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Iuliia Nesterenko

Technical Writer

Marketing Trends for 2021 as Predicted by Industry Experts

The current situation makes any predictions rather tricky, for the lack of other words. Few people had predicted those challenges businesses faced in 2020. And new waves of lockdowns and the unstable economics make any new forecasts concerning marketing plans for 2021 rather multivariable.

But even in these fluctuating times, you need to take a look at how situations may evolve to be ready to respond to whatever outcome. For this purpose, we spoke with 6 industry leaders and asked what marketing trends to look for in 2021. They shared their ideas on how the next year will shape the market and what approaches brands should consider adding to their arsenal.

  • Andriy Chornyy, CEO at Plerdy, a platform offering tools for conversion funnel optimization and analysis. Andriy on LinkedIn.
  • Tobias Knobl, Co-founder and CEO at Mailbutler, a productivity extension for Apple Mail, Gmail and Outlook. Tobias on LinkedIn.
  • Margo Kashuba, CMO at OWOX, an all-in-one marketing analytics platform. Margo on LinkedIn.
  • Brian Minick, Chief Operating Officer at ZeroBounce, an email validation & deliverability platform. Brian on LinkedIn.
  • Helga Zabalkanskaya, CMO at Newoldstamp, an advanced email signature generator. Helga on LinkedIn.
  • Ovi Negrean, Co-founder and CEO at SocialBee, a social media management tool. Ovi on LinkedIn.

1. Online B2B commerce isn’t likely to get more competitive.

In 2020, COVID-19 has made many businesses move online. As an online service provider, do you find yourself competing with new industry players?

Andriy: The number of solvent customers in our field has changed with the onset of quarantine. However, beside quarantine, this was also affected by certain changes in the competitors' service plans (price, product removal/modernization).

At the same time, we did not observe any new strong players on the market. Of course, we compete and monitor the growth of our competitors, but mainly of the tops in our field, and not of the newcomers' one.

Tobias: The entry barriers for the service that we provide are relatively high. What we have built is the result of years of both hard work and experience. Though it is possible that new players may come onto the scene in 2021, they have to work hard to win customers’ trust.

Margo: I think we’ll see the growth of demand: even enterprise companies are ready to consider implementing not very famous SaaS solutions if they fit their needs. It’s a tough time for new players on the global market because you need to compete with giants, but still, you have a real chance to change the market landscape.

Brian: Not so much. We’ve been operating online since the beginning and haven’t noticed much of a change in this respect.

2. The post-Covid recovery will stem from digitalization, brand agility and governmental support.

Do we expect the K-shaped recovery after COVID-19? How will it affect businesses in 2021?

Andriy: It is quite early to categorically refute this form of recovery. Now we are in the second wave of lockdown. It is difficult to predict anything before mid-2021 since the situation is very unstable. I feel that we will definitely be in a fluctuating state for the next 2-3 years.

Unfortunately, many classic offline businesses may fail to stand it. The number of offline businesses will depend directly on strategic decisions and actions on the part of the business owners. In my opinion, we expect a decline in real estate around the world.

Margo: Some industries will recover faster and better, some not. So yes, I expect a K-shaped recovery and I don’t think 2021 will be easier.

We see that eCommerce, edtech, gaming, entertaining industries have more chances to stable growth and have come through the consequences of COVID easier than the others. But the economy is the ecosystem where many elements depend on each other, so for steady growth, we need the growth of the majority of industries and, first of all, an increase in household income.

Brian: It’s hard to make predictions. I think a lot of industries were unaffected, and even saw increases in business (mainly technology companies). However, I look forward to entertainment and hospitality spaces returning to how they were. I don’t think that will happen until late 2021, when a majority of people are vaccinated.

Ovi: We believe it will be more of a W-shaped recovery. We’re seeing a new wave of lockdowns, which may become a harsh reality in terms of a post-COVID-19 world.

When talking about the future of businesses in 2021, we can’t help but talk about the acceleration of digitization and innovation.

3. Customer retention and market expansion are main priorities for brands that escaped with minor losses.

What will be the main focus for the companies that have faced minor to no damage during the lockdowns (ecommerce, digital entertainment platforms, IT)?

Andriy: Here, everything also depends directly on the strategies that the company followed, the goals that had been set before the pandemic, and the current situation. Some companies, such as Zoom, on the contrary, have doubled or tripled their profits during this period. In my opinion, the companies that had minor losses should focus mainly on:

  • Market expansion. This way, a company can at least reduce the number of customer attrition by entering a new market. It doesn't have to be a new country.
  • Creating new and upgrading existing products or services. Many companies succeeded in improving their products or services to meet the quarantine requirements of customers at the beginning of the pandemic. Thus, they managed to reduce their losses slightly.

