2021 Digital Marketing Predictions

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In just a year, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything — from the way we interact with one another to the way we conduct business. It has drastically altered the landscapes of recreation, transportation, hospitality, and of course, healthcare. This year has challenged human resilience in new ways.

Fortunately, the world is still turning, and we’re still finding creative solutions to keep the economy moving. The digital marketing industry is rolling along and continuing to pivot as consumer behavior changes. We surveyed digital marketing strategy experts on their predictions and tips to help you get the most out of the year ahead. Here’s the roundup…Two women in the office looking at a computer

1. Adapt, Adapt, Adapt

As COVID has prompted a widespread shift to remote work, teams have had to flex their adaptability muscles. Additionally, digital marketing strategy focus has needed to shift quickly, which will likely continue in the new year.

“If we can be sure of one thing, it’s that 2021 will have some surprises in store for us,” says Josh Stomel of Turbo Finance. “That’s why it will be more important than ever to be ready to pivot and implement a Plan B strategy whenever your proven campaigns are not performing as hoped. Plan brainstorming sessions with your team, and think outside the box whenever the situation arises.”

Molly Austin of Snapwire agrees. “In an effort to match the accelerated digital shift in consumer behavior, smart CMO’s will spend more time and resources on their digital marketing strategy than ever before. And those businesses in the middle of a digital transformation will need to adapt as quickly as possible to stay solvent.

Digital marketers of all stripes have always taken an omnichannel approach to reach their target audience. But, this new year will see a massive push to stay current on new technologies, optimize ad spend, and adapt in real-time to both the challenges & opportunities of our new reality.

In short, digital marketing is going to be more competitive than ever before, making it more challenging to improve brand awareness, claim or keep a coveted spot on Google, or be able to compete with the increasing costs of paid channels. In 2021, thinking outside the box, shifting lanes quickly, and having a backup plan will be essential for digital success.”

2. Explore New Platforms

In the spirit of this ongoing adaptability, there’s always a need for digital marketers to get up to speed with new technology, especially when it comes to Gen Z marketing.

“Working in the digital marketing space, it’s amazing to see how quickly platforms rise and fall in popularity,” says Erica Glick of Visiqua. “Just looking at this past year with the rise of TikTok, I think brands will continue to adapt to embrace new platforms. Brands that were ahead of their competitors in marketing on a new platform not only innovated their own marketing strategy but lead the way for new creative strategies outside of traditional digital marketing. It will be interesting to see what platforms will stick in popularity and who will jump at these new marketing opportunities. These opportunities can go for both consumer brands and B2B marketers.”

“For those playing catchup, you’ll need to really invest in fast-moving strategies that will provide results and provide them quickly, advises Jared Zabaldo of USAMM. “Work on outreach programs and link exchanges, as well as networking on your social media platforms, whether that be less traditional sources like TikTok or a proven source, like LinkedIn.”

And of course, there are emerging platforms that marketers themselves can use in order for their content to go the distance. “When we look at the digital marketing environment for 2021, we are more than likely going to see some trends that are focused on budget-friendly ways to gain exposure,” says Travis Killian of Everlasting Comfort. “HARO is one of the most direct, simplest ways to gain high-quality backlinks so that your company can begin to rank higher on search engine queries. HARO stands for Help a Reporter Out, which is a platform where writers can post a call for expert quotes, and companies can reply with creative content. When selected, the company can score a backlink and be seen as a leader in its niche.”Girl on a rock for a landscape visual content shot

3. Capitalize on eCommerce

We’d be remiss not to highlight the changes in eCommerce platforms as well. 2020 was an unprecedented year for eCommerce, and marketers are smart to stake a claim in trending technologies.

Will Haire of boutique Amazon agency Bellavix shares his observations: “The biggest beneficiaries of retail’s transition to the digital space are Amazon and Walmart. General eCommerce will see an over 32% YoY growth, and Amazon will see its market share grow to 39%.

With eCommerce sales projected at $407B in the US, brands who want to stay alive in the digital space need to have a presence on marketplaces, specifically on Amazon. I expect Amazon and other marketplaces to rise to the occasion by fixing some of the major issues brought to light this year. I expect to see the following changes:

  1. Fix their supply chain issues back to the standard of two-day shipping and some more improvement like same day and 1-day shipping. Expect significant investment in infrastructure to meet the increase in consumer demand this year. Also, expect limitations on inventory and quantity of products shipped in to lift and the flood gates to open.
  2. Improvements in brand registry features and functionality will continue to protect brands and Amazon’s integrity with customers. Sellers will be able to “gate” their own listings preventing hijackers and counterfeiters from stealing customers and damaging consumer confidence on the platform.
  3. New ad features and targeting options that will benefit sellers. Some recently added features include Amazon Attribution, Amazon Live, and Sponsored Display Ads, as well as Sponsored Brand Video Ads. Expect to see better and more transparent reporting, more campaign optimization features, more features to improve brand awareness and conversions, and more transparency in Off Amazon to Amazon advertising strategies.

