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Digital marketing trends for 2021: looking back, moving forward

by Maaike Geys , Dec 16

I think I’m speaking for everyone when saying that 2020 was the strangest year to date. A lot has happened, and many things did not go as planned. Let’s all look back at our (business) plans for 2020 and have a good laugh (or cry?). I thought that 2020 was going to be THE year for B2B companies to go all out on digital marketing and customer experience, but then Covid-19 hit. Anyways, looking back, but mostly looking forward: let’s talk about the trends for (digital) marketing in 2021.  

  1. Subscription-based everything: welcome TAAS, MAAS, PAAS, SAAS  

  2. Sustainability… or not really?  

  3. Social media: #whatshappening  

  4. SEO: here to stay  

  5. Google: what’s new  

  6. B2B gets up close & personal  

  7. It’s all about the money: content  

Subscription-based everything: welcome TAAS, MAAS, PAAS, SAAS

Everything as a Service!  

Organizations are constantly looking for ways to outsource tasks to lower their operation costs and to be more agile. These services (from technology as a service to marketing as a service) have quite a few advantages: they are continuous, agile, innovative and pro-active. This ‘as a Service’-vison has been announced in the roadmaps of Sitecore (Sitecore Experience Edge, Sitecore AI, Sitecore Content Hub), Kentico (DXP as a Service) and Umbraco (Heartcore) – and of course, Contentful has always been a SaaS solution

This trend is taking the technical world by storm – but of course, it is also happening in other domains, from marketing as a service to product as a service (I’m looking at you, HelloFresh!). Now that I’m thinking about it, why don’t we start a Copywriting as a service?   

Sustainability… or not really? 

Sustainability has been on the agenda for quite some time now. For some consumers, it’s a selling point when a business is leaner and greener. It’s a logical conclusion that, with so many consumers backing up this sustainability movement, many brands are jumping on that bandwagon and are using it in their brand messaging. But before claiming to be green, it’s important to actually take steps towards a leaner and greener business model. Keep in mind that young people are driving this movement – they've grown up with social media and expect transparent and honest communication from brands.  

On the other hand, it’s all about product or service availability: customers easily switch brand allegiance when a product is not readily available. As a marketer, you cannot guarantee stock levels. But you can guarantee open communication: let your customers know when a product is out of stock and give them a pre-order option. Lead generation + future revenue: a win-win if you ask us!  

Social media: #whatshappening 

Whether you are in the B2B or B2C sector, posting, engaging and listening to your clients on social media is crucial. Long gone are the days where you push a message to your customers – today, you should aim to establish a conversation. The customer holds the power, so your goal is to delight them on every touchpoint through their journey. Let’s have a look at what the future holds for Instagram and LinkedIn:  

Instagram puts more and more focus on in-app shopping and Reels, hereby going into straight competition with TikTok. A huge opportunity for the B2C market: pushing your products does not get easier than this! Influencer marketing is here to stay as well, but, when influencers are seen as part of an advertising company or campaign, people are less likely to be influenced.  

LinkedIn remains the best way for B2B companies to generate leads, but the networking behavior of LinkedIn users is changing. Let’s build meaningful connections in 2021 – cold-messaging is perceived as annoying, like cold calling. When adding people to your network for commercial reasons, we should aim at adding value before pitching a product or service. Some sources also expect LinkedIn stories to become more valuable. We are not convinced just yet. Will you be using LinkedIn stories in the future? Let us know!  

SEO: here to stay 

SEO, or search engine optimization, has always been SO important. Yet, it feels like 2020 was the year for SEO. Many clients started actively asking for SEO audits & solutions – which makes us very happy, because you can generate so much traffic through SEO, and it’s a lot cheaper compared to SEA. Of course, your marketing strategy should tap into both 😊. Let’s talk about the 2021 trends:  

  • Local SEO & All in on Google My Business  

  • Voice search is here to stay  

  • Image & video SEO for visual searches  

If you own a smaller business, or if your clientele is mostly local, you have to put local SEO & Google my Business into your marketing plans for 2021. Make sure you keep your listings and your Google My Business profile up-to-date - this way, customers can easily access information about your opening hours, promotions, etc. Google prioritizes relevance in their search algorithm, so it’s important to show up in your local listings.  