Tobias: Customer retention will be the name of the game. As the world starts (hopefully) to look more like it did before the pandemic, companies that enjoyed a boom of new users as a result of necessity will have to prove their worth more than ever before.

In many cases, consistent improvements in customer service are likely. The risk of substitutes when it comes to digitally-based businesses tends to be high, especially for those companies that have become clear front-runners in their respective industries. Moreover, switching costs tend, in many cases, to be quite low, meaning that the most important factor for any given user may well be the quality and level of customer support they receive.

Brian: Figuring out what to do with their office space and re-adjusting to conditions that were altered. Another aspect is customer retention. Many companies will work on finding the best ways to serve both their long-term and newly acquired customers. That could mean more targeted digital marketing campaigns, bonuses for faithful customers, and a constant desire to exceed people’s expectations of quality.

Helga: These companies might want to focus on retention. Netflix and Zoom can be good examples. As the lockdown started, they saw a massive spike of new users. The situation helped with the acquisition. But after the lockdown, if they don’t want to have a drastic decrease, they have to work hard on retention and engagement, increasing the number of active users.

4. Safety awareness raising and digitalization will be key for brands that didn’t do well.

What will be the main focus for the companies that have faced major damage (airlines, tourism, hotels, physical retailers)?

Andriy: The pandemic keeps on producing a significant impact on the tourism industry. It is very difficult now to predict and offer anything to the tourism business. We see that domestic and international flights are recovering gradually, but plenty of people are still not ready to use them for tourism. Of course, some people try to travel both within the country and abroad already, but there are no more than 20-30% of them.

In fact, I see the only one way out for the travel business, that is going online and offering the best and safest conditions for vacation or work trips to the client.

Tobias: For some it may be a partial or complete overhaul of their business. Brick-and-mortar retailers were struggling even before the pandemic hit thanks to digital innovations. Now more than ever they will need to "get with the times" and start going to their customers instead of trying to draw them out.

As for airlines and the rest of the hospitality industry, health and safety concerns are likely to play a central role over the coming year as people eventually, cautiously begin to travel in greater numbers again.

Ovi: Digitalization will be a must to stay in business. For some of the companies that are faced with major damage, there’s only so much that you can do in the digital arena to keep staying in business, however, when the time comes, those companies will experience major growth so it’s worth carrying the fight with all the weapons one has available.

Putting in place as many security measures as possible and going into “survival” mode is what most will need to do, which in most cases means getting government grants, cutting down on expenses, re-thinking their business model, re-organizing the organization, and so on.

5. Exceeding customer expectations is a new normal.

Please name 3 main communication strategies B2C companies need to pay attention to in 2021.

Andriy:

  1. Minimize the time required to answer a client's question or solve a problem. This is crucial because almost half of all consumers in the United States are likely to refuse an online transaction if their problems are not resolved quickly.
  2. Give your clients more than they expect. It is enough to wrap the product in a gift bag or add candy or a card with a personalized thanking for product purchasing.
  3. Create membership programs. As the membership level increases, consumers gain access to greater rewards. This, actually, improves their relationship with your business

Tobias:

  1. Improve Customer Experience (CX). All company departments need to work hand-in-hand more than ever before, as marketing managers strive to deliver a consistent brand identity and CX to consumers. This means accounting for environmental and sustainability policies and human rights issues as well as the more traditional marketing mix considerations.
  2. Use chatbots smart. Chatbots have been a convenient way for companies to offer at least some form of 24/7 customer support for a while now, but more recent iterations have become increasingly complex and effective. While they may not be able to fix every problem a customer might be having, the amount of questions chatbots can answer and, in some cases, even predict, is growing all the time.
  3. Use advanced segmentation. Segmenting consumer bases as a way to help manage customer needs is not a new concept, but it is becoming increasingly more complex and, more importantly, effective. As the antithesis of one-size-fits-all email marketing, the most effectively segmented campaigns will only be talking to consumers about things that they care about, and only telling them exactly when they want to know.

Helga:

  1. Work with relevant for your audience social media and Youtube.
  2. Develop referral programs for own customers.
  3. Partner with influencers.

Ovi:

  1. Reach out to prospects on a human level.
  2. Run retargeting campaigns.
  3. Distribute high-quality content that converts.

6. Account-based marketing, video marketing and referral strategies are for B2B to focus on.

Please name 3 main communication strategies B2B companies need to pay attention to in 2021.

Andriy:

  • Stay in touch 24/7/365. In this regard, you should use a chatbot if you don't have around-the-clock technical support.
  • Create explosive referral marketing. It will show you the gaps, meaning that you will not only get the benefits of referrals but also be able to continually improve the experience you offer
  • Share successful cases.