Savvy brands and Amazon exclusive products are going to need to have a cohesive marketplace strategy to ensure a good and consistent customer experience. Brands that can bridge the personal touch gap through these digital environments will have lasting effects and ensure continued digital growth.”

“Live Shopping will be the e-commerce trend to watch for in 2021,” states Sarah Grosz of MuteSix. “Social media leaders like Facebook and TikTok are rolling out new features, and micro-influencers will be crucial to continued success on those platforms. For example, Instagram’s new ‘Checkout’ tool will allow users to shop directly from a creator’s post, and companies will have the resources to better attribute revenue directly to those posts. TikTok is also booming with influencer opportunity – reminiscent of Instagram circa 2015. Consumers will expect more authentic content from brands as the Live Shopping trend continues to grow, and there’s no better way to create that content than with an influencer.”

4. Stay SEO Savvy

A non-negotiable for digital marketers, it’s crucial to stay current on SEO updates.

“Organic search will be a key channel this year in 2021,” says Mario Peshev of DevriX. “SEO has been the key ranking technique across both largest networks out there, Google and YouTube. 2020 has led to some shakedowns in terms of ranking for many businesses out there, primarily due to the unpredicted COVID searches that required multiple algorithm changes due to the new training patterns the AI engine uses to present smart search results.

The latest SEO updates show that rankings across the board tend to be similar to what they were in January 2020. Additionally, with COVID not over yet, the rise of remote working and recurring lockdowns, access to desktop computers or laptops is more common nowadays, with a rise in search engine traffic across the board.

If you’ve been focusing on voice search or smartwatches, this may take an extra 2 years until we get back on track. Organic search, however, is going to grow steadily in the coming year.”

Chris Giarratana at StrategyBeam chimes in, “I think the focus will be on hyper-local SEO strategies and paid advertisements on Facebook or Pinterest. We’ve seen companies of all sizes in almost all industries scale back their paid ad spending. I think companies will need to focus on the entire customer journey with educational SEO, local SEO, and social media marketing.”Downtown city lights of the street at night

5. Track Consumer Behavior

While understanding your audience is always key, it’s perhaps never been as crucial as it is now.

“Marketers will trend towards understanding timeless concepts of marketing and psychology rather than being platform/channel-obsessed,” states Fernando Nikolic of Mindfold, which will give them “improved knowledge across the space with less focus on hacks.”

Alexandra Zamolo of Beekeeper adds, “Digital marketing in 2021 will surely center around marketing forms that can easily fit into a lower budget. By not knowing what to expect just yet, some buyers may be a little more cautious initially.”

“We are all in a very weird situation that has changed customer behaviors,” says Serbay Arda Ayzit of Contentus. “We all need to adapt to tech changes in our industry, but because of the COVID situation, there are much more important things to focus on in 2021, like understanding consumer behaviors. In 2021 we need to spend more time on consumer research to better understand the needs in this corona world. Research companies have become much more crucial in our new world, so it will be beneficial to learn how to work with them.”

6. Build Better UX

Increasing engagement requires fine-tuning your marketing efforts to most effectively reach your audience where they are and keep their attention.

“One thing that COVID has taught most consumers and businesses alike is that online engagement, digital PR, and virtual events are the new and most engaging methods – gone are the days of traditional sales messaging as we know it,” Erika Hearnshaw of Publicize assesses. “Diversifying online, PR, and social platforms activities to engage, entertain, and delight users driving them through the sales funnel has become the norm for most companies… True earmarked personalization to engage and connect with customers is vital for any business. Communicating the right message to the right audience at the right time is crucial— it should be relevant, engaging content targeted to the right audience.

Online events, prospecting, and sales are in the order of the day, and COVID has opened us up to a whole new online audience. Businesses have also realized that this activity proves to be more profitable and more efficient than large-scale conferences and personal attended events. Online PR building trust value in the market and digital marketing will prove to be the most effective and most profitable way for the future of business as we know it. Finding the right PR and digital company to align your business with is immensely important and imminent for the success and sustainability of many businesses for 2021.”

Viola Eva of Flow SEO says, “Experience design is the process of creating events, workshops, and communities that drive engagement, impact, and action. And in 2021, we are taking this approach online. Content experiences, the intersection between content marketing and user experience, will become even more powerful – and necessary for your brand to stand out online. Finding your unique angle and communicating it creatively will set you apart from the ocean of websites built from the same templates, with the same SEO keywords and same minimalistic design.”

7. Switch Up Your Strategy

A malleable content strategy will behoove digital marketers in this new year, and cultivating relationships will go a long way.

H. Patel, Chief Client Officer at IMM, says, “The concept of a ‘funnel’ will be identified as a media tactic, rather than an all-encompassing marketing strategy. The traditional marketing funnel is not useful. While it’s a way in which to plan media tactically, it doesn’t hold water strategically, specifically because consumers no longer operate in a simple Awareness > Consideration > Conversion flow. The path-to-purchase (or conversion) is elongated and certainly not linear. So while the traditional marketing funnel was easy to implement and measure, it’s very outdated.”

