The pandemic has had a fundamental effect on the way people interact and this is reflected in many of the digital marketing trends 2021.

As Dave Chaffey reports on Smart Insights, at the highest level, the trends across digital marketing are similar each year –  interest in search, social and email marketing – as well as new web design and content marketing techniques to engage and convert audiences.

Trends are usually independent of economic factors, but COVID-19 has been a major influencer throughout 2020 as companies have had to adapt. Although there have been sectors where demand hasn’t changed, or has increased, there have also been many companies badly affected by the pandemic.

Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing graphic shows that businesses intend to focus on capabilities that enable marketing resilience. Mobile marketing analytics, multi-channel marketing hubs and social analytics still feature strongly.

Chaffey highlights six key areas in the Hype Cycle for focus:

  1. Conversational marketing is a common feature across new martech.
  2. Consumer privacy and consent is a significant emerging technology for marketing. 
  3. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning for marketing is entering the ‘trough of disillusionment’.
  4. Personalisation is referenced as personification.
  5. Marketing Hubs (clouds) and email automation are nearing widespread adoption.
  6. Fewer new innovations than in previous years since the innovation trigger part of the marketing curve is sparse, suggesting relatively few genuinely new technologies are emerging.

1. Conversational Marketing 

Conversational marketing technologies enable interactions between companies and customers that mimic human dialogue and do so at scale.

Using chatbots is just one method of conversational tech, but there can be other micro-interactions which establish a connection between company and customer.

Writing aid Grammarly has a mini-questionnaire when you first sign up which walks the user through a set of questions aimed at working out how best to use the app.

2. Optimised customer experience 

The Content Marketing Institute believes customer experience is the new battleground for business. 

“Market winners are crowned not on the basis of brand muscle or product quality, but on their ability to treat every customer like a preferred customer. With that comes the imperative for every company to deliver consistent, personalised experiences that give customers the information they need—and that means content,” it concludes in its latest report.

Therefore, it’s crucial to offer quick, friendly, and knowledgeable responses as you converse with your buyers.

In their survey, Deloitte found almost four in five people were able to cite a time a brand responded positively to the pandemic, and one in five strongly agreed it led to increased brand loyalty on their part.

Conversely, and worth bearing in mind for any marketer:

“More than 25% of those who noticed brands acting in their own self-interest walked away from those brands.”

This mirrors the findings of another survey run by PWC, where 60% of consumers said they’d stop doing business with a brand if the service they received was not friendly. 

Gartner’s VP Analyst Jennifer Polk, at the virtual Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo® 2020, said: “The need for vision, innovation and transformation has never been more pronounced. Businesses must rethink how to enable consumers’ shift to a digital and virtual world while safely satisfying demand for shared, tactile experiences.”

  • Share customer and market insights to inform a continuous experience and reduce redundancy.
  • Use end-to-end customer journey maps to identify hand-offs and points of friction among functions.
  • Proactively identify duplicate workstreams and realign resources to shared goals and outcomes.

3. Privacy Is A Big Driver for 2021

Apple, Google and Mozilla have all taken steps this year to increase privacy controls for users of their browser software. These changes are likely to shake up the advertising models for most social media and ad networks and be one of the driving digital marketing trends 2021.

Google’s industry-leading browser Chrome will stop supporting third-party cookies by early 2022, significantly altering how digital ads are targeted and tracked. 

Prudential Thailand chief brand officer, Siva Jayaraj, speaking during a panel at The Drum Digital Summit in November, said: “There will be no brand in the world that doesn’t use data. Coming from an insurer, we are very, very protective of our customer data because it is almost the bedrock of our business.

“When it comes to data security, I think the word security is out the window, it’s going to happen. Regardless whether we want to stop it, using GDPR or PDPA or not, it’s going to come to a point where everybody’s data will be available somehow. The question is, how are we going to have a little bit of control? And can we have a little bit of ethics behind all this?”

4. Digital Marketing Must Remain Measurable

Measurability is helping drive the change. According to an April study from Catalyst and Kantar, advertisers believe leading ecommerce sites provide better measurability of ad ROI than many other digital ad types, including social media ads. 

According to the study, 56% of ecommerce professionals are allocating funds to data and analytics, making it the top ecommerce service budgeted for.

Ecommerce sites already know a lot about their customers and their habits, which is key to ad targeting without having to rely on third-party cookies, and given Google’s decision for Chrome, as well as the privacy changes from Apple and Mozilla we discussed earlier, this gives the platforms greater accountability.

