To say that 2020 was an unpredictable year would be an understatement. Of course, a global pandemic putting everyday life on pause has affected all of us directly and plunged the world into a state of uncertainty. Most activities have had to move to virtual spaces, from how we shop to working out and connecting with friends and family. How we work, go to school, and eat at restaurants all had to change. Along with that, marketing strategies had to shift, and campaigns had to be reworked to fit with the world’s current state. We all had to take a moment, take a breath, and adjust to our new normal.
It’s been a tough year for marketers to use past data and learned best practices. Luckily, marketers are used to pivoting on a dime and executing last-minute adjustments to be relevant. It wouldn’t be the first time an entire social media campaign was scrapped in favor of one that featured a trending meme or one tied into some celebrity or pop culture phenomenon. Still, even the most intense marketing agency job never prepared us for the year of guesswork that was 2020.
What this year did teach many professionals was how to be more creative and flexible marketers. It also made clear that even though marketing technology and best practices can (and will!) change, every single marketing campaign’s central goal is the same: connecting with people.
When we’re all starved for human connection and desperate to re-establish a sense of normalcy, one of the biggest trends we’ve seen emerge for marketing is authentic human connection. Although best practices and strategies can be put into place to leverage this connection, at the end of the day, marketing aims to connect a product or service with a person.
With a plethora of bad marketing copy, pop-up ads, and poorly executed chatbots, consumers are burnt out on bad marketing. Users are also plagued on social media by a sea of outreach spam and fake accounts. The easiest way to stand out from the crowd right now is to make your customer’s journey about them.
That means tailored messaging that hits the customer at the right points in their journey, segmented audiences that receive specific campaigns, and increased community management. Luckily, these are all things that your marketing team has no doubt already been doing. Still, a big theme in 2021 will be leaning heavily on marketing technology and best practices to fine-tune those interactions.
Let’s jump into the top 7 marketing trends for 2021 to be planning for:
- Fostering Real Relationships
The latest trend report from Deloitte found that customers “are rewarding companies that authentically— and holistically—meet their needs.” This is one you’ll hear echoed throughout marketing trends for 2021. As consumers are becoming better educated about products and have had more time to review what is important for themselves and their homes, they are demanding more from businesses.
That means sending out mass marketing campaigns to try and scrape the right people into your funnel is an outdated practice. In 2021, personalization will become your new favorite marketing tactic (if it hasn’t already).
A study by Salesforce found that “84% of customers consider ‘being treated like a person’ important to earning their patronage.” This means more than “Hello, [FIRST_NAME].” Although personalization using a customer’s first name is still effective, it has to feel natural. Gone are the days of “Does this sound like you, [FIRST_NAME]?”
Real relationships online should feel like a one-on-one conversation between a customer and a sales rep. Even if every single interaction is automated, the customer shouldn’t notice. To do this successfully, the first step is truly understanding your customer. This can take some legwork but is worth the effort!
Customer personas are imagined descriptions of your ideal customers. These descriptions should include who this person is, what they like, what they do for work, how much money they make, their interests, etc. As detailed as you can get, this will help to paint the picture. Developing personas can then help shape your marketing messages because they can now be tailored to a specific group of people instead of a general customer.
From here, your marketing team can use several strategies for creating specific messaging that feels organic to the customer. Below are just a few ideas, but personas can be used in just about every marketing and sales level.
Automation has been huge in email marketing for several years now, but these campaigns can become much more powerful when paired with customer personas. Instead of a generic welcome series that hopes to appeal to a large group of people, what can go out instead is a more tailored message that triggers based on what page they signed up on or which form field they filled out.
Using an all-in-one marketing automation tool like SharpSpring makes creating and keeping track of personas even easier and allows both marketing teams and sales teams to take advantage by using dynamic fields to create very personalized content for your customers.
Customer personas are also an amazing tool for your sales team. Pairing personas and automation means that your sales team will know exactly the right messaging to send that will grab that lead’s attention right away. Sales automation can be a powerful ally for your team to respond faster with the appropriate messaging.
