How marketers can stay ahead of the post-COVID 19 curve: top trends for 2021

Like much of the business landscape, the marketing industry has seen an unprecedented year in 2020. Predicting the future against the headwinds of change can feel particularly futile and the ability to quickly adapt and respond to the ever-evolving new normal has proven to be a make or break moment for businesses and marketers alike.

Among the biggest changes, the pandemic has ushered in a digital renaissance with virtual platforms emerging as the go-to and, in many cases, the only channel to transact business and commerce. With the ripple effects of COVID-19 expected to continue for some time, staying ahead of the following top five trends will help marketers thrive in 2021.

Digitalisation must be a reality, not an aspiration
Prior to the disruption of COVID-19, end-to-end digital transformation stood as a lofty long-term vision for many marketers as they looked to drive incremental step-change progress along the digitalisation journey. But then everything changed. A truly integrated, fully-digital customer experience, once perceived as aspirational, needed to be implemented remotely and practically overnight.

A digital-only mindset coupled with the ability to quickly pivot and bring to market innovative digital products and solutions have helped businesses weather the storm. For example, early responders in the healthcare, education and wellness industries are thriving amidst COVID-19 – rapidly dispensing telehealth, online learning and digital wellness.

Marketing ROI and attribution take centre stage
The disruption and business woes of COVID-19 underscore the need for marketers to “show me the money” and quantify tangible results of their marketing efforts.

Integrated, omnichannel marketing campaigns driven by digital platforms tend to bombard us with an overwhelming level of data, making it easy to get caught up in vanity metrics and figures that aren’t particularly meaningful to a brand’s overall financial success. However, marketers can still keep a strong pulse on how their marketing budgets are performing by regularly asking three questions about revenue and cost: What has the marketing campaign cost? Has revenue increased? How can marketing efforts be attributed to growth and profitability?

As businesses remain keenly focused on cash flow optimisation, profitability and supply chain efficiency, it’s increasingly important for marketers to evaluate the effectiveness of their strategies from a CFO lens and to prioritize quantifiable ROI against pandemic-induced bottom-line pressures.

Ad spend follows in the footsteps of shoppers and moves to e-commerce channels
The pandemic-driven surge in e-commerce activities and the accompanying shift of advertising budget allocations are both projected to continue in 2021. As e-commerce players like Amazon and Walmart attract more shoppers, they’ve also grown their ad sale revenue to record numbers in recent months. According to data from eMarketer, advertising on e-commerce platforms skyrocketed by 39% in 2020 and is expected to grow another 30% in 2021, accounting for 13% of total ad spend in the U.S. In Asia, mobile and social media ad spend is set to rise the most by 2024, according to data from MAGNA Global.

Related to the trend towards optimising ROI, measurability is also helping e-commerce platforms capture more ad spend. According to a study from Catalyst and Kantar, advertisers feel that the leading e-commerce sites provide greater measurability of performance than all other digital advertising options.

More brand-to-brand collaborations
Brand-to-brand partnerships are likely to earn more clout in the eyes of consumers and improve marketing effectiveness, much like what we saw when Adidas collaborated with Lego and Allbirds in 2020. Unique and unexpected alliances between corporate brands surprise consumers, gain media attention, generate buzz on social media and create cross-selling opportunities in marketing to new customer bases.

AI makes hyper-targeting and personalisation the norm
The personalisation of marketing experiences is a trend that is also expected to remain at the top of the agenda well into 2021. Programmatic advertising, an automated system that optimises ad placement for targeted consumers, is one aspect of this increased personalisation. Additionally, artificial intelligence (AI) systems, that actively learn more from users’ behaviours and preferences, are now being deployed to offer more tailored experiences for consumers.

AI utilises massive amounts of data to generate assumptions on what types of content each target customer would appreciate and therefore be more likely to engage with. For example, firms now have the means to automatically generate copy that reflects the tone, sentiment and behaviors of consumers at any point in time.

With the IMF recently cutting global 2021 forecasts and issuing a warning for a ‘long, uneven’ recovery, marketers will likely face numerous obstacles and challenges in interacting with consumers.

A key question for all marketing departments to ask: Which new consumers behaviours and expectations will prevail, and which will retreat? Correctly addressing this question is integral for marketers to effectively allocate resources.

As businesses look to keep pace with the rising demands of their customers and adopt more flexible, cost-effective operating models, there’s not likely to be a return to the business environment we once knew. The pandemic will continue to force marketing leaders to adapt to a digital-only world and it is incumbent on us all to continue to quickly evolve or be left behind.

This article is contributed by Sunshine Farzan, head of marketing and communications at Tricor Group.