2021 Marketing Strategy – Trends You Need to Know

Hello folks, welcome back to the Marketing Mindset Club. Thanks for sticking with me while there’s been a bit of a hiatus. Family, life, work, lockdown – all sorts of things happened but I’m back and ready to go for 2021. Here in the UK, we’re in Lockdown 3.0 right now and desperately keeping everything crossed that this is the last time and by the time we emerge, we’ll all be on the road to recovery. I mentioned work in my list of things that happened – well, as well as the pressures and changing priorities of daily work, I’m lucky enough to have a new role that I’m starting shortly. I am moving jobs to an exciting Shopify Plus eCommerce agency called Swanky as their Head of Agency Marketing. It’s going to be a whole new challenge for me and I’m so glad to start 2021 with some positive news.

But I know not everyone is starting the year in a positive frame of mind and that lots of people are struggling for work, feeling stuck or not enjoying what you’re doing. But I firmly believe better times are coming. So, while we’re all trying to make the best of the situation we’re faced with, I thought rather than pick up exactly where we left off in Season 2, I’d try and help you get a head start on the year. 

So, we’re going to discuss what the top thinkers and organisations are predicting for trends we’ll see in 2021. I’m going to do this in two sections – this episode is going to be at a strategic level and the next episode is going to be more about channels and tactics.

Just before we get into it, I wanted to start with my favourite sentiment from any of the reports and interviews I’ve read and it’s from Hootsuite’s 2021 social trends report and it goes:

To say any of us saw 2020 coming would be a lie. 

A global pandemic, economic collapse, unignorable calls 

for racial equality, and an ongoing climate crisis all made 

for a tough, dark year.

But when there is darkness, there is light. There is resiliency,

innovation, and creativity—and there’s always a path back to growth.

And that optimism and positive outlook is the thing I’m going to hang onto this year. So, let’s get going with the things you need to know so you can feel more positive and more in control of your marketing this year. 

I also wanted to preface this episode with context – which I think is going to be crucial to how we market to our customers in 2021. Right now, there’s significant uncertainty about when we’ll be allowed out of lockdown here in the UK, when will vaccinations be available, and what will life look like when we’re able to return to some sort of normality, whatever that looks like? What I’m getting at is there’s heightened uncertainty and instability in the world, which means consumer behaviours are changing and as marketers, we need to be increasingly mindful of the situation of our audience. It’s easier than ever to miss the mark in advertising, by being tone deaf and refusing to acknowledge the situational influences faced by the audience. Which brings me onto my first point.

Shifting customer behaviours means trust is paramount

This is a common theme in many of the trend articles that I’ve read. 2021 is going to be another unpredictable year for consumer confidence, much as 2020 was, and customer behaviours are continuing to be affected by some really big things. Aside from the coronavirus pandemic, Gartner listed them as political unrest, economic recession, diminished brand loyalty, climate change, shift to online buying and racial tensions. And just because trust or lifetime customer value is at a certain level for your business right now isn’t a great indicator of how strong it might be in 12 months time and beyond.

One organisation that’s provided some detail about how behaviours are likely to change is KPMG. They surveyed 75,000 consumers in 12 markets and these are some of the findings:

  • Two in five (43 percent) consumers are worried about their financial security in 2021
  • More than one-third (36 percent), are prioritizing savings over spending
  • 37 percent are working from home more, and 60 percent plan to do so more in the future
  • One in five (20 percent) want to stay home as much as possible
  • Confidence in public transportation has declined 37 percent compared to pre-COVID-19
  • Net spend is expected to be 21 percent less over the next 6-12 months, versus pre-COVID-19
  • Close to half (45 percent) predict digital channels will be their main connection to brands
  • “Value for money” is ranked by 63 percent as the top purchase criteria

Deloitte covered trust in a bit more detail in their report. Earlier this year, they surveyed 3,000 customers and 4,500 employees in the United States to better understand the link between trust and decision-making. Through multivariate analysis, they identified four signals—humanity, transparency, capability, and reliability—that measure trust and, more importantly, influence future behaviour. Humanity and transparency reflect a brand’s intentions while capability and reliability demonstrate its competency in fulfilling those intentions. For marketers seeking to build and strengthen brand reputation, this can be translated into messaging (intentions) and delivery (competence). Brand messaging should maintain transparency in its intentions and reflect its humanity. At the same time, the delivery of its experiences and products needs to be consistently reliable and capable of doing what is promised.

