- Digital marketing has become a major part of modern consumerism.
- Providing more authentic content, leveraging chatbots and voice search, using social media marketing to a greater degree, and creating an engaging user experience are among the key trends to be aware of – and use – in 2021.
- Be sure to understand which trends provide the greatest benefit to you, as well as which trends you should avoid based on your business.
- This article is for small business owners and digital marketers who want to know more about major trends and what they should be focusing their marketing efforts on in 2021.
While many of the principles of marketing remain the same each year, the tools businesses use to achieve marketing success vary greatly from year to year. Newspaper advertising used to be commonplace; now, digital advertising and artificial intelligence play critical roles in the marketing tactics of businesses.
Some of these technological advances are commonly used among larger corporations, but small businesses can learn a lot from the marketing strategies that bigger firms are using. Business News Daily spoke with marketing experts to learn which marketing trends small businesses can capitalize on in 2021. Here are seven trends we believe small businesses should take advantage of this coming year:
- A rise in authentic content marketing
- Increased demand for chatbots
- More widespread use of voice search
- Greater focus on and use of data analytics to ascertain consumer intent
- Increased use of social media marketing
- Expanded use of digital spaces to create and nurture relationships with consumers
- Greater emphasis on providing an engaging user experience
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Let's take a deeper dive into these trends and how they can benefit your business.
1. Authentic content marketing is on the rise.
For small businesses that are tight on money, providing authentic content is a powerful marketing tool. By adding a blog to your website, you can create interest in your products while establishing your brand as a thought leader in the industry. Writing about topics that interest your customers is a great way to build brand awareness and customer loyalty. By showing you care about more than a sale to your audience, you can build trust.
Whether it's a social media post, a blog, or an email blast, ensure a good balance with your content between highlighting your products and providing valuable, actionable advice.
Key takeaway: Authentic marketing – providing content your followers are interested in – is a great way to boost interest and engagement among your target audience.
2. Demand for chatbots is increasing.
According to Salesforce, 69% of U.S. consumers prefer using chatbots when engaging with brands, since it often yields a speedy response. Yet most small business owners surveyed said they didn't use the technology. A chatbot running on your website can answer customers' basic questions at all hours of the day or night, even if you're focused on different tasks.
"AI-powered chatbots can be used for customer support, expanding contact strategy dramatically with a controlled message," said Joey Penick, vice president of marketing at Lumen Technologies. "These chatbots have become so lifelike that many customers don't even know the difference, but they offer the added benefit of being able to gather, analyze and provide actionable data that can be used to improve the customer experience."
Key takeaway: Customers respond positively to AI-powered chatbots, since they often provide quick responses 24/7.
3. Voice search is gaining traction.
With mobile devices and voice services, like Amazon's Alexa, increasing in popularity, voice search is one area where your small business can stand out among your competitors. If your business is online, there's an increasing chance people will find your website or content marketing materials via voice search in 2021 and beyond.
"A few years ago, we had to adapt to the growing use of mobile," said Chris Hornak, owner of Blog Hands. "And now, according to Google, mobile searches are over 50% [of searches.] Marketers will need to begin adapting to voice searches, which currently make up 20% of mobile searches, and that's expected to continue its growth similarly to how mobile has."
From Hornak's perspective as a digital marketing specialist and having expertise in creating blog content for small businesses, organizations with blogs or content streams need to alter their plans of attack.
"Digital marketers will need to adjust their content strategy to be conversational and clearly answer questions in simple terms," Hornak said.
A simple technique you can apply in 2021 is to provide answers to questions that customers frequently have about your product on your website, according to Hornak.
"Remember to be detailed and conversational with your answers," Hornak said.
Key takeaway: With voice-controlled devices like Amazon Alexa gaining popularity, business owners and marketers should focus their content strategy on providing answers to FAQs that consumers ask about a company's products or services.
4. Data analytics remain crucial for success.
Most brands make data analytics a priority, but marketers still have a ways to go, said Curtis Tingle, senior vice president of product for intelligent media delivery company Valassis.
Access to data for companies goes well beyond basic demographics, Tingle said. Now brands can access consumers' online and offline media behaviors and preferences, locations throughout the day, purchase history, promotion sensitivity, etc. This, he said, allows you to customize messages, images and offers across channels, even at the household level.
"Marketers must learn how to better use the data that they collect," Tingle said. "Customers are constantly feeding personal information to the companies they engage with – from purchase behaviors to favorite products to the best ways to reach them through advertising and marketing efforts. With this data share, customers are looking for some sort of return, whether it be in the form of more personalized advertisements or targeted coupons/deals."
Tingle's observation is important: Marketers need to do more than gather data. The data needs to be meaningful, and businesses need to use that data to improve marketing campaigns. Just gathering information isn't helpful.
"More focus is going to be put on gathering and utilizing intent data," Penick said. "Intent data is information specifically about a person or company's activities. It can be gathered from a company website by looking at which pages a customer visited, how long they stayed on those pages, and which links they clicked or procured from a third party. Intent data can be used to prioritize the best customer prospects and create more personalized campaigns to drive better conversion."
Key takeaway: Data analytics can provide valuable information about consumer behavior, including their intent. Use information you can gather from your website, and leverage it in your marketing strategy.