Tobias:

  1. Do account-based marketing. Account Based Marketing is the personalization of marketing in the B2B space. Just like individual consumers, each client business is distinct from the next, and should be catered to as such.
  2. Market with empathy. Tell your clients that you understand their challenges and empathize with them. To effectively do this, you have to really get to know their clients. Effectively identifying the issues that their clients are facing will allow them to acknowledge those challenges on a more personal level.
  3. Do video marketing. Infographics, demos, or even a simple talking-head video allow businesses to convey lots of information quickly while staying brand-consistent. Moreover, clients are statistically more likely to actually engage with video content than text

Brian:

  1. Use email marketing. We see lots of our partners and friends in B2B deploy email campaigns with great success. Last year, we’ve intensified our email marketing ourselves and saw the difference consistency makes.
  2. Use the telephone. People in the B2B space may connect better by phone. It allows for direct, clear, and personal communication and any questions can be answered on the spot. It’s tried and true, and just like email, it’s not going anywhere.
  3. Don’t ignore LinkedIn. It’s a place where people expect business communication. Therefore, someone who might not be receptive somewhere else may be especially open to hearing from you on LinkedIn.

Helga:

  1. Create and continuously update use cases and case studies.
  2. Develop community.
  3. Target your communication towards buyer persona and their pains instead of general company pain points.

7. Customer experience will dictate purchases.

Is the concept of customer experience over product going to prevail?

Andriy: Of course. According to Salesforce Research, 71% of customers believe that businesses that showed more care and empathy this year have gained more loyalty during this period.

And now, when the market is increasingly moving online and the number of competitors is growing, it’s very important to work on:

1. UX improvement.

2. Conversion path improvement.

3. Proper onboarding.

Tobias: Absolutely. Today, consumers of any product have their choice of who to buy from. There are few, if any, companies that have a monopoly over one product, so the differentiating factor will be the customer experience. Of course, "customer experience" encompasses a great many things, including price and quality, as well as customer service, but the general idea is that a brand's identity will far outweigh the importance of the actual product.

Margo: Shortly, yes. When supply is bigger than demand, or there is a tough competition for user attention, you need to do overservice. Users expect a smooth user experience; they are ready to share personal data but expect you to use it for their comfort funnel. The user behavior has changed, and companies have to adapt.

Helga: Depends on your market. If we’re talking about B2C and self-services, product and UX would be crucial. In the case of enterprise and B2B, the customer experience will continue to be critical in influencing decision-making and retention.

8. Personalized event-based emails triggered by actions can nurture more customers.

How to deliver a satisfying customer experience via email marketing?

Tobias: Personalization. The difficulty when it comes to email marketing is how to individualize the hundreds or thousands of consumers that you are reaching out to. That's why segmentation is so important.

Segmenting your consumer base into continuously smaller and more unique subsections allows email marketers to write bespoke content for an almost unlimited amount of users. Then, email automation can handle the "when" and actual delivery of those messages.

Margo: When everything goes online, it’s an excellent opportunity for marketers. You have gigabytes of data and by analyzing it, you can do real marketing — you can influence user behavior taking into account all his online history interaction with your company. You can show different ads to different users with different bid rates for different conversion probability at different times. Isn’t it the marketers’ dream?

Brian: Knowing your audience well is a great place to start. It takes time, but it allows you to create exactly the type of content your subscribers expect.

Make your emails informative and entertaining. When you run a campaign, find different ways to present your offer instead of repeating the same message over and over. Always include something useful for the people on your list.

Test your emails and ensure they render well on all devices. Double-check your images and links – a broken link, for example, is not just annoying, it’s a lost opportunity. So is every bounce you get, so validate your email list regularly.

Helga: Make it even more personalized, relevant and human. We all know about simple personalizations like changing names and companies. More simply designed emails show better conversions. But we should go deeper by sending event-based emails triggered by actions or issues to improve customer experience.

9. Behavioral segmentation, complex automation and advanced analytics will scale massively.

What new solutions for email personalization and customer segmentation do we expect to see in 2021?

Tobias: In 2021, we expect to see strategies that fall more along the lines of incremental development than disruptive innovations. I’m talking about increasingly complex and accurate consumer segmentation based on user activities.

One other area that we expect to see is in the realm of automation sophistication. Most notably when it comes to AI. One of the most visible forms that this automation can take for the average user is in chatbots. During the coming year you can likely expect that chatbots will become more and more adept at answering questions, solving problems, and even making personalized recommendations based on collected user data.

Margo: Previously people talked a lot about personalization and segmentation. But now it’s time to make it real. Make it real by using the full raw unsampled data you can trust and react in near real-time based on the new user’s actions and interests that you can see in your analytical system. Of course, this year you have to build advanced analytics of your marketing.

