As we stumble out of 2020, the horizon ahead can appear hazy. There is a lot that’s changed this year… And a lot of the changes that we’ve endured culturally, personally, and within our respective industries is here to stay. Or is it?
It’s difficult to say that in the new year things will be like this or like that. We simply don’t know what the future holds.
But it’s helpful to reflect on the past year (and decade) to understand some of how we got here, as well as focus on some of the unchanging things that we want to uphold in the coming months. For us at R Creative, this involves our unwavering commitment to helping companies increase their online sales in as little as 90 days.
Sometimes, this involves working together and other times, this simply involves talking about the things that impact our industry and reflecting on how these factors can help us better serve you and businesses like yours. Today, that’s what we’re going to do as we peer into the possibilities for digital marketing in 2021 — and beyond.
1. Digitization is on the rise
Over the past decade, digitization has continued to take a greater role at the center of many marketing strategies. Why? Well, digitization can look like something different for almost any brand, yet some of those overarching themes: automation, smart responses, chatbots, and so forth – are things we’ve simply become used to interacting with.
Analysts anticipate that digitization will only continue to grow as brands seek to reach customers in an increasingly virtual marketplace. Processes like smart filters, autocorrecting forms, and even quasi-AI content creation, called augmentation, will become more commonplace as brands with massive marketing budgets look for new ways to woo their potential clients.
While it’s exciting to get caught up in the flash of something new and shiny — and certainly some experts will insist that intense digitization or augmentation is the future of marketing — we suggest a more cautious approach. Yes, you want to ensure that your site is optimized for multiple platforms, that you have a messenger to interact with customers when you aren’t around to monitor inboxes, and that your forms are able to sufficiently weed out good leads from the bad.
There are plenty of ways to digitize your website to help things hum along and provide a seamless experience for your users. But there’s also a fine balance between making things feel slick and crossing over into the bizarre land where it feels like robots are running the show.
2. Users crave personalized interaction
Another important trend that has arisen as a result of social distancing and “apart-togetherness” of 2020 is an increasing need for brands to provide a personalized experience for every user on every platform. People want to feel seen and heard, which is really hard to do in a virtual environment.
As we come into a second year of cancelled conferences, Zoom replacements for family hangouts, and digital shopping, we as marketers need to recognize the little touches that make an online experience feel less “virtual” and more “reality”.
This goes beyond having a chatbot named Sven. This involves coordinated messaging to bring clients in on your company culture. Whether you’re educating in a blog post, sharing in a video, or putting content on social media, you want to ensure that you have a unified voice that matches your brand and connects appropriately with your desired audience.
For example, if you own a surf shop that sells high end beachwear, suits, and surfing gear, your audience may feel alienated if you conducted your online brand “self” in an uptight, businesslike tone. While that tone is appropriate for a lawyer’s office or corporate accounting firm, it wouldn’t fit at all for a more laid back lifestyle brand.
Just as you focus on corporate culture to unite your employees and investors around a common message, you want to use your customer interactions as an opportunity to connect this culture to the outside world. Your customers will feel like they’re getting to know the heart of the brand and in turn, they’ll be more likely to buy and stick around for future needs and purchases.
3. Mobile optimization continues to reign
The past year, unsurprisingly, saw an increase in mobile activity, with people increasingly using their smartphones to keep in touch with loved ones, work remotely, shop, and more. The mobile trend isn’t going anywhere anytime fast — but consumers’ needs are developing at light speed.
What does this mean for everyday brands? Well, for starters, your site needs to have appropriate mobile optimization so that users can interact with content from any device, any time. This is not only an important factor for keeping people around on your pages (which statistically is tied to an increase in likelihood of sales), but also for your brand’s SEO rankings. Sites that aren’t up to minimum mobile standards are flagged for poor performance and lose space to those sites that are.
Mobile use needs will vary from brand to brand. Your web developer should be able to help you understand your unique needs and provide support for implementing upgrades that will make your site and other platforms more mobile-friendly.
4. Cross-platform ecommerce opportunities abound
In addition to your own site’s mobile optimization, you are going to want to pay close attention to other mobile-driven ecommerce trends as we head into the new year. One trend that started in 2020 and only seems to be growing is that of purchases made directly within a social media posting. Instagram is one platform where shoppable photos have become increasingly popular with brands and consumers alike however, the trend is also taking off elsewhere.
All of the major social networks and social search engines (ex. Pinterest) are experimenting with buyable posts to some degree. Expect to see major platform updates that integrate ecommerce opportunities alongside your normal social sharing options.
When considering social media driven sales, it’s important to look at these through the digital marketing lens, rather than simply as an aspect of your social media activity. Don’t rely exclusively on the opinion of your social media team when it comes to making social selling suggestions, but consider how these can bolster your entire marketing strategy.
Ideally, your off-social interactions will support your social media driven sales and vice versa. We anticipate that this will take some careful attention and fine-tuning of processes, but for the brands that put in the effort now, there are big rewards to come from these new purchasing options.
5. Platform shifts may be inevitable
That being said, it’s important to always keep an eye to the horizon in terms of your social media presence and which platforms you choose to engage with. While you probably don’t use every social media tool at your disposal, social media is probably a part of your digital marketing strategy to some degree.
This year, analysts anticipate that instability and lack of trust (or plain boredom) in existing social media goliaths (think, Facebook) have created a ripe opportunity for another platform or two to step in and take more users and their screen time. While we don’t know exactly who, where, or when this change will take place, platform shift does seem inevitable in the short term.
If this prediction does play out, you need to ensure that your brand is able to skillfully pivot from one platform to another. Not only does this mean you need a social media manager and team that can think quickly on its feet, but you also want to ensure that you’re not too fully integrated into one single platform or another.
For example, if your business “homepage” is your Facebook fan page and you use this page or a fan club group to generate a large percentage of your sales, you want to solidify your exit strategy NOW, rather than waiting for users to disappear from the platform.
We never recommend using social media as a primary means of communication or content, since there are some serious issues when it comes to who owns your content and how your audience is able to interact with it. If you haven’t already established a site of your own where you can display your content and interact with customers outside of the sphere of social media, now is a great time to explore the option.
A shift from one social media platform to another highlights the importance of your ability to ground your brand somewhere neutral and simply use social media platforms as yet another funnel into your sales strategy.