With news of several vaccines being rapidly developed and deployed across several countries, it seems as though a sense of normalcy may finally return, and the world can go back to ‘business as usual’.
But with recovery still being far away, many are taking the time to reflect on the lessons learned in 2020, as it has not only revealed structural weaknesses in their operations, but also radical solutions and many new opportunities that can be leveraged going forward.
This is especially true in terms of consumer trends as it has changed how businesses are reaching their customers and redesigning their offerings in order to better market themselves amidst a global crisis.
With that being said, we have identified these 7 emerging trends that could provide some useful insights on several areas with the potential to impact businesses and their strategies for 2021.
1) The ‘Stay-At-Home’ Consumer
As lockdowns were imposed across the globe earlier this year, many of us had to cope with this new lifestyle of doing almost everything within our homes.
Whether it’s work, learning, food, hobbies or even staying connected with loved ones, most have gotten used to this new reality and adapted their pre-COVID routines around it, which signals a shift in behavior as it creates a new audience segment - The ‘Stay-At-Home’ Consumer.
While there are plenty who are eager to return to their old ways, many are also choosing to stick with this new way of living because of the many benefits that come from adopting such a lifestyle (i.e. convenience, time-saving, flexibility etc.)
Now, how likely would this trend impact businesses and their marketing strategies in 2021?
Well, according to this WSJ article, it cites four reasons why this trend (or the ‘Stay-At-Home’ economy) is likely to stick around for the long term:
- Companies have already invested heavily in their delivery infrastructures, resulting in quicker and more efficient access to their goods and services, while also being less expensive and easier to use for the end-consumer.
- Families have also invested in the tools and services to keep their loved ones safe throughout this period.
- Old habits (especially technology acceptance) have changed as many people have gotten over the hurdles of adopting new technologies.
- Thousands who lost traditional jobs in retail and service have found new ones in the online space, while those that retained their jobs see their roles shifting to meet society’s new economic demands.
From there, we start to see the far-reaching effects of such a disruption as it has shifted global demand to sectors such as health, home-improvement, technology and more, cementing new behaviors that are now considered to be ‘normal’ in a pandemic-ridden world.
Coupled with an economic recession and fears of safety on public health, these new behaviors are likely to remain until global confidence is restored within those key areas.
Even more so, the way consumers respond to certain acts and behaviors is also a sign that businesses should heed when thinking about their operations and strategic activities going forward.
To elaborate, this article uses a simple story to paint a reflection of the consumer habits within our current society today:
Put simply, the short piece revealed three more important points which could have an impact on businesses:
- Certain norms and behaviors are now taboo, which prompts certain activities (i.e. travel, events, hospitality etc.) to be off-limits until the pandemic is gone.
- Consumers are stressed and fearful, which pushes them to seek safety and comfort from nostalgia (i.e. Barney) so they can feel ‘good’ again.
- Without the internet and technology, we would not know what’s happening around us and will likely not survive in our current environment.
As such, this means businesses will need to rethink how their products and services can (and should) be offered to accommodate their customers’ new formed behaviors as old rituals and traditions break away to make room for new ones.
Some of which include:
- Changing your advertising channels
- An increase in digital marketing investments to improve one’s online presence
- An addition to the company’s brand portfolio to capitalize on the ‘nostalgic’ and ‘stay-at-home’ opportunities and etc.
Thus, keeping a close eye on this new consumer base could provide brands the vital insight that’s much needed for 2021 as it could play a key role in shaping one’s business and success going forward.
As the WSJ article best puts it:
“Once a habit is established, it is not easily broken.”
2) Not ‘Digital-First’, But Omni-Channel Driven
While the ‘stay-at-home’ segment may spur new innovation (mainly in the digital space), businesses should note that certain industries (i.e. fashion, furniture, audiovisual etc.) still require a physical touch to some degree in order to provide their goods and services.
In turn, the emphasis of ‘digital-first’ as experienced earlier in 2020 will shift into a focus on ‘omni-channel’ strategies instead.
