As we’re rapidly approaching the end of the year, it’s a great time to look ahead at where we’re going and the marketing trends we’re likely to see more of in 2021. I’ve already touched on how we can expect marketing to evolve on a strategic level, and in this article, I’ll be looking in more detail at some of the specific trends to look out for.
To make a solid plan for the short term, it’s essential to keep an eye on where you’re heading in a long time. Nobody can say with 100% certainty what the future of marketing will look like, but industry professionals can offer valuable insights and predictions into some of the possibilities available in the coming years.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that these predictions will come true. As marketers, it’s essential for us to keep an eye on statistics, research, and data trends to spot opportunities. But make sure there’s plenty of room to adapt and change in your marketing strategy.
For example, nobody could have predicted how 2020 would change the face of marketing. Those who meticulously planned out their marketing activities based on what they knew at the start of the year found themselves needing to scrap their plan and start from scratch.
But some things are certain. The future of marketing and business will be more diverse, inclusive, and connected to real customer needs. It will not be about spending more on blatant self-promotion to out-dated notions that no longer fit the reality of the world we live in.
Technology continues to advance rapidly, so of course, some of these trends are focused on technology. However, there’s also a pushback against the increased digitization and automation of interactions between brands and consumers and a desire to make marketing more human again. While technologies such as AI and data-driven marketing continue to grow, the overarching focus will be on people, not technology.
- The marketing trends that will dominate in the next 12 months will include Customer Experience, Employee Engagement, and Content Visualization.
- The definition of what we consider “marketing” is constantly changing and becoming broader.
- Marketing has moved beyond branding and advertising; marketers must work together with other departments to build excellent customer experiences and engage them for long-term relationships.
- World-Class Customer Experience
Every year is the year of the customer. We see a massive shift in beliefs about what marketing is. It’s no longer about trying to convince people to buy from or work with your company. Instead, the priority has moved towards providing fantastic customer experiences to keep people coming back for more. In a sense, when you focus on building a positive business culture and providing excellent service, the marketing almost takes care of itself.
Not only are customers impatient, but they also want those fish tacos delivered on a silver platter.
Not literally, but they do expect a seamless experience from the first spark of interest to customer service after the sale. From personalized messaging that helps them solve problems to make a buying decision to a customer-focused culture throughout their customer journey, an experience that delivers quality across all channels is more likely to earn their business.
In addition to personalized marketing messages, find ways to listen and respond to their questions. Coordinate your digital marketing team with your sales and customer service teams to deliver quality throughout their experience.
The growth of online content has given consumers more power. They are no longer a passive party when it comes to learning about products. They’re not waiting for you to tell you how great your products are. Instead, they’re going out and doing their research.
So you have to offer them something more than information. 73% of people say that customer experience is an essential factor in their buying decisions, but currently, only 49% of US consumers say that today’s companies provide a good experience.
What exactly makes an excellent CX? Efficiency, convenience, knowledgeable and friendly service, and easy payment options are what people value most in their customer experience. But aspects more traditionally considered marketing’s domain are cited too: up-to-date technology, personalization, and easy mobile experience, brand image, and design all add up to the overall customer experience.
Building the kinds of relationships with customers that drive loyalty is worth every penny you spend. As Bain and Company’s management experts point out, a mere 5 percent boost in customer retention increases profit by 25 percent.
Can you imagine how your profits would soar if you went the extra mile to deliver the kinds of experiences that build not only loyalty but qualified referrals as well? When you coordinate your digital marketing strategy with all your teams to have those kinds of experiences, you’ll grow your bottom line well beyond even your highest expectations.
In other words, you need to consider CX in every aspect of your marketing strategy. This is how you can provide a great experience to keep your customers and attract new ones.
As you go through this list, you’ll see that every trend is just one factor of the overall customer experience.
- Employee Activation: A Giant Leap Beyond Engagement
If efficient and friendly service is the cornerstone of a great customer experience, how do you ensure you’re providing this? The answer, of course, is in your employees. The previously mentioned research also found that 46% of consumers will abandon a brand if its employees are not knowledgeable, and lousy employee attitude is the number one factor that stops individuals from doing business with a company.
