• The Creative Side

5 Digital Marketing Trends For 2021

Updated: Feb 8

Well, here we are… 2021… What a wild, unpredictable, sometimes depressing, always fascinating year 2020 was. Many of us around the world still find ourselves reeling from the turmoil and uncertainty the last year threw at us, and many would argue (and be correct) that we are not out of the woods yet… However, though we may still be surrounded by the metaphorical forest the pandemic has dropped us in, at least we can see some glimmers of light in the distance, some breaks in the tree line we can aim for. With this in mind we want to look forward. Taking the lessons we have been forced to learn over the last year and using them to give us an idea where we can head in the future… What will marketing look like over 2021 and how will it change as we slowly escape into a post-pandemic world? Let’s have a look at some of the main marketing trends we think will change and shape the digital landscape this year.


Digital & Social Media Marketing Focus


Arguably the biggest lesson learned in the business realm over 2020 was the importance of a company’s online presence. With shops, offices, showrooms & studios all forced to adapt, limit capacity or close all together, the main way of communicating with existing and potential clients/customers emigrated to digital platforms. For years marketers had argued that social media pages & websites would be the “shop windows” of the future, usurping and mitigating the need for physical buildings, and 2020 all but proved this idea to be correct in many cases. Businesses which didn’t or couldn’t adapt to the enforced change in consumer behaviour got left behind, and those with an already established digital presence quickly grew. The digital marketing institute report that over 46% of UK consumers confirmed they have used their smartphone more over pandemic and the resulting lockdowns. This means more purchasing through smartphones, more digital contact with brands and more use of social media. The result has been a boom in digital, particularly social media-based advertising. “COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation across industries, with even technologically immature institutions such as the British healthcare service, the NHS, embracing the power of mobile communication and innovation in 2020.” If even prehistoric organisations like the NHS are embracing digital and particularly mobile, then we must assume the only outcome is that this trend will increase into the future.


But what does this mean for the humble business owner? Simply put, the future (and now the present) of marketing is digitally based. COVID-19 has accelerated an already predictable outcome. This means if we aren’t visible digitally, we aren’t visible at all in modern society. I do think this is sad, the demise of the high-streets, the decrease in face-to-face interaction with customers and the likelihood that businesses will no longer just be in competition with the shop down the street… As the world gets smaller and moves further down this online path, businesses will be competing with companies from all over the world selling the same products and services. However, there are a few things which we can maintain on the digital landscape… Personality, authenticity and individuality… As it becomes easier to compare and contrast competing companies online, the ones who really stand out will likely be those which go against the grain, those who aren’t just typical, safe, normal brands… Companies which have something to say, companies who help and advise and offer services above and beyond customers’ expectations… In such a crowded marketplace if you stand out even by an inch, you will be noticed.


Increase in Influencer Marketing


If you had said 10 years ago that influencer marketing would be the fastest growing, most prominent strategy modern businesses are using, I think the reply might have been “what’s an influencer?” And yet, here we are… The idea which arguably started with Keeping up with the Kardashian and Michael Jordan has not only helped push previously obscure brands into the limelight, but also provided a platform for seemingly ‘normal’ people to rise into the realms of what may in the past have been known as that of a Z list celebrity… But hey! The proof is in the pudding and the facts are influencer marketing works… And it works really well in lots of cases.


When we talk about influencers you would be forgiven for imagining only those in the public eye, the Love Island stars, the models etc. But the past few years have bred a huge amount of what are now termed ‘micro-influencers’ these are people with smaller followings, still more substantial than a ‘normal’ person, but not so many that they can charge obscene amounts of money for product promotions. These micro-influencers offer a great opportunity for smaller businesses to dip their toe in the influencer marketing pool for a much lower cost. An additional advantage of these up and comers is most have very engaged, niche audiences. If you can find micro-influencers in your niche it is likely worth contacting them to see what you may be able to accomplish together. The added benefit of micro-influencers is their potential, if you can get in early and build relationships with them, as they grow in popularity you and your business can come along for the ride… Most people stick by their day 1’s. Though I personally have doubts as to the longevity of influencer marketing (but that’s for a different blog), the truth is that at this moment, and at least for the next 5 years or so, it is likely that it will only increase in popularity and become one of the leading ways that brands advertise themselves (if it isn’t already).


Community Building & Cultural Relevance


It seems that these days what a company stands for is just as important as the products they sell. Cancel culture (I hate that phrase) and an increase in transparency (forced by the digital age) are imploring that companies understand and control how they represent themselves to the rest of the world. Even the smallest companies can fall foul of the internets ‘take no prisoners’ culture. We have all seen complaints boards and reviews which tarnish companies’ reputations and take a long time to come back from. There is nowhere to hide online, one bad review or an ill-conceived social post can garner a lot of negative attention.


