There wasn’t much time for digital marketers to recover from 2020. A quick break over Christmas and we’re back, marketing to a post-COVID world, where online consumer spending is through the roof and digital transformation is no longer optional.
So what are the big trends shaping the digital landscape in 2021? Well, for one thing, digital marketing itself is looking incredibly resilient. According to the Digital Marketing Institute, even though two-thirds of brands saw a drop in revenue during the pandemic, more than a quarter of marketers are spending 90% or more of their budget on digital. Marketing is like a relationship, in that respect: you get out what you put in.
Here are six big Digital Marketing trends to look out for in 2021.
1. Analytics reign supreme
The writing is on the wall. The old guard of marketing, who value gut-driven instinct, are a dying breed. The future belongs to customer data and robust analytics. Over 64% of executives agree that data-driven marketing provides a competitive edge, and digital marketers will need to learn new, data-specific skills if they’re going to make an impact in 2021: business analytics and data visualisation being the big two. Getting your CRM humming should be the first priority, followed by automation and a content strategy built around deep customer insight. If brands haven’t fleshed out their analytics teams already, now’s the time to do so. Those insights will help refine ROI and optimise your advertising spend across channels. In 2021, there’s no such thing as too much customer data.
2. The rise of machine learning
On the other hand, numbers are only useful if you can harness them in real time. This is partly why some experts are already calling 2021 the Year of AI marketing. “The adoption of AI and machine learning in marketing will help narrow the scope of marketers’ data and help them focus on things that consumers are actually engaging with,” says Litmus CMO, Melissa Sargeant. Marketers need algorithms to sift through swathes of customer data and pick out patterns that can be leveraged for profit. But how will this work in practice? Despite huge recent AI growth (Gartner estimates 270% in the last four years), only about 17% of companies are currently deploying AI “at scale”. Over half of business leaders say employee skills are the biggest barrier to adoption: marketers simply don’t know enough about AI, yet, to make informed decisions. Upskilling marketing teams into machine learning and AI algorithms should be a massive priority going into 2021.
3. Social shopping is here to stay
If you’re still using social channels purely as tools of brand discovery, you’re doing it wrong. Instagram Shopping has been around for a few years, and the stats are definitely encouraging: according to Hootsuite, 130 million users tap on shopping posts every month, and 81% of people say they now use the platform to research products. TikTok has also rolled out new shopping features, including a global partnership with Shopify. The rise of ‘Social Commerce’ is well and truly here. Some industry forecasters are already predicting a 34% surge in social transactions in 2021—the U.S. market alone is expected to cap $36 billion. This year, brands will need to turn their social channels into efficient revenue streams, if they haven’t already. Consumers now expect not only brand presence and engagement, but a frictionless in-app experience—from product through to purchase.
4. De-cluttering the profile
How many social channels does one brand need? There’s really no correct answer. It’ll depend on your budget, your team, your experience and your overall resources. Ideally, brands would have a presence across all social channels, but for most companies that’s simply not feasible. After COVID, marketers will be working with hair-trigger budgets. They need to squeeze every single dollar. And that’s why we’ve seen some brands be more selective when it comes to social. “With so many channels available, and many companies having tried to stay relevant on all of them, the need to de-clutter is almost pervasive,” Lisa Apolinski told Forbes. “Reducing social media channels to only the most relevant will be not only popular, but necessary.” Again, this goes back to solid analytics and efficient algorithms. When you know which channels generate the best ROI, you can plan your budget accordingly. Be ruthless.
5. Finding our purpose
Hootsuite made a good observation this year. In their 2021 Social Trends Report, they noted that “the smartest brands will find creative ways of fitting into the conversation.” This is what modern-day marketing is all about: transparency, communication, connection and purpose. Brand loyalty directly influences ROI—and you can’t fake it. For marketers, finding your brand’s purpose can be extremely profitable. After becoming a B-Corp, Intrepid Travel saw 21 per cent growth in 2019, turning over $488 million. According to Deloitte, 25 per cent of people who noticed brands acting selfishly during COVID ditched those brands. You have to walk a fine line here: purpose-driven marketing can’t be opportunistic. Your purpose should be aligned with your business model and your brand values. And it should be sincere. We don’t have to look too far to find examples of corporate greenwashing.
6. Chatting with bots
Chatbots have been a controversial digital marketing tool for several years. The overall impression is: they have potential, but the technology isn’t there yet. But perhaps 2021 is the year we see chatbots go mainstream. The chatbot market was worth $1.2 billion in 2018, but recent forecasts suggest it’ll surge to $7.5 billion by 2024. This is mainly down to staggering AI development and a growing need for marketers to analyse behavioural patterns in real time. Chatbots do this much, much better than humans. They’re also much cheaper. Juniper Research found that operational savings from chatbots will reach $7.3 billion globally by 2023 (up from $209 million in 2019). The Turing Test will obviously be the big one here: if chatbots are going to takeover, they need to converse like real people. Most experts agree, that time has now come.
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