Your employees are your brand’s human face, so concentrating on interactions between your employees and your customers should be a crucial part of your marketing strategy. When you’re turning the responsibility of creating excellent customer service over to your employees, you need to make sure that they want your business to succeed as much as you do.
The key to this is building a solid foundation of employee engagement and taking steps to ensure every employee understands and is aligned with your brand mission and values.
You can’t expect your employees to care about your customers if they’re not happy at work and don’t believe in what you’re doing as a business. So achieving a high level of employee engagement is the first and most crucial step in improving customer experiences.
Employee engagement requires you to make your workplace such an attractive place to work that your employees’ happiness will spill over onto the customers. Indeed, a smile and an extra effort to please that comes from the heart are among the most effective forms of marketing out there. Companies that engage their employees outperform their peers by a factor of two.
However, that one giant leap for humankind – walking on the moon – is a piece of cake compared to convincing some companies to treat their employees like valuable colleagues instead of glorified house servants. The next step – employee activation – requires you to treat your employees as your most treasured customers.
When you activate your employees, though, it’s marketing magic. Activation includes a wealth of tools to empower your employees to become walking billboards for your company, including:
- Training that not only makes them more informed about your products but also allows them to climb up the corporate ladder – imagine – you have to love a company that trains you to qualify for a better job
- Permission to post content on social media and elsewhere about your company’s culture, products, and services
- Involvement in creating blog posts, videos, white papers, and other “official” marketing content, creating a platform on which they can showcase their expertise
Once your employees start sharing the love your company has shared with them, it will pay off. Not only will it pay off in good vibes, but it will also likely make a significant impact on your bottom line.
Leads that your employees generate through social media marketing posts are seven times more likely to convert than leads you generate through other channels, according to Sociabble. The content they share will also enjoy eight times more engagement than the content you share on your official brand channels.
With the explosion of smart speakers and voice search in recent years, you’d be forgiven for thinking that “readable” content is more important than visuals and design these days.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. While advancements in voice search are certainly influencing how we’ll create content now and in the future, you shouldn’t neglect visual content either.
Research has shown that people prefer visual content to plain text. You just have to look at the growth of image-focused platforms Pinterest and Instagram to see the proof of this.
Google, Pinterest, and several other companies are also investing in visual search technology. Images are already returned for 19% of Google searches, and 62% of millennials say they are more interested in visual search than any other new technology.
Visuals are also easier to remember than written content. Adding data visualizations, infographics, images, and videos to your text not only makes it more exciting and attractive, but it can help your message to be absorbed better too.
- Personalization: Your Key to Their Heart
When a customer has two relatively similar products in front of her, she needs to decide which one she’ll buy, her money on the brand that won her heart. One of the ways to engage your customers’ hearts as well as their heads is to personalize marketing to meet their needs.
For years, psychologists have taught us that people love to hear their name and see it in print. But today’s technology allows digital marketing teams to dig deep into the data to identify the things that keep customers up at night – and remember what messages will solve those problems and give them a good night’s sleep.
In the 2002 movie Minority Report, the character John Anderton, played by Tom Cruise, is bombarded by a series of personalized ads calling him by name as he walks through the city. This was complete science fiction at the time, but not quite two decades later, reality has almost caught up with Stephen Spielberg’s imagination’s marketing future.
Today’s consumers are flooded with marketing messages from multiple channels to the point where they have started to tune them out. Traditional advertising is losing its effectiveness, so what’s the answer? Personalized marketing messages forge a real connection between the brand and the target market. So, go way beyond the “Hi [Customer Name]” emails, “Don’t you want to make more money?” popups, or “Hey, come back here!” cheesy messages in the browser titles to find what makes your customers tick. Then, give them content that will win their hearts.
Again, a little effort will yield excellent results. 80% of consumers said they’d be more likely to do business with a brand that provides a personalized experience, as per Epsilon’s survey.
Improvements in technology such as AI combined with increased data collection and insights from social media and other sources have made it possible and easy to hyper-personalized everything from content to design to product recommendations and everything in-between.
- Strategic Marketing Transformation
When you’re reading about up-and-coming trends in an article like this, it’s all too easy to think that being successful in marketing can be simplified to following a list of best practices and making sure you’re using the latest techniques and technology.
The business of marketing is becoming increasingly complex. For companies to succeed in 2021, they’ll have to think beyond what they’re doing and link everything back to the why of the business as a whole. Your marketing goals and objectives must align with the overall goals of your business.
