Marketing Trends To Watch in 2021

image of a laptop on a desk with a person typing on the keyboard
image of a laptop on a desk with a person typing on the keyboard

Marketing trends come and go, sometimes as swiftly as the evening tide. It’s just not easy to catch the right trend wave. Should your company jump on the Instagram advertising bandwagon, and what happened to Snapchat being the next big thing? Maybe virtual reality (VR) is not blowing up, but can’t we trust augmented reality (AR)? What exactly is going on with bots and artificial intelligence (AI)? 

The questions around digital marketing may seem endless, and as technology continues to evolve and consumer interest and behaviors change, there only seem to be more questions that arise. So, to help any marketers asking themselves what trends to focus on in 2021, we took a look at some of the biggest marketing trends that you need to watch out for next year.

What will the future of marketing look like? 

2020 brought about change, uncertainty, and adaptation across numerous industries and sectors. Here is a breakdown of the 7 trends in marketing for 2021 that can give you a hint at what the future of marketing might look like.

1. Know Your Purpose

Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek took the business world by storm with his 2009 book, Start With Why. Sinek admits that he wasn’t conveying anything innovative, but distilling what made famed brands or individuals successful, from Apple to Martin Luther King Jr. Sinek’s formula is simple: Most companies go sequentially with the “what,” “how,” and “why” as their business model. Instead, they should reverse the order to “why,” “how,” and “what.” As an example, consider how different Apple and Dell approach making electronics for their audiences. “We make great computers,” is the “what,” which Dell embraced. Apple, on the other hand, started out with “why.” We all know which brand is more popular.

apple icon for marketing trends in 2020

But what exactly is Apple's "why"?

The answer is that everything Apple makes is designed to challenge the status quo and make people think differently -- it part of their tagline after all and forms a crucial part of their marketing strategy. As Sinek explains, people buy “why” you do something, not the “how” or “what.” Consumers subconsciously want a company that believes in what they believe in. With Apple, that’s a whole generation of artists and trendsetters.

The truth is that most companies don’t worry about their purpose until way down the branding road, and audiences often find that to be disingenuous. Remember, they are interested in whether or not you want to make an impact or simply a profit — the former is what you need to ensure your brand is firm on and has incorporated into your purpose-driven marketing strategy.

2. Tell Your Story

Seth Godin once said that “Marketing is no longer about the products we sell but the stories we tell.”

Why is storytelling important? Because the old legacy ways of selling are dying and a new generation of consumers want to do things differently. We live in an era where millennials are frugal and Gen Zers are radically cynical. Robust advertising, alluring deals, and sultry selling just aren’t going to work with these two demographics (who will soon hold a majority of the world's disposable income). Beyond these younger demographics, most consumers have learned to ignore intrusive marketing and want to make meaningful connections with brands. You can achieve this through storytelling and customer-centric content. What’s more, storytelling works: we retain 70 percent of information through stories, but only ten percent from data and statistics.

fairy lights turned on and and in the middle of an open book page

A sense of purpose helps in establishing a rapport between a brand and audiences, but a story needs to be told as consumers increasingly want products and services that provide experiences and moments they can share with the world on platforms and channels like social media. 

If we look at the Apple example again as an example of effective storytelling, we can see how the mystique and counterculture story of Steve Jobs was relatable to those audiences who consider themselves artists and trendsetters.

So, how can you practically incorporate storytelling elements into your marketing strategy? Here are some things you should consider:

  • Add a human element to your story.
  • Keep it simple and universal.
  • Introduce a hero with unfulfilled desires, who will reach the goal thanks to your brand.
  • Make sure there’s a connection between your customers and you.
  • Don’t be afraid of combining (seemingly) incompatible elements if they are relevant to your brand and its purpose

3. Content Really Is King

Interactive Content

When it comes to content marketing, any content marketer will tell you that there’s content you can read, and then there’s content you can interact with. The second variety tends to be more popular as it usually contains a call-to-action that encourages engagement. For example, BuzzFeed’s “Which City Should You Live In?” quiz has been one of their home-run pieces. In essence, you want to think of ways that will get your audience to actively participate instead of passively consume. Interactive content can include assessments or quizzes, polls, surveys, infographics, and contests.

Short-lived Content

What gave Snapchat its appeal? The fact that its videos disappeared -- adding to people's growing sense of FOMO, or the "fear of missing out". Snapchat’s early rise in popularity displayed the value of disappearing or short-lived content. As a social media trend to pay attention to in 2021, marketers need to remember that short-lived content is a key attraction for Generation Z, the cohort famous for having an eight-second attention span, and is why you should be integrating short-lived content into your content marketing strategy especially with platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels that can help you reach this particular audience.

