As we all learned last year, predicting the future can be challenging, if not impossible. Every January I take a look at trends to be mindful of for the coming year. My five 2020 predictions were tracking well until March, and then the world tossed us a new playbook. Remarkably however, several of them actually held up quite well – including my wildcard suggestion to buy Shopify stock! If you’re curious, check the original link HERE. So with a pretty solid record despite a pandemic intervening, I’ve decided to double my trends predictions for 2021.
1. We will need to Re-evaluate the customer journey
This is a big one, since it impacts virtually every angle of your business. What, where, when, how and why we buy were all challenged in 2020. E-Commerce, delivery services, remote work, and do-it-yourself exploded. Curb-side pick-up became a thing, and if it could be digitized, it was disrupted. Competitors failed, new ones emerged. Industry lines blurred, and new partnerships formed. Many new patterns of consumer behavior were driven initially by safety, but will remain longer term for other reasons such as convenience. The place to start is validating the buyer’s journey. What is still true? What has changed? What could be improved? What could be simplified or removed? How can we make sure we’re showing up for our users in a relevant and meaningful way? Assess the channels and formats used for promotion and even the content created. You may also need to reconsider how you measure success.
2. Brands with purpose will do better
Every company going forward should know why they exist and who they serve. Covid-19 created uncertainty, and took an emotional and economic toll on the world. Brands that responded positively to help their customers, workforces and communities fared better than others. Initiatives such as financial institutions deferring loan payments, shoe companies donating footwear to front line nurses, glove companies making masks for first responders, and in general shifting their policies to better support their workforce, showed the value of having a holistic purpose – connecting a company’s role in society to its long-term value. That clear alignment between brand identity and a commitment to all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders creates a purpose-driven business. Companies with purpose are garnering more attention, but also spurring consumer action. Nearly 25% of respondents in a recent Deloitte global study agreed that purpose driven actions positively shifted brand perceptions and their buying preferences in favour of the brand. Having a purpose tied to societal good will be something consumers increasingly value in 2021.
3. Knowing what your customers value will be critical
This past year forced many people to take stock of what they truly value. From safety and economic threats prompted by the pandemic to changes in home/work/relationships caused by distancing, to political unrest and discussions around diversity and inclusion, awareness of personal values were sharpened at every turn. Traditionally marketers have used demographics such as age, gender, location as keys to segmenting audiences and crafting messages. 2021 is the year to consider what your ideal customers VALUES more than what they look like. With 95% of purchases driven by subconscious urges, the values which drive human emotions and actions will truly matter going forward.
4. We will need to be more human in our marketing
With so many interactions driven into virtual environments, and digital solutions often decidedly less human, 2021 is ripe for brands that nurture connection on an authentic and human level. Showing people behind the scenes, being fun and informal on video or personalizing communications will be important. This was a prominent trend for 2020 already, due to increased automation, but the pandemic just put it on steroids.
5. Brand storytelling & empathy will be key
People want and need genuine connections. In 2021 brands have a real opportunity to let empathy drive their storytelling efforts. Empathy is one of the fastest ways to connect with an audience, and connection can drive better results because it builds trust. Brand storytelling has always been important, but in 2021 doing it well through demonstrating empathy will matter a lot.
6. Communications will need to be personalized & consistent
The pandemic was a test of loyalty for many marketers. The best brands focused on personalization to attract and retain customers. Personalizing a website and email experience around the customer, and truly integrating informed audience targeting, acknowledging customer interests and stage in the buying journey over mass messaging was key. Consistency of contact and connection through reliable customer touch points, even when the company isn’t directly selling, will continue to define success in 2021.
7. There will be opportunity in collaboration and cross industry partnerships
The pandemic brought out universal human needs to the forefront. From essential products and services, connecting with family and friends and navigating disrupted work environments, the crisis created innovation and experimentation as companies, governments, communities and individuals pieced together new ways to meet unmet consumer needs. The most disruptive companies started looking beyond industry boundaries to find ways to serve those unmet needs. This allowed some to completely reimagine partnerships and solutions for the customers they serve. Whether out of necessity to survive or because they saw new opportunities, many brands that took the leap and entered new partnerships found better ways to holistically serve people. Integrating customer insights across industry lines was a breath of fresh air. In 2021 collaboration will remain a hot opportunity.
8. We will need to leverage digital tools even more
The traditional recession playbook advocated either retrenching and focusing on costs to ride out a downturn, or spending ahead of the demand with a view of capturing market share. But the current pandemic economic challenge is unique. It has forced rapid and massive changes in consumer behavior – much of it away from brick and mortar stories towards digital channels. This requires a different playbook – being agile in digital channels to meet customer needs as they unfold. In a market flooded with content, rising above the clutter is all about relevance. It could be as simple as selling snow tires when and where it’s snowing – a creative message informed by data insights with real time capacity to deliver a relevant message. Social listening, data-driven insights, understanding the customer, the platforms they use, and keeping track of what’s trending are all critical in leveraging digital messaging in 2021.
9. E-Commerce will continue to accelerate
It goes without saying that e-commerce exploded in 2020 due to the pandemic, but that trend was already well under way. Covid amplified it and this trend will continue to accelerate in 2021. Selling on your website, through Amazon or Shopify, or directly through Facebook or Instagram posts and ads is the new normal. The clock will not be rolling back on this.
10. Social advocacy, diversity & inclusion will be important
2020 taught us the importance of authenticity. From the flood of Covid response emails in early spring to brand statements on #BlackLivesMatter, the #MeToo movement and voter advocacy, we saw increased scrutiny around brand authenticity, diversity and inclusion. While there were some hard lessons learned by those jumping blindly onboard, social advocacy will continue to be a defining piece of 2021. If the social issue matches a brands values and purpose, and is well aligned with the target audience, taking a stand in an authentic way will be beneficial. People who like you, will love you more. But do a serious check in on values, purpose and your target audience first!