An unprecedented period is bound to yield unprecedented results, and 2020 was certainly a year full of uncertainty for many businesses worldwide. The digital ecosystem saw the unparalleled appeal in 2020. Most affected businesses used this thriving industry as their anchor, taking to a multitude of digital channels to keep their companies afloat during one of the worst global ‘storms’ the world has experienced; the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
As we enter 2021, many companies have realized the advantages and witnessed the benefits of going full digital first-hand, and so many of them have retained their digital efforts into 2021, and some are even considering this radical shift to be a permanent one when compared to its physical counterpart, such as retail stores… at least until the storm passes.
Let’s explore what digital marketing trends are here to stay in 2021 and beyond.
- Pivoting to digital could be indefinite.
As organizations of all sizes were – and still are – affected by a global economic crisis caused by the onset of Coronavirus, their recipes for short-term survival have seen an unparalleled shift in its ingredients in order to ensure their long-term prevalence in the business world. Many of them have pivoted to digital channels and have even completely removed their physical existence in some cases. Pivoting is no easy to do, especially if you’re a purely non-digital business; however, the abundance of digital channels and social media platforms coupled with a rising necessity to retain customers in a dwindling global economy has created a new arena filled with opportunities for players of all sizes to participate and stay in business.
Virtual events, remote communication, video conferencing apps & services, and popular social media websites have not just enabled people to stay employed and businesses to thrive, but have also unlocked new potential for personalized customer attention, innovative ways of providing products & services, lower costs, and higher ROI. A good example of a successful pivot is how some restaurants can adapt their business models to fit a digital-first period better. The traditional restaurant experience was almost non-existent in 2020 for many, and so one way to pivot could be to offer a flat rate for a set of meals on a weekly or monthly basis with a limited menu. Restaurants with no previous delivery, take-out, or catering services should consider adding it to their business models to get the kitchen up and running. Some have even started providing recipes and precooked dishes to people at home while supplying them with fresh ingredients from their establishments to prepare them on a DIY basis.
This shift to a more dynamic way of doing business could prove more beneficial in a variety of ways to companies of all sizes, and customers that are home-bound can still enjoy their favorite products and services in the palm of their hand and in the comfort of their home.
- Social Media is becoming more purchase-oriented.
Social media platforms that were previously focusing on the discovery and entertainment element are slowly but surely transforming into retail and e-commerce channels, with people staying more at home and spending much more time online. The consumer purchase cycle on Facebook and Instagram, for instance, is becoming shorter, simpler, and more seamless from discovery to purchase, which increases the chances for people to engage with brands and buy their favorite products. Browsing products on smart devices have become more than an occasional activity for some, and so businesses are optimizing their brand pages and paying more attention to instant customer communication and feedback. Social platforms are acting as virtual bridges to fill the gap left behind by struggling physical companies and are providing a new customer experience, one that alleviates the worries of physical contact and that brings back the element of fun, discovery, connection, and conversation with brands. This new social media purchasing experience filled with potential and innovative ways of reaching out to existing and new customers is bound to empower some businesses to stay in that digital shift in 2021 and reap the benefits without having to worry about the implications of closing down their physical outlets.
- Rising expectations from a more informed digital community
There is no denying that the global digital community is much more informed in recent years in terms of their preferences and knowing exactly what they want. Businesses that focus on bringing tailored experiences to their customers now need to take it up a notch and better understand their audience because consumers today expect online brands to keep track of their previous purchases through the conscious sharing of their data with them, and in some cases, they seek to get recommendations from these brands on what to buy next. Adding to that the ability for users to rate and review products and services instantly on many platforms, you get a more consumer-centric approach that companies need to address if they seek to stay in business. Some organizations use innovative concepts like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in their algorithms to analyze user behavior and predict what users could want to buy next and when they are most likely to buy during the purchasing cycle.
