There’s no question 2020 was a year for the history books. Yet, even amid a global pandemic, marketers showed tremendous resilience, accelerating their digital marketing and ecommerce strategies and capabilities as consumers shifted even more of their spending online.

Download the 12 Digital Marketing Trends for 2021 ebook

With 2020 in the rearview mirror, we’re looking ahead to the coming year. To help you plan your 2021 digital marketing strategy, we’ve put together the top 12 trends—which we’ll cover in this blog, as well as our next three—that we believe will shape the marketing landscape moving forward. Read on to learn about some of the shifts we expect to see and discover where to focus your digital marketing plans.

1. First-party data

Consumers expect personalized experiences from the brands with whom they choose to engage. The first essential ingredient of personalization is data—particularly first-party data.

First-party data is information brands collect directly from their customers. And it’s invaluable because it provides a deep, accurate, and real-time understanding of customers and their behaviors.

Deeper consumer insights spawn better, more integrated campaigns and enable marketers to deliver personalized experiences that are engaging, authentic, and, ultimately, drive conversions and sales.

Marketers recognize the value of first-party data, yet many struggle to understand the right data to collect and leverage. To make matters worse, many brands face challenges because their data isn’t unified or usable, and privacy laws have made it more difficult to collect.

In the coming year, we expect to see an increased reliance on first-party data. As a result, brands will focus on two critical areas: operationalizing the way they collect and use data; and building out the infrastructure and technology they need to centralize that data, access it, and extract insights from it.

Thus, marketers gain a complete picture of all their customers’ purchases, preferences, identities, and behaviors. Then, they need a plan to activate it in 1:1 messages across their channels.

2. Empathy

Armed with new technologies and with access to more data, marketers have more resources and tools at their disposal than ever before. Those resources, coupled with empathy, form a powerful framework for marketers to understand customer behavior.

Simply put, empathy allows marketers to step into the shoes of their target audience so they can better understand and respond to their wants and needs.

Customers don’t want to be sold to. Rather, they want to engage with brands they trust.

Empathy puts the customer’s needs first and puts your brand in a position to provide help and guidance. The best way to inject empathy into marketing is to pay attention, listen, and be proactive.

You can do this through customer service feedback, online forums, social media, or any channel your customers use to communicate with and about your brand.

What are your customers saying? What do they like about your brand, marketing, or service? What do they want you to change? Listen and ask questions.

Learning more about your audience from past and current customers will help you further define your marketing strategy for 2021 and beyond.

“The best way to inject empathy into marketing is to pay attention, listen, and be proactive.”

3. Authenticity

Being authentic means being real and genuine. Practicing authenticity in marketing means being intentionally true to your brand and its message.

Customers want to do business with brands that share their values and support causes that are important to them.

In particular, Millennials are widely associated with the practice of buying brand values, rather than a particular product. This is why authenticity in marketing is so important.

Making your brand voice more real and transparent is a critical piece of authenticity in marketing. Strategies such as conversational marketing and storytelling allow for more natural interactions with customers. Avoid generic messaging or jargon-filled language.

As a for-profit brand, if you are leveraging cause-marketing campaigns, making donations with purchases, or throwing your brand voice behind a movement, you need more than a landing page.

Being transparent about the causes and philanthropic initiatives you support can help you connect on a deeper level with your audience. Done right, authenticity can be a powerful tool for forging genuine connections with your audience and building trust.

4. Modeling uncertainty and the rise of decision science platforms

COVID-19 caused several fundamental shifts across many industries, resulting in many predictive analytics models failing. In the coming year, brands must devise ways to integrate the uncertainty around the true effects of the pandemic into their forecasts, rather than simply discarding an entire year’s worth of data.

We expect this to lead to a renewed interest in probabilistic programming and Bayesian methods, which allow marketers to predict the best- and worst-case scenarios for how customers are going to behave. This lets analysts account for potential changes in customer behavior over the past year while acknowledging the business climate is going to be different.

It’s no longer enough to simply make predictions. Companies are now looking to analytics teams to provide actionable and optimized recommendations with explainable artificial intelligence.

AI-driven analytics platforms, like Salesforce Einstein, will continue to develop and mature in their ability to provide predictions and suggested actions.

Additionally, we expect reinforcement learning—a type of machine learning that focuses on taking suitable action to maximize reward in a particular situation—to play a significant role around developments at the cutting edge of decision science.

Planning for 2021

Crafting the Framework for Media Experience Orchestration

Emerging from 2020—a daunting year filled with pandemic-fueled accelerations and political unrest and uncertainty—has left us all yearning for a new start and some feeling of getting back to normal. However, many of the changes wrought this year will have a long-standing impact.

We hope our look ahead to the digital marketing trends of 2021 will provide some inspiration as you formulate your marketing strategy for the coming year. Check out the next three blog articles, which highlight additional 2021 trends impacting your brand strategy: commerce, search marketing, and media.

If you’re looking to take your digital marketing to the next level? Schedule a chat with a DEG expert.

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