Given the hindsight of the year that just passed, it might seem futile to try and accurately predict the trends of 2021. But trends in industries like marketing are based on more than just the last few months – they are the culmination of years of small developments, social psychology and behaviour, and increased capability and application of the latest technology. What we are seeing now are shifts that have been happening to varying degrees for a long time, and at WJ we always have our eye on how these trends develop. We’ve scoured every corner for this information so you can have it all in one place: what will marketing look like in 2021?

To understand that, let’s start with a bit of a tangent: why it’s important to know and understand these trends in the first place. Marketing is all about staying current – knowing how you can tweak the latest ideas to set you apart from your competition and earn more attention. This is a crucial part of business, as it ensures a steady supply of ongoing customers, and it is much easier to maintain momentum than create it in the first place.

But it’s also a bit deeper and more subtle than that – a lot of marketing is about perception, too. When you use relevant and fresh techniques, you’re making a statement that you care about how you present your brand to the world. You’re saying who you are with every word, graphic, piece of media, and campaign strategy. You’re focusing your target market because they will respond to who you, specifically, are. This is invaluable in reaching the right people, and delivering your message via the right pathways.


More Data Means More Quality

One of the biggest changes to marketing in the last several decades is the rise and role of metadata and tracking information across websites. Powered by data behemoths like Google and Facebook, these algorithms are an immensely valuable tool for marketers trying to precisely focus their efforts.

The reason those algorithms are effective is because they are constantly being refined and optimized. They prioritize sites and campaigns that are robust and useful to the people that see them, and that trend towards a great customer experience is only getting more and more emphatic. In 2021, Google will be changing how sites can use cookies – the little data packets that track user preferences – and that is set to shake up things like digital ad campaigns and search engine optimization. Landing on top of a results page will be less about keywords than the ultimate smoothness of the user experience, and digital advertising will not work the same as it currently does.

The end result? You’ll need to collect your own first-party data about your target audiences so you have granular control of your digital campaigns and targeting. A revamped digital strategy is a must, including more cross-channel marketing that branches away from traditional online ads. And your site and social profiles have to be clean and clear, giving every visitor a seamless user experience.


Increased Agile Marketing

We hardly need to revisit how 2020 changed plans for everyone. For businesses, the last year has shown the true potential of being flexible and ready to pivot strategies quickly, as those that could do so were among the least impacted by ongoing pandemic response efforts.

A big factor in 2021 will be this underlying idea: be ready to try something new. In actionable terms, this means you must not be afraid to experiment. The rules might change from one day to the next (literally), so don’t get hyper-invested into any one approach. Instead, always start by considering what your audience will look for, and figure out how to reach them in the most appropriate way. Look for new markets, research new products or services to fill an identified gap, and go big with new tactics to promote your offerings. Having a plan is important, yes – but that plan should be flexible and allow for quick movement to new opportunities.


The Human Side of Marketing

If you are a regular reader of our content, you know that we always recommend being authentic and trustworthy in your communications and marketing strategies. Doing so in 2021 will be even more important than it was before. With the rise of such hyper-specific campaign targeting, it is now possible to target overall values instead of just demographics – and when you find people who match your own, it drives real results.

You can emphasize this connection to your potential customers by highlighting it in your content. Showcase real people, real stories, and how your authentic brand fits in with them. If your perfect customer has a specific lifestyle, outlook, or belief system, and they can easily understand how it aligns with your offering, that’s a connection at a very human and emotional level. Participation, engagement, awareness, and loyalty all follow from that.


Trend Highlights: Adblock & Short-Form Video

With the growth of online ad capabilities has come the growth of online ad-blocking capabilities. It’s a losing strategy to try and force people to change their behaviour here – you will be seen as intrusive, unwelcome, and even as a brand to be avoided if it is egregious enough.

Instead, if an ad strategy is falling flat, try to switch things up to get your audience somewhere else. Use sponsored content, cross-promotions, social media giveaways, influencer marketing, or impossible-to-ignore experiential marketing. As long as you’re staying authentic to your message, feel free to experiment with the execution. People are creative and expressive; brands should be, too.

Speaking of creative expression, if you’re not on the video-platform train already, you’re well behind the competition. Between Snapchat, Tik-Tok, Reels, Fleets, and Stories, short-form video clips are coming to define modern social media. If you want to reach younger generations or really create a viral sensation, this is the place to be in 2021 (and was already trending big for the last few years).

However, as with most things in the digital age, these trends move quickly. Don’t spend too much time trying to get the “perfect” clips to share or get familiar with all the functionality. Dare to reach out, seize the moment, and tell the world all about your process as you learn it for yourself. Once again, being flexible and even a bit unpolished and imperfect is vital in making a real connection.

It’s impossible to foresee what every marketing trend will be in the future, and it’s likely there will be some runaway surprises before 2021 is through. But with the advice given here, you should be prepped to make a big impact in the year to come, as long as you have an authentic message and a compelling brand. If you feel yours could use some TLC, you know where to find us!