It’s 2021, finally…. And after the events of 2020, global and domestic, we could all be forgiven for thinking that the start of a New Year might herald calmer and more familiar waters ahead. After all, we’ve taken the transition to remote working and the digitalisation of our processes and activities in our stride. We’re aware of the ‘new normal’ and have adapted. Haven’t we?
Well, maybe. Except, when considering marketing strategy there isn’t a new normal, because there wasn’t an old normal. Plans have always been subject to change, that’s why they’re plans. As marketers we have always been expected to flex and adapt as circumstances evolve. That hasn’t changed.
What has changed is the rate at which change is happening around us and the impact that has had on consumers (B2C and B2B). That has forced us, as marketers, to respond more quickly, to reassess more often and to understand that what our customers expect from us will be evolving at a faster rate than ever before. That said, there is no real divergence from the norm here, just the speed at which change is happening.
So if what we do hasn’t really changed, but the situations we’re addressing have, what should we be aware of when looking forward to 2021?
Honestly there is nothing too surprising or even new, but the push to evolve strategy from corporate, outbound and brand focused towards more specific, customer focused and inbound will be even stronger and necessary if businesses are going to not only survive but thrive. We can’t scatter gun and expect customers to come to us anymore, if we ever really could. Now marketers have to look ever more inward, and ever more closely on the specific groups of customers that are ideal for their business and their needs.
With these challenges facing all marketers, we’ve gathered input from various members of the Innovation Visual Team, as well as insight from our research to put together this list of key trends to watch and be aware of in 2021, we hope it helps.
Key Areas Of Change In Digital Marketing In 2021
1 - The Human Touch – Customer Engagement
It is not new, but it seems that many still don’t remember that whatever they write and share is for other people to read. After all, if your content fails to engage with your prospects or customers and leaves them feeling unknown, misunderstood, faceless and one of many, they are unlikely to pursue that relationship with you.
In the same way, engagement isn’t just content related but intrinsic to the very core of your business, your values, the way you communicate, how your website is presented, the options your customers have to engage and communicate with you and how you respond… the list goes on. People buy people and if your customers feel seen, appreciated and understood they will be engaged.
We predict that this will be something that changes in 2021 as consumers demand a connection with the brands they buy from, even B2B.
In your planning for 2021, dedicate some time to think about who you really need to talk to specifically. Start with your personas, are they accurate, complete and well-researched? If you don’t have those personas nailed then that is job one this January and you can find out how best to go about it in our guide to rethinking personas.
Once you know the people you are talking to, talk to them directly, in the way they want to be communicated with and in a way that expresses your brand values. That might be with an emphasis on humour and fun; care and consideration; stability and reliability…you get the picture. Don’t forget to keep it relevant, timely, appropriate and helpful. In a digital age, things evolve fast, so your content needs to keep up.
2 - Content, Content, Content
Leading us on nicely from the points above, we believe that while content is forever king, content strategies will reign supreme over 2021. It’s just not effective to write randomly without a detailed plan anymore. Understanding your personas means understanding their challenges, their pain points and what jobs they need to be done. Using that understanding as your guide it is up to you to develop the content they need to solve their problems, ideally with your business as the white knight.
Ok, so enough of the feudal allusions, but we really can’t stress this enough, in a world where digital is rapidly outstripping offline channels, no business can afford to be left behind. Without relevant, useful and prolific content on your website and digital channels, your competitors will not only be served in relevant SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) above you, but they will have the content that engages with your prospective customers before you have even managed to wave hello to them.
Regardless of status, position or purpose, all content should be designed for another person. So make it readable, make it enjoyable and above all, make it useful. Great content gives you competitive advantage, so get researching, then get writing.
3 - User Experience
There’s always a but and this one comes hot on the heels of the last point. While I will never concede that quality content is anything but crucial to effective marketing, I will admit that its power can and often is diluted by crappy user experience (or UX for the cooler types amongst us).
User Experience (UX) is the art of engaging with a visitor on your website. It involves the journey you draw them on through your site, regardless of their stage in the buyers journey, delivering the content and information they are searching for. That’s a key point, visitors to websites are always searching for something, always. No-one, however idly, surfs the net without a purpose of some description.
UX is an art and a discipline in its own right but if your site has poor user experience, if your information architecture is badly planned, and your calls to action and lead capture leave something to be desired, then the greatest content in the world is unlikely to deliver the sales growth you are undoubtedly aiming for. The effect of COVID-19 means there’s been a notable swing in people shifting their buying habits from offline to online – obviously given lockdown, working from home etc. This movement means that your website now has to act as your primary (often sole) storefront drawing in, engaging and converting customers effectively and UX is a big part of making that successful. Poor customer experience online will directly impact sales because consumers and prospects have greater choice online than ever before and someone, somewhere will be doing it better if you don’t. The point is, as with everything marketing related, each element of an effective marketing plan is interrelated and interdependent and no channel or platform is an island.
Effective marketers have to juggle and plate-spin across their marketing mix to achieve results. Some elements of the mix are more important than others though. Data is key. The next section will elaborate on that, but you can use your data to analyse your UX and establish where and how your website might be letting you, and your visitors down. There are a lot of tools to help you do it too, HotJar, Google Analytics, PageSpeed Insights to name just a few. There are a lot of places to look and angles to examine in order to get a complete picture of the health of your UX, luckily, you don’t have to do all the work yourself. We can help audit your site for you from a UX point of view and if you’d like to talk to us about it then please just get in touch.
