The pandemic forced many business owners to operate outside of their comfort zone, resorting to business practices they wouldn’t ordinarily consider given normal circumstances. Most succumbed to the mounting economic and social pressure to digitize their products and services. As such, we now have more people turning to digital marketing solutions than ever before.
While it’s an impossible task to accurately determine the short, medium, and long-term impact of the virus, it’s vital that businesses continue to look for future trends to position themselves accordingly.
In this interview, we pick the brain of Jesse Willms, a prolific internet entrepreneur and highly successful digital marketer who has made well over half a billion dollars in online sales by implementing cutting-edge strategies and decisive business leadership.
Tell us about yourself and how you got into digital marketing
When I was younger, I was fascinated with the business world. Whether it was reading biographies of extremely successful investors such as Warren Buffet or Benjamin Graham, I always admired those that were able to amass wealth and success through their skills and knowledge.
My first real experience with digital marketing came when I started to sell the books I had finished reading on the internet. After I sold a few of them and made some profit, I got a taste for it. Before long, I scaled the operation and started making a decent income from marketing my books online.
After that, I turned my hand towards computer software. It’s here where I began to realize my true potential, using the skills I had picked up in my bookselling venture. For better or worse, the computer software business was such a success that I decided to quit school to pursue my marketing and entrepreneurial dreams.
I spent a single year selling computer software online, marketing it through platforms like Amazon Marketplace and Google AdWords. In that time, I achieved more than $40 million in sales. Since then, I have never looked back.
What are your thoughts on how Covid-19 has affected the marketing industry?
The last twelve months have completely changed the business landscape, mainly due to consumer behavior shifting strongly towards online purchasing. For the most part, companies fell into one of two categories. Some were overwhelmed with orders (think pharmacies, gorgeous, pet supplies, work-at-home stationery, and other household goods). And then, of course, you had the not so fortunate (luxury, travel, hospitality, entertainment, and so on).
However, no matter the industry, if businesses failed to change with the times and shift to online engagements, they were very likely to lose out to their competitors.
What about after the pandemic?
Will we return to pre-pandemic tendencies after the pandemic is over? It’s unlikely.
I look at it as if Pandora’s box has been opened. Businesses that were hesitant to digitize have been forced to take the plunge out of pure necessity. And with the ruthless nature of the business world, I expect the ones who adapt effectively will start to gain a considerable market share over their competitors. If businesses find success with their newfound digital marketing strategies, why would they go back?
Do you think the time is up for traditional marketing media?
You could argue that the writing has been on the wall for traditional media for quite some time. Although, it’s clear to see there are many companies that are simply unable or unwilling to implement the switch to digital channels.
If and when normality returns, we will see an inevitable reversion back to brick and mortar marketing as consumer footfall increases, but how much remains to be seen.
Are there any apparent trends we should look out for in 2021?
It’s hard to say what the future will hold, but it seems fair to assume we will continue to see a rise in digitization. As for specific trends, I expect customer engagement to be a priority for most businesses in 2021. This means that social media will play a big role moving forward as companies attempt to rekindle customer relationships.
Similarly, brand purpose and company values are as important as ever in the wake of the global pandemic. People want to know what businesses stand for on important issues such as the environment, sustainability, and key cultural events such as the Black Lives Matter movement. Expect a continued rise in brand transparency in the coming years.
What challenges do you foresee for digital marketers in the future?
The COVID-19 crisis has created a hyper-awareness among consumers of businesses that authentically want to help them and make their lives better, and businesses that are only interested in making as much money as possible.
Businesses that authentically demonstrate empathy and caring at this time are making an investment that will pay dividends for many years to come, while businesses that are only in it for themselves will find out soon enough that scorned customers have very long memories, and they also do not hesitate to share their unhappy stories online and offline with anyone who will listen.
It’s up to business owners to recognize this and find a way to meet these demands.
How have you positioned your companies amidst the current global situation?
With the business landscape continually evolving, I do a few things to try and stay ahead of the curve. Firstly, as an online company, we are very flexible. We can internalize and adapt to changes quickly, which gives us an advantage over more rigid business models. By maximizing new opportunities, we avoid getting ‘stuck in our old ways’ and losing market share.
Moreover, I am a firm believer in investing in self-development. When people stop learning and assume they know everything they need to know about their industry, that’s when things start going downhill.
I am an avid reader of business and self-improvement books. Taking advice from someone who has already embraced a path similar to yours can offer excellent guidance. I also attend industry events, which have shifted online because of COVID-19, as they allow me to stay up to date on current events and network with other professionals in my field.
Finally, it’s important to have a thorough understanding of your competition and where they may be going. Keeping tabs on them helps motivate me to continue innovating and uncovering new opportunities.