Exclusive insights into 2021 marketing trends that will put certainty back into your strategy and help your brand bounce back from COVID faster.

Since April 2020, we’ve been busy exploring what the impact of COVID – and the related national lockdowns – really mean for brands, and how this has impacted customer and consumer behaviour. While some changes are obvious and temporary (for example, increases in social media usage) others, we have found, are more subtle, but are likely to be more permanent.

As we sit on the cusp of returning to normality, brands are presented with a challenge, what does this new normal mean for the way they market to and engage with customers?

Throughout the pandemic, we have run a number of sold-out webinars addressing how brands can understand and weather the key pandemic phases; crisis; recovery and the new normal. More than 500 senior marketers attended the events, and helpfully shared their views and experiences. You can watch some of the sessions on-demand via Prohibition’s event page.

Now, at the start of 2021, there finally appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. To mark this, we have run a programme of new webinars focusing on the key social media and digital trends that are set to bring you competitive edge, and make your marketing sharper and more accountable in the coming year.

As with previous webinars, we were keen to benchmark exactly where marketers were currently at, and what their predictions were for the year ahead. A number of fascinating trends emerged:

 A return to business as usual…(just be patient)

A good proportion of marketers were relatively bullish about when they felt their market would return to ‘business as usual’ with 22% predicting this would happen in the second half of 2021. Meanwhile, the majority (41%), more conservatively, estimated it would not happen until the end of the year.

What does this mean for brands? It is important to get your marketing strategy fit for purpose in order to capitalise on this long-awaited return to normality. Campaigns that were put on ice should be dusted off.  For those anticipating permanent changes to their market, it is important to audit your strategy in the context of your audience to understand what – if anything – is still relevant to your customer base, and what needs to change. Prohibition’s range of Persona Marketing services can support this.

Plateauing budgets

 Unaspiringly, the majority of marketers (44%) saw their marketing budgets freeze in 2020, no doubt due to sluggish market performance in 2020, and continued uncertainty in Q1 and Q2 this year. However, in every crisis are winners, and this perhaps explains the 24% who had seen their budgets increase this year. Nearly a third (32%) saw budgets decrease.

What does this mean for brands? Marketing needs to become sharper, more strategic and more accountable, and brands should demand this from their agencies. Social media and fully integrated campaigns will help more the dial and drive meaningful results.

Focus on empathy and relationships

One of the big trends we’ve seen throughout the pandemic is a shift towards brands toning down their commercial messaging, and being more empathetic (mirroring how the general public have been behaving – initially, at least). So, it was therefore interesting to see the research reflecting this with marketers predicting in 2021, they would focus more on building relationships with their customers (29%) and empathy (21%).

What does this mean for brands? These changes are symptomatic of broader consumer attitudes and relationships with brands. Insight here is key; what used to work in the ‘old world’ might not work now, so it’s crucial to deeply understand what your audience used to care about, and what they care about now. This insight should shape your marketing accordingly.

Content is king

Finally, we asked marketers what channels are set to be their key focus throughout 2021. We’ve already discussed the need for budgets to work harder and marketing to be more accountable, so it was perhaps unsurprising to see content marketing (23%), integrated marketing campaigns (21%) and paid social media (18%) emerging top. All three of these have the potential to directly drive tangible results (leads, sales, conversions) when compared with more traditional marketing activity.

What does this mean for brands? Now is the time to deliver integrated digitally-led campaign activity. Q1 should be spent updating your strategy and planning so that you’re ready to go when your respective market picks up.

How to supercharge your recovery

As part of our 2021 thought series events, we identified the key trends for the year that will give you competitive edge and take your marketing to the next level. Running at the start of each year, our predictions (after a quick calculation) are consistently accurate, so you could do worse than to introduce a few into your marketing strategy for 2021. We’ve outlined a selection of our key predictions here;

  1. Social conscious brands

Brands with a conscience are receiving more engagement, positive sentiment and share of voice than those without. This means that brands will increasingly need to have ethics at the heart of their marketing strategy, ranging from the way the treat their staff, to their environmental policies and their relationship with suppliers.  While this is a trend that has been bubbling away for several years, the pandemic has really accelerated it, changing the expectations customers have of the brands they interact with.

2. Redefining success

It’s been rumoured for a while, but this year Facebook and Instagram are likely to remove traditional social media metrics, such as ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. In fact, they have already begun trailing this approach with selected accounts. Given a high percentage of marketers use these metrics to determine their success, there will soon be a need to redefine what success looks like. Moving forwards businesses should focus less on ‘vanity’ metrics and more on hidden engagements, such as web clicks or conversions

3. UGC

User generated content is not a new trend but the way brands use it is becoming more sophisticated. Consumer trust in UGC is at an all-time-high (especially when compared with traditional advertising), and as such, it presents powerful opportunities for brands. Areas to watch out for in 2021 when it comes to UGC include using audience data in creative and engaging ways, for example, in Spotify’s ‘2020 Wrapped’ playlist campaign.

4. Responsible influence

Influencer marketing continues to evolve, and there is increasing pressure on influencers to operate in a more responsible manner. Consumers are quite rightly demanding integrity, accountability and trustworthiness from influencers they follow on social media, and this, more than celebrity credentials or glamourous lifestyles, will become a defining factor when it comes to a brand assessing their suitability for a partnership.

5. Video for social commerce

Video – especially live or ephemeral video – continues to dominate social media. Videos perform better on social and get higher engagement more than virtually all other forms of content and in 2021 will become the key medium when it comes to social commerce.

6. Going beyond superficial personas

Consumers now have even higher expectations from brands when it comes to understanding their needs and wants. As such, brands need to look beyond traditional superficial personas, and genuinely understand their customers, using combination of first-party and third-party data. This will allow for relevant, effective and tailored communications like never before.

Ok we lied. There’s not 11 trends here, but you can see the full list over on our on-demand events page right here.

Fail we may, sail we must

Whatever happens in 2021, one thing’s for sure; fortune favours the brave. Taking a proactive approach to marketing, investing properly, experimenting and being bold will stand you in better stead than battening down the hatches. Marketing has never been more important.

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About Will Ockenden