Collective Measures’ 2021 Trend Predictions
Our predictions for 2022 can be found here.
2020. A year of countless surprises. For marketers, this year has been full of reworked media plans, evolving consumer behavior, updates to the search engine results page, and experimentation with new media tactics. In a year when literally nothing has been predictable, we’re genuinely excited about at least one constant: trend prediction season. So, as we prepare to close the book on a truly banner year, what do we see on the horizon for 2021?
When marketers closed their laptops in 2019, many thought 2020 would be a year requiring agility. An election year that would require many to re-evaluate their tried-and-true marketing strategies. A year of unknown and yet continuous platform changes from Amazon, Google and Facebook. A year when attribution models would need to be assessed (again). And a year when Gen Z’s cultural influence would be felt more than ever before.
But as we reflect on the last 12 months, we know first-hand that success in 2020 required so much more than just agility. 2020 changed consumer journeys as so many had no choice but to work and shop from the comfort of their homes (thanks to government shutdowns and social distancing requirements), shattering ecommerce records and making transparency and connection with brands more important than ever before. If anything, 2020 made agility table stakes. And for marketers, it made words like authenticity, fearlessness and empathy the true defining words of the year.
So, as we buckle up for 2021, what could the new year have in store for marketers? We’ve looked into our crystal ball, consulted our internal experts, and analyzed all the data we could get our hands on to bring you five trend predictions marketers need to keep tabs on in the new year:
- Reality bytes
- Changes accelerated by 2020
- Shifts in the consumer journey
- Transparent technology
- Stronger connections
Consumers and platforms alike responded quickly to the changes resulting from the global pandemic in 2020. From COVID-friendly platform features to consumers’ desire for increased transparency from brands, these are changes we see as permanent, even as pandemic recovery begins.
In 2020, the search engine results page (SERP) adjusted to prominently display COVID-friendly features to help users safely adjust for physical activities in the digital space. With paid search ads including “pick up today” in product descriptions, and organic listings noting in-stock items with new schema updates, the search engine results page evolved to better meet users’ needs amidst the global pandemic. But the evolving SERP is only one element of this larger trend we expect to continue in 2021. It became very clear in 2020 that consumers are using their wallets to stand up for what they think is right. And as a result, today’s consumer is quick to react if a brand rubs them the wrong way. More than ever before, brands need to strike a balance between sympathy and authenticity. What does this mean? Consumers now expect brands to back up their safety and social consciousness talk. Which means users have come to expect brands to use creative that portrays what life looks like now (e.g., masks), shares their POV, and is bold about what they stand for.
2021 key takeaways:
- For brands hoping to make a local impact with their customers, make sure your local search engine optimization (SEO) is up to par so algorithms can pull in the most up-to-date information. Remember that consumers are craving more information than ever, so proactively providing this information will help to improve user experience and satisfaction.
- Make sure you have a strong social listening strategy. Stay in tune to what your audiences are saying and what they care about. Be honest and transparent. Consider where you’ve seen success by using measurement data from past content, and leverage those insights to adjust for the current climate.
Changes accelerated by 2020
While spend was down across the board in 2020, digital reigned supreme. Cord cutting and the use of connected TV continue to accelerate, with Verizon reporting that cable cancellations jumped by 70% in Q1 2020 and streaming adoption was up 60% year over year. But it didn’t stop there – traditional media channels continued to attempt to be accessible digitally, with tactics like programmatic out of home gaining traction.
While global media was down by 9.1% in 2020, it’s expected to rebound by 5.3 – 5.8% in 2021, according to Media Post. And as we look to the year ahead, digital channels will continue to dominate. For brands that continue leveraging channels like print and TV to reach their core audiences, they’ll need to understand how traditional channels will evolve to be accessible digitally and comply with shifting consumer demands. Many of these traditional media channels have been considered to be “dying” for 10 years (think broadcast radio) and were kicked while they were down by COVID. For example, cord cutting has been a trend for a while but increased at a rapid rate this year, which means users aren’t being exposed to commercials like they used to be on linear or traditional TV. And magazine pass-along, a metric which print publications have long used to show how much exposure their ads could drive, is an action of the past. These changes hurt not only B2B publications, but B2B overall. For example, brands can no longer rely on magazines being picked up in the doctor’s office while consumers wait for their appointments. Marketers would be remiss to assume that some traditional channels are going to stay the course, and the numbers above prove the writing is on the wall for many, including newspaper, magazine, radio and traditional television.
2021 key takeaways:
- Start identifying and employing channels that are going to replace those that are dying out now. This doesn’t mean brands should immediately stop using previously tried-and-true channels – if the juice is worth the squeeze, keep squeezing – but it’s more important than ever before to pay attention to the users aging into your core demographics and figure out where they consume media. Make sure the channels which enable you to reach your core demographic get a good chunk of your media budget. While you can still rely on tried-and-true tactics, make sure you start testing and learning immediately. The last thing a marketer wants is for one of their key channels to become obsolete when they don’t have a (data-driven) back-up waiting in the wings.
