Years before the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down and forever redefined the word “disruption,” digital technologies were gaining traction in every industry and every area of our lives. Innovative brands led the way, reaching consumers on new platforms, delivering unique experiences and connecting authentically, driven by purpose. 

By early 2020, we had reached the brink of a true digital transformation. When COVID struck, it catalyzed demand for digital solutions that could keep the world turning in a time of crisis. Governments, industries, communities, schools and families around the world hung in the balance. Marketers, too, had to adapt quickly to stay connected with consumers, employees and their communities.

The pandemic created massive roadblocks for business, education, manufacturing and essential services. It forced us to rethink our capabilities and innovate brand new use cases: bringing classrooms to life in the cloud; making secure video calls the new norm for companies of all sizes; connecting patients to their healthcare providers safely from home. The race to satisfy unmet needs brought rapidly growing digital technologies — including artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, smart devices and automation — to the fore. And they delivered, more impressively than ever. 

Much of digitization’s power lies in its ability to connect: students to educators, suppliers to entrepreneurs, families to each other, and brands to consumers. Now that the world has realized the power of these technologies, they will only continue to gain momentum. Marketers must harness them to connect with their customers and thrive in the digital age.

In marketing’s new paradigm, as traditional theories and practices shrink into the background, 2020 has proven that experiential marketing is here to stay. When the virus moved billions of people to shelter in place, we found that we missed connections, activities and experiences far more than we missed things. It made such an impact that we built a whole new architecture for experiences — online, offline and at the points where they intersect. In 2021, brand leaders will bring an entirely new discipline to the marketing industry.

In the shift to digital, inclusive messaging and an authentic voice are more important than ever. In May 2020, George Floyd’s killing brought the fight for social justice to its tipping point, galvanizing the Black Lives Matter movement and others that joined it, largely through social media. It proved the power and impact of digital connection, but we learned much more than that: As marketers, we realized the critical importance of standing for what’s right. Our communities’ work to dismantle systemic racism demands a commitment to inclusion. As brands continue to lead with purpose, it will become more important than ever to leverage digital platforms for connection and driving change for good.

As digitization continues to take hold, understanding these technologies is increasingly critical to managing risk. Marketers with a strong understanding of the digital landscape play an important role in shaping their companies’ risk management plans. First, they must identify their brands’ vulnerabilities, especially those that new technologies may introduce. Second, they must leverage new digital insights to mitigate risks that have been traditionally difficult to approach. When applied thoughtfully, the advantages of a data-driven risk management strategy far outweigh the downsides. And all this, while totally respecting and holding consumers’ privacy sacrosanct.

We will look back on 2020 for decades to come as the moment our circumstances jolted us into the digital future. But we don’t need decades to analyze, learn and rebuild. We’re doing it now, even as the page just turned to 2021. Only when we understand the disruptors that are shaping us today can we rise to meet the tide in 2021 and beyond.

In my upcoming book titled Quantum Marketing, I go into more detail on how marketers can thrive in this imminent future. If interested, you can preorder today on Amazon: