This year -- 2020 -- was a year for the books, with COVID-19 throwing a gigantic monkey wrench into our personal and professional lives as marketers. As we look into 2021, we have to ask: Which changes in consumer behaviors and associated marketing strategies will have a lasting impact, once a vaccine is readily available?
There is reason, for example, to be somewhat optimistic about digital advertising’s future. While ad spend decreased overall in 2020, some ad channels (like podcasting) have already rebounded, while popular channels (like search) are estimated by eMarketer to benefit in the long-term from the pandemic.
Other digital channels also have benefitted from coronavirus (see Zoom’s stock price as a reference point). But what of the rest of marketing? This article takes a broader look at trends we predict will dramatically alter digital marketing in 2021 and beyond.
Consumer behavior will change permanently post-pandemic
COVID-19’s effect has been significant and, likely, enduring. Consumer behavior has changed and reset, at least to a degree. We predict smart marketers will make short- and long-term changes to messaging as well as products and services.
Specifically, successful brands will focus on value-based pricing and messaging. I’ve shared my thoughts on the topic of consumer behavior change in this SmartBrief article: COVID-19 changed consumer behavior and marketing strategy. While research from established firms like Ipsos and McKinsey provide valuable insights, we predict brands will conduct extensive research to better understand how the pandemic has specifically impacted its employees, customers and industry. Smart marketers and brands will utilize those insights to inform both 2021 marketing strategies as well as long-term shifts in media and messaging. For example, virtual events have seen explosive growth and are likely to become a mainstay of marketing’s “new normal” as traditional trade shows and conferences struggle and adapt.
Businesses will be forced to embrace the digital transformation
Coronavirus has forced brands to adopt digital channels for product and service delivery as well as marketing. “Digital transformation” has become a popular buzzword since March 2020, and companies of all sizes are investing significant dollars in the migration to digital platforms, including e-commerce, chatbots, email, apps, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, omnichannel marketing and augmented and virtual reality. Brands that embrace evolving technologies to create a more seamless customer experience will be in a leadership position post-pandemic.
One key element in a successful digital transformation is developing omnichannel marketing in the new digital age, especially as channel use and preferences change.
Brands focusing on social, environmental and ethically responsibility will flourish
The racial inequality protests in 2020 inspired us to change our own behaviors and advise our clients on content strategy. We predict brands will make significant efforts to clean up business practices and adjust messaging to appeal to enlightened consumers who care deeply about a company’s purpose and commitment to social and environmental sustainability.
Research has shown that ethical businesses will be more successful in the long term, so we expect to see many businesses to join in the movement in 2021. Most recently, more brands have taken an anti-consumerism approach to holiday marketing, a trend initiated by REI years ago. Look for more planning around these positions in 2021.
Influencer marketing will solidify its position as a key channel for consumer brands
Consumer brands have historically used social media influencers to present authentic unbiased advertising to appeal to prospects and customers. The pandemic amplified the impact influencers have on the purchase of products, due to a limited ability to shop at stores.
Social media use dramatically increased during the pandemic and research firms believe this trend will be lasting. A recent study found that 40% of people reported that they purchased a product online after seeing it used by an influencer on YouTube, Instagram or Twitter. As a result, there is an opportunity for brands to utilize social media influencers more now than ever. TikTok experienced explosive growth, surpassing Snapchat in usage with Generation Z, and brands have taken notice. Ocean Spray and Florida Paint’s timely and opportunistic embrace of influencers is just the tip of the iceberg for brands going into 2021. Influencers can speak on a more personal level and give their honest opinion that resonates more with their followers compared to normal brand advertising. We expect influencers to gain even more popularity and followers and businesses to use influencers more than ever before.
We believe that 2021 will be full of optimism, with a focus on performance across channels, empowered by improved tracking. Most of the behaviors consumers and brands will adopt are based on core values, authenticity and the efficiency of digital channels. How are you adapting your digital marketing to changing behaviors in 2021?