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Top Digital Marketing Trends of 2021

Welcome to 2021. A new, fresh year where we can hopefully look forward to switching viruses with vaccines, face masks with smiles and lockdown with unlimited socialisation. Can you feel it? 2021 will be a good year! However, if the pandemic and 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that community spirit brings us together. In the spirit of community, for this blog post, we have scoured the internet in pursuit of the top digital marketing trends for 2021 so that you don’t have to!

Published January 25, 2022 By Klim Lugovtsov

Welcome to 2021!

A new, fresh year where we can hopefully look forward to switching viruses with vaccines, face masks with smiles and lockdown with unlimited socialising. Can you feel it? 2021 will be a good year!

However, if the pandemic and 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that community spirit is what brings us together. In the spirit of community, for this blog post we have scoured the internet in pursuit of the most popular digital marketing trends of 2021 so that you don’t have to!

In the process, seven digital trends stuck out for us. And let us remind you that the number seven refers to the seven days of creation and, therefore, represents fullness and perfection! Fullness is definitely guaranteed. You probably should not strive for perfection.

Bon appetite!

First, let’s make one thing clear - digital consumers are not getting any easier to deal with. As the pandemic has forced us to engage online and on social media like never before, it has sharpened our digital expectations and made us digitally demanding as ever. Digital consumers are the laziest they have ever been and now expect frictionless customer journeys, immediacy and extreme convenience. Even the most laid-back cat would be envious.

In the process, seven digital trends stuck out for us. And let us remind you that the number seven refers to the seven days of creation and, therefore, represents fullness and perfection! Fullness is definitely guaranteed. You probably should not strive for perfection.

Bon appetite!

First, let’s make one thing clear - digital consumers are not getting any easier to deal with. As the pandemic has forced us to engage online and on social media like never before, it has sharpened our digital expectations and made us digitally demanding as ever. Digital consumers are the laziest they have ever been and now expect frictionless customer journeys, immediacy and extreme convenience. Even the most laid-back cat would be envious.

Cat Funny Cats GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Get the picture?

As a result, it will not be easy to win the battle for consumers’ love. You can’t just be a tiny mouse step ahead of the competition on digital know-how and marketing skills. There is way more at stake and expectations are higher. These days you must put in even more effort. Otherwise, your digital customers are likely to slip away faster than you can say TikTok.

But what should you make a special effort with? Well, that’s what these seven suggestions are for. Consider it a belated Christmas present from me to you 🎁

Still not tempted? Other reasons to stick around include:

  • You can impress colleagues in Teams with your up-to-date knowledge of digital marketing.
  • Let’s face it, nowadays we’re all in need of a little joviality. We promise you all the memes along the way!

So, grab a cup of coffee, put your legs up and take a well-deserved look at the digital crystal ball 🔮

No.1: Social shopping – in a not-so-social way

2021 offers great news for all of us who have grown quite fond of social media - the home of cat videos, quarantine memes and baking recipes - more social shopping!

87% of us who shop online already believe that social media inspires us and helps us with purchase decisions. So far so good. But why stop there? In 2020, distance was the new superweapon; and with half the world's population in a more or less constant self-inflicted leg lock on digital and social media, the next obvious step was social shopping.

And no, by social shopping, I do not mean the cosy stroll to Westfield that you took with your best friends before the world went all pandemic on us, and parties were replaced by virtual quizzes. No, it’s the slightly less cosy, but also much more comfortable and safer version, where you click the items directly from your Instagram feed with one hand, while picking your nose with the other.

Social shopping, or social commerce, is not a new concept, and many companies are already well on their way to turning their social channels into best-selling shopping centres.

The launch of Pinterest catalogues and product pins, Facebook and Instagram shops, TikTok's collaboration with Shopify and Google's plans for YouTube shopping have, helped by the coronavirus lockdown and increased online sales, fired up the development of social shopping over the past year.

In fact, data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift away from physical stores to e-commerce by about five years. In 2021, it's going to explode.

The logic is obvious: consumers shop online and are on social media more than ever before. You want to convert them into customers as quickly as possible and while they are still hot. So why waste time sending them to your website and potentially losing them along the way?

