3rd February 2021

The Must-Have Marketing Trends of 2021 

The Must-Have Marketing Trends of 2021

As we head into February, the start of the year feels like a lifetime ago. Moving further into a more optimistic year than last, we are hearing key questions from clients about what the outlook for 2021 means for their marketing plans. Questions such as ‘How can we get ahead of the curve?’ and ‘Where should we invest our marketing budget for the highest return this year?’ are being asked daily and we are already deep into executing plans to help move brands forward.

A year of growth and optimism

Despite a challenging period still ahead for us all, this year is all about maintaining a positive outlook, continuing to embrace more inevitable change, and ensuring the building blocks are in place to diversify brands and achieve maximum growth. It’s not too early to begin planning for life after the pandemic, as we gradually move away from survival mode to a period of rebuild and growth. One thing is for sure, the business landscape after Covid-19 is set to look a lot different to 2020. No pressure, 2021!

To set the scene, we have listed a handful of the top trends impacting brands this year:

 

More humanised approach to marketing

This one really hit in 2020, with comms shifting from lead generation and brand awareness messaging to community celebration, advocacy and participation. These were, of course, in response to key issues such as Covid-19, the Black Lives Matter movement and the bleak mental health crisis we are currently facing, to name a few. This trend is only set to continue and grow this year. Regardless of sector, product or service, consumers expect more than empathetic lip service. They will naturally align with brands that address genuine concerns and take a stand on important issues affecting human society.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s shown brands that connecting with your audience, and what they deem important, is completely essential for progression. We need to not only be confident and transparent enough to commit to a standpoint, but prove what we are doing to live up to this. Whether we’re looking to connect to a B2B or consumer audience, this is fundamental to driving real connection. Brands can no longer get away with a neutral perspective, or avoidance of discussing real issues that are happening in the world.

A great example of humanised marketing is Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, aimed at reducing the gender gap in activity levels by showing the raw unfiltered reality of women exercising in a way that suits them. The advert was based on the real life issue of women persistently remaining less active than men due to lifestyle barriers, despite activity levels in the UK increasing as a whole.

This girl can - example of humanised marketing

In September 2020 their newest TV ad launched, highlighting the different ways in which women had kept active during the challenging times of the coronavirus pandemic, showing the story behind the faces for a highly effective, humanised approach.

As consumer audiences become more populated with different generations, namely Millennials, Gen Z and the soon-to-be Alpha generation, the way we market is showing an inevitable shift in thinking. Issues such as sustainability, community support, mental health, equality, diversity and inclusivity are all high on the agenda for what younger, influential consumers want from the brands they invest in.

Winkworth estate agents demonstrated this shift with the recent launch of a community initiative centred on supporting school children in lockdown. Multiple branches across London have collectively offered free printing to primary and secondary school pupils without access to a printer. One branch has even launched an appeal locally for laptops, computers and monitors to help children who attend local primary schools. It’s efforts like this that will be remembered in the long-term and therefore positively impact on brand positioning, consumer perception and purchase decisions way beyond the pandemic.

So the message here is… in order to keep up with the demands of an increasingly diverse audience, brands need to take some serious time to understand what’s important to them, identify how they can make a real impact and commit to investing in those areas.

 

High street retailers closing down

Everything is moving online, especially commerce…

It’s no huge revelation that 2020 accelerated online commerce by a number of years. At the beginning of the pandemic, retailers invested a huge amount of time, effort and resources into shifting their operations from stores to online in a very short period of time. Luckily, the majority of businesses have not looked back. If anything, they have wondered why this hadn’t happened earlier. For the most part, consumers feel the same way. After all, why leave the comfort of your home to do your shopping when you can do it at the click of a button? Will we ever WANT to hit the shops again at Christmas, battling the crowds when we can order everything well in advance, gift wrapped and all, safely nestled under the tree come 25th December?