Strategic marketing transformation is the term used to describe when a business operating without a strategic marketing plan evolves by changing its fundamental business processes and procedures.
Undergoing a marketing transformation can help companies improve customer service and experience, boost brand awareness and reputation, and ultimately increase revenue and profits.
Businesses achieve these benefits through data collection, using modern technology, building customer relationships, engaging with customers online, publishing quality content, and improving their online presence. These things are part of the underlying strategy that influences every department and employee in the company, not just the marketers.
Your strategic marketing plan defines goals and determines which marketing tactics you will employ to reach your customers, including content marketing, SEO, email marketing, social media, advertising, and offline marketing. It then lays out a plan for how every part of the organization will be involved in these tactics.
To put it simply, the marketing strategy is no longer only the chief marketer or CMO’s responsibility. Strategic marketing transformation recognizes this and ensures that the brand, company reputation, customer relationships, and the customer experience as a whole are considered in every business activity.
- Featured Snippets in Google Search
SEO will continue to be an essential aspect of digital marketing as we move into 2021, but we’re now seeing one of the most significant shifts in the SEO industry in the last decade.
With mobile and voice search growth, people are changing the way they use search engines like Google. Being number one in the search engine result pages or SERPS is no longer necessarily the primary goal your business should be aiming for.
You’ve probably noticed your search and browsing behavior has changed in the last few years due to Google changes and the fact that you’re looking for the fastest information when you’re on the move.
Featured snippets and other “on SERP” information means that you don’t need to click through to a website to get the information you’re looking for anymore – it’s right there on the Google search results page.
This on-SERP information may appear in various places, but the most sought-after position is right at the top of the page, before the organic listings. This position has been dubbed “position zero.” As it’s often the only information that a searcher will view, it’s highly coveted. Over 60% of search results returned by Google have now featured snippets.
Brands are still trying to figure out how to achieve the erstwhile “position zero” as it requires different SEO techniques than those employed for a standard listing in the SERPs. If you can be the first in your industry to get there, you’ll have a massive advantage over your competitors. So expect to see more SEO companies offering this service over the next year, and pay attention to the latest best practices for optimizing your content.
- Voice Search
I’ve mentioned voice search a couple of times already, so you knew it would be on this list. Voice search shows no sign of slowing down and will continue to influence how brands create content and market themselves online significantly.
We’re not quite at the commonly cited prediction that 50% of searches will be driven by voice in 2021 (we’re currently sitting at about 20%, according to Google), but this statistic is probably not that far in the future. The smart speaker business is booming, with around a quarter of US households now owning a Google Home, Amazon Echo, or another smart speaker.
Consumers are also expecting to use voice search more shortly – 61% of those aged 25–64 who already use a voice device intend to use it more in the future, according to research by PwC.
Voice search brings with it new challenges but also exciting opportunities. “Branded skills” is one example of an intelligent speaker advertising opportunity that emerged last year. Tequila brand Patròn is an example of a company that’s seen massive success from using branded skills. Smart speaker users can ask their digital assistant to “ask Patròn for a cocktail recipe.” This helps to increase brand awareness and visibility and enables users to buy the product directly from the recipe results.
Even if your brand isn’t ready for intelligent speaker advertising, it’s essential that your content is optimized for voice search. Voice searchers use search differently. They use longer, more conversational queries, so slanting your content to serve these queries and answering questions directly can help make it more visible to voice searches. This has the bonus of making your content more likely to be picked up as a featured snippet or found on position zero on Google.
- AI-Based Automation
Will 2021 be the year of the rise of robots? Maybe (but hopefully not in the Terminator-style of dystopian science fiction movies!)
We’ve already seen considerable advancements in AI over the last few years and a significant increase in the number of businesses using AI-powered technology and automation to assist their marketing efforts.
AI is one of the major technologies behind voice search and intelligent assistants. It’s also made chatbots possible, which are now popping up on more websites than ever before.
AI technology and automation help take some of the grunt work out of marketing so brands can concentrate on strategy and crafting a fantastic customer experience.
Remember, the human aspect of marketing is still essential (perhaps more important than ever before), so the idea is to use this technology to enhance your marketing efforts, not replace the real people behind them.
