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Critical Insights on Global Marketing Engagement in 2020

This Index reveals critical insights, such as where brands are both strong and weak, challenged, or exposed in their marketing engagement.

Critical Insights of Global Marketing Engagement in 2020

Critical Insights of Global Marketing Engagement in 2020

Find out:

  • How digital marketing performance underscored resilience in 2020
  • Why regulated industries outperformed other verticals in a turbulent year
  • How executive social media presence and leadership visibility fell short
  • Which digital marketing strategies companies across the world are failing to take advantage of
  • Why the company website must be treated as a critical piece of infrastructure


When change ceases to be a process, it becomes an event. That’s the underlying truth of any shock.

Nearly every business in the world was impacted by the pandemic. Brands included on the Forbes Global 2000 list are no exception. Throughout March 2020, major stock markets lost 30% of their value. Global GDP is expected to decline by 4.4% this year.

The turbulent year accelerated digital transformation trends. It also ignited the creative imperative. This year’s Global Marketing Engagement Index™ continues to connect the link between integrated digital strategies and business viability.

In 2020, the world was turned upside down. The global economy took a blow and is just beginning to cope and adapt. The online trends we’ve seen across the organizations included in this year’s results highlight the scale of response but also the work remaining to be done.

As much as 2020 was a tragedy, it was also a triumph for humanity. A vaccine was developed quickly and cohesively across borders. Communities came together. Hospitals performed miracles. Logistics and key workers kept us moving.

We stand on the threshold of a new year and a new decade, with a new vaccine, a new hope, new political leadership, and, above all, a newfound appreciation of so many things that we will never take for granted again.


2020 quelled any lasting doubt around the digital transformation imperative. Adjusting to changing consumer behavior is critical to effective engagement. This year took the prerequisite to another level. The rise of the digital economy was already established. The pandemic accelerated it.

Reimagining business for the digital age is nothing new. The paradigm shift is simply now in hyper-focus as a result of this year’s events. As described by influential American philosopher Thomas Kuhn, revolutions often take place gradually – and then suddenly.

Khun viewed disruption as alternating “normal” and “revolutionary” phases in which communities alternate between periods of turmoil, uncertainty, and angst. The results in this year’s Global Marketing Engagement Index™ stand true to this theory.

Knock-on Effects

Consumer behavior is largely driven by the environment and state of being. The pandemic disrupted day-to-day life. Social distancing and in-home isolation brought on the unexpected circumstances in every shape and form. Mandated lockdowns and business closures forced companies to rethink everything.

Yet in the darkness, the widespread disruption presents an opportunity. The biggest players in e-commerce experienced growth due to the rise in online shopping. Amazon, Alibaba, and Walmart each moved up on the Forbes 2000 list. Post-Covid online purchases across most categories increased as much as 30% in the U.S. 15% of American consumers tried grocery delivery for the first time. What’s more interesting, and signals a silver-lining, more than 80% of first time online grocery shoppers were satisfied with the experience and 70% found it enjoyable.

The implicit contract between consumer and brand reignites in times of crises. Monitoring shifting consumer perceptions and market undercurrents is critical to building brand resilience throughout and after the pandemic. As new brand choices are shaped by the new needs that come along with the new reality, understanding circumstances around new consumer behavior is crucial to maintaining brand relevance.

Underpinning Empathy

Humans are creatures of emotion. Uncertainty amplifies it. Public restlessness, confusion – and expectations, all rise when disruption displaces normalcy.

When lives and livelihoods are at risk, consumer purchase behavior is driven by necessity fueled with emotion.

People tend to recall the roles brands played in their lives during times of strife. Interlacing messaging, and actions, with emotional connectedness, is core to staying in sync with consumers during and after adversity.

Demonstrating empathy by identifying with consumer values and personal goals is not a new concept. The pandemic has morphed consumer trust and expectations into a deeper, highly scrutinized emotional state, however. Emotion will play a more prominent role in terms of present and future brand choice. Herein lies the opportunity for brands to help shape emerging consumer habits. From new product innovations that meet

changing needs, to reinventing ways to connect the brand with emotional moments and milestones, organizations have the chance to influence and contour future consumer behavior.

The Covid-19 crisis has intensified the impetus for companies to anticipate how future trends will impact the business. Building capabilities that will lean into those trends is what sets best-in-class marketing apart.

Seamless Salience

As economic uncertainty reverberates, this year’s disruption has an added layer of complexity compared to past crises: consumers’ safety and health are under severe threat.

Shelter-in-place ordinances and social distancing have forced consumers to shop differently. Peak moments for marketing engagement have changed alongside the altered customer journey. It’s crucial for brands to optimize toward it.

