Marketing Trends for 2021

Happy February everyone! This is my annual Insight that looks at some of the major marketing trends expected for the year ahead, albeit a little later than usual and through a lens impacted by COVID-19. So, here goes with an admission upfront that I’m looking forward to seeing what marketing changes will result once we get beyond the pandemic.

The Importance of Primary Data: The use of data is the lifeblood of business growth. It is the basis of customer prospecting, conversion and retention strategies and the fuel of digital marketing campaigns. Over the last decade, companies have increasingly appended their data to third-party data providers to improve their targeted marketing efforts. But a shift is now underway. Appending third-party data has an inherent high degree of waste, and as its use has become more commonplace, so has its differentiating value. On top of that, global privacy regulations, the death of third-party cookies and ad- blocking are helping to eliminate many of the data collection methods previously used by intermediaries.

In 2021, marketing efforts will need to focus on capturing primary data – the sharing of personal data by clients and customers. As the Luxury Institute reports in its white paper, The 10 New Rules for the 21st Century Data-Driven Enterprise, data directly sourced from, and authenticated by customers, is the critical resource for every enterprise. So, how do you capture primary data?

According to Focus Insite, conducting surveys, doing interviews, hosting focus groups and sending out questionnaires are surefire strategies. Customer loyalty programs are also ideal for capturing personal data as customers willingly share information for fair value rewards. The need for primary data is also why more and more organizations will explore marketing partnerships to tap one another’s client bases in reaching quality targets.

Content Marketing/Product Campaigns Dominate: Over the last few years, content marketing coupled with lead/demand generation product campaigns have been the cornerstones of marketing programs. Consuming the lion’s share of budgets, these digital programs integrate a full range of outreach strategies while creating immediate opportunities to measure results. In our current COVID-19 world, digital marketing initiatives were an even greater bedrock of marketing activities in 2020 and will continue to be so in 2021 with one caveat: the ever-increasing emphasis on capturing quality data, as per above!

Mobile Momentum: As digital marketing dominates, marketers have to be equally concerned about their mobile strategies. According to eMarketer, the average US adult spent 25 additional minutes per day on mobile apps in 2020, driven in large part by increased video streaming and mobile shopping. In 2021, mobile usage is expected to increase yet again. As a result, marketers must pay attention to this behavioral shift and reexamine their mobile strategies. This includes making sure apps are intuitive and function seamlessly while preparing for anticipated regulations, particularly restrictions around the use of location data.

Online and In-Person Events: As the pandemic wore on in 2020, a growing number of webinars and virtual conferences were scheduled to offset in-person event cancellations. Once we get beyond COVID-19, a good number of online events are likely to continue as they reflect our remote working world. That said, in-person events are primed to make a bold return as there’s no replacing human interaction. Even in industries like banking, where remote working delivered strong performance, the loss of conferences and client events was considered a big negative. When COVID-19 fears lift, there may be a race for big events and conferences, and it is likely attendance will be very high – masks and all!

It's All About Purpose: Nearly two years ago to this day, I published an Insight on the emergence of Purpose as a major new business imperative. Then later that Fall, as if on cue, C-Suite leaders announced the need to articulate “Purpose” to secure the long-term viability of their businesses in their shift from a “shareholder” to “stakeholder” focus. Purpose, as it is defined, should be embedded in every facet of a company’s operations: developing robust employee programs; delivering value to customers; dealing ethically with suppliers; supporting local communities; and ensuring practices to support the preservation of our planet. Last year, a series of events – from the COVID-19 healthcare crisis to social justice movements – only magnified the need for businesses to articulate a clear Purpose. Lots of CEOs scrambled to “talk the talk” by making sure they delivered a Purpose-focused message as consumers and the financial markets rewarded those companies whose Purpose reflected their values. Now, in 2021, businesses must “walk the walk” and in doing so, give marketing a major role in both communicating what Purpose means and helping to develop and deliver meaningful brand experiences.

Here's to 2021. May we operate with hope, good health and renewed purpose in the year ahead.