Currently, most businesses are adopting a multi-channel approach which uses multiple platforms (i.e. brick and mortar, website, mobile etc.) to reach customers.
However, an omni-channel strategy focuses on unifying all existing brand channels into one seamless space instead through the sharing of its audiences’ data with each other.
As we know, the modern consumer tends to discover brands through a combination of physical and digital channels (i.e. brick-and-mortar stores, social media, mobile, websites etc.)
This means their typical path to purchase is no longer linear as they are often spread across many micro-moments (i.e. browsing through social media and various websites) in different channels that contribute to the final decision of buying.
For instance, if a customer develops a preference for a brand by ‘liking’ their product pictures on social media but later abandons their cart in their website, brands would want to discover the reasons behind those actions:
- Was it better prices offered by others online?
- Were they looking for added convenience such as free shipping or curb-side pickup?
- Maybe they couldn’t imagine the experience of using that product as compared to trying it in-store?
Regardless of the reasons, it will become increasingly difficult to capture and retain consumers given the external challenges faced in our environment, such as social distancing, reduced consumer spending, competition from globalization and various obstacles.
As such, adopting an omni-channel approach provides businesses a potential solution to this emerging trend as it lets them leverage the data collected from every channel to better understand their customers’ journey from the very beginning of the first interaction with the brand until the very last.
Using the same example, the customer who abandoned their cart might see a discount ad for the same product moments later if they recently visited other websites to hunt for bargain deals.
Or if they were actively interacting with certain social media posts by the brand, their website could mimic the success by analyzing the factors that led to such engagement (i.e. optimizing its design and messaging to tailor to their preferences).
But the focus of an omni-channel strategy isn’t limited to personalization alone, as its main goal is to help businesses create a seamless yet integrated commerce channel throughout each and every one of their touch-points.
This means analyzing the similarities and differences within the customer data to craft a memorable and unforgettable experience...
One of which will stick with consumers long after their purchase to reinforce brand loyalty, strengthen brand recall and cement the company’s unique brand positioning within their minds.
Moving forward, it is expected that consumers will constantly seek to relive their out-of-home experiences through in-home devices in this current environment as they crave for the nostalgic connections that were dearly missed pre-pandemic.
Thus, incorporating an omni-channel approach in one’s strategy will allow them to capitalize on this trend as doing so will not only improve the overall branding of the business, but also help in navigating through the many risks and uncertainties posed by the current environment.
3) The Ever-Evolving Role of Social Media
In the earlier years, social media was nothing more than just a tool for people to stay in touch with loved ones.
Today, that role has changed as it has transformed into a network that not only connects people with each other across the world, but also a platform for discovering new ideas, communities, trends, stories and other materials of similar nature.
Because of that, businesses find it an incredibly attractive marketing tool as they are given near-endless opportunities to advertise, market and grow by taking advantage of an ever-increasing population that’s addictively drawn to these platforms on a daily basis.
Thus, understanding each of the social media and how they are designed to work (for and against any individual or entity) is crucial, while also actively keeping pace with its many developments can help businesses in staying ahead of their competition.
Throughout 2020, Facebook has released several updates such as online events, email marketing tools, layout selector for posting images and other various new features to help businesses operate more effectively amidst a global pandemic.
This means that brands will not only have access to the tools needed to ensure business continuity, but also new marketing avenues for customer acquisition, content delivery and strategy execution in an innovative manner that was previously not available.
While some features are still in the testing phase, businesses are still able to utilize and incorporate a variety of them within their social media channels to better market their products and services.
Here’s another example:
As we become increasingly reliant on social media, the importance of investing into the users and communities within these platforms becomes evermore crucial as they possess immense power in building up a brand through referrals, advocacy and shared collaboration.
This means businesses will need to build meaningful (and two-sided) relationships with the people who engage with them through:
- Content Resharing
- Engaging Storytelling
- Relevance and Transparency
Doing so not only gives a positive boost in terms of customer acquisition and website traffic,
but also in shaping the business’s long term efforts in branding building to yield effects of:
- Competitive Positioning
- Loyalty and etc.