Brian: Just like the last year and the years before, email personalization and list segmentation will be prevalent in 2021. They both foster a better customer experience, help strengthen your brand loyalty, and boost sales. We might see customer relationship management (CRM) companies and email service providers create more seamless ways to personalize and segment. Technology is ever-evolving and allows us to continually improve.

Ovi: For email personalization, we can expect to see:

  • Triggered emails based on the user’s behavior.
  • Product recommendations per individual needs.

For customer segmentation, we can expect to see:

  • New ways to collect and process data.
  • More behavioral segmentation based on actions, inactions, and habits.

10. Close human interaction with customers is a privilege small businesses should take advantage of.

How can small businesses without advanced segmentation tools benefit from email personalization?

Tobias: Small businesses can easily get started segmenting using basic information that’s available if they are willing to do some basic research. Simply knowing where your client is based, for example, will allow marketers to optimize their email scheduling so that consumers are being contacted at a time that is convenient and makes sense for them (rather than, say, at midnight on a weekend).

Brian: Small businesses can increase interaction with their customers. People want to talk to people, not respond to robots. Strive to personalize every experience, ask questions, show genuine interest for your customers. They’ll appreciate it and remember your brand.

Helga: Even simple personalization would improve click-through rates and conversions. Today even the simplest outreach tools and ESMs have dynamic fields and simple email sequences based on the events.

Ovi: Research and creativity are the two elements that small businesses without advanced segmentation tools need. Nowadays, with some simple searches, you can find out a lot about the person you’re about to approach. With such an amount of information at hand, the possibilities of being personal are endless. There are lots of free tools that can be used in gathering information that later on can be structured in SpreadSheets and used wisely for email personalization.

11. High-quality data analysis is what will help deliver relevant content.

What new approaches do you plan to test and try for your marketing campaigns?

Tobias: Our main focus over the next couple quarters is going to be on finding ways to continue to refine our segmentation process. The bottom line is that we want our users to only be receiving emails and information that is important to them, and at the best time possible. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to always answer any questions they might have before they have even arisen.

Margo: As we do a marketing analytics SaaS product, we’re working on managing bids on audiences with different conversion probability, interests, and LTV. We believe that will make it possible for us to do the real ABM and to offer the right product at the right moment to the right person.

Brian: In 2020, we increased the number of email campaigns and tested several email strategies – all revolving around the idea of being helpful to our customers. After seeing the results, we want to continue and expand in this direction, not only in regards to email, but our digital marketing strategy as a whole.

Ovi: Using more gamification strategies will be something we plan to test and try for our marketing campaigns in 2021, either through contests, challenges or by including a rewarding system.

Another approach we’d love to give a try this year is “re-inventing” the classic way of offering a deal, which most of the time is represented by percentage discounts.

12. What would be your advice for marketers to follow in 2021?

Andriy: First, analyze more high-quality data. Currently, there are a lot of services, but not each of them can give a marketer accurate data.

Second, analyze and improve the client's conversion path on the site. I am yet again convinced that many top brands still have very heavy sites, placing an order on which is rather troublesome.

Moreover, one shouldn't forget that online profit depends on the correct choice of traffic sources and work on them. Only a high-quality analysis of traffic sources will give you a clear understanding of how much money and where you should invest.

Increase the amount of video content on the site and on the company's social media pages. Customers are already tired of reading and they want to quickly review what they are interested in at a certain moment.

Tobias: At the risk of sounding repetitive, we would have to say segmentation and automation!

Relatively little has changed about what marketers should be doing in the last few years. The big opportunities come when you start talking about how we do those things. Today's consumers often judge a brand's value based on the entire experience rather than just the product or service being delivered.

This means better customer service, more support, and taking the consumer into account every step of the way. Basically, it means more touch points. That is where segmentation and automation come in.

Brian: Pay close attention to the space your customers operate in. If they were heavily affected by what happened in 2020, do your best to support them in ways that you can. If they were not impacted, make them your ambassadors. So, when struggling companies go out looking for your service, your ambassadors will be the selling point. Online reviews, testimonials, case studies – they should all be part of your marketing kit in 2021.

Margo: Be patient and flexible, but fast. Analyze a lot, generate many hypotheses, test them fast. Nobody knows how to act right now but those who try faster would have more chances to succeed. Data is your treasure; use it to do better marketing. Marketers can become real growth and technology drivers for companies.

Helga: Be data-driven.

Ovi: Focus on creating phenomenal content and resources for their audiences while being human and personal in their approach.

Then, every marketer needs to strive to create meaningful experiences by using data to drive decisions, and most importantly, not being afraid to experiment with new ideas.


We thank our guests for sharing their thoughts on 2021 marketing trends. Learning from experts is always the best way to grow and adapt to whatever reality. 

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Iuliia Nesterenko

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