2021 Digital Marketing Trends to Implement

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30 August 2020
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2021 Digital Marketing Trends to Implement

2021 Digital Marketing Trends to Implement

Review these digital marketing innovations to identify opportunities to improve leads and sales

There is always a huge interest in digital marketing trends and innovation in marketing at the beginning of the year. And rightly so, since reviewing innovation in digital marketing, technology, and platforms for the year ahead can help marketers identify new opportunities that agile businesses and marketers can tap into… if they’re looking in the right place and know the right questions to ask…

Each year, for the last ten years, I have assessed the digital marketing landscape to help give recommendations on the digital marketing trends marketers should focus on in the future.

In this year’s guidance on the Smart Insights blog I will cover what I see as the main trends across our RACE customer lifecycle framework which defines 25 key digital marketing activities that can be harnessed by businesses to drive growth through:

  • Improved reach via digital channels
  • Increasing digital engagement of your audiences
  • Better managing digital marketing to integrate it into marketing activities
RACE Digital Marketing Trends
The Smart Insights Race Planning System

Improve your digital marketing plans for growth in the year ahead

Our Managing digital marketing research 2020 shows that many businesses don’t have a planned approach to take advantage of the latest and evergreen digital marketing techniques. Our RACE digital marketing process gives a simple way to structure a digital marketing plan.

What digital marketing trends should we review?

I believe it’s important for all businesses to review how they can harness the latest marketing trends so they can apply the latest innovations through the 70:20:10 rule of marketing focus. Google’s digital marketing evangelist Avinash Kaushik has explained the benefits of this mindset :

70% of the time we’re going to focus on things that we know that are very core to our business. 20% is where we’re trying to push the boundaries. You get into the known unknowns. And the last 10% is a true crazy experimental stuff. Trying to figure out how to do uncomfortable things that we’re going to fail at more than we will succeed at. But with every success, you build a competitive advantage.

So evaluating innovations can help you push the boundaries, but also improve your digital marketing activities.

Truth-be-told, at a high-level, the trends across digital marketing tactics are similar each year – with a lot of the interest in search, social and email marketing, and new web design and content marketing techniques to engage and convert our audiences. Traditionally, technology innovations are the drivers of trends in digital marketing  including changes in:

  • Digital platforms: Innovations from the FAMGA businesses of Facebook Inc (FB), Apple Inc (AAPL), Microsoft Corp (MSFT), Google (GOOG) and Amazon.com Inc (AMZN)
  • Martech vendors: In particular, the big marketing cloud players with the biggest R&D budgets including Salesforce, Oracle, HubSpot and companies with a larger user base targeting SMEs like Mailchimp
  • Independent standards bodies: Including World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C— of which Tim Berners-Lee is a founder and current leader; Living Standard by Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group, or WHATWG and the Internet Engineering Task Force, or IETF.

Normally the trends are independent of economic factors, but that’s not the case this year. Of course, the big difference affecting changes in marketing investment in 2021 is from the havoc that COVID-19 has wrought around the world. Although there have been winners in some sectors where demand has held up or even increased, many have fallen. Regardless of sector, low-cost or no-cost methods of growth are more important than ever. This perhaps explains why our research shows that the AI-based techniques which I will cover throughout this article are relatively unpopular.

The latest digital marketing technology hype cycle

Across all digital platforms and marketing cloud services, the trends are well documented by Gartner in their digital marketing hype cycles which I summarize each year. Here is the latest visual from Gartner of the 2020 digital marketing hype cycle.

Hyper Cycle for Digital Marketing 2020

From reviewing the latest hype cycle, and from my recommendations on innovations in this post,  here are the core marketing themes that I think will be most significant for marketers considering their adoption of digital technology in 2021 and beyond:

  • Conversational marketing is a common feature across new martech. We have discussed conversational marketing a lot on Smart Insights and it is one of our 6 pillars of effective digital marketing covered in our free digital marketing plan template.
  • Consumer privacy and consent is significant emerging technology on the marketing curve, but it’s surprising that it’s not on both curves, particularly since one of the biggest trends in advertising during 2020 are the steps by Apple, Google and Mozilla to increase privacy controls for their users in their browsers which threatens to significantly shake up the advertising models of Facebook, Google and the ad networks.
  • Artificial Intelligence and machine learning for marketing is entering the ‘trough of disillusionment’. This fits findings from our research on managing digital marketing amongst marketers which shows a relative lack of enthusiasm for the adoption of AI and Machine Learning despite the number of vendors offering AI solutions. Our research also shows that many businesses are at a low level of maturity in their digital marketing, so only the c10-20% of businesses who have the scale and skills to deploy AI are currently using it. You can read more in our infographic on 15 applications of AI for marketing.
  • Personalization is referenced as personification. This is now entering the ‘trough’ also. The evaluation below explains why Gartner prefers to use personification rather than the more widely used personalization to describe this technique.
  • Marketing Hubs (clouds) and email automation are nearing widespread adoption. Many of the techniques described in this article are already available if you use a capable marketing cloud.
  • Fewer new innovations than in previous years since the innovation trigger part of the marketing curve is sparse, suggesting relatively few genuinely new technologies are emerging. Indeed, I’m sure visual search has previously appeared here. This suggests to me that a maturity in tools has been reached and genuinely new techniques will be rare in future. This is suggested by our Digital marketing tools wheel (free download) which identifies 30 categories of technology for marketing.

Right, let’s get to the detailed recommendations on innovations which I have grouped by the RACE customer lifecycle activities to show how new techniques can be applied to marketing activities.

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