Compared to short-term financial gains, these benefits far extend the average period as its value is a timeless competitive advantage that can be reused constantly within various segments of a business.
To summarize, the importance of social media is rising. It is not only shaping the way we live our lives but also how businesses are conducting themselves.
Thus, it becomes even more important for businesses to reinvent themselves into an authentic brand that resonates with the values of their customers, as social media’s ever-increasing influence is a key factor in impacting the success of one’s operations for 2021.
4) Video Marketing
Considered a part of ‘digital content’, video marketing is an emerging trend that’s expected to grow by 20.4% between 2020 and 2027 (GrandView Research, 2020).
This places the importance of incorporating videos (i.e. short-form) into your marketing strategy as consumers are spending more interacting with their screens indoors.
With the many lockdown restrictions introduced across the globe, this comes as no surprise as people are consuming more video content, ranging from independent creators on Youtube, Twitch and various social media platforms to large corporations such as Netflix, Disney, HBO and etc. to alleviate their boredom.
Adding on that, various social media companies are also increasing their capabilities by upgrading and testing out new video features such as ‘livestream shopping’, short-form videos, content playlists and series alongside many other formats to help content creators better engage with their audiences through varying their content choices.
As such, this presents a marketing opportunity for businesses as creating engaging video content (i.e. ‘How-to’ videos, explainers, storytelling narratives etc.) not only provides the benefits of a global audience reach...
But also in terms of micro-branded assets that can be interacted by anyone, anywhere so long as an internet connection is present.
For businesses who are planning to leverage this, here’s a glimpse on a report regarding some of the video trends that one should take note of for 2021.
Whether it’s explainer videos, vlogs or even 360 degree experiences, the deciding factor will ultimately fall on one’s marketing strategy to best determine the types of video content their business should lean towards.
As such, this will not only provide brands a new avenue of capturing their audience’s interest and attention, but also foster the much desired human connection most are craving for in our current environment that could lead to stronger relationships with one’s customer over time.
5) Social Commerce
Another emerging trend is the rise of social commerce, which is simply the act of shopping on social media.
It’s most popular amongst younger audiences, especially Gen-Z as they grew up in a world where social media already has a strong influence on their everyday lives to begin with, causing them to view these platforms as a community of sorts for carrying out various social activities.
Compared to previous generations, this means consumers will increasingly view social media as an ‘all-in-one’ location to shop, work, interact, learn and live, making these platforms an important investment for businesses to venture into.
For instance, more than 1/3 of US consumers have purchased products directly through social media in 2019, while this survey reports that 55% of consumers make purchases directly through Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.
It’s even more evident during 2020 where businesses shut their physical stores down and shifted online to sell their products and services.
What makes social commerce even more attractive is that any company can be found through each platform’s ‘discovery feed’, which is essentially a search engine within the social media itself.
This provides each customer a personalized shopping experience by showing them relevant (and shoppable) ads based on their data to offer a frictionless buying experience, which would pave the way for a new age in online businesses (especially in the retail sector).
But more importantly, social commerce encourages customers to engage with a brand before making a purchase which introduces the opportunity to dive into the persona of your new customers and acquire deeper insights into their buying journey and behaviors.
Because of that, the ‘social’ aspect will play a key role within this trend as consumers are actively moving to brands who not only portray themselves as entities with social and authentic human traits, but also those who can provide a personalized shopping experience that’s both unique and memorable in a variety of ways.
6) Marketing Technologies (MarTech)
It’s no surprise that new innovations such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Chatbots, Big Data, Business Automation and other similar technologies are being increasingly adopted by businesses everywhere.
As such, marketing technologies (MarTech) will become a recurring topic so long as our world relies on machines to help manage and assist in our daily needs.
One common use of AI in marketing is personalizing advertising and marketing content for customers through analysing their demographic and psychographic profiles.
By utilizing the available data from previous marketing campaigns (i.e. the average time it takes for customers to go from consideration to purchase), the AI provides recommendations on the content to reach your audiences at the best time in the best way possible.
This is done through collecting and analyzing the data that’s fed to it’s algorithms, which allows it to identify any gaps or untapped opportunities a business might have missed when planning and executing their marketing strategies.