5. Social media marketing will be a top priority.
Social media will continue to be vital to successful companies' digital marketing efforts. In 2021, though, expect to see companies emphasizing one-on-one communication with customers via social media and using their social media platforms as living embodiments and representatives of their brand.
"Two-way communication via social media will be the name of the game next year," said Jeremy Harrison, founder and head of content strategy at Hustle Life. "Companies will engage with customers on social media. This will make the companies more authentic and will open a channel for them to listen to their customers. It's a radically different approach, since you'll be focusing on your customers via social media. Instead of just giving news, you will also interact, making the engagement more meaningful."
Key takeaway: Customers value the ability to communicate one-on-one with brands via social media, so offer that as an option with your social media accounts.
6. Consumers are seeking new brands in several digital channels.
The use of digital spaces to find and nurture new customers has exploded during the past year, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic affecting in-person shopping. This has pushed many companies to make massive changes to their online presence to appeal to a broader audience of consumers.
"COVID-19 has forced massive changes across the e-commerce space; it's the single greatest shift we've ever seen to e-commerce," said Joe McCarthy, director of performance marketing at Klaviyo. "A result of this shift is that more consumers are shopping online and shopping with new brands."
McCarthy said new brand discovery is at an all-time high and businesses are focused on building relationships with these new customers by leveraging their owned channels – email, web and mobile – to do so.
"These owned channels give brands more control over the entire customer experience from start to finish, which helps them to more effectively use their customers' data, like their browsing behaviors and preferences, to deliver personalized and memorable experiences," he said. "As we enter 2021, forward-thinking brands, especially those who saw great growth in 2020 due to COVID, will focus on how they can maintain and maximize these new relationships."
Key takeaway: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic closing many in-person shopping opportunities, consumers are looking for – and finding – more new brands than ever in digital spaces.
7. User experience (UX) will grow in importance.
Modern customers expect an engaging, user-friendly and smooth online experience, whether that's in an e-commerce shop or perusing a website. In 2021, expect to see a greater push toward a seamless and highly engaging UX, with an emphasis on personalization and speed.
"We know that users love engaging content that speaks directly to them. Creating a marketing strategy that reels users [in] based on page experience is something that we are working toward," said Aylon Steinhart, founder and CEO of Eclipse Foods. "However, creating great content that reels in users is not the ultimate UX; it's about speed, visual stability, mobile-friendliness and safe browsing. Implementing these tactics on content marketing strategies will increase visibility and engagement."
Key takeaway: Customers expect an easy, engaging and intuitive online experience whether they visiting your website or shopping your online store.
The bottom line
These trends are expected to influence marketing in 2021 and beyond, but that doesn't mean you need to immediately drop what you're doing and switch to using different and more advanced technology to market your business effectively.
"The basic principles of how you market and build a brand haven't changed – despite what everyone says – in the past 10 or 15 years," said Allen Adamson, an adjunct professor at New York University's Stern School of Business and co-founder of Metaforce. "What technology has done overall is magnified what was always true."
Adamson explained that, while fancy new marketing tools are unveiled each year, word-of-mouth marketing still matters. Decades ago, consumers might have asked their friends where to go for the best hamburger in town. Now, Adamson says, people "ask all their friends" by performing a quick internet search and reading reviews of burger joints in the area.
Changes in technology haven't altered the core concepts of marketing, but the new technology does magnify every triumph and failure. Before, serving a bad burger to one customer might lead to the unhappy customer telling their friend not to eat there. Now, an angry Yelp review can deter hundreds of prospective customers.
Understanding new technological tools can greatly benefit your business, but, if you don't understand how the technology can help you, there's no use adding new tools into the mix.
Adamson, the former chairman of Landor Associates North America, who advised companies like Marriott and HBO, says many companies have issues getting caught up with the latest and greatest marketing tools.
"It's sort of like watching 8-year-olds play soccer: It's just a ball and no one is on defense," said Adamson. "Everyone is chasing the shiny new object. No matter what technology you buy, if you don't know how to use it really well, it's not going to give you a competitive edge in the marketplace."
You might not need to act on some of the trends discussed in this article. On the other hand, adding a chatbot or using more authentic content in your current marketing strategy mix may take your business to a new level of customer engagement and financial success.
Deciding which technology to implement in your operation hinges on the needs of your business and the desires of your customers. You may be better off not adopting a new marketing trend, especially if you don't understand and can't properly use the technology but are doing so only because other businesses are using it.
"While we're moving faster and faster toward a tech-dominant world, small and medium-sized businesses need to prioritize the technology trends that they can leverage for greater business growth," said Ryan Gould, vice president of strategy and marketing services at Elevation Marketing. "How do they do that? They need to ask the four following questions: (1) Who is my audience? (2) What and where are my business gaps? (3) Will this technology help close my business gaps? (4) Do I have the resources to sustain this technology for the long run?"
Using Gould's questions as a check can ensure you don't unnecessarily jump on board a marketing trend that isn't well suited to your business. Take note of the 2021 marketing trends, but before acting, take a good, hard look at where your business stands.
Key takeaway: Before jumping into any of 2021's major trends, consider your business and which trends will truly benefit you and your customers.
Additional reporting by Kiely Kuligowski and Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.