Big data, supported by AI and predictive analytics, also help brands learn more about their audience and customers. It’s enabling hyper-personalization of customer experiences and marketing messages at scale.
- Focus on Customer Retention, Loyalty, and Advocacy
A huge part of providing a great customer experience is ensuring that CX is ongoing and focused on keeping your existing customers rather than just attracting new ones.
Recurring customers are more valuable than new customers. Studies have found that it costs five times as much to attract a new customer as it does to keep a new one, so it’s worth putting in the effort to keep your customers happy.
Loyal customers also help increase your brand’s reputation and awareness as they’ll talk about your company and products with their friends and family. Happy customers make great (and free!) brand ambassadors and influencers.
Many of the trends mentioned above and technology can help increase customer retention rates. Personalization, for example, is certainly expected from your existing customers, if not your new ones, and it gets easier to personalize communications the more interactions someone has with your brand.
- Live Video
The live video industry is expected to be worth over $70 billion by 2021. Live video is incredibly popular with consumers, and people spend three times longer watching live video than they do protect the pre-recorded video.
Video is also the most popular way for consumers to learn about new products.
When the live element is added, this makes the video more engaging as the audience feels they’re a part of it and can influence the content, rather than just passively watching.
Live video is great for grabbing the attention of your social audience on Facebook or Instagram. These videos are so attractive to viewers because they tap into “FOMO” or fear missing out. When you’re not sure if a live video is going to contain a tidbit of information that you can’t get anywhere else, or it will mean you’re the first to find out about some new and exciting news, you’re going to want to watch it.
- Account-Based Marketing
Although corporations aren’t people, their C-suites certainly are staffed by them. Specifically by people with widely divergent interests.
- The chief financial officer wants to know how the widget you make will save steps in the manufacturing process, saving time. And time, as we all know, is money.
- The chief marketing officer wants to know how your widget can help make a better product – and why – so that she can explain it to her customers.
- The head of human resources wants to know how much easier your widget will make assembly line workers’ jobs, specifically, how it can help them avoid tendonitis.
And so on.
Account-based marketing personalizes messaging to businesses, targeting each decision-maker with the information they need to solve specific departmental problems. Like personalized messaging directly to customers, account-based marketing yields a higher ROI than other types of marketing. If you sell to other businesses, giant corporations, account-based marketing is one of the “already here” digital marketing trends you need to embrace during the coming years.
- Gen Z Will Influence Marketing More Than Millennials
The marketing industry has been obsessed with Millennials for the past two decades. A Google search currently yields around 129 million results for the search term “millennials,” compared to only about 7.2 million for the previous “generation x.”
But the millennials of today have outgrown their caricature as a bunch of entitled 20-somethings. The first millennials are now approaching their 40th birthday. While this age group still makes up a significant proportion of many marketers’ audience, some predictions made about their importance have fallen short of the mark.
For example, the oft-quoted statistic that Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025 is now not only unlikely but rather impossible.
It’s 2020, and Millennials have already peaked as a percentage of the adult population, making up just over 40% of the global population. By 2030 this percentage is expected to drop to just under 37% as Generation Z starts to come of age.
Generation Z consists of people who were born from 1995 to 2010. These young people have grown up in a digital world and have very different viewpoints than generations before them. They’re also more diverse than any other generation in history.
A more diverse audience can make content marketing a challenge, but it also opens up more opportunities to reach different audience segments through personalization.
If you’ve been focusing your marketing strategy on Millennials, it may be time to take a step back and develop some new ideas for reaching the workforce and decision-makers of tomorrow.
- Growth in Emerging Markets and a More Diverse Audience
Emerging markets in Asia have grown significantly over the last decade and are expected to continue to grow over the next ten years.
Over a billion new middle-class consumers from countries like China, India, and Indonesia will be added to consumers’ global pool.
Companies that want to expand their marketing efforts beyond North America and reach these new consumers will have to think carefully about how best to get them.
Different cultures, languages, social norms, and online behaviors can all make marketing a challenge for creating content for these audiences.
For large global enterprises, having a local on-the-ground marketing team in their primary market locations is often the answer.
But smaller businesses can market globally too. The key to success is embracing diversity from the inside. Companies that strive for a diverse workforce and corporate culture will find that marketing innovation flourishes naturally.
