Marketing trends to look out for in 2021

Sarah Hughes
January 14, 2021

Here are four marketing trends all marketers should be aware of as we enter 2021.  

We live in extraordinary, unprecedented times. The calamity wrought by COVID-19 has created seismic shifts in the way we live our lives. Consumer behaviour has changed enormously; many businesses have had to make fleet-footed changes to the way they operate to stay relevant and remain profitable.

Even before the pandemic brought its disruption, we were already witnessing revolutionary changes in our lives with the emergence and adoption of new technologies.

COVID appears to be turbo-charging the process, and businesses need to continue to adapt and evolve their products and services to attract, engage and retain their audiences. Using cutting-edge marketing and communication methods will be a key element in their success!

Virtual Events

Live, in person corporate events – conferences, trade shows, exhibitions and the like – used since time immemorial to drive brand awareness and generate those all-important leads, have been mostly obliterated by COVID. Since the crisis really took hold last March, events across the board have been mothballed, postponed or simply cancelled altogether. Many businesses and marketers have attempted to speedily substitute live events with virtual ones, with some positive and negative results.

Most of us will have participated in some sort of virtual event during the crisis; be it watching an interactive webinar or panel discussion, or joining a Zoom call with our colleagues, friends or family. Innumerable companies have also attempted full virtual conferences, where a combination of pre-recorded and live streamed content (often with options for stakeholders to direct message expert speakers in real time) replaced the hall, hotel or business centre.

Figures reported by the American event management and ticketing website Eventbrite found that online business and professional events increased by +1,100% in April 2020 compared to the same month in 2019. As the crisis rolls into 2021, and with the UK government predicting that the vaccine roll out may not be completed until the autumn, it is likely that in-person events will remain off the table for some time to come.

While it is likely that these events will return at some stage – as much as anything else there is likely to be a hankering for personal contact after the crisis abates – it seems that the virtual event is a marketing trend that is here to stay. A lot of businesses have discovered going virtual has given their events exposure to entirely new audiences, with attendances higher and drop-out levels far lower than before. Interestingly, a survey of the business events industry by PCMA last year found that many organisations going digital did not see them as a pandemic-only option.

When you consider the benefits of virtual events – much lower costs, better attendance and improved return on investment, it seems clear companies will continue to use them to communicate with their employees and customers. The big challenge of the next few years will be to evolve the online events to ensure they don’t become stale and boring.

Shoppable Posts

A decade ago there were fewer than a billion people using social media, but by last year the number had increased to 3.8 billion, nearly half the planet’s entire population. It has already revolutionised our daily lives and is a key marketing trend for 2021, and although some commentators say that the growth may have reached a plateau, social media is not going to disappear! It originally grew as a method of getting and staying connected with friends and family, but over the years it has developed to become a major source of our news and information.

Given the huge user numbers and the seemingly limitless ways content can be distributed on these platforms, it comes as no surprise that social media has become a key plank of the media strategy for online marketers. Meanwhile, the canny social media giants have realised that not only can they be the method by which consumers are attracted to products and services, but with the tech at their disposal they can also become the method of purchase and even possibly handle the after-sales customer care.

2020 saw the big players make moves into the world of e-commerce – Instagram Shops, Facebook Shops and Pinterest Shopping Ads were all launched.

The methodology is not complicated – the user sees a post with a product or service they like, they click on it and they make the purchase (using an in-built payment method). This year will likely see social commerce, as this is known, become a major trend. COVID has already seen many businesses pivot from brick and mortar to digital to reflect the huge move to online shopping, it seems certain that many of them will adopt social commerce as a way to reach their audiences and sell their products and services.

Email Marketing

Already a very powerful and popular way for marketers to engage with their audiences, email marketing is predicted to grow even more over the next year. A recent report by Accetrix predicts that email user numbers will grow from 3.8 billion in 2018 to 4.2 billion in 2022. The same study found the ROI of email marketing was a whopping 42:1, so given the increase in user numbers it is clear email marketing is going to continue its ascent and stay firmly on the marketing trends list.

The pandemic has also turbo-boosted email with up to 60% of the UK’s adult working population working from home due to COVID restrictions and using email rather than phone to communicate. It now seems accepted wisdom that a full return to a 5 day office-based week post COVID is very unlikely – large numbers of employees will elect to either split their time between the office and home or work from home full time. As well as growing in use, email marketing will also evolve over the next year or so.

The design and look of emails will improve with increased interactivity, animation, 3D imagery and dynamic content becoming common. Expect artificial intelligence to be far more widely employed too – marketers will appreciate content being lifted from sources automatically instead of having to do it manually. AI will increasingly be used to handle live data, so email addresses will be more effectively filtered to make content and message on point and very personalised.

Finally, email providers have traditionally not been keen on allowing video in emails, but with the growth in popularity in short-form videos on the internet, this is set to change soon – which will offer an excellent opportunity for marketers to exploit.

Video Marketing & Live Streaming

Again, video content is not a new marketing trend or concept for marketers and was already growing at speed as more people connected to social media platforms and smartphone tech improved. However, 2020 saw an explosion in video – aided and abetted by the various lockdowns and social restrictions caused by COVID, which forced the world to broadcast online to a captive audience stuck at home, all searching for entertainment options. Views and user engagement reached record levels, with the likes of YouTube hitting all time highs and social media platforms massively increasing their video content.

Meanwhile new video streaming apps such as TikTok and Twitch hit the mainstream and quickly boomed. It is certain that video will continue to grow, but a major trend to look out for in 2021 is live streaming. The web is fit to burst with available content, and people seem to be moving towards fast and concise messages and communications – with traditional longer video presentations and commercials losing popularity.

As apps such as TikTok and Instagram Reels become even more widespread, short-form videos will likely become ever more dominant, and it could be good news for businesses looking to market via that type of content.

Audience engagement is high and costs can be very low as if you have a clever script or excellent offer to communicate, you don’t need advanced tech and a production crew from a Cecil B. DeMille movie – all you need is a decent phone camera and you can hit record and go!

Read more:

4 tech trends to watch out for in 2021

4 media predictions for 2021

5 small business trends in 2021

The Rise (and Rise) of Social Commerce

Using cutting-edge marketing and communication methods will be a key element of success for many businesses this year.
Sarah Hughes
COVID has already seen many businesses pivot from brick and mortar to digital to reflect the huge move to online shopping