Key points:

• Keeping an eye on predictions for ’21 gives Marketers an edge.

• Uncertain times are not behind us yet – investing in Brand continues to be a key priority.

• Leveraging technology to gain a marketing advantage will be forefront in Marketer’s minds over the coming 12 months.

It’s fair to say that pinning your hopes on a particular spin on the future is tricky to say the least, but all good marketers know that you’ve got to be quick to adapt to new situations, so a nose for innovation pays off. The quicker you’re able to pick a trend and keep moving, the quicker you beat your competitors to market.

Top Rank Marketing Blog has a pretty good strike rate when it comes to crystal-balling the future. They foresaw the explosion of mobile search way back in ‘08, envisioned user intent impacting online ranking in 2017, forecasted in 2012 that channels will change and in the same year predicted that the future of business will be Social. 

So there’s no harm keeping an eye on the marketing predictions for 2021 – in fact, it could give you the jump on the competition. 

But that doesn’t make it easy. A Google search for Marketing Predictions 2021 yields more than 50 million results. With marketing teams slashed and under-resourced after a hell of a year in 2020, who’s got spare time to sift through Google? We’ve taken it upon ourselves to save you the hard yards by applying our own filter and rounding out our Top 4:

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1. Brand Authenticity to take front seat.

We’re all a little tired of the term “Uncertain Times” (it’s so 2020) but the fact is that the rocky seas we find ourselves in haven’t eased just yet and with alarming scenes recently in the US Capital, climbing cases in the US and UK, it’s arguable things aren’t returning to ‘normal’ anytime soon. History tells us that companies that invest in their Brand in uncertain times thrive. So you would have to say this is a pretty safe prediction as consumers look for brands to be faithful toward themselves, true to their buyers, motivated by a sense of social responsibility, and capable of supporting their buyers in being true to themselves. 

At the height of the pandemic, Australia’s leading beer producer, Carlton and United Breweries pivoted production to produce hand sanitizer to be donated to frontline medical staff fighting the virus.

Why do they do this? According to Michael Stephenson, Chief Sales Office at the Nine network, “Because it’s different, because people don’t expect it from them and because it makes us feel something about them. They are investing in their brand…” Such an initiative is not unique. Dozens of Canadian distillers turned their focus to produce huge quantities of free sanitizer in B.C. for local hospitals, government office and emergency workers during 2020. It’s these brands that are taking the lead and making a contribution that impacts positively. This might not convert instantly to sales, but when it comes to a purchase decision at some point, it gives consumers a reason to buy their brand. Rosalyn Page comments that “The businesses who will be most successful will have a balanced blend of empathy, authenticity and social responsibility, which will be communicated through all aspects of their communications."

Trust lies at the heart of this authenticity. According to Deloitte

“When brands can match their delivery with their messaging, trust flourishes.”

They note that as the pandemic took hold, the notion of control became important to a third of surveyed consumers – those businesses able to provide that level of control experienced greater success.

Beyond brand pivoting, organizational culture will impact significantly on Brand Authenticity.

"It plays a hugely important role in shaping consumers’ purchase decisions and is almost as important as having a positive brand reputation. As we enter 2021, with many of the big sporting and entertainment events restarting - think the Olympics - it presents the perfect opportunity for brands to get involved."

One thing is certain in uncertain times with no defined end point – marketers have a continual responsibility to trigger consumer demand. Investing in your brand and creating an authentic customer experience is key to triggering positive feelings that convert to action. 

2. Martech tools to fly up the shopping list. 

In mid 20, Gartner’s Annual CMO Spend Survey indicated that while marketing budgets would fall through ‘21, spending on Marketing Technology would remain strong at over a quarter of the entire marketing budget. And over two thirds of them expect the investment levels to increase. Tech will be key to a shifting focus from customer acquisition to customer retention – a product of the pandemic environment.

Deloitt believes that “the time is right for marketers to leverage relevant ditigal tools to make agile marketing a reality.”

The key word there is ‘agile’. 2020 taught brands that they need to rethink customer contact and reimagine environments. “Customers overwhelmingly leaned on digital interactions and brands had a choice: met customers in the digital space or risk irrelevance.”

With a single view of the customers, CMOs can structure an agile marketing strategy that will land better in 2021. Of course, this is easier said than done, particularly with the proliferation of additional comms channels, smart devices and the explosion of CRM systems.

Sharyn Leaver at Forrester sees 2021 being the year “that every company … doubles down on technology fueled experiences, operations, products and ecosystems.”

3. Personalization to finally become a reality. 

Prediction number 2 connects neatly with this prediction. For personalization - true personalization at scale - to take off will require

“Organizations to invest more heavily in marketing technology”

says Angela Zhou at Google Ads Marketing.

Mass personalization has been a well-covered topic in recent times, but there is no question that technological advances will make it a reachable goal. Creative Activation Manager Kat DeBartolomeis said that “over the next year and beyond, the tech that can make this type of personalization happen at scale will become more mainstream.”

Mandy Vogt at Gravity Software believes that the new work from home ‘normal’ is creating new ways for people to remain connected. “Personalized marketing will be important to replace that face-to-face value that many businesses have now lost… I think this will also be a differentiator among competition."

With the right technology, companies can explore true personalization to build relationships and remain connected with audiences – both real and virtual.

4. Big events switched for Intimate online get togethers. 

Hubspot’s Christina Mautz reached out to a close knit circle of her marketing colleagues recently to gauge opinion on what’s in store this year. While her headline thought was that marketing over the coming 12 months would be more empathetic than ever, Adam Masur told her that

“The era of anchoring marketing around a big, industry event is coming to a close.” 

Sure, this is an expected outcome from a pandemic impacted world (and a grim reality for a $1b global business), but Masur sees the appetite for the singular virtual gathering diminishing equally. Jake Milstein, CMO at CI Security concurs: “When the pandemic hit, there was a huge spike in registrations and attendance in virtual events… it lasted a month or two and then dropped off quickly.” 

The thought for 2021? “Look for more intimate, and more topical online get-togethers in 2021. Experts with verified digital credentials and a willingness to share will be highly valued virtual community leaders and influencers.” Even serious event organizers are starting to come around to the possibilities: “this may not necessarily be a bad thing. Smaller guest lists could mean more intimate conversations and more personal relationships can be formed between client and customer.

Milstein sees interaction/participation as the key to success here. “People are now interested in discussions and panels in which they can ask question … be part of the action… the interactivity that’s been promised for decades is now a necessity for 2021.”

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