But quite rightly, they state that building trust requires a coordinated effort between a number of key functions, including product development, information security, talent, and marketing strategy, among others. So, as a marketer, how much control can you really have over building trust?  Well, that’s a bit rhetorical because it will depend on the organisation you’re working in. For example, Forcepoint, a cybersecurity company, recently created a chief strategy and trust

officer role. In organizations such as WW (formerly Weight Watchers), the chief people officer is

responsible for delivering on all parts of the employee experience. Both cases represent a shift in mindset based on the acknowledgment that trust is an organisation-wide issue and requires executive-level coordination. Because it’s not just about customers, it’s about employees as well.

Knowing your why will see you through

The concept of ‘Purpose’ was also highlighted in the 2021 trend report by Deloitte. They stated that “Organizations that know why they exist and who they’re built to serve are uniquely positioned to navigate unprecedented change” and I wholeheartedly agree with this. The world has changed. How do businesses that are reliant on predictable customer behaviours or events to make their money? The answer – adapt. And if you have a clear knowledge of why you exist and the people you serve, this should be easy to do. That’s why you’ve seen a business like Brewdog, who’s customers couldn’t make use of their bars, switch to making hand sanitiser and most recently offering their locations as COVID vaccination hubs. They know who they are and why they exist. In their manifesto, they say “our philosophy has always been to shorten the distance as much as possible between ourselves and the people who enjoy our beers. We do things against the grain. We will do what we think is right – and we really don’t care what people think.”

If you’re interested in the concept of why, then you’ll undoubtedly know the name Simon SInek. I’m a huge fan of Simon Sinek, and if you’ve not read any of his work then you really should. I can highly recommend Start With Why. For those unfamiliar, it’s the book that came out of his 2010 Tedtalk, which propelled him towards the profile he occupies today. The premise is this concept of the Golden Circle. Imagine 3 circles, one small, one medium, one large and then lay one on top of the other – that’s the iconic diagram that springs to mind for anyone who knows his work. The names of the circles from the largest outer one to the smallest centre one is what, how, why. Sinek says that many companies start with their “what” and then move to the “how.” Most neglect to even mention or even understand “why.” More alarmingly, many of them don’t even know why they do what they do! 

Simon Sinek uses the example of Apple to show how important it is that why comes first. Imagine if Apple also started backwards by creating a marketing message that started with “what.”

“We make great computers. They’re user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?”

While these facts are true, I’m not sold. We want to know why they are great and user-friendly. Turns out Apple has figured this out over the years and knows better. Here’s what a real marketing message from Apple might actually look like.

“With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently. Our products are user-friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

If you’re working in an organisation that doesn’t have a clear why, then it’s not the end of the world. You don’t have to be rudderless, it is possible to retrofit a why and then redirect the business. And I don’t mean do a complete 180, you can achieve it with a course adjustment. You might have a why, it might just need elevating in your hierarchy of priority and messaging.

Digital transformation, your business might never be the same

Another common theme for 2021 is around digital transformation. 2020 saw many businesses take a dramatic leap in a new direction in the digital space as part of their response to the pandemic. There were 85,000 new online stores launched or businesses joining online marketplaces in the UK last year. According to McKinsey, in the US they’ve jumped forward 10 years of growth in ecommerce in the space of a year. Now it’s not surprising given the force of the pandemic, many many businesses have had to adapt. 

As Shopify write in their Future of Ecommerce report: “Lockdowns, travel bans, and retail closures forced the consumer online, and the world’s largest retailers soon followed, in some cases selling direct to consumer (DTC) for the first time. But not all ecommerce newcomers had the infrastructure in place to deliver a world-class customer experience.”

But as the world tries to find its new normal in 2021, there are some predictions that it could be a year of unsettled results. Growth is expected to be unpredictable and we’re not expecting to see the massive boom we saw in 2020. I think 2021 will be the year where we see those businesses who moved into digital-first be separated by those who focused on their end to end customer experience and those who rode the wave of necessity. 

A true omnichannel experience will lead to better customer experience

This is about bridging the gap between likes, follows and engagement with business outcomes like purchases, downloads, subscriptions or trial sign ups. According to Hootsuite, 69% of respondents to their CMO survey agreed that social media helped them prepare for COVID-19’s impact on business disruption by maintaining customer relationships via social. Boosting loyalty is also top of mind, and 33.5% of marketing leaders cite retaining current customers as their key objective during the pandemic, more than improving ROI (3.5%) or even customer acquisition (14%). However, their research uncovered that only 10% of marketers feel they have mature practices around integrating social data into enterprise systems like Adobe, Marketo, or Salesforce.

