As we look ahead to the next year and what the top 2021 marketing trends are, it’s important to be honest about 2020 and what the new year looks like.  Many times over the past month I’ve seen people lamenting about how glad they are that 2020 is almost over.  After all, 2021 can’t be any worse, right?  The reality is that it can, and unfortunately for some businesses, it undoubtedly will be.  That’s why it’s important to be aware of the 2021 marketing trends and how they will influence your business’s future.

2021 Marketing Trends To Evaluate

While these are not listed in order of importance, they are listed in a manner that is more logical in terms of approach.  That is to say, while one may be more important than the other, you should start at the top and work through them.

#1 – Empathy

While its true to assume that virtually every business has been on a roller coaster this year, it’s blatantly ignorant to assume the ride has been the same for all.  I think we all know this but we poorly demonstrate it when reaching out to prospective clients.  

How many times have you heard the bland kind of statements like, “What a year, I hope all is well with you.”  How many times have you said them? These kind of platitudes have been on loop since everything went sideways mid-March.

If you really want to resonate with someone, you need to genuinely connect at their level.  This requires forethought, research, and consideration.  How much of each will depend on the scale of opportunity in front of you, but it doesn’t always have to be heavy lifting.  When I used to run sales the easiest approach I preached to my team was to simply think about your next call as if you were the business owner picking up the phone. 

Imagine it’s your business, imagine the kinds of customers you’re trying to procure, imagine it’s your budget, imagine it’s your revenue at stake, imagine what kinds of challenges you would have faced this year.  At this point, you can begin to understand what may and may not resonate.  By doing so you will demonstrate you genuinely understand their needs and challenges which will put you leagues ahead of 90% of all other calls they get.

Jake Dunlap has a great write-up on this that you should definitely check out.  He’s going to be a guest on our Ask an Expert show next week and I’m looking forward to digging in deeper with him.

#2 – Brand Identity / CX

International branding expert Sasha Strauss this year spoke on the opportunities in front of businesses willing to step up right now.  As he puts it, “In this current environment of disruption consumers have lost trust in government and will be looking to business for leadership.”  This is further backed up by an Edelman Trust Barometer report that stated 89% of consumers are shifting to brands that help people meet their challenges.

The question you have to ask is how is your business filling this void right now, and looking forward?

I’m sure some of the CX and branding experts I’ve interviewed this year from John DiJulius, Joey Coleman, Denise Lee Yohn to Sasha would say I’m being a bit cavalier lumping the two together, but they really are more siblings than distant relatives.

It’s the actual customer experience that clients have with your organization that will define what your brand identity is.  So I’m challenging every business owner to reflect on what their current CX is, and then contemplate what you’d like it to be.  

There is a tremendous void in the marketplace from what consumers are looking for and what organizations are providing, and it’s the companies that step up to bridge that gap that will find the most success in 2021.

#3 – Educate

We all know how important content is but generally speaking there are two challenges that most businesses face when producing it.  The first challenge is blank paper syndrome.  Starting from scratch is intimidating.  So much that companies will just avoid it altogether.  If they do start their efforts often dwindle down or even stop.  

The second challenge is developing meaningful content.  Companies often go sideways when their content is to first-person centric.  I’m going to tell you about my product, I’m going to tell you how amazing my service is.  

Your way around both of these issues right now is through education.  Right now 85% of consumers are looking for brands to educate according to that Edelman report.  This solves how you fill that blank page, and it’s also a more meaningful approach.

Companies that educate instantly begin building brand equity with consumers.  Educational content has a much higher engagement rate too.  Consumers are more likely to create dialogue, they’re more likely to share, and they’re more likely to recommend firms that put knowledge first.

Now you need to use the empathetic approach we covered earlier, and figure out what problems your consumers are facing right now.  Don’t worry about solving them right now but start compiling a list of 25/50 different problems that they’re facing and then start brainstorming solutions. 

It’s important though that you’re not pigeonholing your solutions/products as the only viable solutions.  While it seems counterintuitive, don’t be afraid to recommend ideas that are outside of the scope of your offering.  This builds even deeper rooted trust and credibility. Given it’s the holidays, I can’t help but think of ol’ Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street as a perfect example.