Here’s another example:
Whereas AR is commonly used by retail brands such as Starbucks, IKEA, and Gucci to recreate their in-store experiences through mobile phones, B2B businesses can stand to benefit from the same technologies when marketing to new clients as well.
One of those areas is creating dynamic sales presentation material, that allows them to provide clients with access to customized augmented reality applications to present their products in a virtual 360-degree view.
This helps them better visualize the products in a detailed manner while being able to interact with it to varying degrees.
Taking it up a notch, post-sales support can also utilize such AR technologies as clients will no longer need to rely on complex user manuals or online knowledge databases to solve their problems.
Instead, brands can make use of AR apps with features such as ‘self-service support’ that leverages virtual assistants to provide solutions on problems through scanning a specific part of the product that isn’t functioning as it’s supposed to.
With that being said, the adoption of martech will begin growing even more rapidly as our current situation incentivizes the use of digital applications throughout our operations and strategy.
By familiarizing one’s business with it, it will not only result in large time-saving benefits in the long term, but also open up new marketing strategies that can be utilized in creating digital branded experiences that delights customers in a manner that was not possible before.
7) Brand Activism
From the protest sparked by George Floyd’s death to various environmental disasters such as wildfires, tsunamis and typhoons, it seems as though 2020 was the year where everyday was nothing short of a crisis.
As such, it’s no surprise to see the public taking to the streets on these various issues and demanding action from their government because it fundamentally affects their physical, mental and social well-being throughout the many aspects of their lives.
With that being said, brand activism is going to be an emerging trend for many businesses to tackle for 2021, as it’s employed by many within their marketing strategy to humanize the brand in order to cultivate better and longer-lasting relationships with customers.
George Flyod’s death became widespread due to a recording of a police officer suffocating him going viral, which broadcasted his death in real-time for everyone to witness in horror around the world.
Because of that, many marched out to protest against America’s unsolved issues on systemic racism and police brutality, which has been a constant and recurring problem within the black community for multiple decades.
As such, many global brands responded by showing support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement through social media in a variety of ways:
For Nike, it was a text video on Instagram:
For Google, it was their CEO promoting the cause on his personal twitter account and on two of the most visited sites on the web - Google and Youtube:
Then we have brands like UPS who demonstrated their support through donations, labour support and call for policy reforms:
While such acts are indeed commendable, businesses need to understand that brand activism is more than just a PR stunt for protecting an organization’s reputation when a crisis appears.
In other words :
“Don’t do it just for the sake of doing it.”
Consumers can tell whether a brand is being genuine or not as their actions are tangible proof of what a brand says, which becomes a determining factor of whether they’ll choose to stick with the brand or not.
According to this article by Resonate, a consumer data and intelligence firm, it shows that Millennials and Gen-Zs are generations that expect more from brands in terms of their social and environmental impact, which affects their loyalty towards the brand.
Because of that change in behavior, businesses are taking notice of how consumers are more powerful than before as they are ‘voting with their wallets’ and calling for others to do the same, thereby influencing their business’s financial and non-financial performance.
Thus, it becomes concerning to everyone involved within the brand (especially marketing) as choosing to take a stand and showing support can mean the difference between stronger customer loyalty or colossal reputational damage.
So how can any business be on the right side of things?
Most importantly, one has to analyze how their brand can contribute to the greater good not merely by words, but through actions that can be measured over time.
Whether it’s internal policy reforms such as improving workplace diversity or external support such as donations and partnerships with NGOs, tangible measures are the key to ensuring success when partaking in brand activism.
To track the results, brands can discover what users are saying about them on social media to gauge the effectiveness of their initiatives.
When done correctly, this not only results in positive brand sentiment within consumers in the short term, but also in removing barriers to long-term brand building efforts such as growth, engagement, and brand relevance as experienced by many of Unilever’s brands.
The main takeaway:
Businesses need to be socially aware if they aim to partake in brand activism, which is a potential trend that could affect one’s business in various key aspects such as brand reputation.