20 expert opinions on marketing trends to watch in 2021.
Marketers are community-minded people. We collaborate across departments in our own companies, while keeping an eye on current trends and the competition, and making sure we're deeply connected to our clients' needs and goals.
To better understand what we should expect or look out for in 2021, we've summarized the opinions of 20 marketing experts.
We are people serving people. Whether B2B or B2C, customers are looking for brands they can trust to meet their needs and make their lives easier or more enjoyable. Treating each person with loving kindness and respect will create the positive impact I know we can, while building a stronger, more loyal base.
Here's what else 2021 has in store, based on the predictions of this fabulous group of marketing leaders.
1. marketers will plan asynchronous events that fit into the funnel.
Latané Conant, Chief Market Officer at 6sies, predicts, "This year has seen an explosion of virtual events as marketers have adapted to a changing world. While I suspect many of us are feeling virtual burnout right now, there will still be a place for these types of events even as we return to in-person events. Imagine a virtual event that runs 24/7."
"Your prospects are triggered into the event as they go through the right steps in your funnel, and they interact with that event through different ways, like "Netflix meets Slack." There's video content they watch on-demand, there's a live stream that plays on-site, and there's a community of users and fans that create a unique and engaging venue. Prospective customers learn about your solutions and then, after watching videos and chatting with others, are directed to your product team. It sounds like a virtual event worth attending!"
2. community marketing will replace event-based marketing.
Adam Masur, VP of Marketing at Credly, said, "The era of anchoring marketing around a major industry event is coming to an end. We've all seen the annual conference go virtual with the impact of COVID-19. But I expect organizers will find that their audience's appetite for the singular virtual gathering will diminish as well."
"In 2021, there will be more intimate and topical online meetings. Experts with verified digital credentials and a willingness to share will be highly valued virtual community leaders and influencers."
"Companies should be prepared to actively contribute and bring practical value to the discussion."
3. companies will find new ways to promote online connections.
Kevin Alansky, Chief Marketing Officer at Higher Logic, says: "The virtual and digital-first world will persist in 2021 and possibly beyond. Many organizations have transitioned their annual event and trade show to a virtual one. However, many organizations have not been successful because they have tried to replicate the experience on an outdated model. This has led to a glut of virtual events and many people facing 'zoom fatigue'."
"Organizations are now asking how they can fight this crowded market and stand out. The answer is online communities - how to engage before, during and after the event? We need to find ways to better engage our audience and build meaningful connections between our organizations and our customers. We're already seeing the demand for engagement this year and this will continue to be a big trend through 2021."
4. the interactivity promised for decades is now a necessity for 2021.
Jake Milstein, CMO at CI Security, explained, "When the pandemic broke out, there was a huge spike in registrations and attendance at virtual events that tried to mimic in-person events. Attendance at these events lasted a month or two and then dropped off quickly. People are looking for more human interaction - something that is not the norm. Webinars just don't cut it for that anymore."
"People are now interested in discussions and panels where they can ask questions, they can be part of the action, they can offer their own expertise. That's something you can't do when you're watching someone on stage, but we all know you can do it online. The interactivity that's been promised for decades is now a necessity for 2021."
5. customer centricity will drive brands.
Natalie Severino, VP, Marketing at Chorus.ai, predicts, "Throughout the many challenges of 2020, sales teams have been able to weather the storms and thrive by putting the customer at the center of every decision. This is only possible through complete alignment between sales, marketing and customer teams, as all must rely on leveraging the real voice, pain points and goals to create a successful partnership."
"While conventional methods of relationship building, like face-to-face meetings, may not be possible today (or simply don't scale fast enough), entering 2021 offers us a paradigm shift to put relationships and shared business goals at the forefront of every opportunity."
6. brands will operate in an increasingly polarised social and political climate.
"One of the biggest trends to watch in 2021 will be how brands navigate an increasingly polarized social and political climate. Presidential politics, the response to the global pandemic, and an increasingly insular media and social media landscape are forcing brands to make tough decisions about how and where they align with their customers."