- Improving Retention Through Segmentation
Although not technically a new trend, this will continue to rise in popularity for marketing best practices in 2021. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a simple idea. Instead of having a handful of large campaigns geared towards a couple of generic audiences, the goal is to have many smaller campaigns geared at more specific audiences.
With more targeted audiences, you’re in a better position to deliver relevant messaging. When you’re able to focus on smaller sub-groups, the chances are higher that you’ll be able to come to them with a solution they need when they need it.
A great example of this is email marketing from many major clothing retailers. If you’re a woman shopping for women’s clothing from a brand that sells both, chances are you won’t receive emails on sales for men’s or kid’s clothing unless you’ve purchased those before.
Due to your shopping and browsing habits, these retailers understand what clothes you’re interested in and send you email campaigns specific to what you want. Why? Well, you’re more likely to open an email about a sale on something you are interested in, and you’re way more likely to buy once you do open that email if there’s something in it you want.
This idea can be used for any type of business and in any industry. Basically, if you’re in business, then you can always segment out your customer base. There are so many options for segmentation; it really depends on your company’s needs and your sales goals. Some of the most common ways to segment are through demographics like age and location, but with an all-in-one marketing CRM, you can explore more advanced segmentation options based on an activity like whether someone visited a specific page or their average order value.
Segmentation is a super-effective way to get the most out of your audience lists because there are many ways to use segmentation that make customers feel nurtured while also generating sales.
- Improved SEO for Visual and Voice Search
This is another trend that’s not really new, but with the growing use of voice search and the increased reliance on video for marketing, this is a trend that is quickly moving into the realm of best practice. With more and more voice-assisted devices in our homes, cars, and hands, taking time now to position your business to be user-friendly for voice could help you get a leg up on the competition that may still be ignoring the trend.
Especially with the extra time we’ve been spending at home, there has never been more video and image content uploaded to the Internet than there is now. That’s a lot of 0s and 1s to search through before Google figures out if your content is the piece a user is looking for. Making it easier on Google by updating your practices to optimize the backend SEO on your visual elements can put you in front of customers you’ve been missing.
Like with any marketing or technology update, the focus should be on updating the top-performing content and all content moving forward instead of retro-grading the whole site. Remember, time is money, and updating pages that only get a couple of hundred views a year may not be worth the money.
Start by adding some basic elements to your best practices, such as:
- always including alt text in your image descriptions
- adding images to your sitemap or creating a dedicated image sitemap
- including your target SEO keywords in the file name of your image
- using top-quality images and videos, including HD
Adding the foundation of voice and visual search to your procedure can give you the SEO boost you’ve been looking for!
- Comprehensive Social Media Management
With the increased amount of time people are spending indoors, and on phones, it’s no wonder that social media platforms have seen a surge of user activity this year. Who knows what 2021 will bring, but for now, people are spending more time than ever online and specifically on social media.
In 2020, we saw:
- between 46% and 51% of US, adults were using social media more since the outbreak began – Business Insider
- Facebook use is up nearly 30% with a 50% increase in messaging – Mediakix
- Instagram’s overall use surges by 40% with a 70% increase in Instagram Live – Mediakix
Obviously, marketers are in an interesting position to leverage their existing accounts and use this time to grow their audiences. At a time when consumers are more socially conscious than ever, looking to connect with brands in a transparent way, and are interested in actively engaging with brands, now is the time to start thinking of nurturing your relationship with your fans, who are, in fact, your customers.
Of course, we can’t predict how long this uptick will last, but as long as we have a quarantine looming over us, getting in front of your customers where they are is crucial and, in this case, they’re easy to find.
Using a social listening tool can help your team manage the influx of communication, but paired with a powerful automation tool, these social interactions can also be optimized to trigger timely automation.
- Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)
It’s time to end the era of bad landing pages! No more slapped together or sloppy call-to-actions!