As organisations cope with measuring the effectiveness of retail media, many are looking beyond their Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) as the only successful metric and are looking at more robust measurement frameworks. These allow them to better align with overall business objectives and bring unique ecommerce strategies they can implement across retailers.

5. Improved Communication of Availability

With this in mind, it’s worth considering making sure your Google My Business and any other Online Local Business Directories you may be listed in are up to date, not only with any contact information, but with availability.

According to management consulting firm McKinsey, the availability of products and services is the number one reason customers are switching their brand allegiance right now.  McKinsey’s research may be US focused, but it covers topics which definitely apply to the UK marketplace as well. 

B2C customers draw customers on a primarily local level, (dentist, garage, decorator etc) and business directories let brands provide valuable information about opening hours, services provided and geographical location.

Keeping your listings updated also allows your customers to know of any changes in your hours, promotions, blogs, or any other information you would like to quickly convey will be another of the key digital marketing trends 2021. 

Getting your local business’ NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) information listed on directories, online business listing sites, and citation sites helps to improve visibility, but back links from these sites can also have a benefit to SEO.

6. Data Integrity Is A Driving Factor In Digital Marketing Trends 2021

Authenticity in data usage and analytics you can trust will continue to be a driving factor for digital marketing trends 2021.

Digital marketer Emily Brookes, writing for Beacon, believes any marketer not already using digital measurement platforms is missing a trick as they can be used to automate a lot of the grind of analytics and data crunching.

Beacon gives unbiased detailed analytics on your website traffic and page performances, providing valuable insights and intelligence into the true effectiveness of your online campaigns. 

7. Ad Fraud – Advertisers Fight Back

As budgets continue to be squeezed by the on-going effects of the pandemic, marketers are scrutinising their marketing spend and looking to ensure every penny spent is delivering an ROI.

It’s been accepted for far too long that most advertisers don’t know where 50% of their marketing budget is going.

The truth is that most ad spend wastage is going to fake clicks and bot clicks. 

With platforms like Beacon, that can show you how much of your campaign traffic is coming from non-human sources, marketers can get a true picture of where ad spend is being wasted and do more of the campaigns that generate human visitors, not bots. Beacon’s click fraud protection can help you block the bots too! 

8. Social Media Spend Will Continue To Rise

Social media budgets accounted for 24% of total US marketing budgets during Q2 of 2020, up from 13% last winter and globally, the spend jumped 56.4% in Q3 according to Socialbakers.

Audiences are shifting to digital channels and this has been a challenge for brands, according to the report. Marketers who were closely monitoring, measuring and improving their digital audience have been able to succeed in shifting their focus to reflect this challenge.

Socialbakers President Yuval Ben-Itzhak said: “More than ever, today’s consumers are digitally grounded. Socialbakers’ Q3 social media ad spend data shows us that savvy brands are doubling down their investment in advertising across Facebook and Instagram, with ad spend increasing by a phenomenal 56% versus Q2.”

9. Ecommerce channel advertising

Digital advertising that’s placed on retail e-commerce sites increased in 2020 and will continue to do so in 2021 due to the huge shift from shopping on the high street to online shopping. 

According to eMarketer, advertising on ecommerce platforms jumped 39% in 2020 and will grow another 30% in 2021, capturing 13% of total US digital ad spend.

“Ecommerce channel ads are gaining popularity as brands realize the value of targeting prospects exhibiting purchase intent within the large ecommerce marketplaces,” said Andrew Lipsman, eMarketer principal analyst at Insider Intelligence. “ (source:emarketer)

10. Emotive branding 

Audience research is vital for marketers to see how their particular customer base’s habits have changed during the pandemic. Throughout the year, AT&T’s advertising company Xandr, in partnership with The Drum, has been evaluating consumer behaviours in digital advertising.

Studies suggest purpose beyond profit is becoming a more important factor in a potential customer’s purchase decision. Brands are having to think more about how the needs of their consumers have shifted, with authenticity and a sustainable in-house culture ranking favourably.

Many of those surveyed indicated a preference for purchasing from brands which demonstrated some level of empathy for society as a whole. Xandr suggests that marketers focus on purpose ahead of profit through a readdressing of which metrics they use  to calculate ROI if they want to remain relevant to their consumers.

This has been reflected in the choice and inspiration behind many of this year’s festive adverts by the UK’s big brands, as shown in our round-up of favourites, where diversity, good deeds and making memories.