Reflections on an Eventful Year 2020 for Digital

Reading time 10 min

“What a year,” most of us are breathing as 2020 comes to an end. For many of us, it’s not a moment too soon.

In the midst of a global crisis, Bright had one of its best years ever. Klaus Unterkircher, our CEO, is sad that it took a global pandemic for organisations around the world, and in Europe in particular, to catch up to the digital transformation of the working world … but at the same time is thrilled that Bright is positioned to play a crucial role in smoothing a rocky transition.

Along the way, we helped launch a new online store for SWAROVSKI OPTIK, a major launch made more notable by the fact that the Bright team and the client interacted almost entirely remotely and hardly ever met in person due to pandemic safety considerations.

Despite the social distance, Bright expanded its team with new talent in software engineering, marketing and sales—most of whom have not even met the whole team in person due to the transition to remote collaboration and home-based work. The “digital coffee breaks” have been fun and frequent, however, giving the team a chance to bond with its new members.

While we mourn the inability to hold our popular office Christmas party in person, we emerge from 2020 with much to be proud of. We relaunched our website, became a certified Hubspot and commercetools partner, and added more credentials to our already-impressive team collection, including Certified Episerserver Developers and Inbound Marketing experts. With no live conferences to attend, we were nonetheless familiar faces at digital conferences like Inbound 2020 (Hubspot) and FastForward (Contentful).

Klaus Unterkircher sat down to answer a few questions and reflect on a tumultuous year in digital.

Q: How would you sum up the “Digital Year 2020?”

Klaus Unterkircher: The shift to digital is stronger than ever, and it has substantially accelerated. Companies that had existing investments in their digital assets often were notably more successful at weathering the crisis than others.

More than anytime before, this year has shown that being a mostly offline business is potentially lethal. Europe in particular was forced to catch up with years’ worth of digital transformation and innovation we have seen elsewhere over a much longer period of time. 

Q: What are your key takeaways for 2020?

KU: Our industry needs to keep the momentum. Now that many conversations have started, we need to help explain necessary investments in digital while making the actual return on investment more visible. Data-driven marketing has been a growing trend for some time now and we have a number of projects—both running and completed—with a strong focus on that.

Q: Beginning of the year Bright forecasted several trends for 2020. Now that the year is almost over how would you evaluate these trends today? 

KU: Most of the trends we predicted will carry on into 2021. The strongest of our predictions that will prevail is in fact the growing importance of data-driven marketing. The future remains bright for digital marketing and sales teams that can use and make the numbers. As already mentioned, we support and experience this first hand.

Highly-personalised and visual customer experiences are more important than ever. Millions if not billions of people are stuck at home and are connecting with brands in a mostly digital manner—and there is no reason to believe this will change before summer or even autumn 2021. Besides that, new customers have been ‘trained to go digital’ and won’t ever go back to being offline-only customers.

Larger scale applications of real artificial intelligence in digital marketing are yet to be seen and the market still disappoints in this area. To me, it remains unclear if this development has simply been delayed by the current circumstances or if other issues—for example data privacy, difficulty to implement—are delaying this.

The same applies to conversational marketing. It appears the market—while it has grown substantially in 2020—is still developing and offers opportunities to those willing to invest. My guess is, that among other reasons there simply is a lack of industry experts needed to promote the topic and to implement this in client projects. 

Q: Did any trends pop-up that hadn’t been on yours or anybody else’s radar? 

KU: Not a new trend, but more important than ever in COVID-19 times—providing a truly omnichannel customer experience, a uniform and well-integrated customer experience across all touchpoints, has never been more crucial and this has probably been undervalued by most before this pandemic crisis. 

Also, we live in times where not only your customers are increasingly communicating with you by digital means only, but many companies have entire teams working from home and communicating with clients as well as partners through digital channels as well.

Q: COVID-19 was and still is the defining characteristic of the year 2020. How did it change the digital marketing landscape in your opinion?

KU: Vendors that focus on time-to-market and a quick ROI definitely have a bigger competitive advantage than ever. This is probably bad news for the big old vendors who are struggling to keep up. We had already dropped big-suite vendors years ago for exactly those reasons. 

Clients are starting to grasp the advantages of going API-first and simply connecting their own choice of highly-specialised digital marketing solutions into their own personal mix of tools. The increasing number of well-documented success stories will further accelerate this trend.

Q: And how will it do so in the future?

KU: Many of the sudden changes we saw in 2020 will likely prevail. I’m optimistic that every crisis can also have a positive impact in unexpected ways. 

Many organisations that didn’t understand the importance and value of their digital channels may not only have changed their perspective but also started to discover opportunities to grow in that direction.

Q: What are the biggest changes in your work life?

KU: We are a fully digital organisation—our team works in an almost completely paperless way, leveraging a wide range of SaaS solutions. The switch from working in an office to working from home was practically unnoticeable for that reason.

Much to my surprise, even new hires appear to integrate well into our team. Although it does worry me that we never get to meet face-to-face anymore with the entire team, and everyone looks very much forward to being back in office by now.

Q: How did the pandemic affect Bright and the work you are doing?

KU: Not much so far to be honest. Even after months of doing so, it remains somewhat odd to never meet the team or clients in person, but then again you simply get used to carrying out more work through video conferencing than you expected was ever possible. 

With that said, we most miss the lack of direct personal interaction when it comes to particular workshop formats that we leverage especially at the beginning of larger and complex projects.

Q. What are your expectations for 2021?

KU: At the beginning of the year I don’t expect much of a change, to be honest. We are very busy as it is and many of our existing client engagements extend well into 2021. 

I hope very much that by summer the whole COVID-19 situation will improve enough so we are able to meet in person again—be it our teams that are spread over multiple offices or being able to meet in person with clients again.

Q: What would you say are the top trends for 2021?

KU: It is still to be seen if there will be any dramatic changes, but I would expect that the accelerated digital transformation will continue at a similar pace. Many businesses that haven’t yet invested in their digital assets may be on standby to see when the situation changes and continue once the dust has settled.

Besides that I recommend you to take a look at our recent blog post Series “Marketing trends to look out for in 2021”. It highlights the “Must haves” in E-commerce, Inbound Marketing and Digital Marketing for the upcoming year.

Q:  What are your goals for Bright and its team?

KU: The past year has been one of the best in the company’s history and all signs point to further (organic) growth. We have a number of strong partnerships to expand on and we continue to look out for new tools and solutions for our clients. Hopefully, our entire team will soon be back in the office as well. 

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