What will marketing look like in 2021?  Unpredictable.  Adaptable.  Innovative.  Although at times it feels like it is at a standstill, the world around us is moving at lightning speed. As COVID-19 pushed the world into quarantine, consumer behavior changed and the digital landscape catapulted ahead two years in a matter of months. Seeing the adoption and change from every demographic and in every channel, in such a short time has been exciting, encouraging, and hopeful. As we approach 2021, we are set up for immense opportunity. So, as marketers and brand owners, how do we prepare for and capitalize on all of the opportunity at our fingertips?  Below we lay out what trends will shape 2021 and how brands can prepare to win - no matter what happens. 2021 Trends
  1. Advancement in technology. We will continue to see quicker tech adoption on the consumer side, which will force brands to move more quickly. From live stream shopping to distributed commerce on the social platforms, consumers’ willingness to take in new content forms and ease their own shopping journey has fundamentally shifted in 2020. Look to 2021 to bring even more adoption by organizations to capitalize on these shifts, including AI capabilities, AR, holistic customer data systems, voice and multi-touch attribution. These must now be table stakes as brands look to find inventive ways to make discovery and shopping easier and more personalized, and seek to make up for shifted brick and mortar sales.
  2. More flexibility in media. The challenges we have faced in 2020 (the pandemic, Facebook boycotts, etc.) have demonstrated the need and benefit for flexibility. Marketing budgets must be nimble and agile to be able to react to a quickly changing world in the accelerated digital landscape. Inventory must be sold flexibly or it will be left behind as marketers require real-time marketplaces vs. pre-bought, contractual media strategies.
  3. Sales will drive budgets. Uncertainty drives a desire for certainty. Brands will require data that proves out marketing strategies and ties back those strategies to sales. With cookies going away in 2021, it’s up to publishers and social networks to develop more reporting techniques and tools to prove the impact of their media. If they don’t, brands will find places to spend their money where they see measurable impact. It’s a shorter term strategy, but brands need certainty in the short term in order to create long term success. This can also open up a new benefit of improved testing and iteration, as campaigns become self funding based on sales success. 
  4. Channel? What channel? This year has brought about a fundamental shift in how and where consumers shop. They have made it clear that they do not see channels or shift their expectations of a brand based on where they are purchasing. 2020 has rapidly sped along shopping behaviors, with consumers switching between click & collect, in-store, curbside pickup and online. They’ll expect this to be absolutely seamless in 2021, especially from larger retailers, and will be more likely to stick with one that serves all their needs than try to shop from retailers that don’t. COVID has reinforced the need to look at businesses holistically through a centralized viewpoint. Businesses who will come out on top are evaluating resources, inventory and data across wholesalers, DTC and stores. This allows marketing and media (digital and traditional) to mirror the needs of the whole business vs. just one channel. 
  5. Rise of the Underdog: The rise in digital consumption has changed barriers to entry, allowing smaller brands to compete with larger brands to penetrate market share. With the increase in available digital inventory, smaller brands have a chance for fast growth while larger brands should expect rising acquisition and retention costs amidst the competition. 
Winning in 2021 Create processes and planning that is flexible. Flexibility is required across the entire marketing department. Team members, budgets, media, merchandising, and creative must all be able to adjust on a whim. Brands must be forward thinking, innovative and realistic in order to be successful in reaching the consumer in such an uncertain time. Continuing to adapt marketing strategies in the new landscape is crucial to forecasting growth and meeting business expectations.  Get omnichannel figured out. As consumers continue to shift towards a channel agnostic view, shopping exactly how and when it provides them the most ease and best experience, any brands that have not already connected their organizational viewpoints and their customer experience to a truly one-channel or omnichannel view must look at this as top priority in 2021.  Create one source of data. The influx of traffic and purchase behavior through ecomm platforms will enable brands to strengthen their collection of first party data, leading to the development of advanced relationship building strategies with new customers that they are now able to identify and connect with in many different ways. This will certainly be a large challenge, as many brands do not currently have the data infrastructure in place to support this type of engagement strategy.    While the thing certain about 2021 is that uncertainty will continue, the progress and innovation it breeds is enough to drive a whole industry forward, and that should bring us all the one thing we need. Hope.

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