"Every advertising dollar spent, every channel and platform choice, every social post, every inch of shelf space, and every conference or trade show is evaluated through the lens of what a brand's marketing decisions say about who it is and what it stands for," says Tim Linberg, Chief Experience Officer at Verndale.
Turnover and budget
7. A/B testing becomes a waste of time and budget.
R. J. Talyor, CEO and founder of Pattern89, says: "The next decade will bring the end of A/B testing. Marketers have long relied on validating their intuition with A/B testing to make creative advertising and marketing decisions - but the rise of AI makes this not only obsolete, but wasteful."
"If machine learning predicts trends before they happen and provides clear guidance for marketers, why waste money on A/B testing that wouldn't work as well? Soon, marketers will be able to do whatever works best without having to test theory."
8. digital marketing spending will continue to grow.
Bridget Perry, CMO at Contentful, predicts, "We have identified a digital innovation gap between what customers are demanding and what brands are currently able to deliver. That's why leaders across all industries told us they plan to spend an average of 25 % more on digital innovation in 2021. And 25 % is just the average - some plan to spend significantly more. CMOs that don't increase their digital spend will soon be overtaken by the competition."
9. technology spending levels will return to normal during 2021 - but not all categories will benefit.
"Some businesses will continue to work remotely, others will move to hybrid offices, and some will - eventually - return to business as usual. In 2020, we saw a surge in user searches on TrustRadius for software categories such as e-signature, collaboration, video conferencing, endpoint security, antivirus and, of course, telemedicine. These categories will remain strong in 2021 and beyond, reflecting the new workplace. Other categories - event management and facilities management, for example - will radically reinvent themselves," says Russ Somers, VP Marketing, TrustRadius.
10. content marketing will start with conversations.
"The content marketing playbook we've been using is at least two decades old. Marketers still focus on keyword-heavy blog posts as the main tactic to capture their audience. But that's a strategy made for Google, not humans."
"These days, your audience wants an authentic experience with your brand, and the best way to do that is to lead with conversation."
"As marketers aim to create a more human-centric experience, we'll see more content that comes from actual conversations with people in the industry who can provide that genuine interaction that today's consumers are looking for," said Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO of Casted.
11. many companies will cut their marketing budgets.
Melissa Sargeant, CMO of Litmus, says: "In the coming year, marketers will see budget cuts and even smaller teams. But in doing so, companies are setting themselves up for failure. During an economic downturn, companies that cut back and starve their marketing efforts don't do well. And when our consumer-driven environment picks up, these brands will be even further behind than when they made these budget-conscious decisions."
"Ultimately, the pandemic has accelerated trends in the economy. Look at digital transformation and work-from-home initiatives, for example. But if there were cracks in the business model before, the pandemic has brought them to light, so now it's time to fix them rather than bury them. Companies need to position themselves now as best they can to emerge stronger in the end. And that requires a mature, advanced multi-channel strategy with experienced marketers."
Teams and collaboration
12. 2021 is all about people, people, people.
Caroline Tien-Spalding, CMO at Aptology, explains: "The North Star of marketing will evolve in 2021. Marketing has always been about understanding people and acting on that knowledge. A key difference in 2021 is that marketers know more than ever before. It's the rise of the psychologist and the rise of the digital marketer."
13. many companies will implement a new Web Operations team.
Christy Marble, CMO at Pantheon Systems, predicts: " Marketers will need technology to respond to customer needs in real time, spanning the customer lifecycle and every customer touchpoint. The events of 2020 have taught us that we must demand the agility to change at short notice to respond to customer needs. This forced an end to the era of multi-year, lengthy rebuilds of brands and websites."
"By 2021, these will be a thing of the past, replaced by cross-functional teams that collaborate using technology-enabled workflows to continuously test, learn and evolve their digital customer experience. These WebOps teams will have a distinct advantage - especially those supported by artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation."
"The pace of change has accelerated, but one thing will remain constant: Marketers who focus on people - on the customer experience - will be the ones who keep up with change. Focus your team on improving personalization, driving the customer journey, and creating a truly authentic web experience that meets your customers where they are."
14. marks will decipher the key to instrumentation.