4 - Decisions Made On Data, Not Gut
If there is one thing we’d like to see happening in 2021 it’s that marketers use their data. Anyone who’s been in marketing for any length of time relies on gut feel, it’s a mixture of experience, understanding and awareness and it’s invaluable. But (there’s the but again) gut feel is no competition or substitute for real data.
Data should be at the heart and start of everything we do as marketers. From the development of personas right through the whole process to existing customer retention. After all, how else do you get to the truth of your business and really understand who buys from you and why? It’s not just quantitative data you need but qualitative too. After all, we all survey, don’t we? We ask our customers, prospects, visitors and stakeholders questions formally and informally. It’s all data and we need it.
The trick is to make sure your data is telling you the truth though; tools are only as good as their set up. For example, if your Google Analytics set up has unfiltered views, poor tracking, un-set goals and other issues, then the data you are basing your critical business decisions on is flawed, meaning your decision making may also be flawed. It’s just not possible to expect to achieve your goals from a false starting point.
If there is one message we can deliver with this article it’s that every marketer should make it their New Year’s Resolution to be absolutely sure that their data, particularly that in Google Analytics and Google Ads is being collected and delivered accurately. Not an easy task but one we can help with. Just let us know if you’d like us to see how your set up is performing.
5 - Customer Service
It doesn’t fit nicely in line with the other points we’ve listed but it is important, nevertheless. It is not news that it’s more cost effective to retain a customer than it is to find and sell to a new one. Not only that, but happy, satisfied customers will be the greatest advocates and best salespeople you’ve ever had. All in all it makes sense to make sure your customers are delighted and come back to buy from you again and again. That means cherishing them, maintaining lines of communication and making it easy and rewarding to purchase again.
Our prediction for 2021 is that, with the increase in competition in so many markets, that marketers will increase their focus on retaining existing customers because it is likely to become harder and more expensive to attract new ones.
This means developing an effective and comprehensive strategy for retention that is given appropriate importance and resource. When you are planning for 2021 don’t forget your existing customers, they need your time, attention and budget too.
Easing The Burden With The Right Tools
As an addendum to the points above, we know managing customer service can be a challenge. Maintaining consistency and messaging across a large number of differing segments of customers can be a demanding job and people inevitably slip through the cracks. It doesn’t have to be that hard though with the right CRM. It may be that in 2021 it’s the perfect time to take a step back and decide to invest in the right software to manage tasks like automation, nurture, workflows, data management, ticketing etc. There are a lot of options out there but we favour HubSpot for its intuition and easy integrations (the cost is surprisingly competitive too). If you’d like to tackle how your Sales and Marketing teams manage all of these issues this year then why not get in touch, we can offer advice and help you with the right questions to ask to choose the best tool for your business.
6. Sustainability & CSR
While sustainability has been a burgeoning issue for several years now, we saw a marked increase in consumer expectation over the last year. This shift may have been driven by the number of consumers being forced to purchase online from home, and therefore being offered a greater choice across more products than before, where choice was largely driven by store availability and convenience. It may also have been affected by the fact that so many people were working from home or furloughed with far more leisure time than usual. More time, but few options to use it may have led to consumers focusing more on their purchases and so making more conscious, value driven choices. It’s not clear what one thing has driven the increase but whatever the cause, sustainability is a key issue for consumers in 2021.
As a result, we are seeing consumers making conscious efforts to shop with brands that demonstrate their commitment to environmental responsibility and have clear CSR policies. As brand responsibility becomes more prevalent, it’s likely we’ll see more brands continue to make significant efforts to clean up their environmental practices and adjust their messaging to attract consumers as passionate about sustainability and ideological commitment as they are.
For marketers it’s important to be clear about your brand’s position on these issues because they are no longer a nice to have but an essential part of your brand story. Customers want to know what the brands they are buying from stand for. Taking a position on sustainability, charitable involvement, political issues etc shouldn’t be a bandwagon though. It should come from genuine, inherent passion and commitment to make the world a better place and that passion will shine through in your communication and content. Look at Ben and Jerry’s and Innocent for inspiration but make sure you speak with your brand voice. Our advice? Decide what’s important to your people and your brand and focus on that.
7. Fight Smarter Not Harder
The inevitable result of the challenges that businesses faced last year and are set to face again this year, is that with the shrinkage in markets there will be greater competition for market share, traffic and sales, not to mention share of voice.
That means that we, as marketers have to shout louder than ever to be heard. It’s not quite that easy though is it if resources are not unlimited? So maybe a better analogy is fight smarter not harder.
One way to do that is to make sure that whatever your resources, they are used solely to find, engage with and convert your ideal customers. Be tough, streamline your strategy, be clear about Who you want to sell to, why, what it is you need and what you can do to deliver it.
2021 won’t be easy but hopefully this article has helped you clarify your strategic thinking around your marketing strategy and identify what is going to be important to customers.
As ever, if we can help, we’re only a click or call away so get in touch. We’re Innovation Visual, the Data-Led Performance Digital Marketers and we can help.
Happy New Year!