#4 – Video

Albert Mehrabian famously concluded our like or dislike towards messaging from others is broken into three segments. 7% for the words used, 38% for the tone of voice and 55% for facial expression.  Video has allowed us to continue picking up on these non-verbal queues in a year where we’ve all been forced to socially distance.  

Prior to 2020 though, video was already emerging as one of the most powerful mediums to connect to consumers.  However, many organizations found themselves sitting on the sidelines.  A lot of this had to do with budget limitations.  Video production and editing can be a costly endeavor.

A nice side effect of 2020 is that you don’t have to use hi-fi video to make a meaningful impact.  In business, we’ve also had this veil of how we are and are not supposed to act.  We put up this facade in the name of professionalism, which I’d agree has been warranted, but things change.  

We’re wrapping on a year that found incredible impacts through low-fi video.  The simple mobile or laptop camera has proved to be a powerful tool in the world of business.  While largely used internally within teams who are now working remotely, there have been big strides of interacting with customers.  It’s been “acceptable” for a child to burst into the middle of a client conference, or to hear a dog barking in the background.  In fact, many people that I’ve talked to this year have mused on the raw and authentic connections that have developed because of this.

While we still need to use some level of decorum when we’re on low-fi video, there is a tremendous opportunity to engage with your clients unlike anything we’ve seen.  Content quality is also incredibly important, but I challenge you to use the educational focus as your medium.  Video will allow you to tell the story in a much more meaningful and memorable way.

#5 – Micro Targeting

In a year with so much turmoil, I have talked to many experts who have said in their own way, “The riches are in the niches.”  When things go sideways we find ourselves in scrap mode.  Clients are coming and going, more the latter this year, and so we’re more willing to take on anything we can get our hands-on.

Now it’s time to return to saying “no”.

Verne Harnish talks about the importance of focusing on profit share vs. market share.  When Apple became the largest market cap company in the world, they only had 7% market share, but they had 50% of the profit share in the industry.  Now they’re at 14% market share with nearly 70% of the profit share.

So as we get more comfortable saying “no” to focus on the most profitable clients, you have to ask yourself if your previous niche is still the richest niche.  As Verne puts it, don’t look at where the hockey puck is, but look at where it’s going and position your company there.

#6 – Omnichannel

Customers don’t consume media in just one or two markets, so if you’re only able to communicate them in one or two challenges then you’re significantly missing out.  This concept is intuitive to all of us, and the data shows how powerful it can be.

Too often companies think they’re doing omnichannel marketing when what they’re actually doing is multi-channel marketing.  To many, these are interchangeable words, but multi-channel is a channel-based strategy.  You may have a campaign for social, SEM, email, direct mail, etc., but they’re not coordinated with one another.  

I’ve sat down with several Fortune 500 companies that say, “Yeah, yeah, we do that,” but upon probing questions I discover that they’ve literally got different departments for social media, for email, for direct mail, and on down the line.

The reason omnichannel is so much more effective is that is solely focused on the customer.  You then go out and try to identify as many touch-points like social media handles, mobile devices, and email addresses.  This allows you to deliver a succinct and holistic marketing campaign that is consistent across all channels resulting in higher engagement and ROI.

#7 – Virtual Presence

On the surface, some companies will dismiss this automatically because they’ve historically avoided in-person events or conferences.  I get it, but this year has changed so much and has spawned a new kind of experience for customers to engage with brands.

Traditional in-person events will return…at some point.  Even still though organizations are realizing that there is a way to drive meaningful engagement through virtual events.  I’m hoping to get an expert on our show to really dig into the emerging virtual space.  In the meantime though, several guests have shared the pros of the virtual conferences this year:

-Significant travel expense savings

-Can reach a bigger audience that isn’t geographically limited

-Merging offline media, such as custom-tailored swag bags ahead of the conference boosts attendance and engagement during the event

-Speakers pre-recording their presentations and then are able to take live q/a as the session is broadcast

-Real-time attendee and panel discussions via multi-screen formats

-Providing educational summits

We’re going to get back to some sense of “normalcy”, but there will be a new hybrid of normalcy that we’re looking at so I encourage you to see what creative ways you can engage with your customers in a virtual environment.

This wraps the 2021 marketing trends outlook.  I hope you were able to get a couple of meaningful ideas to help propel your business forward in the new year.  Speaking of which, I hope everyone has a safe and fun New Year.  See you all on the other side!

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