digital marketing trends blog

Digital Marketing Trends – 2021: The Year of Dialogue

Digital Marketing Trends – 2021: The Year of Dialogue

Freedom beckons!

As we emerge blinking into the sunlight, seeking to rid ourselves of the “prison pallor” of repeated lockdowns (a word borrowed from jail jargon), there will certainly be some changes to the landscape – both for individuals and for businesses. Some will be subtle, others radical.

And this holds as true for marketing strategies as for anything else. So, as we approach the end of Q1 2021, what digital marketing trends have emerged – or will emerge as the year unfolds?

The online world has come of age, plus a genuine, global sea-change in the relationship between companies and their clients, has profound implications for marketing in general and digital marketing in particular.

People like me, who write articles like this, are very fond of our top 10s – a round number and nicely alliterative. But to my mind, there are just four major digital marketing trends to be aware of in 2021.

Digital Marketing Trend 1: Going Live – adding value, capturing data

Digital marketing has always been about communication, but there’s one new tool in the box that we’re excited about: live streaming.

Actually, the tool itself isn’t new – but our awareness of it is, and thanks to countless video calls and conferences over the past year, we now have at least an inkling of how it works.

So: let’s say you’re a travel agent. You contact your clients and prospects and let them know that on such-and-such a date at such-and-such a time, you’ll be hosting a half-hour live stream on Facebook or YouTube about “The Hidden Majorca”, with a short Q&A session at the end.

Or perhaps you run a haulage company whose drivers traverse the length and breadth of the UK. They’ve pooled their knowledge to come up with a guide to the best rest-stops on Britain’s trunk-road network. That’s a light-hearted half-hour’s live stream, right there.

Where appropriate, live streams can be “leveraged” to include links to a company’s other products. For example, a live-streamed demonstration of, say, how to operate a company’s new-model washing machine might include links to other products in the company’s range: hairdryers perhaps, or microwaves.

With a little imagination, the model works for most businesses; the key is to offer something of interest and value. And the aim, of course, is to capture data!

Digital Marketing Trend 2: Getting Personal – on and offline

The personal touch has taken on greater importance over the past 12 months, and software developers and web-builders are working hard to refine the algorithms to enable companies to reach out to their clients and prospects in a more “customer-specific” way.

This is one to watch – they’re not far off – but to my mind, in terms of digital marketing, personalisation is still in development. Who hasn’t bought something online – a new TV, say – and then had an email from the vendor inviting you to purchase (guess what) a new TV? That is personalisation not working: clunky, clumsy and alienating. But it’s getting better and more sophisticated all the time. An article by Samuel Shepherd from US Marketing Thinktank Relevance explores the subject in more depth.

But, while there’s an undeniable “buzz” around personalisation in a digital marketing context, don’t ignore the tried-and-tested. Direct mail has a median ROI of 29%, against 23% on paid search. As a $44bn industry, direct-mail marketing continues to be an important ingredient in the marketing mix. Indeed, such is the cyclical nature of marketing that there may well be renewed focus on doing things “the old-fashioned way” – something I’ll be exploring in more depth in a future post.

Digital Marketing Trend 3: Giving Back – fully engaging with socially conscious audiences

We were told near the start of the pandemic that we were “all in it together” and it’s those smart companies that have taken the spirit of the phrase onboard.

Consider, for instance, the move by McLaren, Rolls Royce, Airbus and others, which formed a consortium and turned their state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies towards the rapid rollout of hospital ventilators. Or audiobook company Audible, which offered hundreds of free children’s titles to keep young minds occupied during lockdown. Or the numerous restaurants, cafes and food outlets delivering free of charge to the truly needy.

These were responses to specific needs. But the lesson going forward is that companies need to get involved and be seen to be getting involved with issues outside of their obvious remit. Socially conscious audiences – particularly younger customers – want to see brands become fully engaged with issues that matter to them.

This is supported by Deloitte’s 2021 Global Marketing Trends survey. It suggests that buyers are seeking more human-centric brands, with more than 70% of those canvassed saying that they feel positively towards those companies that have developed their relationships (with their clients and each other) during the Covid crisis.

But businesses that go this route need to do it for the right reasons. PR is important, and social media platforms are the ideal means of spreading the word about your company, its place in the community and what it’s doing to play its part. No one is suggesting that you keep your good deeds a secret, but virtue-signalling is not attractive. Be humble about it.

Digital Marketing Trend 4: User Generated Content – softer, less selling and more authentic

Many of us are familiar with the phrase “content marketing”: a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content – for a company’s website and/or for its social media channels – to attract and retain a clearly defined audience.

Content marketing has proved its worth and is here to stay. But two predictions for 2021: it’s going to get even softer than of late, even less directly to do with selling, and it’s going to become more open to user-generated content (UGC).

For the latter, there are good reasons why. Buyers are 2.4 times more likely to trust UGC as opposed to content created by brands. Nearly 80% of people say UGC has a strong influence on their buying decisions. These startling statistics, and more, can be found in an excellent article by Hootsuite’s Christina Newberry.

But I would add a note of caution. An undiluted stream of praise, of affirmation, will eventually turn people off. If you’re going to allow or encourage more UGC, there has to be some grit in the oyster. If some aspect of your product or service has fallen short of expectations, let the user say so.

And then turn a negative into a positive by saying what you’re going to do about it.

My Final Words

The past 12 months have changed the way people buy and the way companies sell. And those changes look set to continue. But if I had to provide an early summary for 2021, my conclusion would be that the year is about another “d” word: not digital, but dialogue. The key is not to sell to your customers; it’s to talk to them: to tell them things, give them things of value, and to listen to what they have to say to you – and act on it.