Updated November 20, 2023Reading Time: 5 minutes
Reading the Tea Leaves
‘Tis the time of year for looking backward and making predictions for the new year. Think tanks and research firms are prognosticating on trends as well as offering advice. By all accounts 2020 has been an historic year (I promised myself I wouldn’t use the word unprecedented as I think we’re all a bit tired of it). One client aptly described 2020 as a dumpster fire.
Before we dig into 2021 predictions, let’s review the market research that provided context amid the Covid-19 chaos.
Twice a year ( February and October) Deloitte and Duke University sends out a survey to marketers in roles VP-level and above across all industries including B2B and B2C. And in customary fashion, 2020 threw a wrench in that schedule. The Feb 2020 survey results aggregated field responses from January 2-28 before Covid-19 hit hard in the U.S. As such, the overall results reflected optimism (up from a low in Feb 2019) that companies were poised to achieve revenue targets and expand market share. In a month, those hopes were quickly dashed.
In June The CMO Survey pivoted and sent out a special edition survey. They acknowledged the “economic and social disruptions caused by the virus will continue for many months and a ‘new normal’ for business seems likely in the long run. When asked about when customer behavior would return to pre-pandemic levels, the majority predicted:
- The lower likelihood to buy would be between 6-12 months (~38%) and 1-2 years (~27%).
- Increased value placed on digital experiences would be evident from the short run (16.5% in 2-3 months) to longer term (17% in 12 months).
- Weaker loyalty levels in the near term, with recovery in 6-12 months
Given 20/20 hindsight, I’d say these marketers’ predictions are off. Even though vaccines are being distributed, most pundits say it will take time for economic recovery and pre-pandemic behaviors won’t resume until the end of 2021 and more likely in 2022.
Salesforce conducted research of 15K+ consumers and business buyers worldwide in August 2020. The survey objectives were to measure how customer expectations and behaviors are transforming amid an ongoing crisis, which criteria customers use to evalue brands in an increasingly online world, and whether rapid and extensive shift to digital will impact long-term expectations. In their “State of the Connected Customer” report, they summarized findings from respondents across 27 countries and 6 continents. Notable findings were:
- Customer Connection – 90% of customers say how a company acts during a crisis demonstrates its trustworthiness.
- Differentiation through Understanding & Convenience – 54% of customers say it generally feels like sales, service, and marketing don’t share information with each other.
- Digital-first Behavior – 88% of customers expect companies to accelerate digital initiatives due to Covid-19.
- Brand Demonstrate Values – 86% of customers say company societal roles are changing due to social, economic, and ecological issues.
Other Observations & 2021 Predictions
Brands that resisted digital transformation before Covid either had to quickly invest in their online footprint or they suffered until they had to close their doors. I described this phenomenon in a LinkedIn article entitled “Covid-19: the K-T Line for Dinosaur Businesses?”
But not all businesses were losers in 2020. Amazon, Zoom, Clorox, Peloton and several others have seen dramatic increases in market share in 2020. They had the infrastructure — technology with aligned personnel — in place. While their operations and supply-chain systems may be stretched thin, their businesses thrived as customers were driven from offline purchase to virtual shopping.
Now onto what the research is saying about 2021…
2021 Predictions & Trends
AdWeek, a staple advertising publication for 40+ years, predict these trends:
- Cookie-less Future – A major impact to online advertising is on the horizon. Google’s Chrome browser will stop supporting third-party cookies by early 2022. This means ensuring that you have a plan to measure campaigns after the change.
- Forever Changed – Economic recovery doesn’t mean we’re returning to the same economy. The world has changed, and in many ways those changes are permanent.
- New Customer Behaviors – Consumers had to shift their behaviors, but the million-dollar question is will they stick? For things like online grocery shopping, Covid provided the final push for many consumers. B2B and B2C companies’ ad spending is expected to increase as they follow shoppers during their digital shopping journeys. According to eMarketer, advertising on ecommerce platforms jumped 39% in 2020 and are expected to grow another 30% in 2021.
- Brand-to-Brand Collaborations. Co-op advertising is not a new concept. This strategy of joining forces between brands is expected to rise as a way to capture media attention and allow cross-marketing to customer bases.
- Increase Action on Social Issues. 2020 put a spotlight on social inequalities. As Gen Z enters the workforce, their demand for corporate social conscience will be heard. Brand marketers will be compelled to take meaningful stands on social issues.
Using the CMO survey, Deloitte’s 2021 predictions take into account marketer’s loss of confidence. This loss of confidence is not only related to the economy and buyer behaviors. It reflects doubt in their ability to influence peers and make a strategic impact.
In their Global Marketing Trends Report, Deloitte combined research gathered from their Consumer Pulse and C-Suite surveys. Their analysis includes seven trends they recommend businesses embrace in 2021:
- Purpose – know why they exist and who they serve
- Agility – invest in agile marketing strategies that use imagination and innovation. The pandemic doesn’t reward companies entrenched in old strategies/thinking.
- Human Connection – consumers are choosing “safer” over “cheaper” and “ethical supply chains” over “fast delivery.”
- Trust – being accountable and transparent in messaging. Customers demand congruency between messaging the experience a brand delivers.
- Participation – harnessing customer engagement that goes to a deeper level via user-generated content (writing reviews, giving advice to other customers, joining conversations on social media) and creating content relevant to the brand.
- Fusion – innovative business partnerships. (Note this is similar to Deloitte’s brand collaborations)
- Talent Transformation – develop new talent models with roles that best reflect competitive advantage
Think With Google
Of course we had to wrap up our 2021 predictions round up with Google. They spoke with recent grads of their Associate Product Marketing Manager program and identified 9 strategies:
- Brand virtue signaling – 63% of Americans believe that brands that issue a statement in support of racial equity need to follow up with concrete action
- Diversity marketing more than race and gender – for example, almost ⅕ of the population has a disability yet 2.2% of 2019 ads represented a person with a disability
- UX is a bigger priority than ever before – users are more comfortable with digital tools and products so they’ll demand better a user experience
- Live-streamed e-commerce – livestream and pop-up retail will be tactics brand will use to stand out
- Essentials & practicality – when the world is upside down, people’s priorities shift. Consumers are asking “what matters most” and what products that truly meet our needs
- Mainstream augmented reality – immersive video for shopping, entertainment, communication and more
- Micro-influencers have big impact – as the influencer market become more saturated, micro-influencers who have niche followers can craft messages that resonate with their fans
- Personalization at scale – technologies are improving to help brands scale their personalization efforts
- Selling health & happiness – 2020 has been hard on us emotionally, especially those with mental health issues. Brands that make positive changes can offer inspiration in 2021
Where Do We Go From Here?
The Oxford English Dictionary customarily adds one “word of the year.” For 2020, there were so many they couldn’t pick just one. Our language had a growth spurt, from “doomscrolling” to “zoom-ready.”
Whatever 2021 brings, let’s bring positivity in how we interact with each other and how we approach marketing our companies.