Andrea Lechner-Becker, CMO at LeadMD, reports, "Data should be on the minds of all marketers in 2021, but not in the way it usually is. B2B marketers need to realize that they are typically strong when it comes to managing their own data, but weak when it comes to third-party data - and that needs to be a primary focus. They can't afford to rely on marketing automation or CRM platforms to do this, but need to think urgently about creating their own system, something along the lines of a CDP. If they do that? Then they've unlocked the key to instrumenting and succeeding with data in 2021."
15. the 'panic pivot' will turn into a purposeful reinvention.
Laliv Hadar,VP Marketing, InVision Communications, says: "In 2020, out of pandemic necessity, marketers quickly transformed face-to-face events into virtual events and developed innovative ways to connect with audiences digitally. In 2021, this reactionary 'panic pivot' will morph into a purposeful reinvention of how we engage our core audience. This reinvention will manifest itself in hybrid audience experiences that are fully connected across the communications ecosystem. This integrated brand approach will be built on the premise that our audiences are real people whose brand perceptions are shaped by their experiences and who crave professional empathy and connection now more than ever."
Because while quarantine, social distancing, and remote working will play a critical role in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, they also have a significant side effect: disengagement. In 2021, marketers will tap into the human need for just the opposite: engagement."
16. brands will capitalize on change.
John Graff, Chief Marketing Officer at Sonim, predicts, "I believe 2021 will be a year that provides significant opportunities for companies to grow/expand their market share. Why? Because many companies will fall into the trap of thinking that there will be a 'return to normal' after 2020. Marketing has already been subject to constant change and evolution over the last decade, and just because many people are ready to leave the COVID days behind doesn't mean change will stop. In fact, it may very well accelerate for the best of them. Everything has changed, whether it's work-from-home, education, online commerce and more."
"The best marketers will look to continue to take advantage of these changes in 2021, while others will unfortunately revert back to the old playbooks from before COVID. It's a great time for marketers to continue to leverage change and help their businesses grow and gain market share in 2021!"
17. marketers will continue to incorporate real, genuine personalization.
"Marketing automation should not be confused with personalization. Often, it's just faster batching and blasting. When marketers use intent data and data-driven insights to power their automated communications, they can create remarkable brand experiences that sophisticated consumers rely on. In the coming year, marketers better incorporate real, true personalization," says Nick Runyon, CMO of PFL.
18. marketers will rely on deep data insights and machine learning to deliver value to potential customers.
Richard Jones, CMO of Cheetah Digital, predicts, "The next generation of personalization isn't about cookies or third-party data, it's not about merchandising, and it's not about guessing. The next generation of personalization is about relying on deep data insights, first-party and zero-party data, and using machine learning to derive not just the right content, not just the right offer, not just the right channel, but the right sequence of events that leads to an automated path to conversion."
"The next generation of personalization is about offering consumers a value exchange in the 'moment' you have them on your mobile app, on your website or in your store. How can you offer them something that creates trust and affinity with the brand?"
19. cross-channel integrations will continue to increase.
Meg Scales, CMO of SlickText, told me, "Incorporating multiple channels into campaigns is much more effective than simply putting all resources into one channel - even a versatile channel like SMS. So in the coming year, we'll see how channels and different tactics continue to intertwine."
"For example, channels will introduce benefits such as loyalty programs to better connect brands with customers through a variety of strategies within one platform. In addition, a customer interaction in one channel could trigger a personalized, automated sequence in another, creating data- and behavior-driven campaigns that many are currently unable to implement due to time, money, and skill constraints."
20. we will see an acceleration with the digital-first shift.
Auseh Britt, VP, Growth Marketing at Terminus "We see an acceleration of the shift to digital in 2020, largely due to the void left by live events. Replacements like virtual conferences didn't have the ability to truly engage the audience, turning them into glorified webinars and adding to the 'zoom' fatigue."
"I see this trend continuing in 2021 as we look for more creative ways to engage customers and prospects through hyper-personalized targeting, impactful direct mail, intimate and interactive virtual experiences, and relevant educational content."