So, the desire is out there to understand more about customers, which means more focused marketing efforts, but not many senior marketers feel their practices are particularly evolved. I think this is such a crucial issue to be talking about in 2021 – because customer experience is going to become one of the top defining factors (if it isn’t already) in consumer choice. For myself, when I think of businesses I want to deal with, I’ll almost always pay more for a better quality experience. 

Gartner found that by 2023, 25% of organizations will amalgamate marketing, sales and

CX into a single function. And in a 2021 trends article for eConsultancy, Steffan Aquarone, CEO of Paygora which is a fintech startup said “Whilst customer experience should be something everyone in the organisation obsesses over, there are potentially calls for 2021 to see customer experience develop as a functional specialism within businesses. This means thinking about, and advocating for CX above all else; taking a whole-business view of where barriers or obstacles to CX exist, and having the authority and advocacy power to overcome them – especially if they’re caused by legacy issues like systems integrations or ways of working.”

I think this is a real opportunity for marketers in organisations that don’t have an evolved focus on their CX to own this function. We as marketers spend our days trying to understand our customers better and make sure that we’re meeting their needs most effectively and efficiently – so if no one else is going to focus on CX, then we can. But it’s worth being aware that customer experience extends outside the digital realm. It involves everything from initial interactions online, through customer services, in person interactions (in a post COVID world), fulfilment, delivery, warranty and future use of the product or relationship. Customers can have a negative experience at any point in the journey, and it’ll affect lifetime value – future purchasing potential, re-engagement and all that good stuff. So, how you as a business handle every touch point is going to contribute to the overall CX. And we know as marketers, it’s much easier, cheaper and better for everyone to keep existing customers than to acquire new ones.

What does this mean for you as a marketer?

Well, first things first is that it’s easy to think that all bets are off for 2021, but I don’t want you to feel it’s completely hopeless. Standing still and riding it out is also not an option for a business that intends to survive. Sure, customer behaviours are changing, but I want you to revisit your marketing strategy and assess how this uncomfortable reality might impact your plans.

I think you should fully expect to re-prioritise your plan or re-strategise completely, but this doesn’t mean putting your plan in the bin. I am confident there WILL be things you can do from a marketing perspective that will move the business towards its goals. Don’t be afraid to stray from the original strategy if it’s just not fit for the circumstances that 2021 is likely to present. I would also expect that being responsive to the other things this year might throw at us is pretty inevitable.

Then you need to get clear on your why, if you’re not already there. Knowing why you exist as a business will give you a clear guiding principle to pivot your marketing strategy around. It’ll be much easier to adapt effectively if you know why you exist. But you do have to make sure your whole organisation is on board with this. It might only be a subtle messaging change that’s needed, but marketing alone can’t solve this. So, you’ll need C-suite buy-in to get the adoption that’s needed to make this meaningful. 

Then I recommend looking at your customer journey from the very start; that point of zero awareness of a prospect right through to the post-purchase to the loyalty or advocacy cycle. This will not only show you where marketing can have a positive impact, it’ll show you where your tech stack needs improving to support an onmni-channel experience and give you that single customer view. You can start with a user journey map, and I’ve linked to a resource I particularly like for that in the show notes, which you can find at marketingmindset.club. 

So, with everything we’ve covered in this episode, I just wanted to say that surviving and thriving in 2021 is going to take the strongest mindset and resolve yet. I’ve no doubt it’s going to challenge and stretch us as, not just as marketers but as siblings, spouses, partners, children – as humans. And I just want to leave you with a sentiment from Deepak Chopra in a recent article 

‘ You can’t help the cause of peace unless you are peaceful in yourself.’

So I wish you a prosperous and peaceful 2021. I’m looking forward to all that we’ll do together this year. In the next episode, we’ll talk about 2021 trends in tactics and channels. Thank you so much for coming back to the Marketing Mindset Club. Normal service will resume shortly and I’m so glad you’re still here and that you tuned in for this trend episode. If you haven’t yet subscribed or left a review, please consider doing so if you’re getting value from the show – it really helps me out in my goal to grow this club. 
I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments and questions so head over to Instagram @MarketingMindsetClub and I’ll see you next time.