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Nine digital marketing trends for 2021

5 minute read

Rachel Ramsay
Rachel Ramsay

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that some things simply can’t be predicted. Who’d have thought, this time last year, that we’d now be in the midst of a global pandemic? A pandemic that, apart from anything else, has had a profound impact on our professional lives, accelerating changes to the world of office life that were already in progress (the rise of remote working) and putting digital tech centre stage in our day-to-day lives (Zoom, anyone?).

But what will 2021 look like for the world of digital marketing? Here are some predictions for digital marketing trends we might see in 2021 – and how your small business can take advantage of them.

1. Business will need to work the fallout of COVID-19 into their marketing strategies

The vaccine may be welcome news, but it’s likely that the restrictions on our lives will continue for some time to come. As SmartBrief notes, the pandemic has already had an enormous impact on consumer behaviour and marketing strategies, and some of these changes may be permanent.

For that reason, including renewed market research in your marketing strategy for 2021 is a wise move. Each industry has been impacted differently by the pandemic, with some enjoying a boom in business and others experiencing a catastrophic fall in demand. Whatever your industry, for your digital marketing efforts to be successful, it will help enormously to have a clear understanding of how the pandemic has affected your customers, so put market research top of your To Do list for 2021.

2. SEO: you are what you E.A.T.

SEO continues to be a sensible marketing activity to invest in, and in 2021 your focus should be ‘E.A.T.’. In Google parlance, this stands for ‘expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness’, and it’s something to bear in mind for your content marketing efforts. 

This ties in with the growing need to combat so-called ‘fake news’, which has become particularly important with the spread of misinformation during the pandemic.

Of course, it’s always been good practice to focus on creating trustworthy content that shares your expertise, but level up your efforts in 2021 and you’ll stand yourself in good stead with search engines. In practice, this means going the extra mile to make sure you back up statements with evidence (such as authoritative reports or statistics) and link out to reputable sites where they’re relevant to your content.

3. Mobile-friendly will matter more than ever

Continuing on the subject of SEO, the proportion of people accessing the internet from a mobile phone continues to grow, and it’s predicted to reach nearly 73% by 2025.

Last year, Google acknowledged this trend with mobile-first indexing, which means that Google now mainly prioritises the mobile version of a site above its desktop version in search engine rankings.

This means it’s never been more important to make sure that your website displays as well on a mobile as it does on a desktop, offering users on smartphones a seamless user experience. If you’ve not yet made sure your website is mobile-friendly, here’s more on why you need a mobile-friendly site and how to create one.

4. More businesses will embrace influencer marketing

On the social media front, influencer marketing – that is, paying people with large social media followings to talk your products or services – is predicted to rise by 15% in 2021. So, if this isn’t something you’ve tried yet, this year could be the time to give it a go.

A survey by Twitter found that “Almost half of the respondents (49 percent) in the survey rely on influencers for product recommendations” and that “About 40 percent of survey respondents had purchased something online based on seeing it used a social media influencer on Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.”

The good news is that there are influencers in just about every niche – you just need to know where to look for them – so no matter what your business does, you should be able to take advantage of the potential of influencer marketing to promote your offering. Read more about whether your business should consider influencer marketing.

5. Social media channels and features offering more video marketing opportunities

2020 has seen the huge rise in popularity of the social media platform TikTok, as well as new video features added to popular platforms – such as the introduction of Reels to Instagram.

TikTok is a platform more small businesses are likely to embrace in 2021, especially now that it’s offering advertising via TikTok for Business. Reels emerged on Instagram as a copycat of TikTok, with scope for cross-publishing for busy small businesses who don’t necessarily have time for creating unique content for each platform.

If your business hasn’t yet explored the potential for video marketing on social media, read how to get started with TikTok.

6. The e-commerce boom continues – adapt or risk becoming irrelevant

With many businesses forced to close for long periods of time due to coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns, many small businesses have had no choice but to embrace the idea of e-commerce.

Little wonder that it’s booming like never before, and in 2021, the businesses who first embraced e-commerce during the pandemic are likely to continue refining their offering as the popularity of buying online shows no sign of letting up.

As Shopify notes, “brands must adapt or risk becoming irrelevant”, with habits picked up during lockdowns expected to continue – “including shopping online”. If you want to explore the possibly of your small business having an e-commerce offering, have a read of this article on four of the best e-commerce platforms for your business.

7. Conversational marketing is going nowhere

The idea of two-way ‘conversational marketing’ isn’t new – but with all our interactions having moved online this year, and call centres running on reduced staff, it’s become a permanent fixture.

Marketing has moved on from brands simply putting out messages and leaving it at that. What’s needed is an element of personalisation to replace what’s been lost through in-person interactions. Indeed, according to Salesforce, “59% of customers say tailored engagement based on past interactions is very important to winning their business.”

So, to keep up with the competition, your business needs to be able to offer something more personal and two-way. You can use social listening to monitor and respond to what’s being said about you online, and make use of chat widgets and social media messaging features to enable your customers to establish a conversation with you as easily as possible.

8. The move towards even greater inclusivity

On a more general note, 2020 has seen marketing campaigns become more inclusive than ever, thanks in part to the prominence of campaigns such as #BlackLivesMatter and efforts to ensure greater representation of different races, religions and abilities.

This looks set to continue into 2021, with a report by Accenture saying that that “Forty-one percent of shoppers tell us that in the last year, they have shifted at least 10 percent of their business away from a retailer that does not reflect how important I&D [inclusivity and diversity] is to them. Diverse shoppers are even more likely to leave.”

This is no less important for small businesses than it is for big ones, and as an SME you can ensure that your marketing is inclusive and diverse by reflecting this in the imagery you use to illustrate blog posts and other content, the topics you elect to cover on social media and even the products you choose to offer.

9. Shining a spotlight on sustainability

Finally, another hot topic is sustainability, an area that will continue to be a key concern for consumers and therefore one that should be present in your digital marketing in 2021.

A report by Nielson notes that “81% of global respondents feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment”, and with businesses fighting to retain customers at a time of great economic difficulty, showing that your business is doing its bit is one way to earn customers’ loyalty.

That’s something to think about when you’re coming up with topic ideas for your content marketing and social media efforts, as well as for ensuring you have content on your website that covers what you’re doing to increase your green credentials.

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, and 2021 will reveal the true impact of COVID-19 – and Brexit – on the UK. At a shaky time for the economy, it will be the businesses who can adapt who are in the best position to thrive in a post-pandemic world. With these predictions up your sleeve, you’ll at least have a headstart. Happy New Year!

Rachel Ramsay

Rachel Ramsay is a freelance copywriter with a background in digital marketing. She's written copy for clients ranging from the United Nations World Food Programme to The North Face, and particularly enjoys working with lifestyle and travel brands. In her spare time, she volunteers for Guide Dogs and flies light aircraft and helicopters.

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