- Integrated Online-Offline Customer Experience
Physical stores with little online presence have been struggling more in recent years. For many businesses, the 2020 pandemic proved the final nail in the coffin, with the last six months seeing an unprecedented number of store closures.
Conversely, many online retailers and digital brands have thrived. Massive numbers of consumers have shifted to moving more and more of their purchases and everyday activities online.
However, physical stores are not doomed to become a relic of the past. Consumers still prefer physical stores. But brands must adjust their marketing strategy to take advantage of this increased digitalization.
In the future, stores will be more than just a place to do your shopping. They will be a place where brands can engage with their customers and improve the customer experience.
Moreover, VR and AR technologies will bring more of the home’s shopping experience, improving the online shopping experience. Ikea already has an augmented reality app that allows customers to see items of furniture in their own home, and several fashion brands have launched apps enabling shoppers to try on clothing before they buy virtually.
More and more brands are jumping onto this trend. For example, Nike has launched several “retail experiences” in recent years, including terminals with product information and online ordering functionality, integration with customer smartphones, social media walls, interactive augmented reality installations, and more.
- Responsible Consumerism
Today’s consumers are more aware than ever before of their buying habits on the environment and society.
People take more care over the products they choose to buy and the brands they choose to associate with.
Many brands have already been moving toward more sustainable practices to reduce their impact on the environment. However, social responsibility is becoming just as important as being “green.”
As we saw with the Black Lives Matter movement’s rise, people are no longer just expecting the brands they support to avoid harmful practices. It’s now likely that corporations will actively fight injustice and support the causes they believe in.
Shortly, brands will be expected to be ethical in all of their business practices and use their resources to be a force for good in the world. Those that don’t will be left behind as customers choose brands that align with their values.
Brand responsibility goes beyond marketing. But marketing the things that a company is doing to make a positive difference in the world may be more effective than advertising its products.
- The Internet of Everything
In 2020 the Internet of Things (IoT) had already made significant changes in how consumers interact with brands.
Over the next decade, this trend will ramp up even more as it becomes the norm for everyday devices to be connected to the internet.
Smartphones, smartwatches, and smart TVs are already commonplace. Technology is becoming smaller and cheaper all the time. In the not-too-distant future, almost every electronic device will likely be “smart” in some way. Even more striking, smart microchips are already being implanted in humans.
Smart cities – urban areas that use IoT technology to manage resources and services – are also rising globally. It’s estimated that by 2025, the top 600 smart cities will account for 60% of the world’s GDP.
This massive number of connected objects will generate a vast quantity of data that can be used to gain advanced customer insights. This information can then personalize the customer experience and provide more accessible communication and engagement with the brand.
- Hyper-Local Marketing
Along with the growth of IoT devices and increased expectation for personalized customer experience comes increased geolocation data in marketing.
Local marketing is certainly not a new concept. Even the most prominent global brands recognize the value of customizing their marketing messages on a local level. And search engines like Google have become very good at serving up businesses in the local area whether you’re looking for a coffee or a new pair of shoes.
But geolocation services are due to step things up a notch. Eight in 10 marketers currently use location data in their marketing strategy, and 94% plan to do so in the future.
Now that everyone has a smartphone, potential customers can be targeted with marketing messages as soon as they’re detected within a certain distance from a store.
Geofencing means that brands can deliver personalized messages to a minimal set of individuals who are more likely to buy (location-based marketing is 20x more effective than standard ads.) This reduces marketing spend. The budget is not wasted on prospects who are less likely to result in a sale.
Combining geolocation and IoT technology means some very sophisticated and personalized marketing is possible. For example, a customer could get a reminder that they’re running low on eggs as they’re passing close to the grocery store.
Get Ready for 2021
Now is the time to start planning your 2021 marketing strategy if you haven’t already. Make sure you start the New Year with a clear plan of your goals and how you’re going to achieve them.
While marketing trends come and go, the basics of success remain the same: understand your audience’s needs and communicate with them clearly and consistently. That’s why customer-focused content has always been the best way to establish solid relationships with your audience. Content marketing will continue to dominate the digital marketing landscape for some time to come. Most of these trends rely on content in some way. To succeed in them, you’ll need to have a solid base of quality content across all your marketing channels.