The end of the year is often the perfect time to take inventory of what we’ve learned and what we’re looking forward to in the future. As a longtime data provider, I’ve developed an eye for spotting trends that will take root or grow in the coming year. There are exciting developments on the horizon for digital marketers who stand ready to adapt. I foresee two meta themes for 2021: customer-centricity and connectivity. As customer expectations continue to increase, it’s vital for marketers to shift their focus to understanding customer needs, reaching them on their preferred channel, and taking a holistic approach to their customer data. Additionally, we’re seeing digital connectivity skyrocket, with massive amounts of data from multiple sources seamlessly moving from one platform to another
From my perspective, here are 10 top trends moving to the forefront in digital marketing as we head into 2021.
Studies from McKinsey have said that in 2020, digital transformation vaulted five years forward in about eight weeks’ time. This has been the year of the digital transformation imperative – businesses that had previously held off on “going digital” quickly realized that it was a necessity to stay afloat in the midst of many employees working from home and consumers purchasing everything online. Next year will continue to see an increased surge of everything becoming digital and digitized for use, with increased integrations and automations to seamlessly move data and insights between platforms.
As part of the growth of digital transformation this past year, a dizzying array of martech tools have emerged. In 2020 there were more than 8,000 martech solutions on the MarTech 5000 list and one in five of those was established within the past year, with data being the fastest growing category.
It’s not just that there are more solutions and options for marketers to automate their processes, but that the solutions themselves are becoming more automated in communicating with each other to further streamline steps. The need for quality data to fuel successful digital marketing campaigns has never been stronger. In 2021, the OMI team is predicting a continued focus on tools that harness the power of data along with increased connectivity across martech platforms.
Another exciting development is the use of AI integration. AI has been abuzz for a few years now, and the practical application in marketing is gaining traction. AI integration is now being used to drive content, digital marketing and enable scale. For example with content, AI integration tools can change out campaign wording to know what works – based on conversions – and automatically adapt phrasing to drive success.
While some marketing teams may be leery of AI because they think it's going to replace their job, we’re operating in an ‘adapt or become obsolete’ environment and AI integration offers the insights and analysis for increased efficiency all around. I think it's going to set groups apart and make an impactful difference in getting market share – or not.
Video marketing has been a rising trend in recent years, and will continue to grow in importance in 2021. Video-based social apps – and of course, video conferencing apps like Zoom – have made the medium much more commonplace. With fewer in-person trade shows and meetings, video provides a connection point ideal for nurturing a digital relationship and moving prospects through the funnel with product/service demonstrations, intro reels, or client testimonials.
Our team at OMI is predicting that video marketing will continue to grow in prevalence across all channels, including website landing pages, mobile ads, email, and PPC campaigns. B2C marketing has seen the use of video grow exponentially in the past few years. In 2021 it will take off across the board even more and become more essential in B2B marketing, too.
Intent monitoring has continued to increase in use this year, particularly as many marketers have taken an ABM approach to finding new accounts. At OMI, one of the most exciting trends we’re seeing is the rise of a daily intent monitoring feed. Instead of weekly updates with new prospects, there are options for an ongoing feed of prospect intent data delivered directly to marketers or agencies. Currently B2B use lags behind consumer marketing, but I predict in 2021 it will continue to expand and become more prevalent for both.
The use of identity graphs also grew in 2020: this innovative data strategy will continue to rise in 2021. Identity graphs connect data from multiple sources and map the data to anonymized customer profiles, offering marketers the ability to target real individuals based on multiple online and offline factors and maintain consumer privacy. Some identity graph platforms, such as LiveRamp, connect third-party data from more than 100 different martech platforms. Once a digital marketer selects their preferred audience from the data sets, the anonymized IDs from the graph can be digitized and taken to a demand-side platform (DSP) to execute a campaign across channels. DSPs are another fresh tool changing the way digital ads reach buyers. They are used by advertising buyers to manage programmatic ad buying across ad exchanges. In the coming year, I see identity graphs and DSPs taking a more prominent role in identifying and serving relevant ads to the right prospect.
With so many applications being integrated, programmatic advertising will shine even brighter in 2021 for its ability to spark a prospect’s interest with an email message and then following that up with a targeted, relevant display ad – and vice versa. Responding to their engagement with retargeted ads or triggered emails allows you to get in front of them again to remind them of that interest for a one-two punch. This method has already yielded powerful results for many of our clients and will continue to gain momentum.
With more people working from home, on their personal devices, and at all hours of the day, the line between business and personal time/space has blurred. This is especially important with the millennial and Gen Z age groups, as they prefer to do their own research before making a purchase, both for consumer and business purposes.
In line with this change, contact data is also now combining both personal and business characteristics for each contact. Third-party data is playing a key role in filling in the missing pieces to match a contact’s personal records to their professional one for a more complete profile--so you can reach them anytime and anywhere. The blending and integration of business and personal contact data will continue to rise in importance in 2021 as many people work from home and businesses adapt to economic changes.
As data collection increases and business operations become more varied with many working from home, marketers need a way to connect and unify customer data from multiple sources. Customer data platforms (CDP) meet that need by connecting fragmented data into a central location. CDPs have been one of the latest must-have platforms and in 2021, the demand for them will increase even more, as managing customer data is critical to business success.
With the massive amount of data available today, oftentimes the most fundamental contact data – such as an email address – can be one of the hardest pieces to fill. Getting the prospect's email address continues to be the holy grail of digital marketing. That’s where a quality third-party data provider can change the game in 2021. Here’s one way to look at it: let’s say email data is ‘corn’ and the other data (such as demographics, company, contact name, purchase history, etc.) are ‘cornflakes.’ The cornflakes may be what you want, but the corn (email contact) is the driver for everything else, and it can often be harder to get, as B2B data regularly decays up to 70% per year and data decay has soared this year. Next year we’ll see more marketers recognizing the importance of quality foundational contact data as it becomes harder to reach contacts in the changing economy.
We’re in the midst of a digital marketing transformation. While there will likely be challenges next year, with many of these developing tools, it’s actually getting easier for digital marketers to reach the right person, at the right time, with the right message. And from the customer standpoint, they get more relevant messages they actually want to receive. For marketers today, data is not just a helpful tool, it’s a necessity to reach the right customers. But it’s even more important to have quality, accurate data and be able to use it efficiently. Many of these trends are doing just that.
In closing, I’d like to thank my incredible team for their contributions to this list and for all their support this year!