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Digital Marketing in 2021: The Trends to Look Out For

Jaime Lee

Head of Content Strategy @ AdRoll

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Thanks to the pandemic, the retail landscape has dramatically transformed, with customers forging new shopping habits and upping their expectations for brands. Digital marketing has evolved just as much, with the development of virtual platforms to replace in-person experiences and campaign redesigns to acknowledge the new reality. Yet, given the rapid onset of new technologies, behaviors, and trends, skilled marketers must look even further into the future. 

So, come 2021, will content still be king? Which platforms should brands invest in? How can marketers best engage and retain customers? It’s never too early to start researching, strategizing, and planning — here are our predictions of 2021 digital marketing trends that all savvy marketers should keep an eye out for. 

The New King of Social: Short-Form Videos

People’s boredom levels have increased while sheltering-in-place and many have turned to short-form video for entertainment: TikTok is now the preferred platform for Gen Z, Snapchat implemented a major redesign, and Facebook launched Instagram Reels to get in on the action. Given the boost in social media consumption for all generations, CMOs have redirected budgets to these channels — in Q2 of 2020, social media accounted for almost 25% of total marketing budgets, a rise of 13% from 2019. 

Given the love for all things quick and catchy, marketers looking to target younger customers must invest in their short-form video strategy and execution. TikTok for Business launched earlier this year and is set to expand its paid promotion and advertising options in 2021 — in other words, marketers should start studying up on this elusive platform now. 

Developing short-form videos may seem deceptively simple, but balancing branded messaging with the carefree tone associated with short-form videos will require customer research, strategy, and creativity. On average, Gen Z has an 8-second attention span — it’s high time to start experimenting with how to best communicate your brand purpose, product values, and CTA in a short and snappy way. 

Bonus Prediction: The way shoppers research brands and products on social media is evolving, and we’ll likely see social shopping become more popular on these short-form video platforms. With 30% of consumers saying that they would shop directly through social media platforms, you’ll want to explore creative ways to incorporate social media into your omnichannel e-commerce strategy. 

For more on how to build brand trust with video marketing:

The New Challenge: User Privacy Protections Will Impact Targeting

In 2020, the implementation of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) meant that brands advertising on Facebook experienced a sudden inability to target the millions of shoppers in California, which wreaked havoc on their ad strategies and ROI. The CCPA, which limits how companies are allowed to handle the personal information of shoppers in California, reflects a growing nationwide concern for user privacy protection — 86% of consumers are worried about their data privacy, with Baby Boomers and Gen X being the least trusting. 

The CCPA, alongside the General Data Privacy Regulation, could serve as a blueprint for other states to enact digital privacy laws in the coming year. Meanwhile, Apple's iOS 14 release privacy feature, which will stop the automatic background collection of data used for personalized ad tracking, is now delayed to 2021. 

The way the industry currently tracks, targets, and retargets customers will undergo major changes. In other words, marketers must toss out their old playbooks. Here are some preparations you can make:

  • Pay close attention to consumer privacy and consent by reading up on the latest industry news.
  • Set up a meeting with your marketing automation platform reps to discuss how potential privacy changes might impact your pipeline.
  • Start conveying the value proposition of data collection to customers so they feel reassured that their privacy concerns are being addressed. 

For more on data privacy:

The New Industry Norm: Marketing Automation 

With digital marketing technology growing in sophistication, it should come as no surprise that we’ll witness marketing automation become a necessary industry mainstream. The customer journey is so dynamic and fluid, with dozens of touchpoints across multiple devices, that having sophisticated attribution models is the only way to predict outcomes and calculate ROI accurately. Over time, as a company grows, it’ll be nearly impossible to track these numbers manually. 

That’s where a marketing automation platform comes in — in fact, 67% of marketing leaders already leverage marketing automation tools. Though marketing automation software has existed for years, developers regularly release new digital capabilities. In 2021, this technology will further evolve, allowing marketers to better convert leads, generate personalized content, and track results. Take it from us: Marketing automation will be the only way to do digital marketing effectively in 2021 and beyond. 

For more on how to avoid marketing automation traps:

The New Expectation: More Personalization

A study found that despite widespread concerns about consumer privacy, 72% of shoppers will only engage with personalized marketing. Shoppers are shunning and unsubscribing from mass-blasted email campaigns while choosing personable web pages over generic ones. In 2021, marketers will need to customize customer communications and experiences based on their preferences, interests, and behavior. 

One way to create engaging, personalized communications without hiring dozens of copywriters and designers is to leverage machine learning. Persado is one example of a company using machine learning to infuse more relevancy into bland content. With a robust dictionary that includes language nuances and emotional sentiment, the software cranks out the best messages based on the brand voice you provide it with, which can also deliver more personalized messaging. In one case study, Air Canada used Persado to test its marketing copy, discovering that an “anxious” tone allowed the company to boost engagement by 3%, while language that reflected “safety” and “exclusivity” led to drops in engagement. 

For more on ad personalization:

Time to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions

In a year filled with unprecedented change, digital marketing has evolved to match new habits and demands of brands and consumers alike. We can safely say that 2021 will be the year of continued digital transformation and engagement, where the innovative use of technology, marketing strategy, and creative ideas will make or break brands. Rise above your competitors by preparing for these four likely trends — start shifting resources, kickstarting brainstorm sessions, and conducting research. 

If you haven’t found a partner to help you grow nimbly, check out what we offer here at AdRoll. We can help you expand your digital marketing efforts, from a one-way ad blast to a personalized two-way relationship with customers.

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