There’s no two ways about it – virtual working, shopping and socialising – a phenomenon that started out of necessity, is here to stay. Although this is partly due to ease of accessibility and the need to social distance, we have also seen significantly increased ROI, lower operational costs and that all-important convenience factor, as a result of going virtual. Not to mention the level of opportunities for smarter interaction and a more personalised experience that comes with it. So if you’re planning to reduce your virtual efforts this year in the hope of things ‘going back to normal’ in the Autumn, it may be worth rethinking this strategy as virtual is here for the long-haul. Although there will always be a place for face-to-face, it’s no longer the norm and brands are now expected to create the same amazing customer experiences via technology.

 

Immersive experiences are top of the agenda this year

It’s all about experiential 

Humans are social creatures by nature. We have an innate need to connect and, as we have already hinted, there is no doubt that the future beyond Covid-19 lies in a hybrid balance of connecting both digitally and physically. This makes well executed, immersive experiences the key ingredient to any successful 2021 campaign. As marketers, we have a big job on our hands to ensure we are connecting with our audiences in the right ways, at the right time and through the right platforms. Content is set to become far more interactive in a world dominated by virtual connection for the foreseeable. It won’t just be about consumption of content, but participation. Users want to feel a part of the story, a character in your brand steering the narrative in a way that is tailored to their needs. Virtual reality and gamification will play a huge part in the B2C world this year. While VR isn’t new, there will likely be a huge rise in mobile app and social media driven VR and gamification programmes – all aimed at offering the ultimate, fully integrated experience. Activities such as online demos, webinars, social media polls, live Q&As and virtual events are all set to rise and should be a key part of any marketing plan this year. If you haven’t yet got any of the above in your 2021 schedule, you may wish to add it to your to-do list over the next few weeks!

 

Facebook and Instagram shopfronts

Social will become the dominant sales platform

There was a time where marketers viewed social media mainly as a ‘brand awareness’ channel, but this view has drastically changed. The full potential of social media is becoming continuously apparent and the pandemic has only exemplified this. We are likely to see social media shopfronts take centre stage this year, allowing such platforms to dominate the world of ecommerce and replace branded websites as the ultimate destination for transactions. Networks such as Facebook and Instagram are investing a huge amount into simplifying the purchase journey on social media without users ever having to leave the platform. This is an extremely smart move, as it makes for a better user experience by creating a simple, seamless sales process – while also retaining users on the platform. Win-win! With social commerce continuing to grow in 2021, brands will have to adapt to these platforms with new rules, features and refined buyer journey mapping. Platforms are looking no further than the king of ecommerce, Amazon, who has enjoyed substantial success throughout the pandemic. For those lucky enough to have experienced their genius one-click purchase journey first-hand, it’s understandable why this model continues to lead the way in the world of ecommerce.

 

Reporting dashboards

Data, data and more data

In a time where we have endless data at our fingertips, there is really little excuse to not use it. This year will be all about performance analytics. Gone are the days of dull Powerpoint presentations featuring amalgamated figures extracted from different systems, softwares and spreadsheets to report on performance. Marketing decisions will be largely guided by centralised, streamlined, quickly accessible data. Dashboards are likely to become the norm in boardrooms, providing a full 360-degree view of the business, it’s employees, customers, competitors – the list goes on. And it’s not just about quantity, but quality of data. New and better ways of evaluating user experience will also emerge, with instant measurability of key performance indicators to help guide marketing decision-making. What’s more, 2021 will be the biggest year for digital-driven, data-first marketing. Brands that are not already thinking with their digital hats on above all else will be playing catch up this year to keep up with market demands.

 

2020 was a challenging year for all businesses and the unpredictable nature of the pandemic has presented us with a great opportunity to adjust the way we engage with our stakeholders, both internally and externally. The multiple lockdowns drove the trend of virtual working, connecting and consuming, which has ultimately led to the need for creating more human experiences through technology. This year, the key is to remain optimistic, listen to our customers and make the necessary changes to drive our brands forward. But most importantly, believe that better times await. By working together, embracing the exciting opportunities that have come out of such a challenging time and ultimately strive for better, things will start to improve as we move through the year.

 

Authored by Jamie Rayner