The competitive aspect of online platforms should also be used as fuel for businesses to bring unique offerings and innovative services to online consumers in hopes of retaining them as existing customers or reaching out to them as new ones. Digital consumers are more volatile than ever, and loyalty is not easily retained in 2021. It is no longer enough for a company to deliver relevant content in a personalized manner to its audience; it should also try to constantly analyze and understand its users and be there for them in a variety of ways, from predicting purchasing behavior to optimizing the buying cycle to being vigilant with instant and seamless customer service efforts, as they cater to a much more knowledgeable online audience.
- Virtual events replacing real events
One of the most affected aspects of physical businesses in 2020 was events and conferences due to their nature of gathering many people in one place. The need for holding virtual events rose to popularity in the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic out of necessity, and many event organizers are adamant about keeping them online because of the various advantages they have witnessed, such as the elimination of safety issues, accessibility to a wider audience, attendee convenience, and high ROI. Broadcasting live events and e-launches on websites and social platforms like Facebook and YouTube saw a more engaged audience, higher attendance, lower costs, and a wider overall reach. This resulted in driving more engagement and increased popularity among the global audience due to the elimination of travel restrictions that were previously associated with attending events in-person, such as visa issuance, travel schedules, and more. All these easy and convenient factors have inspired some brands to embrace the power of digital and keep their events online until life returns to normal in the physical world.
- Less social channels are becoming a necessity.
In the ever-growing social media spectrum, innovative platforms are emerging at an alarming rate, and brands are always trying to reach and engage their audience on as many platforms as possible to extend their influence. That might be true in 2020, but 2021 is poised to see a reduction in the number of social channels that a brand uses and pays attention to. This could be largely due to trying to avoid the dilution of their audience across many platforms and keep them engaged where it matters most. Relevance is also an important factor to consider as a business today because not all platforms are relevant to a target audience, and the pace with which they emerge nowadays solidifies that notion; you can’t expect high performance everywhere that you have a brand presence. Spending time, money, and effort on an irrelevant platform could result in budget loss and precious online customers during these demanding times, and so companies are reducing their social footprint and focusing more on the channels that are aligned with their goals and objectives on a necessity basis, as they try to declutter their content, retain their audience, and move forward into 2021 and beyond.
- The real value in ephemeral content
Ephemeral content refers to digital content that is not permanent in the sense that it only lasts for a short period of time (typically 24 hours), and it cannot be consumed or reused once it is gone. Many platforms have integrated that increasingly popular feature that was initially created by Snapchat. Today, Facebook Stories and Myday, Instagram Stories, Twitter Fleets, and Snapchat itself are leading the way for volatile, temporary content in the shape of customizable photos and videos, and this feature seems to be capitalizing on the instant gratification aspect of social platforms coupled with the fear of missing out on content created by peers. 2021 should see an increased adoption rate by digital marketers across platforms, and creativity in ephemeral content is bound to take a big leap forward as more platforms deploy this service.
- Augmented Reality for Digital Engagement
With the rise of innovative technologies like virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), and augmented reality (AR), digital engagement for online brands is set to soar in 2021 if they can properly implement these concepts in a fun and exciting way. AR executions are already found in many mobile apps like games and interior design apps, and it’s only a question of when, not if, digital marketers can integrate this technology and diversify their offering to an online audience that is hungry for entertainment and curious for novelty. Businesses should start researching and learning the best way to enhance their presence through commercial AR applications, and the ones who successfully achieve this will be ahead of the technology curve in 2021.
All in all, 2020 left us with many lessons learned and much to consider before going back to the way things were, but one thing is for certain: the digital world provided a welcoming medium in which businesses from all industries could take refuge and offer their products & services. Those brands that were fortunate enough to find a suitable way to conduct their daily business are taking comfort in that they have a solution for the short-term global situation, and some companies are finding it more viable for their long-term existence. Digital marketing is here to stay, and 2021 will reveal which trends will endure these tough times and which ones will prove to be the most advantageous to businesses worldwide.
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