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Digital Marketing Trends In 2021
2020 has been one hell of a year. We saw COVID-19 pandemic gradually affecting more countries globally, with virtually every world country in lockdown at some point in the year. We lived through several important world events, including the US Election, the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, more attention to the climate emergency, and a concerning spread in ‘fake news’ misinformation.
These large-scale changes meant we’ve had to look at the world with fresh eyes. The pandemic forced us to find virtual ways of connecting, entertaining ourselves, discovering and shopping. Experts believe COVID-19 accelerated the digital transformation by about 7 years, encouraging us to interact with emerging trends like social commerce, AR & VR, streaming on an entirely different scale.
We’re all doing things differently, across industries. Restaurants are replaced with takeout and delivery. The cinema has become streaming (with Warner Bros leading the way). Shopping is now e-commerce, directly in our social apps. We even use social media differently, Insta has been replaced with TikTok: focusing on entertainment instead of showing off your lifestyle.
Digital marketing is no different: we’ve seen incredible shifts here. Let’s take a look at the 5 digital marketing trends in 2021 that marketers need to know about.
Audio Content Is On The Rise
Coronavirus lockdowns meant we were constantly in front of our screens: working, texting, Zooming and even Zoom clubbing on a digital screen. This increased screen time was tiring, so more people turned to audio content in 2020, than ever before.
7.6 million people in the UK listen to podcasts daily, and daily audio streaming hours are up 32% since the start of 2020. 87% of consumers say they’re consuming more content because of coronavirus, and publishers are matching this increased demand by putting out more audio content. The popularity of smart speakers also makes it even easier to listen to digital audio.
Audio ads are one of the top digital marketing trends of 2021. As audio content is more popular, so is audio marketing – and it offers unique capabilities.
For one, audio ads can be incredibly contextual. People can listen to digital audio (stream music, listen to podcasts or audiobooks) while doing other activities. This enables marketers increase the relevance and urgency of their ads. After all, if your ad about workout clothes is in a playlist people listen to while exercising, you’re targeting that customer while working out is front of mind for them. Secondly, audio ads are well-placed to leverage certain trends: like ASMR (this trend has been huge on TikTok in 2020).
Finally, audio ads are increasingly effective because they feel personal – Gucci’s director sent out show invites via WhatsApp voice notes, so they would feel more intimate. In 2020, humanizing ads and providing a personal experience is all the more important as people seek out digital avenues fo connection, to replace lost in-person methods. For brands in industries where storytelling is key, such as high fashion – audio can help create an expressive, curated experience.
This is why 86% of agencies and 66% of marketers now see digital audio as a crucial component of marketing strategy. A whopping 75% of advertisers plan to increase spend across podcasts in the next 12 months. It’s clear that audio content and marketing is on the rise, and shows no signs of plateauing, definitely not in the next year to 18 months.
Social Commerce Is Booming
Social commerce is when e-commerce takes place end-to-end within a social network, and customers can complete purchases without leaving the social app or site.
It’s popular because social media is crucial to product discovery: 87% of people say social helps them decide what to buy, and 55% of US customers buy things online after seeing them on social. Social commerce also removes barriers to checkout: buying something is so quick and simple that you don’t even have to change the app you’re in.
This digital marketing trend in 2021 is encouraged by the pandemic: while COVID didn’t lead to the invention of e-commerce, it meant more people than ever had to shop online for the first time.
Networks like Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram have leveraged the rise of social commerce in various ways. Instagram’s ever-expanding iOS apps now include a ‘Shop’ tab, which is entirely dedicated to finding and buying products, with Instagram’s recommendations based on what you like and interact with. TikTok has not only worked on expanding shoppable ad formats since 2019, they’ve also partnered with e-commerce king Shopify. This gives 1 million Shopify merchants direct access to TikTok’s 1bn+ audience of users. Snapchat follows suit, with ‘try-on’ AR filters, ‘Shop Now’ buttons in-app & they have just expanded ecommerce features with dressable Bitmojis.
In short, social commerce continues to be a huge digital marketing trend in 2021 (for both marketers, and social networks themselves).
