It’s safe to say that 2020 upended all our expectations. And 2021 looks set to be just as unpredictable. With the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, changes in consumer habits and major political upheavals, adaptability is key for brands that want to survive and thrive.
We’ve all adjusted to living life online – from work, to shopping, to our social lives. That transformation has led to some amazing new inventions and innovations. Going into 2021, brands need to keep up with the latest changes, while continuing to provide great value for money.
We put our heads together at Easypromos to come up with 7 key trends to watch in 2021. While it’s hard to predict where the new year will take us, these are important points to consider in your marketing strategy.
1. Branding is stronger than ever before
Since so much of life has turned digital and online, people want connection – including with brands.
We’ve seen many of our clients reinforce their values and mission in recent months. Brands are updating the customer experience to include more personal connection and a stronger brand identity.
Branding is an accessible and affordable strategy for almost every business – especially with the wealth of design tools and social networks now available. However, this might not be branding as you used to know it.
According to Kelly Reed, marketing communications specialist, “the days of traditional brand launches and brand building are over. Instead, brands need to build identity through relating to customers,” Kelly explains. Your brand should demonstrate how it’s already an essential part of consumers’ lives.
2. Loyalty programs look different
Loyalty programs have had a slow but steady renaissance over the past few years. But we’re seeing something more sophisticated than a stamp-card for free coffee.
Modern consumers are looking for convenience and omnichannel availability. The events of 2020 have only accelerated that trend. While shoppers once wanted the option of both online and high street stores, now they need that omnichannel experience if they can’t shop in store.
Loyalty programs are also a powerful tool for customer retention. The modern version of a customer loyalty program is built on emotional connections and incredible customer service, rather than discounts and coupons. You need to give people a reason to become part of your brand community – through exclusive content, service, engagement, and entertainment.
This kind of customer retention program is built on a solid tech foundation. So, as part of this trend, we expect to see marketers asking more from their CRMs, CMSs, and software integrations in 2021.
3. Brands find their voice
If you haven’t yet heard of brand purpose, you’ll be hearing it a lot in 2021. Brands have begun to speak out publicly about their values and key issues. Many major brands have already shared their support for Black Lives Matter, ending the coronavirus pandemic, and fighting climate change.
However, there are good reasons why marketers used to be resolutely silent on politics. Brand purpose is a complex action strategy – if your business stays silent, you risk being left behind, and if you speak up you risk alienating customers or being misunderstood. That’s why brand purpose has to be built on genuine belief and action.
There are many different ways to show brand purpose. Some businesses have gone for explicit messaging in ads, branding and social media. You can also demonstrate your values through the influencers and ambassadors you work with, the ad platforms you use, the charities you support, and your customer service and hiring policies.
In 2021, we expect to see more brands speaking out for what they believe in. Brand purpose is set to become a key part of brand identity, communities, and how you relate to your customers.
4. The switch to brick & click
As we mentioned earlier, customers are looking for omnichannel experiences: where they shop online, drop into the store, or even make quick purchases via social networks. Going into 2021, no business can afford to be offline.
How do brands power up their online experience, and what actions are best for businesses to focus on?
While high street footfall is low, online sales are booming in lockdown. Established high street stores have switched a brick and click sales model, where customers can choose to shop in store or online. The most successful offer a range of services, from home delivery to curbside pick-up or click-and-collect.
These changes to customer service and in-store experiences need publicity campaigns to keep customers in the loop. Once again, integrations are set to be key, making sure that businesses can communicate seamlessly with each individual and follow up in the format that works for them.
5. Re-inventing online events
Brands, businesses and even schools have started to embrace the power of virtual online events.
But there is no established template for virtual events. We’re all working out the possibilities and best practices as we go. For marketers, that means total freedom to experiment and engage.
Interactive games and activities are a growing element of online events. Let’s face it, spending all day on-screen is not most people’s idea of fun. But with well-planned agendas and plenty of interaction, digital events are an ideal way to connect, share insight and bring people together. Going into 2021, we expect to see even more creativity around online events.
And then there’s the data factor. Unlike in-person events, digital events make it easy to reach people before, during, and after the event itself. Expect to see more martech tools for virtual events, as well as more sophisticated CRM integrations to follow up on event leads.
6. Communities take the lead
We’ve already seen how brands are learning the value of connection with their customers. Sharing values and building emotional bonds with consumers will continue to be a key part of brand building and customer retention.
This next trend is the natural result. Consumers have expectations for brands – and with the internet, they can quickly and easily share their feedback. So we’re seeing more brands which let consumers lead their strategy and content marketing. And because consumers are on social media, brands are spending more time there too.
In the coming year, we expect to see more brands leaning in to social media content and trying out new formats. We’re expecting more short video content, user-generated content campaigns, meme-worthy online challenges and witty newsjacking. Keep an eye out for new trends emerging on platforms such as TikTok, YouTube Reels and LinkedIn Stories.
Could 2021 be the year when organic reach outpaces ads once again?
7. Chatbots go global
We’ve seen a few chatbots in recent years, but expect a major increase in 2021.
More brands are asking for and using chatbots, for a long list of purposes: customer service, product recommendations, simple customer queries, or even in-house knowledge sharing. The technology behind chatbots is drastically cheaper and more accessible than ever. Facebook now offers chatbot tools and integrations as part of its Messenger marketing suite, making them a realistic option even for small businesses.
But what do consumers think? Back in 2020, we saw some fascinating research which suggested that people consider chatbots helpful… but tend not to buy from them.
However, 2021 may prove to be the turning point. We’ve all become used to shopping and socializing online. What’s more, consumers are looking for personalized shopping experiences and it is difficult to offer that service online – but with a smart chatbot to help, personalization becomes possible once again. In particular, fashion brands are leading the way in using a mix of product data and emotional clues to offer a hyper-personal service.
Get ready for 2021
So what do these trends add up to? It’s a simple concept that will take a lot of skill to execute:
Personalized marketing enabled by technology.
From product recommenders to brand purpose, chatbots to social media challenges, consumers are looking to connect with brands on a human level.
Going into 2021, marketers have the technology to make that happen online – using a mix of automation, integrations and creative brand messaging. Are you ready?