The amount of energy, effort, time, and money that gets put into creating landing pages, forms, and campaigns is too high to let those campaigns run without reviewing how they’re actually performing. That’s why Conversion Rate Optimization should be at the top of every marketing team’s to-do list in 2021.
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is one of those marketing terms that seems overwhelming but is actually very simple. The idea is to optimize all your marketing efforts so that when people see your form or ad, they take the action you want them to. This can be as simple as fine-tuning an email signup form so that more people start signing up or as technical as creating a new layout and A/B testing a landing page to ensure people are clicking the button you want them to click.
Every business, no matter how big or small can benefit from prioritizing conversions because conversions equal sales. Whatever your marketing goal, it’s important to review the methods you’re using to ensure that they are effective.
One commonly overlooked place to optimize is on landing pages. So much effort and time go into building them that we tend to set and forget them when, in reality, they are living campaigns as well. They should continue to be monitored, A/B tested, and heat mapped just like the best ad campaign. If your landing page isn’t converting, there are a few spots to fine-tune before thinking about starting a new campaign.
Of course, optimization extends to your email strategy and social media strategies as well. Any marketing campaigns running should get an analytics review at least once a month to gauge performance, fine-tune, and find what works so that it can continue to be used again and again.
- Rise of the Featured Snippet or No-Click Search
The move to coveting position zero instead of the top results on page one of Google has been happening slowly but surely for several years. However, as Google moves more and more towards being the one-stop-shop, many marketers are putting some heavy effort into becoming that featured snippet for specific searches.
You’ve definitely seen these in your searches. They’re those search results that pop up on your results page that give you just the information you were looking for without having to click through to the website that information is hosted on. We’ve been talking about and watching this happen for years, but recently, marketers focus their time and energy on becoming a coveted featured snippet.
Although it might sound like the exact opposite of Internet best practice to give up a click back to your site in favor of a feature on page one of Google, many businesses are seeing the value from being featured as a thought-leader on that specific topic outweighing the value of a single visit or click. As a bonus, these featured snippets are sometimes read aloud with Google Assistant voice searches.
If your business is content-driven or looking to position itself as a thought-leader on a topic, this should be added to the goal list for 2021.
- Re-Thinking Advertising
From campaigns and creative being done and redone to fit the world’s tone currently to budgets having to be overhauled, it’s been a turbulent year. With no clear end in sight, marketing and advertising will have to continue to be nimble. Advertisers especially will have to pay closer attention and keep tighter budgets as historical data can’t be relied on. However, there have been some trends and shifts that we know will continue into the year ahead.
One top advertising trend we’ve seen takeover is inclusivity. As consumers demand businesses to become more inclusive in their creative, brands respond because they see this shift affect purchasing behaviors. According to Accenture, 41% of shoppers “have shifted… their business away from a retailer that does not reflect how important [inclusivity] is to them.” Consumers don’t want to see the same homogenous advertising of past decades, which means stock photos, social media creative, and marketing copy has been redone to feature more of the population.
Not really a new concern, but a continuing one is the dreaded AdBlockers. Display advertisers have been battling these for a little while now, but the takeaway seems to be a move away from the display in favor of influencer marketing and sponsored posts.
With 27% of internet users expected to use ad blockers in 2021, according to eMarketer, that’s a significant amount of ad dollars that could be better used elsewhere. The trends over the years have shown that more and more people are ad-blind, especially younger generations, and companies are seeing better conversion rates by focusing on social ads and influencer campaigns.
The Takeaway: Top Marketing Trends for 2021
As we continue through uncertain times, having a marketing strategy in place that is flexible and can adjust at any moment will be key. Luckily, with the pace of technology, this has always been the life of marketers! Those skills will continue to guide us through 2021 as we adjust to the changing world.
For now, businesses can take these trends and continue improving their customer acquisition and retention in the world as it is now and adjust these strategies so that they continue to work when the world shifts again. Either way, we’re excited for the year ahead to see what creative and engaging marketing comes out of 2021!