A positive of this more culturally aware marketplace is that business ethics are becoming more important. Many customers will happily pay more for products if the business providing them stands for the same things they do. This more connected, aware audience lends to more emphasis on building a community around companies and brands, cultivating relationships with customers on a deeper level. This links to the idea of a company’s voice. The days of products speaking for themselves may be behind us, now consumers look to the business behind them. This is important because even if you haven’t thought about what your company sounds/looks like online, it does sound and look like something… The information is out there, the posts the reactions, the reviews they all add up to create the idea of the company… This links to the idea of Brand Experience (check out one of our other blogs on this)… If your business is online (and we all should be) it has a voice, so we need to learn how to control that voice and make sure it’s singing the tune we want it to sing.


All of this leads to more culturally aware, culturally relevant businesses, but may also result in companies devoid of personality, too worried about the implications of saying anything too controversial… The advice would be to find what your ideal customers have to say, and try to align yourself with their outlook whilst always remaining authentic to yourself and your business (In other words don’t lie or be fake to be cool and get likes… Everyone will see through it in the end). The opportunities are abundant, the difficulty is cutting through the clutter and finding where the community you wish to build lives online.


Personal Commerce


As reported by Forbes: Sherene Hilal, SVP, product marketing and business operations, Bluecore, predicts:


“Informed buyers want to buy from informed brands. This means evolving even beyond the age of personalisation and entering an age of personal commerce, where consumers co-curate their experiences with brands to reflect their preferences at any given moment. They expect for brands to understand what they’ve bought in the past and help them to determine what they should buy next, based on all the data that they’ve consciously shared with them by engaging with their sites and channels.”


This is a reasonable prediction, and a logical next step in the information abundant digital realm. Taking the idea of targeted ads and moving to the next level, personalised ads. I’m reminded of science fiction films where the protagonist walks through a public space as the advertisements refer to him by name and explain why whatever they are selling will work especially well for him in particular… The idea of personal commerce is indeed an interesting, advantageous and somewhat scary prospect. But let’s step back from the sci-fi future and into what this may mean for 2021. The important point is personalisation.


Consumers may more willingly give out information in the hope of getting a better, more bespoke service from the companies and brands they interact with, thus affording those brands further potential to provide that next level of service. I guess a good classic example would be that of a personal shopper or stylist. These individuals learn all they can about your likes, dislikes, interests & inspirations then find you items they think will be suitable. I suppose what Sherene Hilal is predicting is the very same concept, but on a much larger scale, covering a raft of different industries. As I mentioned, we can already see hints of this with social media advertisements, when you may be thinking of a certain product and as you scroll down Instagram an advert for that very thing comes up as if someone has been spying on you. As algorithms get smarter and information is given more freely (a worthwhile trade-off for a better, faster, more bespoke experience) it is likely not far off in the future that these sci-fi concepts become our reality.


Content Focus


You gotta be making content… Remember in the olden days when shops used to pay people to stand outside and fling a sales board around, sometimes dressed in a crazy costume? Now imagine that every shop on the street has a different guy out front doing his upmost to get you to pay attention to his sign and head into the store he promotes… A sea of costume wearing sign spinners… Where are you supposed to look? This is your modern-day social media feed. Hundreds (or thousands) of brands bombarding the consumer with adverts and deals and information, it’s all a bit overwhelming. Unfortunately, it is becoming less and less viable to simply not partake in this advertising hullaballoo, being part of the conversation is more important than ever…


What we can control, and what we can do is try to be different. All the other points stated above link to the need for content, but they also stress that in order to cut through the melee of sign spinners we have to offer something a little more unique. We have to find an audience, a niche, and discover what makes them tick… What makes them click on a post? What makes them interact? Flashiness and trickery don’t work so well on the more informed customer… And it is a true fact that we as consumers are now more informed than ever, in two taps on a phone you can compare suppliers of any product or service in the world to help you make your decision…


So what content is the right content? The more important question and the first step for getting to the ‘right’ content is, what audience is the right audience? This point hinges on the idea that as things become more digitally focused and more content focused we also, as businesses, need to think of our customers not as customers, but as an audience of devoted followers who pay for whatever we are selling. They say in music and theatre that you shouldn’t play to your audience, this is not the case in marketing… Find what they want, what they like, what they need help with, what they engage with and double down on that with your content… The best way to get started with this is market research. What companies in your field are really doing well with their content? These companies will attract the audience you are looking to capture. Research and explore how they have gained their followers, dive into their tactics and more importantly their content. Now I would never say copy what others do, you must try to remain authentic, but being inspired by others work is a different story. If you find something which has worked for a similar company to yours, adapt it for yourself, throw in a touch of your own personality and your companies offering and unleash it on the world.


We have a full blog on the topic of creating a digital strategy for anyone interested click here


Nothing is ever an overnight success, so do not be afraid to experiment and try new different things with your content. Learn, grow, fail, retry but do not be deterred… In this day and age as I said at the top of this point… You gotta make content… But let’s add to that a little… You gotta make the RIGHT content… And finding the ‘right’ doesn’t happen overnight.


Thanks for reading, if you are interested in any of the points raised or want to hear more about us at The Creative Side pop us an email or message us on social media!

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