The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed the way that people interact with each other, as social distancing and stay-at-home directives have forced millions to seek new ways of staying connected.
This shift is certainly reflected by many of the most significant digital marketing trends that have emerged so far in 2021.
Though trends are usually independent of economic factors, COVID-19 was a major influencer throughout 2020 as companies had to adapt to the crisis, with late digital adopters much more likely to be affected than those who had already incorporated digital processes into their operations.
Taking all that has happened over the past 12 months into account, here are 10 of the biggest trends that are set to dominate the digital world in 2021.
With the limitations that the pandemic has placed on businesses' ability to communicate with consumers, the use of conversational marketing technologies is becoming increasingly prevalent.
These enable companies to interact with customers quickly and at scale by mimicking human dialogue.
Chatbots are just one example of conversational tech, but there are various other micro-interactions that companies are using to establish communications with their customers at a time when doing so otherwise can be particularly difficult.
In a recent report, the Content Marketing Institute stated its belief that customer experience will be the new battleground for business.
With so many options available to consumers now, companies can no longer rely solely on the strength of their products and services and must also consider what they can do to make their customers' journey as smooth as possible.
As this trend becomes increasingly common, firms must focus on offering quick, friendly, and knowledgeable responses when conversing with their buyers that will lead to repeat business.
Tech giants like Apple, Google and Mozilla have all recently taken steps to increase privacy controls for users of their browser software, and these changes are expected to shake up the advertising models for most social media and ad networks in 2021.
Also driving this trend is Google's decision to stop Chrome supporting all third-party cookies by early 2022.
These moves will significantly alter how digital ads are targeted and tracked; affording potential customers a greater level of privacy when surfing online.
A study from Catalyst and Kantar published in April shows that 56% of e-commerce professionals are now allocating funds to data and analytics, making it the top e-commerce service that companies are budgeting for.
As organisations cope with measuring the effectiveness of retail media, many are looking beyond Return on Ad Spend [ROAS] as the only successful metric and are instead focusing on more robust measurement frameworks.
These allow them to better align with overall business objectives and bring unique e-commerce strategies they can implement across retailers.
According to management consultancy firm McKinsey, the availability of products and services is the top reason why so many customers are currently switching their brand allegiance.
This highlights the importance for companies to update not only their contact details, but their availability also on any online business directories that they are listed on, such as Google My Business.
Many B2C firms typically draw customers on a primarily local level, and business directories allow brands to provide valuable information about opening hours, services provided, geographical location, and more.
Keeping listings updated also enables customers to know of any changes to operating hours, promotions, blogs, or any other information that firms would like to convey.
Authenticity in data usage and analytics that can be trusted will continue to be a driving factor for digital marketers in 2021.
The availability of digital measurement platforms means marketers can automate a lot of the grind that they would otherwise experience when crunching their data and analytics, freeing up time and resources to be used in other areas of the business.
With budgets continuing to be squeezed by the ongoing impact of the pandemic, marketers are scrutinising their marketing spend and looking to ensure that every penny spent is delivering a Return on Investment [ROI].
For far too long, the majority of advertisers have accepted that they do not know where much of their marketing budget is going – with the reality being that most of this is likely being wasted by the likes of fake clicks and bot clicks.
The emergence of platforms such as Beacon means that companies can now get a much more accurate picture of their campaign traffic by identifying activity from non-human sources and removing it from their channels – thereby enabling budgets to be used more wisely.
In the US during the second quarter of 2020, social media budgets accounted for 24% of total marketing budgets.
This figure jumped to 56.4% in Q3, according to Socialbakers.
The trend can be attributed to audiences' shift towards digital channels, which has presented a challenge for many brands that historically have not focused their advertising campaigns on social media.
Many marketers who were already closely monitoring, measuring and improving their digital audience have been able to succeed in shifting their focus to reflect this.
Digital advertising on e-commerce sites increased significantly in 2020, and will continue to do so throughout 2021 due to the huge shift from shopping on the high street to online shopping.
Figures from eMarketer show that advertising on e-commerce platforms jumped by 39% in 2020, and is expected to grow by another 30% in 2021 as the economic fallout of the pandemic continues to force the closure of high street shops.
Audience research is vital for marketers to assess how the habits of their customer base have changed during the pandemic.
Studies suggest that 'purpose beyond profit' is becoming a more important factor in a potential customer's purchase decision, meaning brands are having to think more about how consumer attitudes have shifted.
This was reflected by the choice and inspiration behind some of 2020's festive adverts from the UK's big brands, in which diversity, good deeds and making memories all played a key role.
Showing consideration for issues that customers care about will help businesses to demonstrate their consideration for, and commitment to, their brand image.
As the pandemic continues to cause disruption to businesses and society in general, new digital trends are bound to emerge throughout 2021.
With the past year ranking among the hardest for many companies, the struggle to keep up with an ever-changing digital landscape goes on as the threat of further financial hardship looms for those who fail to do so.
That is why it is so important that businesses are aware of the latest digital trends so they can plan for the near future and take full advantage of all that the world of digital has to offer them at this difficult time.