The Marrying Of AR & VR
Augmented reality (AR) has been steadily growing since ‘filters’ on Instagram and Snapchat. Snapchat and TikTok have taken AR to new levels through the pandemic, as filters continue to delight in routine and sponsored content.
AR has been part of our online shopping worlds for a while: Snapchat enabled a ‘try-on’ feature for Gucci’s shoes, letting users see what the shoe would look like before buying online. IKEA’s AR-enabled app lets people see what furniture would look like in their homes, virtually. ASOS has a ‘See My Fit’ AR feature where customers can see models life-sized in front of them, for a better idea of how clothes look on various bodies.
AR works because its immersive and allows the user to be part of the experience. One brand found AR filters made customers 2x more likely to purchase, and 30% less likely to return their purchase.
We think AR and VR will combine to offer immersive experiences, and are set to become a digital marketing trend in 2021. As the technology keeps getting better, AR and VR can become unique methods by which to engage an online-first audience.
Marketing With A Purpose
In 2020, social issues became so prominent that brands could no longer afford not to speak out. Brands like Ben & Jerry’s had already led the way in being pro-activism, raising awareness of racism and systemic oppression. However, many brands across industries spoke out against anti-blackness for the very first time. From niche members clubs like Soho House to multinationals like L’Oreal and P&G: brands voiced a desire to be anti-racist this year.
The pandemic and world events have shaped our perception of marketing and branding. Brands cannot ‘sit it out’ and remain neutral anymore, because social issues are now more directly linked to purchasing decisions than ever before (especially for Gen Z consumers).
Consumers remember and react strongly to brands’ attitudes, especially with COVID-19. 4 in 5 people (whopping 80%) could cite a time brand responded well to the pandemic, and cited this as increasing loyalty to that brand. 25% walked away from a brand if it was perceived to respond negatively (not taking health and safety seriously, being inflexible about employees working conditions). Staggeringly, a study found 58% of people could recall a brand that quickly pivoted to include their needs, and 82% said this led to doing more business with them.
In short, inclusion, diversity and sustainability aren’t just good – they’re good for brands’ bottom lines. Brands like Fenty have seen huge success by making diversity prominent through makeup shade inclusion. We’ve seen size-inclusive brands like Snag Tights succeed, and eco-friendly products are on the rise. Brands seen as handling the pandemic negatively have endured huge backlash, with Kylie Skin coming under fire recently for profiteering by selling hand sanitizer.
The message from consumers is clear: they expect brands to be pro-social and address real life events like the pandemic, and Black Lives Matter. We think pro-social marketing is a huge trend for 2021.
Short Form Video Continues To Dominate
Video has been ‘king’ of ad formats for a while, 76% of businesses see more engagement fro video than image-based ads across networks. However, while video is king, short-form video is the GOAT*, with many calling this the ‘future of video’.
Most networks have made an effort to include more video, such as IGTV and Snap. TikTok took this shift to a whole new level, with a video only network that initially capped out at 1 min 30 seconds. As Gen Z and millennial attention spans dwindle to 8 and 12 seconds long respectively, it makes sense that shorter content is better, especially with ads.
Shorter videos are set to remain a digital marketing trend in 2021. They’re easier to create: marketers literally need less content, hence less planning and cost. Audiences are more likely to watch shorter videos to completion, because you’re asking for less of an upfront investment of their time. 56% of businesses create videos that are under 90 seconds long, and 53% of those videos are watched to completion. So you can get your message across without boring or putting off your audience. And don’t forget: short videos are the norm for TikTok ad formats, a Gen Z staple network now standing at 1.2 billion active users and counting.
So, safe to say if you’re making video content: keep it short, sweet and entertaining.
We think the top digital marketing trends of 2021 include the rise of audio ads, more social commerce and the inclusion of AR and VR. We also expect audiences to reward brands with pro-social behaviors, so ‘social purpose’ marketing is likely to remain popular. Finally, short video continues to dominate as the most engaging ad format, with plenty of opportunities to exploit this on TikTok, and Instagram Reels.