The pandemic accelerated explosive growth in e-marketplaces. Meal and grocery delivery services experienced unprecedented demand. The fitness industry was forced to pivot to online formats. Conferences went virtual. More than half of the global internet users increased streaming entertainment consumption. Netflix alone garnered 16 million new subscribers thanks to stay-at-home orders. The list goes on.

The average consumer has quickly become an astute online superuser. Although value perception will always be a major driver for purchase preferences, the pandemic has made it exceptionally critical. Declining demand and economic uncertainty are exasperated by ill-preparedness for the virtual environment. It has created a moment in time for brands to readjust and focus on reinforcing positive associations across service, quality, and price.

Features like curbside pickup went from being experimental to compulsory. Adjusting traditional operational and marketing levers to meet the shifting demands spurred by blurred physical-digital channels is necessary for brands to stay competitive and true to unique positioning.

Simultaneous authenticity, value, and relevance are essential to brand salience in the bursting digital market. Volatile times exasperate it. Successful emergence from crises requires it.

Key Findings

  • The overall 2020 average MET score for the Forbes 300 has stayed consistent with the 2019 average (56% vs. 54%), and there have been significant shifts within topic areas, specifically for the digital marketing metrics.
  • Two in three Forbes top 300 CEOs had no active social presence. Including CEO’s with no accounts, 78% of Forbes 300 CEOs are missing from social media conversations.
  • Companies using CEO thought leadership platforms to provide quotes for the media performed better overall. 83% of the Forbes top 300 CEOs provided quotes to media within the last 90 days.
  • Overall, companies across all industries performed poorly when scored on their backlink ratio.
  • Website reporting metrics remain the lowest scored topics on average, similar to the 2019 Index results. Specifically, not fully utilizing custom dimensions in Google Analytics has limited scoring in this category.
  • Companies in highly regulated industries (e.g., Aerospace, Healthcare) scored 7-8% higher than other industries overall.
  • Consumer-facing industries (e.g., E-Commerce, Financial Services, Real Estate) scored highest on UX, with Financial Services companies scoring 15% higher than the average Forbes 300 company.
  • Many companies are not fully utilizing video content on their webpages. The average Forbes 300 company scored 26% when measured on the number of video widgets implemented on their websites.
  • In a bright spot for almost all industries, website security scored high across the board. The only exception was the Entertainment industry where website security scored 22% less than the average Fortune 300 company.
  • While website security stood out positively overall, 8% of the Forbes 300 companies had critical issues on their websites that left them open to being hacked. One in three companies had issues that could lead to a hack if not fixed.
  • Overall, companies performed most poorly in website reporting and site optimization. The two categories’ average score was below 50%. This illustrates brands are still struggling with some of the core components of digital marketing such as tag management, backlink tracking, and SERP rankings.
  • The top 10 companies in 2020 have distinct commonalities that indicate a balanced approach to their marketing mix. Each scored significantly higher across media, digital marketing, and social presence metrics.

The Most Engaging Brands In The World


This year’s Forbes Global 2000 list demonstrates the massive impact the pandemic has had on business. It also presents a cautionary sign for turbulence in the year ahead. Consumer behavior changed overnight, shattering rising market values within weeks. Institutional trust waned under pressure, leaving organizational trust vulnerable in its wake.

The list has seen big shifts over the last 18 years of its existence. This year was like no other. Most companies experienced a considerable market value drop from 2019. The global shutdown hit some industries harder than others. Airline demand dropped lower than post-9/11, bringing oil and gas prices to record lows.

As with any crisis, this year’s events came with opportunity. Slack and Chewy made their debut onto the annual list. And for good reason. Remote work further swelled demand for online collaboration tools and social distancing measures moved brick-and-motor sales online. Notably, stay-at-home orders also resulted in an unexpected spike in new pet owners. The remote professional messaging platform and online pet supply shop were primed for their expanding blue oceans.

This year’s Global Marketing Engagement Index™ shows organizations braced for turbulence leverage consumer data to inform fluid marketing strategies. U.S. data usage jumped 38% in March 2020 alone compared to the previous year. There is a rise in the total wealth of knowledge that parallels this surge in online consumption. Consumer expectations for personalization have heightened. Patience increasingly wanes.

Those who made it onto this year’s Global Top 10 improved digital marketing tactics by 35% cumulatively compared to the previous year’s top performers. Further demonstrating the ability to adapt to changing norms, the Global Top 10 saw year-over-year upticks across media (8%), UX (10%), site security (9%), and social presence (11%). On average, companies in highly regulated industries (e.g., Aerospace, Healthcare) scored 7-8% higher than other industries in this year’s report. As expected, companies in consumer-facing industries (e.g., E-commerce, Real Estate) scored the highest in the UX category.

