After a year like 2020, it’s hard to want to get into the prediction business. I can’t say I personally had any clue that this last year would turn out like, well … you know. But I have learned a lot — like how to work from home without going stir-crazy (still learning!) — and some lessons have been a bit deeper.
“Be flexible” has a whole new meaning now, as does “expect the unexpected.”
As marketers, there’s always going to be a little part of us that relishes the challenge when a wrench gets thrown into our plans, but the events of this last year definitely have tested the limits. However, I think we’re all about to go into 2021 with as solid of a plan as we can make after we had our world turned upside down.
I asked some pros around the country what they were expecting to see as major trends next year.
I really hope that 2021 is the year of the customer. We have *got* to put the customer front and center in everything we do as marketers. I know a lot of people say they are, but the customers aren’t feeling it. Talk to your customers. Find out what matters to them. Then create solutions to their problems. Center them in your brand and you’ll have a customer not just for 2021 but for years and years to come.
2021 should be the year of getting to know the customer all over again. The pandemic has disrupted consumer behavior like nothing before and it’s becoming clearer that we won’t be able to go completely back to “normal” when it’s done. Marketing leaders will want to reassess their understanding of their customers through 1:1 feedback, user testing and surveys to gauge whether changes in behavior are temporary or permanent.
As we roll into 2021 with about as much uncertainty as we faced in 2020, I think one thing most marketers are looking for is consistency. This is good news for email marketers, as email has already proven to be a reliable, consistent channel for building and maintaining relationships with our buyers. With so much uncertainty around when, how and where we can interact with our audiences, I believe that email will absolutely shine in the coming year.
That’s not to say, however, that we can just batch and blast away — because email is so reliable in a climate like this, it’s almost like every day is Cyber Monday. Email volume is already way up in 2020, and my guess is we’re going to receive more promotional emails in 2021 than we ever have before. So what’s an email marketer to do? Double down on personalization and ensure you’re sending emails that are timely, individualized and based on data points along your customer journey.
As we face the demise of third-party cookies within the next two years and the sunsetting of IDFA, marketers are increasingly losing the ability to identify customers via third-party tracking. Combined with another external event — the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting recession — where advertising budgets are being slashed, we’re ripe for a massive shift in marketing. What used to be marketing via repeat acquisition will now be replaced with a better focus on retention and putting a stronger value on the power of first-party data.
As a result, we’ll see the advertising industrial complex continue to erode and more budgets being moved to retention strategies and channels like email. We’ll see more of an emphasis on metrics like CLV/LTV and value of an email address that have been traditionally overlooked. This will have a massive, positive impact on customer experience.
This year, we’ve seen monumental change in how brands communicate with customers. In the face of political unrest, an unknown economic future and a global crisis, marketers find themselves in an impossible situation. How can they say the right thing, to millions of people, across an ever-growing list of digital channels, every single time. Not to mention what they say has to stand out from the crowd, fit their brand’s voice, be sensitive and drive ROI.
According to research we carried out earlier this year with Dynata, 82% of marketers say they are struggling to create enough high-quality content because they need more time, money or people, yet it’s becoming the most crucial element of the marketing mix. Thirty percent of marketers surveyed said their CEO pays more attention to language now than before. These numbers just don’t match up.
The major change for 2021 will be a positive shift in the way brands embrace technology to support and empower marketing teams. The difficult situation brands are facing isn’t impossible to solve. Trailblazing marketers have already lain the groundwork in showing the commercial benefits of using AI-Powered Copywriting to generate sensitive messaging at scale, delivering more revenue and a greater level of control.
There will be increased scrutiny around companies and their diversity and inclusion efforts. 2020 brought bold promises about change and adoption. With heightened visibility, companies will be forced to demonstrate their commitment in 2021. Consumers will demand proof brands are progressing toward an equitable future. Brands that spoke out will now have to walk the walk.
I think we’ll be seeing a lot more personalization in 2021. More and more people are obviously working remotely now and finding new ways to stay connected. Personalized marketing will be important to replace that face-to-face value that many businesses have now lost. I think we’ll be seeing more video marketing, particularly when communicating to potential buyers. I think this will also be a differentiator among competition. Companies that can build relationships and stay connected “virtually” to their audience will be very important.
We have been reactive to the market by launching new product each month to keep customers excited and engaged. I think 2021 will be a time for us to really focus on our customers and make sure our e-commerce site, customer service and in-store experiences are at the highest level. I think marketing trends we will be focusing on for 2021 will be personal shopping and a seamless shopping experience, whether customers are shopping in-store or online.
Now, more than ever before, people want — and NEED — genuine connections. In 2021, brands have a real opportunity to let empathy drive their brand storytelling efforts. Using empathy filters is the fastest way to connect heart-to-heart, and mind-to-mind with your audience. In my experience, I’ve seen that connection help drive up to 7x better results; because it helps build trust and ultimately drive actions for your brand. With so much online competition vying for your audiences’ attention, I’m seeing brands invest more in growing their internal and external brand storytelling teams in 2021.
2020 taught us the importance of authenticity. From the flood of COVID response emails in the early spring to brand statements on #BlackLivesMatter to voter advocacy, we learned MANY lessons.
Brands emailed their ENTIRE databases less than empathetic messages about over-sanitizing products. They sent emails standing in solidarity with black lives (while not practicing that statement). And some planted their flag in the national political conversation. You could almost FEEL the collective eye-rolls, outrage or applause on social media in response to these types of marketing campaigns.
I think marketing leaders learned many lessons as a result (some hard and some exciting). A lot of self-reflection happened in 2020.
As a result, in 2021, I think we’ll be seeing more social advocacy. More brands being aware that their participation in their community matters to customers. We’ll see that in their campaigns. We’ll see that in how they promote the hard work their employees do. We’ll see it in the causes and organizations they align their brand with. And most importantly, I think we’ll see more customer, human-centered marketing. Being authentic and speaking to your audience like REAL people will always win — especially during multiple crises.
Digital transformation continues as we all get more comfortable with what changes COVID has wrought on our way of life. That means something different for every business — but one thing we will all have to do is become familiar with how our clients have changed. They will be working, learning and seeking feedback in different ways — not because we have to, but because we want to. And that’s a really fun opportunity to change with our clients and users. We’ll need to assess the channels and formats we use and even the content we create. We may even need to reconsider how we measure success.
The place to start in most cases is validating the buyer’s journey — what is still true? What has changed? How can we make sure we’re showing up for our users in a relevant and useful way? Keeping our clients at the center of what we do ensures all the changes and trends in 2021 lead to success and growth.
- Virtual events will continue and improve to rival the value of in-person events.
- Paid media will get trickier as consumers grow ever more distrustful of advertising and the media.
- Paid social, however, may get more effective, as more and more of our worldview is shaped by what shows up in our social channels and streams. As long as we’re hyper-focused on matching our content to the audience’s interest, this could be the most seamless way to inject our brand into our target audience’s consciousness.
- Content marketing — creating useful, relevant and credible content that benefits the user — will remain the core of what we do as marketers. Starting with the content or the message that speaks to our audience, then translating that to all of the relevant channels and formats, is the only way to create consistent, effective user experiences.
Content marketing in 2021
After hearing from so many leaders in the industry, one thing stood out to me: customers. Whether you’re B2B or B2C, working to stay relevant, helpful and genuine while speaking to your audience is one of the most important things you can focus on. Our job as marketers is to grow alongside our customers’ habits and needs, giving them an experience that helps solve their problems and makes their lives easier during a time when there are so many challenges.
If you need help forming this strategy or creating the content, let us know. We’d love to help.