While 2020 was undoubtedly a difficult year, it was also a dynamic one for the marketing industry as we observed and adapted to the evolving consumer-brand relationship in response to the pandemic. 2020 saw several key marketing trends dominate, many driven by the practical implications of living in a Covid-19 safe world.
Whether that’s the rise in virtual events, as travel has been drastically reduced, or the number of businesses pivoting to focus on a new health offering or messaging as we all become more health and hygiene conscious – which of these trends will continue to be relevant to the world of marketing in 2021 and beyond?
As we move into a new year, I spoke to Mission agency leaders about the trends that are here to stay and how brands can utilise them to better engage with their changing customer base.
The continuing rise of e-commerce
The concept of online shopping is nothing new, but 2020 saw e-commerce grow like never before. In fact, according to analysts Edge Retail Insight, additional sales driven by Covid-19 are expected to boost the UK ecommerce sector by £5.3bn, with 49% of consumers expected to shop online more frequently after the pandemic too – accounting for 19.9% of all sales by the end of 2021, according to Econsultancy.
As these statistics show, 2021 will see e-commerce continue to be a platform of choice, albeit combined with an increasing number of in-store visits most likely for larger purchases such as furniture. Analyst house, Forrester, also expects spending on customer loyalty and retention to increase by 30% over the next year, as brands seek to keep the new online customers they acquired during the e-commerce boom of 2020.
Eliot Sykes, head of customer experience, Ethology argues that last year, more than ever before, we witnessed just how important it is to create the right user experience when considering ecommerce. With the dramatic shift to online in 2020 and into 2021, brands have had to make every visit to their site count – continually testing and enhancing the experience to ensure a visit becomes a conversion and then a repeat visit.
But while we see many well-loved high street brands suffer, we don’t foresee the death of the high street, more of a reimagined one that will serve customer’s new needs and expectations – perhaps not so much a place to shop and buy but a space to engage, explore and be entertained. Brands will need to truly understand these new needs in order to redefine the role of the physical channels and how they integrate seamlessly with their digital ones – less physical or digital and more of a blended retail model that meets the demands of today’s consumer.
Sam Bettis, social media director at Krow, says online retailing has been a growth area for years, but last year’s circumstances caused this to spike with retailers of all sizes looking to do things differently.
What’s really exciting about this is the continued innovation it’s sparked – it’s challenged many to find ways to make e-commerce better. We’ve seen e-commerce platforms become more accessible and react quicker to activate and change for brands of all sizes, ensuring that local smaller retailers are not lost in the noise. While these platforms have been available for some time now, it’s the training and support offered by others that has made the platforms more accessible than ever.
We’ve also seen chatbot technology and conversational commerce continue to grow and become more accessible. VR helps make up for some of the experiences we may be missing out on from store experiences – not just for big brands, but smaller ones through technology such as Shopify AR. We’ve seen social platforms fragment the ecommerce experience, making purchasing accessible in a way which suits different shopper types – and we’ve seen commerce become more social with shoppable influencer posts.
Virtual becomes reality
As countries around the world continue to grapple with social distancing, it’s fair to say that events, conferences and indeed campaign activations look likely to continue on a remote basis well into 2021. To that effect, a study by Integrate of B2B marketers in the UK and US found that both marketing budgets and virtual event budgets are expected to increase, with 80% of respondents expecting to run or participate in hybrid events this year.
It’s important that businesses continue to adapt too, as the UK events industry was forecasted to lose up to £58bn in 2020, according to VisitBritain. One benefit to the reduction of physical events has been technology innovation, with holographics, virtual reality, social media livestreaming and simulated conferencing applications (to name just a few) making a huge impact for brands which rely heavily on events marketing.
Clare Cooper, associate director, Speed Communications says when the pandemic hit, consumers turned to digital channels as a way to engage with brands and marketers were quickly expected to follow suit. As a result, we have seen a huge increase in the number of brands including virtual elements in their marketing strategies, whether it be for press launches, conferences and events or consumer campaign activations.
With Covid-19 expected to impact available marketing spend well into 2021, and with many countries still under strict travel restrictions, it’s likely that virtual experiences – in one form or another – are here to stay. Moving forward, however, we expect brands’ use of technology to become more sophisticated, especially as innovation in this area continues at pace.
In future, both B2C and B2B consumers will come to expect a flawless virtual experience, in the same way as an in-person event would run – we’ll come to see greater production value and creativity driven by a plethora of new solutions. We also expect virtual experiences to remain even after live experiences resume, giving attendees the option to engage in a way they feel most comfortable.
The health pivot
2020 was the year that people have been forced to think about their health perhaps more than ever. Covid-19 has not only brought home hygiene and sanitation into the spotlight but has also had a knock-on impact on the way we consider our mental and emotional wellbeing, and the importance of a strong immune system.
As a result, many brands have pivoted to focus on new health-related products that aim to improve customers wellbeing, and others on promoting messages around existing health and wellbeing ingredients or properties within their products. During the pandemic, Nielsen identified that consumer spending behaviour around health falls into two separate categories – proactive health-minded buying (purchasing preventative health and wellness products) and reactive health management (purchasing protective gear like masks and sanitizers). Marketers will need to adapt campaigns and plans in line with this in 2021.
Kate Cox, chief executive officer, Bray Leino, states that part of the madness of 2020 was trying to predict which way various categories within the health sector would go. For example, it has been a good time to launch a hand sanitiser, but not a cough mixture – that category has taken a massive hit thanks to social distancing paying off. Verruca treatments were also down, but other ‘discretionary’ treatments are up. For example, earwax treatments.
Category quirks aside, in 2021 we expect the power of brand to remain front and foremost; with trusted well-known brands dominating as they are easy to find, easy to recognise and easy to buy.
Successful brands have, and will, accelerate their innovation around digital/direct to counter/Amazon in a bid to achieve precious physical availability, finding new ways to reach customers who don’t want to visit their local shops.
A key consideration for agencies is to ensure they have these capabilities in their armoury and can support clients in all guises, creating and reacting to challenges and opportunities alike.
While only the bravest would attempt to predict what might be coming down the line for us all in 2021, we can be sure that the much-referenced skills of agility and adaptability will continue to be critical to the marketing industry as we help clients to navigate an uncertain future.
Cat Davis, group marketing director, Mission Group and Krow Group