Take a deeper dive into several social commerce trends for 2021 here

Jon Hamm Marketing GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

No. 2: The subscription trend and the long-term customer relationship

Subscription services are not a new concept, but they have really grown on us in recent years. So much so that it is gradually becoming more the rule than the exception that a product becomes a service and the product price becomes a monthly subscription.

Do me a favour and count how many different services you subscribe to or are a member of.

If your number is less than five, it is most likely due to you having poor mental arithmetic or just being really, really late to the party 🥳 

Season 2 Episode 6 GIF by Portlandia - Find & Share on GIPHY

And both are, of course, highly unlikely!

We are well past the time of traditional services such as TV, telephone, newspaper and insurance being our only form of monthly subscription. Today, the bill for everything from books, music, podcasts, meals, make-up and even flowers is just as quietly deducted from our bank account every month. And the growth is palpable. Brits spend approximately £2 billion each year on subscription services, and more than 1 in 4 Brits (27.4%) are said to have subscribed to at least one form of subscription box service.

However, we have not yet reached the peak of the subscription trend in the UK. Just look towards the US, where you can buy pretty much anything on subscription and  subscription businesses grow 5–6 times faster than other companies.

With a subscription model, the company can easily predict their sales and are guaranteed stable income from month to month. They maintain longstanding and progressive customer relationships in comparison to traditional customer acquisition which is both expensive, time-consuming and cumbersome.

For the consumer, it also makes better sense. We can satisfy our never-failing appetite for everything that is easy, convenient and saves us time.

So it's just about jumping on board and making the subscription model part of your business strategy in 2021.

No 3: Brand activism – we want brands with attitude and X-factor!

Many physical stores were half empty in 2020, but online commerce has been a completely different story. As consumers and businesses move online in droves, the battle for attention and, ultimately, for customers' love intensifies within the digital marketplace.

It is no longer enough to whip the consumer around the nose with a new product at an attractive price. Increasingly, digital consumers identify as hard-to-get individuals and are reluctant to put anything from anyone into their basket.

That is why we notice brands that take social responsibility and are not afraid to express their views on current political agendas such as the climate crisis, fake news, #MeToo, body activism, neo-feminism or Black Lives Matter.

Companies with a purpose and a clear voice attract attention and stand out in an otherwise muddy and crowded aquarium filled with shoals of fish, all swimming in the same direction. A good example is Nike, which has always been at the forefront with a clear voice and attitude to current social and political agendas. And who, of course, has almost always profited from it by virtue of increased revenue.

That was also the case when the brand went viral in 2020 with the #YouCantStopUs campaign which put diversity, inclusion, social justice and collectivism on the agenda in the midst of a COVID-19 crisis. While Trump was busy splitting the country, Nike played their part in uniting it and earned the box office at the same time.

So what can you learn from one of the world's strongest brands?

It's really very simple. Take your business purpose seriously and don’t be afraid to give your brand a human voice. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you must dare to take an active part in the difficult, yet incredibly necessary, conversations, and not just when there are easy likes to harvest. What divides the waters and gives your brand an edge is also what can potentially give you the most loyal customers.

Because where there is a lot is at stake, there is usually a corresponding amount to win. Or, as Nike would say: ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything’.

Don’t just take my word for it. Data backs it up. One third of consumers will consciously choose to buy more from a company if it demonstrates corporate social responsibility. And companies that are driven by a clear, societal purpose gain larger market shares and grow, on average, three times faster than their competitors.

But remember to be authentic. As the critical consumers we are, we quickly see through when it comes to an easy-to-buy and fast PR stunt. The brands that do it wholeheartedly and are genuine in their approach have the most to gain from the money-strong and critical consumers of the future.

Get wiser on brand activism in a 2021 perspective here

No. 4: Google Core Web Vital – watch out, there's a new ranking factor in town

Then we reached trend number four in a blog post that is starting to be as long and tedious as 2020. Sorry if you dozed off…

Wake GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

No new year comes without additions to Google's algorithm. One of the really exciting ones arrives in 2021 and has been given the very catchy name: Google Core Web Vitals.

Read on with SEO glasses and a sharpened pencil, or jump to trend number five if you are not the SEO-friendly type.

In short, there is positive news for good user experience, which really moves forward and becomes part of Google's algorithm from May 2021.