Voice SEO is here to stay, but as we stated previously, it probably will have little impact on your business or organization. Don’t get me wrong: if you have a huge team of marketers, why not try & test to optimize your content for voice queries?! But if that’s not the case, we advise to put your SEO efforts into other optimizations.   

Image and video search (or visual searches) have been around for a few years, but somehow, they’ve stayed in the background. Unfairly so, because visual searches are built into quite a few platforms (think Google, Pinterest, Bing, Amazon etc.). Let’s not get confused here – visual search is NOT the same as image search! When people conduct an image search, they are using words to describe the image they are looking for. When visual searching, they are using an image to conduct the search. To optimize for these kind of search queries, you can:  

  • Use structured data for images (win-win: this will enhance your chances to appear in snippets!)  

  • Add alternative text – time consuming, but oh so worth it  

  • Use descriptive file names for your images 

  • Install an image sitemap  

  • Choose image sizes and types that are future proof (for example, the next gen JPEG formats)  

Google: what’s new 

Our friends over at the Google HQ have been quite the busy beavers this year. They’ve updated many things, from Google Analytics 4 (amazing video about that here), automated bidding options in Google Ads, to the possibility for customers to message businesses via Google Maps.  

They’ve also re-launched Google Shopping Organic. Yes, re-launched. Some OG marketers will remember that back in the day, Google Shopping was purely organic. It quickly grew to be a huge money tree, so Google made it paid (I mean... what did you expect?). I guess 2020 was Google’s year to “realize things” - now, you can put free listings in your Google Merchant Centre. Apply the same best practices (product titles, product descriptions...) and analyze how well your products perform.  

Next to all of that, they’ve also launched Google for Jobs. It took a while, but it finally happened! It might not be perfect yet, but it’s here to stay. 2021 will be the year where Google for Jobs will be optimized and perfectioned. At least, that’s what we hear 😉.  

Let’s get up close & personal 

The B2B market is valued for about 6 times the B2C one, but still, the marketing is, dare we say, lagging behind. 2021 will be the year of personalization for B2B, taking this B2C trend to the next level:  

Chatbots  Let’s be honest: not every website or business needs a chatbot. But, in some cases, it might be a great way to deliver an even faster and better customer experience. You can link an automated script to your chatbot, so it can detect “special” customers and give them their very own VIP experience! Next to that, chatbots can offer products or services based on your customer’s buyer history. 

Personal videos   Both marketers and sales professionals took Covid 19 as an opportunity to start filming videos – at home – that, for example, show products or demos. Even offers and prospecting can be done via video – it's a more personal way to introduce yourself & your products. Before 2020, video quality was of the essence. Today, we are looking for an opportunity to connect on a personal level, even if the quality isn’t quite there.  

Email marketing   Email marketing still is such a relevant way to convert customers and prospects. Update your email marketing strategy by personalizing the content, based on profile data, behavior data and interests. Address your customers personally, add account-based coupons, refer to content that your customer or prospect will enjoy. In 2021, we only have time for relevant emails! 

It’s all about the money: content 

You might remember that song, it’s all about the money, money, money… (1997) – well, today and tomorrow, it’s all about the content. Please, please, please: forget about commercial content filled with buzzwords and “BUY NOW” conversion buttons.  

In 2021, brands must humanize and connect with their customers in order to succeed. People connect with people, and people want to buy from people – not from faceless companies. Let’s be honest: no one likes websites filled with buzzwords and aggressive call to actions. How do you really capture someone’s interest today? By adding value.   

Connecting with others also means focusing on interaction. In 2021, interactive content will become huge. Quizzes, polls, interactive videos, the sky’s the limit here. As long as it’s genuine!  

It’s a tired old song, but your content strategy will only work if you stay consistent. Post regularly and write for your niche audience. If you have a blog, you should aim to post weekly. If you have social media accounts, you should aim to post at least twice a week. But above all: your content should be specific and qualitative. And don’t forget that every piece of content can be re-used in a different way, adapted to the respective channel!   

What will you be focusing on in 2021? Let’s discuss on LinkedIn!  

Sources: Gartner, Deloitte, MCKinsey 

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