from around the world focused their attention on these questions at Zeta Live ’21. Taboola CEO Adam Singolda, Wayfair CMO Bob Sherwin, and Chris Lloyd, GM of Reviewed, part of the USA Today Network took turns sharing their insights in a session hosted by RiskReversal Advisors Principal Dan Nathan. We’ve collected some of their best points below.

1. The pandemic accelerated digital authenticity

When the global shutdown of March 2020 put commerce in the background, organizations learned to apply empathy and understanding to their daily business and customer communications in a hurry. Genuine connections and authentic attitudes were welcomed by a world suddenly made smaller. That pivot might have taken years to develop organically under calmer circumstances.

Authenticity is also one of the keys to maintaining relationships with strong, enthusiastic fan bases and brand backers. Those connections are a great way to insulate business against shifting access to audiences when a closed channel like Facebook or Google changes policies. So now that it’s here, expect authenticity to stick around.

“People work with us in a more intimate and deeper way than ever before, it’s been incredible to see… we’ve been spending time speaking about empathy, and it was the right time to do it.” – Adam Singolda, CEO of Taboola

2. Inventory and delivery matter

The long-term future of commerce may lie in the metaverse (more on that later).

In the shorter term, basic execution is back in the spotlight. We learned in a hurry that the trend toward next-day, same-day and overall frictionless fulfillment is not an unbroken straight line. (Just ask anyone who recently tried to buy a refrigerator!)

Supply chain disruptions, labor shortages and shipping slowdowns have become a persistent fact of life. The effects will likely continue at least into 2022. Organizations that master the reliable, boring consistency of accurate inventory and on-time delivery will have a real edge.

With all the supply chain issues that basically every vertical is undergoing now, just having stock, having inventory, is a big advantage at the moment, as well as having labor. – Bob Sherwin, CMO of Wayfair

3. Big-ticket digital purchases and high-stakes virtual interactions are here to stay

Just a few years ago, telemedicine seemed like a future technology that might never really arrive. Only the most dedicated tech-head would commit to a big-ticket remodeling project without ever laying eyes on physical samples. What a difference a few years can make.

Today’s consumer is accustomed to having a sensitive medical discussion over a phone, visiting an international conference on a tablet, and engaging with a home contractor on a laptop. These changes are all connected, and strong signs that the virtual world is now a viable marketplace for life-changing purchases and decisions.

“This acceleration of digital commerce was going to happen in 2025 or 2030… but people are buying $5,000 refrigerators and full kitchen suites, and that was definitely not very common prior to COVID.” – Chris Lloyd, GM of Reviewed

4. Count on human connection

Don’t dismiss the physical world. At the height of lockdowns, some pundits mused about the permanent end of leisure and business travel as we know it. Singolda shared that that’s when consumers were hungriest for information about local getaways and attainable travel.

No matter what else is happening, people want to be free, they want to connect, and they want to share. Those fundamental drives will continue to guide commerce, as old opportunities reopen and people embrace the chance to show their friends the incredible new live-work-school spaces they’ve created over the past couple of years.

“We’re not going to stop being social. People miss people, and we miss living our life the way we want it.” – Adam Singolda, CEO of Taboola

5. The Great Resignation is a creative brain-drain

Restaurants closing up early and shipping containers sitting idle are just the most visible symptoms of labor shortages. Employers who rely on creative talent are also scuffling for talent. Lloyd spoke candidly about the dual challenges of the past year and a half: audiences craved insights on the products that mattered most to them, but finding talent to write those reviews is harder than ever.

Despite the difficulty, Reviewed has bulked up its staff since the pandemic began. To help cover the tight market for creatives, some brands will explore pivoting to relationships with influencers who are blazing their own paths outside the traditional workplace. How other creatives who have checked out of the traditional workplace choose to re-emerge still remains to be seen.

“Creating content has been one of our biggest priorities, and frankly one of our biggest challenges. We’re suffering the same way the pizza place is down the street. There’s just not enough candidates out there to fill all these jobs.” – Chris Lloyd, GM of Reviewed

6. Opportunities await in the decentralized Open Web

The growing focus on privacy and the realignment of the biggest walled garden platforms creates an opportunity to rebuild a stronger Open Web. Consumers have already opened their eyes to a wide range of new forms of engagement and interaction.

The time is ripe, both from an investment and an engagement point of view, to give independent media voices another chance to connect directly with consumers.

“What I’m reading right now is a proxy for who I am, and is a proxy for what I want to do next. That moment of consideration is great for journalism.” – Adam Singolda, CEO of Taboola

7. Don’t bet against the metaverse

Splashy headlines don’t change business realities overnight, and revolutions are rarely smooth. The metaverse—if it catches on at all—will actually have been a long time coming.

Sherwin pointed out that Wayfair has offered virtual reality and augmented reality experiences to consumers for years, but the majority don’t want or need that experience today.

A wait-and-see approach will work for most organizations. For those who choose to go all-in today, expect a market that evolves in fits and starts. Just like home automation systems and smartphones, the metaverse may need to cycle through several generations of technology and user experience before it truly sticks.

“Combining the metaverse with $10 billion of budget and great engineers? I’m curious to see what’s going to happen.” – Adam Singolda, CEO of Taboola

There are plenty of other insights from these leaders in the commerce and creative space. Watch the full discussion below.

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