Google has selected three factors for the user experience that websites will be measured on in the future – of course, along with a lot of other ranking factors such as mobile friendliness, security and the amount of pop-ups. It's about:

1. Loading
2. Interactivity
3. Visual stability

Together, the three factors must be used to measure the user's first-hand impression of a website. The better the first-hand impression, the fewer will leave the site again with unresolved matters.

But how does Google measure the three factors, you ask? Well...

Largest Contentful Paint

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) is Google's measurement of when a user experiences a website finish loading. It's probably no surprise that the faster, the better.

Specifically, you should be under 2.5 seconds if you want to end up on Google's green branch.

It is, therefore, important to have as low a server response time as possible, fast page loading and less JavaScripts and CSS, which can block and delay the loading time.

First Input Delay

First Input Delay (FID) is Google's measurement of a website's responsiveness. That is, the time it takes for a website to respond to a user's interaction. For example, a loving click with the mouse or a gentle tap with the finger. A good FID score should be below 100 milliseconds. So, we are dealing with an extremely sensitive user here!

If you want to be in the green zone, you need to have control over the loading time, division of code and cut down on the amount of JavaScript.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

Cumulative Layout Shift is Google's bid to measure the so-called ‘visual stability’ of a page. And what does that mean? You probably know this very annoying experience:

A website is not completely finished loading and the various content elements move around the screen (‘Layout Shift’). As the impatient online soul you are, you frantically start clicking on the screen in an attempt to hit the right path. You end up clicking on something wrong, land in a crazy place and end up in total confusion. Result? A pretty bad user experience.

Google calculates the CLS score by multiplying the proportion of the screen that has moved by the distance it has moved, and you've probably guessed it: it's about moving as little as possible. 

If you want to land in the green on this measurement, make sure you have size attributes on photos and video. Also, try to avoid putting new content on top of existing content – such as ad scripts or other content that may adversely affect your CLS score.

Get even more comfortable with Google's Core Web Vitals or measure how vital your own website is with the Web Vitals Chrome extension here

No. 5: Social media is becoming more… social?

Just when we thought social media was making us antisocial, the lockdown hit and we swapped an active social life in the real world with one just as active in the digital word, filled with online quizzes, webinars and virtual Friday bars. Even weddings have been held live on Zoom in 2020!

Digital and social media have never played a more important role than during the pandemic, which has taught us to cultivate our relationships and satisfy our social hunger in new ways.

Of course, companies have taken the same approach. Because what do you do when you can no longer hold events or meet your customers physically? You enter into a dialogue with them on social media. Never before have so many companies been seen live on Instagram and Facebook with everything from product launches, talks, Q&As, virtual product demonstrations and behind-the-scenes streaming.

It is as if, thanks to COVID-19, we have finally opened our eyes to the fact that social media can do so much more than provide screen space for an endless series of advertisements or access to an unrestrained harvest of personal data.

This realisation falls at a lucky time, for a trusting customer relationship has almost never been more important as when 75% of consumers do not trust advertising – but in fact have more confidence in interacting with strangers! We are back to good old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

By cultivating the relationship with customers, employees and influencers on social media, the company can ensure that the brand's important messages are also backed by the voices that customers listen to the most – other customers'.

Get your fingers in more social media trends for 2020 here

No. 6: Influencer marketing goes micro with a macro perspective

The use of bloggers, YouTubers and Instagrammers as ambassadors and live advertising pillars for brands and products has been a popular marketing discipline in recent years, and companies are devoting an increasing portion of their budget to influencer marketing. And with good reason.

We trust people much more than brands. And we'd much rather engage in content from our favourite Instagrammer or YouTuber than stare at indifferent advertisements. Surprise!

So, when companies create good and interesting content in collaboration with an influencer, they have a far greater chance of influencing the likes of you and me, than when the message comes from the company itself.

Influencer marketing is already big. But we have not reached the top of the hill, or perhaps mountain, at all yet, with experts predicting that influencer marketing is well on its way to becoming a billion dollar industry by 2022.

Value, value, value is the rhythmic battle advice you need to hear when doing influencer marketing in 2021. Preferably coupled with themes such as authenticity, personalisation, and inclusion. Discount codes and contests are all fine and good, but the brands that manage to be personal, authentic and engage their specific target audience in a common cause will reach the farthest with influencer marketing in 2021.

