Opinion: 5 key digital marketing trends in an evolving CX landscape

The growth in the use of digital channels driven by COVID-19 saw consumers flocking online as countries lock down in a bid to contain the spread of the virus. While companies that were more mature in their digital transformation were able to react faster and stay resilient in the face of the changing landscape, the pandemic has forced marketers across the globe to rethink and reimagine their people, processes, and technologies faster than ever before.

Adobe’s Asia Pacific Market Outlook Survey found that the majority of organisations in this region are transforming their long-term strategy (79%) and changing their approach to future marketing efforts (82%). We can expect an unprecedented level of digital acceleration this year, and here are some digital marketing trends we see coming in 2021.

1. Personalisation and direct-to-consumer (DTC) models create more meaningful digital experiences

The pandemic’s digital acceleration was a double-edged sword, as it replaced rich in-person interactions with generic digital experiences. Personalisation at scale is key to counter this – companies must take a strategic approach to personalisation at some type of scale to execute rapidly, as competition in the digital economy heats up.

The year 2021 will require a next-level degree of personalisation specificity, with smart companies focusing on intent and need-based customer journeys. Companies have also increasingly moved to DTC models to cope with the pandemic. The trend towards DTC relationships is seen in various industries such as manufacturing and consumer packaged goods, where they are looking to build a direct line to customers and own those relationships.

PepsiCo in the US, for example, recently launched two DTC websites, PantryShop.com and Snacks.com, where consumers can purchase directly from the brand. Meanwhile, Kraft Heinz debuted a DTC business line called, “Heinz To Home,” where consumers can purchase club-sized packages of brand staples like beans and spaghetti for home delivery in the US.

Epsilon-Conversant research with the CMO Club shows that even before the coronavirus health crisis, 80% of CMOs believed brands that move to a DTC model could impact their market, and 82% worried about how these newer, now consumer brands might fare in popularity with younger generations such as Generation Z and Millennials.

2. Build consumer trust by moving to first-party data, consent and identity resolution

An increase in spend and emphasis on first-party data and identity resolution, with a push away from the third-party cookie, is predicted. The increased focus on first-party data strategies and identity resolution will help marketers effectively personalise experiences across the customer journey while respecting user privacy.

As companies strive to be more relevant and personalised in a world without cookies, intent-based targeting allows brands to get granular about how they connect with individuals based on how and why they got to that content. By digging into these signals, brands can deliver more personalised messages and experiences in a relevant way. However, transparency and consumer consent for how their data will be used are going to be of paramount importance to build customer trust and comply with evolving privacy regulations.

3. Digital transformation, with an emphasis on people, is key

Digital transformation has been happening at many organisations for several years now. In 2020, business leaders had no choice but to invest in digital infrastructure and customer experience. This year, the focus will be on ensuring that these investments deliver value.

The people quotient of digital transformation will take on a heightened importance in 2021. Organisations are going to be looking for a very different breed of marketers – those that are agile and comfortable with being uncomfortable. This will also mean arming existing employees with the necessary skills, knowledge, and technology to effectively deliver on the expectations of modern marketing and customer experience.

Another dimension of the people quotient of digital transformation is fine-tuning business-casing ability. Today’s marketers must take on a different level of rigor when it comes to looking into the future to foresee the trends and using those informed inferences to make investments that are going to drive value for the business long-term. The need for clear, concise, and data-backed articulation of the forecasted impact of marketing investments has never been more important.

Talent transformation in marketing will also be about ensuring that your people have a balance of data and creativity, and that the people who are delivering content and creativity on the frontline have data-driven lens. Talent transformation would also mean ensuring that people have a sense of urgency and accountability.

4. Building content marketing agility to supplement an always evolving digital customer journey

The year 2020 has taught businesses that culture can change in an instant. Companies need to be able to quickly pivot their strategies, marketing, messaging and communications to stay relevant and resilient in times of change or crisis. In 2021, companies will invest in building up their content agility through technology and AI-powered automation.

For most businesses, there are different kinds of customers and points of engagement in the digital customer journey. Building content and experiences for many different permutations with an operational framework allows teams to test, learn, and optimise. Content has always been the crux of marketing. This year will see an increased focus on content marketing and management transformation as personalisation requires a lot more content and companies must be able to organise and track it properly.

According to McKinsey’s 4Ds - Data, Decisioning, Design, and Distribution model, the key to unlocking the full value of customer relationships and delivering customer-centric and data-driven experiences at scale requires addressing the technology in each of these Ds, including a significant modernisation of the content operating model.

In 2021, marketers are expected to lean further into testing modular content delivery and AI-generated content. There may also be complete overhauls in the process of planning, creating, managing, and deploying digital content, as companies strive for agility and a data-driven approach to content marketing. With these changes, companies will also realise that they need to invest more in the talent that understands these processes, and they need to upskill the people who do not understand them.

5. More advertising budgets will move to digital – with enhanced focus on responsibility

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, many advertisers pulled back on advertising in digital channels and channel costs dropped. As the year went on and people adjusted, more companies resumed their digital ad spend, which drove media costs back up. The shift to an almost all digital economy will be the driver into a higher digital media spend, due to its proximity to eCommerce. According to Magna’s global advertising forecast, Asia Pacific’s digital spending growth is predicted to rebound by 13% to reach US$114 billion.

Video advertising will also be key, with online video consumption set to more than triple in key APAC markets between 2017 to 2022. Forrester predicts that online videos will account for the majority of data consumption, with the Asia Pacific online video advertising spend reaching US$53.7 billion by 2023. With the increase in ad dollars to digital, it will be crucial for brands to be more experiential, relevant, and personalised.

Additionally, with more and more consumers making purchase decisions based on brand values, a shift in ad strategy is imperative. Companies in APAC should focus on more brand-level awareness around their corporate social responsibility, including diversity and inclusion efforts, sustainability, accessibility and more.

As marketers settle into the new year, the marketing and customer experience landscape will continue to evolve. Organizations that focus on creating more meaningful digital experiences while doubling down on digital transformation will come out on top.

The writer is Simon Dale, MD of Adobe Southeast Asia.

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