“The digital marketing space will include many non-traditional strategies in 2021,” predicts Joey Campbell of Sundae. “Rather than focusing on ad campaigns, many marketers will turn to faster-paced campaigns that involve outreach programs and promotional collaborations. It may take marketing a little time to take hold in 2021, so we may expect numerous pivots along the way.”

Dani Peterman of Lusha adds, “In general, I see a trend in companies investing more in their organic efforts, especially social media. But even more specifically, I believe thought leadership, especially in B2B, will get a bigger focus next year. Companies are beginning to realize the major impact employees and leaders of the organizations can make by sharing their experience and insights with their community and industry.”

Andrea Loubier of Mailbird is focused on minimizing wasted resources and getting smart about leads. “Gaining qualified leads, such as through online gated content, will be of major importance in 2021. Companies may not have the time or the budget to attempt to pursue unqualified leads, so doing this out of the gate will really make a difference. Additionally, finding new ways to qualify leads will be key – whether through surveys, networking, or social platforms.”

Meanwhile, Jackie Hermes of Accelity is “most interested to see how marketers approach email (supplementing or replacing it?) next year. The number of emails sent is going up by billions every year, and it’s so oversaturated that email marketing is becoming less and less effective. Only the best email marketers are cutting through the noise. So, we either need to massively upskill to grab attention via email or figure out how to replace it with some mix of content, PPC, PR, social, or something else. The world is our oyster.”

8. Increase Your Influencer Marketing

This year, digital marketing trends, influencer marketing, and affiliate marketing are high on the list.

Hope Ashley of UpFlip says, “As companies begin to increase their marketing budgets, they will begin to look for out-of-the-box methods to attract even more customers, including strategies that their competitors may not be currently exploring. This may include social platforms that offer opportunities that some companies haven’t discovered yet, such as influencer marketing.”

Mitch Hunt of Skylab Apps agrees, “Traditional social media advertising will begin to slow down as advertising on custom brand and influencer platforms will rise.”

As Hilary Droke of Fracture puts it, “Going forward in 2021, I believe that marketers everywhere will realize the necessity of long-term, multi-channel collaborations with influencers rather than one-off, single-channel engagements with brand partners. Rather than looking for traditional ‘influencers,’ we must consider the move towards brand loyalists to see the greatest ROI. At Fracture, we’re looking to align with long-term talent who can handle a dynamic and changing landscape – choosing those who will champion our product through various channels and over a much longer time period than the one-off collaborations we have employed in the past.”Teen taking a picture of a building on his phone

“We’re predicting the continued rise in media outlets that require PR pitches to be attached to brands with pre-existing top-level affiliate link programs,” says Jason Myers of The Content Factory. “The competition for earned-media placement intensified in 2020 while many outlets saw reduced ad revenue and shrunk their staffs accordingly. In order to be competitive in 2021, PR agencies will need to help their clients get on board with the affiliate programs relevant to their space or risk seeing their placement portfolios shrink even further. This hands-on affiliate assistance is something The Content Factory is already getting ahead of and helping our clients navigate so that they don’t get left behind by their competitors’ digital marketing campaigns.”

9. Invest in Your Data

“Data governance is going to become one of the biggest things marketing leaders focus on,” predicts Dan McGaw of McGaw.io.

Bernadett Dioszegi of Creatopy gives us the lay of the land regarding data governance: “We were used to the fact that most of our digital data collection, our digital marketing, and remarketing strategies have traditionally started with the cookie. With the help of these cookies, we managed to identify and track consumers and tried to engage them. But this is getting harder and harder with all the user privacy demands and regulations, like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation, EU), ITP 2.1+ (Intelligent Tracking Prevention), CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act), Chrome 80 (Cookie Deprecation), and IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers Deprecation).

In 2021, it will be more challenging than ever to measure the effectiveness of our marketing investments. Next year will prepare us to get creative in the way we’re thinking about attribution and data, and measurement will have a crucial role. Without accurate measurement, you won’t be able to make the right decisions and optimizations regarding your digital marketing campaigns. You should use conversion modeling, which relies on machine learning, reporting on aggregated and anonymized data, helping you to fill measurement gaps. It will also be important to focus on first-party data with a seven-day lifetime and invest in server-side analytics.”

“They say content is king, but as the web becomes flooded with an excess of content, data will become the new king. Knowing is more valuable than telling, so building a deep understanding of audience behavior and needs will overtake content as king,” says Brian Gladu of GridSix.

Are You Ready for 2021?

If you need help navigating your digital channels and honing your marketing strategy, learning from others is a great way to find ideas to explore, stay on top of new trends and technologies, keep up with regulation changes and SEO updates, and find ways to maintain visibility.

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