Companies should not fear the responsibility it is obviously going to give to influencers. Instead, they must dare to embrace this new form of advertising, move onto the playing field and give influencers more freedom as co-creators of a far more personal and authentic brand voice and narrative.

Importantly, companies need to know their target audience and niche thoroughly when initiating collaborations. Influencer marketing will gradually become more specialised and niche-oriented, and the use of micro-influencers will grow in the coming years. Both on all the old known platforms and on newer media like TikTok and Twitch.

Hop aboard more influencer marketing trends for 2021 here

No. 7: The Battle for Digital Privacy Season 2

Privacy and consent have been hot topics in 2020, and the fight will continue with unwavering vigour in 2021. I am talking about the various initiatives that Apple, Google and Mozilla launched to increase users' control over their own data. The fight for user privacy is no longer driven solely by political regulations. The big tech giants have seriously joined the fight.

Google announced as early as the beginning of 2020 that it will phase out the support of all third-party cookies in their Chrome browser by 2021; that is, the kind of cookies that follow you around the web, collect data about your behaviour and allow companies to target ads at you.

Yep, the kind of cookies that marketers love at least as much as the Cookie Monster in Sesame Street!

Cookie Monster GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Apple's Safari and Mozilla's Firefox have launched similar initiatives to block third-party cookies, and the latest shot at the stem is Apple's iOS 14 release in autumn 2020. The update includes a number of new privacy initiatives that Apple will begin enforcing in 2021. This entails, among other things, a requirement that, in future, all apps must ask users for permission to collect data and track them across devices.

Apple's new privacy and data protection measures sent shockwaves through the internet in 2020, and by the end of the year even Facebook had inserted full-page protest ads in the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, arguing that it would hurt small businesses. Maybe the gigantic traders will also be hit a tiny bit. 

Because with the death of third-party cookies, the advertising models of Facebook, Google and Display Ad Networks are at stake. And with them, billions of dollars in lost advertising revenue. The changes will make it more difficult for companies like Facebook to target users with ads and, thus, for all other companies to target their digital marketing.

The digital attribution with cookies as we know it is on its way to the grave. But if the cookie is crumbled, what then? Can you segment your target audience without a cookie?

Perhaps the solution lies in server-side tracking, which is predicted by many to be one of the big marketing buzzwords of 2021. It basically works like this: when a user visits a website, it is called from a web server. The web server has, to some extent, access to the user's behaviour on the website and can send data directly to the web analysis tool – outside and independently of the user's browser.

But perhaps a goodbye to third-party cookies can also help push both advertisers and agencies in the direction of better utilisation of data and an increase in data quality, because it will, to a greater extent, be based on trust and voluntariness on the part of customers. It will force companies to focus more on collecting data directly from customers – the so-called zero-party data – and rely less on the risky third-party data.

The big question in 2021 will not be whether we will continue to see personalised and targeted digital marketing, but how we execute it while giving users back control over their own data.

Although GDPR was launched several years ago, we still have not gone very far beyond implementing annoying cookie duty pop-ups and long-term personal data policies that neither customers nor ourselves understand.

So we are not going to easily satisfy the tech-savvy consumers of the future who refuse to share their private data with anyone. They will increasingly demand that companies see privacy as a value and process data accordingly – in an ethically sound manner.

Trust and transparency will be keywords for future data collection and tracking. So perhaps the beginning of 2021 is an obvious opportunity to remind ourselves of the good virtues we learned in first school:

  • Always ask for permission before taking anything that belongs to others.
  • If someone asks if you took anything of theirs, always tell the truth about where you took it, why you took it and what you intend to do with it.
  • If they want it back, just give it back right away.

The end.

Seven digital marketing trends delivered and consumed. Kudos to you if you got all the way down here. All that’s left is to wish you a happy and digitally auspicious 2021.

I hope that soon you can put the jogging bottoms on the shelf and swap the social distancing and the elbow greeting out with hugs and kisses. Until then – may the force, Teams & Zoom be with you!

Want to know more about Novicell?

Novicell has more than 20 years' experience helping people do business online. From digital strategy, website design and user experience, to web developmentdigital marketing and business intelligence, our services cover the full online commercial lifecycle. 

Reach out to us here to discuss your business needs.