- Stay up to date on new data sources available to make the monotonous media channels more sophisticated and to identify new testing opportunities. For example, if you have relied on linear television for years as your major campaign driver and don’t want to put all your eggs in the connected TV basket, consider data-driven linear TV as a middle step. This method goes beyond traditional demo targeting, leveraging 1st and 3rd party data to maximize reach against strategic audience segments and minimize waste created by broad demo targeting. From there, build a firm foundation for new channels with data and insights from past media campaigns to set them up for success.
Shifts in the consumer journey
With more consumers working and shopping from the comfort of their homes, consumer journeys across both B2B and B2C have changed. Successfully reaching target audiences in 2021 will require additional audience research to ensure your tactics still align to your users’ journey.
The changing consumer journey in 2020 required many brands to take action quickly. For example, many retail businesses rolled out traveling dressing room experiences, and Amazon’s “Amazon Wardrobe” made it easier for people to return their items in sealable packages. B2B marketing became exponentially harder with most consumers working from home – it no longer made sense to digitally geotarget office headquarters or surround them with out-of-home placements. This meant that many brands had to turn to account-based marketing tactics to reach their core audiences. And for those unsure of where to go next with changes in consumer behavior, audience research and personas became more essential than ever.
2021 key takeaways:
- Use personalization and zero-party data to cater to the user once they are onsite. Your owned data is powerful and should be regularly analyzed to identify ways to best meet user intent. For example, which keywords are people searching with to find your content? What content acts as the gateway to your site from search? Are people watching more videos or videos to completion more often? Are you seeing longer time on old educational topics than usual? Look at how these patterns are different from this time last year to understand your audience’s interests in this post-pandemic world.
- Check your research sources regularly as you may need to adjust personas and targeting information more often. Monthly comScore data may show differences in activity levels as users have had to change daily habits, while publications’ and sites’ media kits will likely show a change in reader and viewership, dependent on the industry. And as you refine your media mix and content offerings, don’t forget to view your attribution sources and adjust your media mix to take advantage of the channels that are most productive for you. But keep in mind: a decrease in performance could be due to a change in user behavior, but as data becomes more restricted it could also be due to less insight into what is happening on each channel.
With increased adoption of digital experiences and technologies in 2020, consumers’ demands for transparent and seamless digital experiences will be at an all-time high in the new year. As consumers demand more from technology, search engines are streamlining the user experience while also taking steps to block consumer data from advertisers. In a time when personalization is necessary to make an impact, the information used to execute that personalization is getting harder and harder to tap into.
In 2021, smooth user experiences will become a nonnegotiable. And for the first time ever, the tactics within the channels we’ve had at our fingertips for years will become less available as users simultaneously demand better experiences. Specifically, platforms and search engines are maximizing the experience for users while building higher walls to protect privacy from advertisers. Think, for example, about the recently announced California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA). In a time when personalization is necessary to make an impact, data used to execute that personalization in the past might be inaccessible.
2021 key takeaways:
- Make sure your SEO and user experience (UX) strategies are polished to provide information to users regardless of their stage in the consumer journey. Frictionless user experiences have become table stakes and could be a barrier for your brand to enter a user’s consideration set if it isn’t seamless.
- As we bid farewell to third-party cookies, first- and zero-party data will be essential for brands to succeed. If you’re an ecommerce brand, implement a zero-party data strategy to create a personalized experience for your customers. Figure out where your brand can add value by giving better or free experiences. The more data you can own on your own, the better.
Today, users want to have a stronger connection with the brands they open their wallets to. This means creating content that outlines your brand’s mission, what you stand for, and the value you can provide to the end user. It also raises the stakes for what “high value” content is: content that arms your consumer with the information they need to guide them further along the consumer journey.
If there’s one thing 2020 taught us, it’s that in order for your brand to succeed in today’s day and age, transparency must be at the forefront. Transparency about cleanliness practices, shipping times, diversity commitments, company values, and causes/environmental issues. As wallets tighten, people are more cautious with their spending, expecting to support a company that either supports their values or offers extreme convenience. This means brands need to be more open about what they stand for as consumers push for a seat at the table.
2021 key takeaways:
- Brands will need to be more transparent with their customers. This means not only producing high-quality content, but clearly outlining what they stand for and “why it matters.” This starts with the “About Us” section of your website, but goes well beyond a few words on diversity.
- Consumers want to see companies putting their money where their mouth is. This could mean content explaining longer shipping times if your brand is trying to reduce the amount of packages shipped to improve their carbon footprint, or a regularly updated visual illustrating diversity goals with clearly outlined steps. While this content may not drive high traffic or conversions, it will become imperative in order to resonate with consumer expectations.
Are you ready?
It might feel like the marketing rulebook was thrown out the window in 2020, and in many ways that is true. Historical benchmarks used to inform annual plans, recommendations and opportunities may no longer be meaningful in the new year. But that doesn’t mean all is lost.
If there’s one mantra to take with you into 2021, it should be authenticity. Your audience demands it, expects it, and is now requiring it before they open up their wallet. So listen to them, provide them with a reason to come back, and make sure your strategies are evolving to meet them where they are. Use this as your north star and you’ll be ready for what comes in the new year.