TikTok Nike Werbung #youreit

Personalized Content

Personalization means segmenting your content to reach different types of audience members based on their preferences, habits and behaviors. The most common form of this content strategy is through lists, where certain content gets sent to certain types of users based on which lists they’ve opted into. In a world where there can be too much online noise and not enough time to go through it all, personalization is a huge win for brands looking to earn the attention of their consumers.

4. Incorporate Video Marketing

Have you looked at your Facebook or Instagram feed recently? Chances are that 75% of it is video, and the fun statistic of mobile video, in particular, is that its views have grown faster than desktop views. We now live in an age of video and this is a trend that you need to have in your strategies. Did you know that if your website contains a video it's 50 times more likely to drive organic search results? This is because online users find video content more compelling, so Google will push websites and pages that include videos higher up in their rankings.

The way the media landscape is configured now, brands have the opportunity to connect through video both through their own channels as well as via influencers.

From YouTube to Instagram Reels, video has become one of the most popular ways for customers to get to know more about your brand or product, or to learn something new, so use video marketing as a way to drive higher engagement with your audience. This may include video posts that live on your Twitter or LinkedIn feed or live broadcasts on YouTube. Either way, you want to invest in video marketing, and pay close attention to the rise in consumption of mobile videos.

a person holding mobile phone while recording a video

Long-form, written content can be rather difficult for users to read on a mobile device, but audiences don't have any problem watching or listening to videos on their phones. Video can help you present the same information that can be found on your blog, only in a more visually appealing format that works no matter what device is used.

Along with video marketing comes incorporating live streaming into your digital marketing strategy. A big win for live-streaming was when Instagram integrated a live stream option (Instagram Live) into its Stories feature. YouTube also implemented the 'Go Live' feature for users to live stream content to connect and engage with their subscribers in a different way.

5. Invest in Influencer Marketing

What’s more effective than an ad in selling your product? A lovable social media personality speaking highly about your product to their fans and followers. Influencer marketing has risen to the point where 63% of consumers will trust an influencer's opinion on a product or service more than what the brand has to say about it. Why? Because influencers are seen as thought leaders and can establish credibility through each social media post or advertisement. When they work with brands, it’s because they genuinely believe in them, and that trust is passed on to consumers.

Tip: Use a social influencer tool to step up your influencer marketing game!

woman hearing a hat and smiling while taking a photo of herself

Brands that work directly with influencers on a one-on-one basis can develop unique exclusives that will resonate with their target audience (read about how to find the right influencers to partner with your brand). There is a more involved creative process when putting together a successful influencer strategy, but what should be emphasized is that you want to work with quality influencers who truly resonate with your brand instead of having a high quantity of influencers who don't speak to your audiences at all. 

6. Shoppable Posts

There is no doubt that social media has become an important part of online marketing and a trend that has emerged from this is how many users shop on social media platforms. 

For businesses looking to pivot their products and services to something more online, social media creates a great opportunity to reach more customers and to drive purchases through shoppable posts. Platforms such as Instagram and Facebook have made it easier for businesses and e-commerce stores to create shoppable posts and shorten the sales funnel, and we can expect the future of shopping done on social media to be considered normal. 

7. Customer Service Chatbots

Chatbots form part of conversational marketing and are artificial intelligence software that can communicate with users and help them complete a certain goal or answer a particular question. Chatbots have the ability to interact with users in a natural way and usually do this through text windows that appear on screens, but the advancement of technology is making verbal interactions possible too. As chatbot systems gain more data insights over a period of time, the software learns more about the user and can, in turn, provide a service that continues to improve. This is one big reason why customer service departments have adopted the use of chatbots.

As chatbots have become more sophisticated and automated, they also have the ability to provide a service that is personalized and focused. With 80% of businesses claiming that want to start using chatbots as of this year, we can expect to see this trend continue to rise well beyond 2021.

These marketing trends, and the changes that have had to be made in 2021, don't have to be scary. In reality, the changes and trends we experienced this year present themselves as opportunities for brands and marketers. While the digital marketing landscape has changed, let it be something that we embrace and focus on to help improve not just digital marketing strategies but customer experiences too. 

With a healthy mixture of these “big idea” marketing trends, you can directly and meaningfully interact with audiences. Want to learn more about how the digital marketing landscape has changed for Marketing and PR professionals? Watch the Meltwater Digital Summit to learn from global experts as they share what you need to adapt to the new normal.