As the economy rides through the ripple effects of this year’s events, some organizations may be inclined to pull back on digital transformation in the effort to cut costs. As evidenced by ranking fluctuations in this year’s Index, this proclivity may be counterintuitive. The ability to adapt to change is a hallmark of human, and consumer, nature. Covid-19 served as a reality check for companies lagging on digital adoption.

Global Themes


It’s no surprise stay-at-home orders have increased average screen time across multiple devices. Delivering seamless online experiences was fundamental to effective marketing pre- Covid and it’s even more critical now. The Insurance industry landed a perfect score in this area and high touch industries like Management Consulting averaged 75%.

60% Average score for mobile responsive websites across the top 300 companies


Good leadership influences economic resilience and individual confidence. Companies that use CEO thought leadership platforms to provide commentary for media outlets showed better overall performance. 84% of Forbes 300 CEOs provided quotes to the media within the last *90 days. The Entertainment and Insurance industries were top performers in this year’s Index. The average median score across the top 300 was 69%.

The importance of acknowledging the impact Covid-19 has had on audiences also did not go unnoticed by the top 300. Many brands included relevant statements on their websites.

72% of organizations included statements regarding Covid-19 on their website

Website Reporting

Though website visibility and reporting metrics don’t change often, how they are leveraged should be based on ever-changing consumer needs. Website reporting metrics remain the lowest scored topic in the 2020 Index. Specifically, not fully utilizing custom dimensions in Google Analytics has kept scores low in this category across all industries. All industries scored lower than in previous years in terms of optimum tag management and engagement tracking. Both of which are instrumental in addressing shifting customer behaviors and preferences.

50% Average score for website reporting and site optimization across the top 300 companies

Digital Marketing

The ramifications of Covid-19 put a spotlight on organizational leadership. CEOs were expected to be more active on social media given this year’s events. Yet two in three Forbes 300 CEOs have no social presence.

Though consumers have more online choices than ever before, an astounding 76% of companies within the Forbes 300 were not running SEM ads when the research was conducted.

77% of Forbes 300 CEOs are missing from Social Media conversations

Site Optimization

The Management Consulting industry performed the best in this category with the overall industry average at 78%. Companies that performed the best in this category received high scores for their SERP rankings, text to code ratios, and indexing strategy, which indicates optimized content for increased traffic and organic search rankings.

While website speeds were impressive, companies across all industries performed poorly overall when scored on backlink ratios. The overall industry average indicates a wealth of opportunity for improvement.

47% Average score for site optimization across the top 300 companies


Social distancing stimulated record-high traffic across online channels. Video consumption increased *60% globally. Yet remarkably many companies are not fully utilizing video content on their webpages. The average Forbes 300 company scored 30% in this area.

The overall UX category measures aspects from ADA compliance to design best practices. Companies in consumer-facing industries (i.e., Financial Services, E-commerce, Real Estate) scored the highest. Financial Services companies had a 16% higher UX score than the average Forbes 300 company. Overall, the Forbes top 300 companies performed better on ADA compliance the previous year.

54% Average score for UX across the top 300 companies

Site Security

In a bright spot for almost all industries, website security scored high across the board. The only exception is the Entertainment industry where website security scored 22% less than the average Fortune 300 company.

While website security stood out positively overall, 9% of the Forbes 300 companies had critical issues on their websites that left them open to being hacked. One in three companies had issues that could lead to a hack if not fixed.

82% Average score for site security across the top 300 companies


This year’s volatility has crystalized the importance of preparing for the unexpected. 2020 served as an inflection point. Seemingly overnight, digital transformation finally happened. Not due to technology, but rather biology.

So far, companies who performed well are those who, prior to 2020, had fully embraced digital strategies. Brands without advanced digital practices fell behind. Fast-forwarding transformation is further complicated by a world in flux. Robust data and the flexibility to act on it is what sets a company apart.

Confidence caused the U.S. financial crisis in 2008. Covid-19 did the same to general commerce in 2020. Yet, in either instance, the public didn’t see the crisis coming. This lack of hindsight is partly due to politics and culture. Leadership plays a key part as well.

More than 40 million people lost their jobs in the U.S. alone since mid-March. People are anxious, with good reason. Uncertainty stemming from extreme macroeconomic shifts threatens emotional endurance and indicates prolonged financial instability. The long-term effect of the pandemic may take a significant time to erase because the hit to confidence was so sudden and after such a sustained period of expansion. The 2020 Marketing Engagement Index™ charts this change. It tells a tale of leadership, flexibility, imagination, creativity, and above all, determination.

The lesson for humanity? Imagine the unimaginable and prepare for it.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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