Our Top Predictions for Digital Advertising and Marketing in 2021

Our Top Predictions for Digital Advertising and Marketing in 2021

Written by: Stephanie Bariatti, SMB Media Marketing Consultant 


            Welcome to 2021.  If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that no one really knows what the future holds.  So we try our best to tailor our business plans to the trends we think are on the horizon, but you never know when something like a global pandemic might come along and turn everything upside down.


            However, there are a few things that I’m pretty confident we can count on this year.  Overall, I believe the customer experience and customer service is key.  Consumers want to be able to depend on the brands they choose.  And on the flipside, brands want to maintain consumer trust and loyalty.  Other trends that will continue to be important to customers are sustainability, inclusivity, goodwill and purpose-driven missions. 


            Also broadly speaking, I do think working from home is here to stay, bringing with it a plethora of new tools and technology to replicate the physical office.  Zoom is not going anywhere anytime soon, but I do think we will see other programs designed to foster collaboration among a team of remote employees. 


            We will probably also see many events continue to go virtual, even after we are able to gather in-person again.  Companies found that by going virtual, they opened up their event to an entirely new and larger audience since they are more accessible.  That means lower cost for more people and a higher ROI.


            Keeping this in mind, below are 10 of our predictions specific to the fields of digital advertising and marketing.


-Increased use of visual tech and AR.  The pandemic has pushed many companies into looking at new and exciting types of technology as a means to reach and drive greater engagement with customers in the virtual world.  A great example of how brands are adding more digital functionality to their marketing – as physical retail continues to pose a challenge - is Porsche’s 360-degree car walkthrough that allows users to interact with the car as if they're actually in it.  It also has an app that uses Augmented Reality (AR) technology that enables customers to see what one of their cars would look like in your driveway or in your garage.  While this type of tech has been around for a few years now, in 2021 we will see a much wider range of brands introducing features and functionality like this.


-Featuring interactive elements.  This builds on the above point.  With email becoming more and more prevalent, it presents an incredible opportunity for email marketers to push the envelope and try new things when it comes to making emails stand out.  After making it to the inbox and getting an open with a catchy subject line, the next step is driving engagement, and subscribers are usually eager for something new.  Savvy email marketers will rise to the occasion and find new ways to encourage conversions with gifs, embedded videos, and fun animations.


-Personalization while maintaining privacy.  Consumers demand personalization, and digital marketers have to react accordingly.  52% percent of consumers expect all offers to be personalized, and 66% expect brands to understand their personal needs.  As those expectations continue to grow around receiving personalized experiences across every touchpoint with a brand, marketers will be tasked with stepping up their personalization game in 2021.  From emails, to websites, to in-person experiences (maybe?), the opportunities for personalization are endless.  However, marketers must also be mindful of privacy best practices and regulations.  It’s important for brands to fully understand and abide by privacy regulations (ala GDPR and CCPA) while driving towards hyper-personalization. 


-Automated Google Ads.  Google has rolled out a new feature where the biddings can be automated.  This will allow Google to examine large data chunks and adjust bids effectively.  It will also enable it to achieve campaign goals effectively.  Advertisers can automate the bidding and save their time in manual optimization of ad campaigns.  Moreover, automated bidding works for both display & search ads.  It also includes smart bidding that incorporates enhanced PPC, click & conversion maximization.  This bidding strategy has gained popularity in 2020 and is expected to rise further in 2021.


-Social Media Will Dominate.  The trend of Social Media Marketing like Facebook & Instagram Ads has increased exponentially in the past few years.  2021 will see the continued growth of this marketing type.  Studies have revealed that 24% of the US companies’ total marketing budgets in the second quarter of 2020 were allocated for social media.  This is a massive 13% increase compared to last year.  The pandemic has forced marketers to focus extensively on customer retention.  As the pandemic has led people to work from home, internet penetration has skyrocketed.  This means people have started to research more on the company’s products.  They have also begun to engage more and are open about expressing their feedback on Facebook.


-Local SEO & Google Listings.  Searches like “coffee shops near me” have increased significantly in 2020 and are expected to rise in 2021 as well.  This is called Local SEO, where local businesses appear in the search results when someone searches with a query that includes “near me.”  Make sure that you list your business in Google My Business and build enough citations to show your website in the local search results.  Several businesses have noticed an exponential increase in footfall in their offline stores due to local SEO.  Digital marketing experts believe that this trend is here to stay in the upcoming year as well.


-Video Advertising.  The paradigm shift from images to video is perhaps the most significant trend that 2021 will witness.  Popular platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn have introduced short video features (Reels, Facebook Shorts & LinkedIn Story) because people hook more to videos than images or blogs.  This gives marketers a perfect opportunity to target their audience by creating engaging and informational videos.  More specifically, shorter videos (one minute or less) have been observed to perform better than long-form videos by the marketing experts.  However, any video duration can hook up your target audience as long as it contains the information the users want to consume.


-Live-streams and an increase in influencer content.  On Facebook, live viewings spiked by 50% during lockdown periods, while viewings on Instagram surged 70%.  TikTok use shot up in 2020, and there’s a good chance we’ll see this upward trajectory continue to play out in 2021. Human-drive content like influencer live-streams can create trust, and tap into the "in-the-moment" connection that 2020 consumers crave.  Amazon Live really got going during the pandemic.  Influencers took to the platform to promote their favorite products during live events.  What’s more, the livestreams were shoppable, which meant viewers could make purchases while they were watching. 


-Increased voice and visual search.  An increasing number of consumers are searching via voice-activated tools like Alexa.  About one in four American homes has a smart speaker of some kind.  But it’s not just voice search that will prevail in 2021 - we can also expect other creative search methods to rise to the top, like visual search.  Tools like Google Lens enable consumers can search for whatever they can see.  This means marketers will need to focus even more on image alt-text and sitemaps for images.  Over the next year, visuals will become increasingly important in the SEO game.  It’s going to be profitable too.  Retail Customer Experience estimates that by 2021 "early adopters that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search will increase their digital commerce revenue by 30%.” 


-Easy-to-consume content like podcasts and newsletters.  2020 also saw people leaning on easy-to-consume content - things like podcasts that can be consumed on-the-go or newsletters that land directly in subscriber’s inboxes.  Studies show that 55% of Americans now listen to podcasts, while newsletter mentions were up 14% during lockdown.  Advertisers are spending more on podcasts too, which is a hint to their continued success in 2021.  Convenient and readily-available content like podcasts and newsletters will help brands connect more deeply with customers and provide a more intimate way to stay in touch. 


            Our predictions are based on trends that we’ve seen developing in the recent past, so it’s a good place to start when making business plans and strategies for the year ahead.  But, as mentioned earlier, you can never really know what outside factors will affect your plans.  So above all, you must focus on resiliency and agility.  The most important thing is to be prepared to change course at any time.  


Stephanie Bariatti works as a Consultant and Project Manager for SMB Media Consulting.  She has had extensive experience with many facets of advertising and media, having worked for and with creative agencies, production companies and research departments.  She lives in New York with her wonderful husband, three lovable little boys and a snuggly Golden Retriever.