Predictions: 14 digital marketing predictions for 2021

From the demise of third-party cookies and privacy-first marketing, to the reinvention of email and the reign of content, CMO asks the experts about what digital marketing will hold in 2021

8. The rise of QR code marketing

No one cold have predicted QR codes would take off in 2020. It’s just one many things about the year of COVID that have change.

“New shopping habits, consumer wishlists and work commitments have all shifted and been formed. Just look at QR codes,” says Sandbox Media CEO, Luke Sullivan. “The unpredictability of government decisions and impacts of a cookieless world are huge. While we all wish we had a crystal ball, the unpredictable nature of 2021 is an incredible time to take some calculated risk and get ahead. Don’t let the analysis cause paralysis. The start of the decade starts in 2021."

QR codes are on the rise because they provide consumers contactless delivery, pickup and payment options - necessary for our current public health protocols. Brands should use this adopted consumer habit to their advantage by tracking engagement via their advertising and marketing tactics, says CallRail VP of marketing, Palmer Houchins.

"For instance, marketers could use QR codes in 2021 to track engagement via product packaging, direct mail and OOH ads to mirror consumer behaviour and better understand what’s working and what’s not. This will put additional information about products and services in the hands of consumers and help marketers improve their strategies in the future,” he says.

Kaimera chief strategy officer, Stewart Gurney, isn't as convinced QR codes will hang around, but they will have a lasting legacy. “Five years ago, QR codes were a hot topic for advertisers, despite the fact 60 per cent of people didn’t really know what they were and penetration sitting at around 13 per cent, we started to see them everywhere,” says Gurney.

“Whether it was codes on pack on actually embedded into advertising, QR codes were starting to appear in droves around us. Then they disappeared. Consumers refused to get on-board, putting QR codes firmly in the ‘too hard’ basket, allowing them to sit unscanned and underutilised. COVID has changed all that.

"2020 was the year that millions of Australians finally got on the QR code train creating familiarity with the technology - and more importantly- lasting behaviour,” he says. “However, I predict the QR code’s moment of glory will be short lived, disappearing in line with changing restrictions and legislation."

Yet Gurney says the familiarity and the behaviours around using your phone to access greater utility and information will remain. He sees this as a great opportunity for things like Google Lens or augmented reality platforms, and brands, to tap into this behaviour.

"We'll usurp the clunky QR code and continue to get consumers scanning and unlocking layers of content and information,” he says.  

9. Predictive marketing

Several other industry pundits see Gen Z paving the way in shaping predictive technologies and personalisation in 2021 and beyond. Gen Z has the highest expectations for these technologies in the future, with 84 per cent believing all software and websites will incorporate digital learning and AI capabilities within the next five years, says WP Engine A/NZ country manager, Mark Randall. Nearly eight in 10 of Gen Z believe biometrics will also see increased adoption over that time period,.

“Gen Z is also more enthusiastic about leveraging new technologies like voice to power digital experiences than any other generation, so we expect marketers to follow suit by increasing their investments in voice and visual search optimisation,” says Randall.

When it comes to making predictions around predictive technologies, Truescope co-founder and CTO, Michael Bade, believes the future is predictable. “Into the future, the use of predictive technologies will be used to support communication planning by forecasting outcomes around a business announcement or particular event, based on the analysis of historical information,” he says.

“Predictive technologies provide professionals with the essential data insights and the confidence to make and back their strategies. Combining AI and recommendations, the predictive technology will, for example, enable teams to be alerted to trending social activity relevant to an organisation or brand before a story breaks -giving you time to craft the right message." 

10. Universal IDs

Hand-in-hand with the demise of the cookie and rise of first-party data is the concept of new people identifiers. For Verizon Media A/NZ director of brand innovation and marketing, Anny Havercroft, consumer centricity will evolve as the digital marketing industry and adtech reaches a new level of maturity. This will see a new generation of unified identity solutions such as ConnectID harmonising the way brands approach consumers and create a more consistent brand narrative across channels and platforms, she says.

“There will be improvements to audience messaging and targeting, which will be paramount to advertisers’ ability to provide customers personalised offerings following the loss of cookies in 2022," Havercroft says. "Programmatic’s expansion across channels beyond ‘traditional display’ [audio, BVOD, digital out-of-home] will see omnichannel platforms serving across media channels, creating a smoother brand story for customers and improving measurement and attribution for advertisers."

In 2020, marketers have come to realise that identity management models are outdated and fail to account for greater privacy-by-design. “With the impending demise of third-party cookies only a year away, players such as The Trade Desk are pioneering promising approaches to Unified ID 2.0 - a universal ID based on voluntarily provided encrypted email addresses. Like all the walled gardens, the open web is looking towards a single sign-on to survive,” says Aqilliz CEO, Gowthaman Ragothaman.   However, Ragothaman cautions that such ID solutions must be designed with longevity, underscored by open-source principles, privacy-enhancing mechanisms, interoperability, and compliance.

“Any universal ID will need to address a fragmented landscape of data protection frameworks. Data provenance will be critical, ensuring transparency of how data has been used within the digital media supply chain once consent is obtained. Having an ongoing record of all processing activities will be essential, should audits arise. Admittedly, walled gardens have the advantage of being able to maintain and provide this record, hence ensuring compliance,” he says.

  And to do this, the industry will need to encourage independent and neutral governance. “Rather than relying on industry bodies, I foresee a growing acceptance of emerging technologies that place the trust in tech alone, limiting the need for manual intervention,” says Ragothaman.

11. The end of growth hacking

With all this maturity around digital technologies and data-driven marketing, 2021 could see the end of growth hacking as a tactic for digital marketers.

“This year has seen some major developments in the digital marketing landscape, tech giants selling media inventory become subject to more rigorous regulation and at the same time adtech is getting smarter. Because of this, digital marketers are going to have to learn to not only work within these constraints but also figure out how to stay ahead of the curve and leverage this change,” says Fergus head of marketing, Robbie Dunphy. 

“So what does this mean? Gone are the days of making sure your meta description is between 140 and 160 characters at all costs. As search algorithms improve, optimising your digital assets is becoming less and less about trying to hack Google and more about focussing on creating authentic and positive user experience."
Similarly with PPC and socials, Dunphy also hopes to see the end of ‘growth hacking’. "It seems self-serving ad platform algorithms are finally purging themselves of lucrative but lazy ad creative and favouring campaigns with healthy engagement metrics. Investing in creative and finding a way to say something novel is going to be any marketer’s best shot at delivering returns,” he says.

“But this should really feel like a return to marketing fundamentals more than anything. Communicating an impactful brand promise that is clearly aligned with a strong value prop and a robust business strategy to support it should be the main priority, and that’s nothing new.”

12. The value of authenticity and culture

Another significant prediction for 2021 is that it will be the year brands start taking culture seriously. "Culture has always been important to individuals and while brands have known this for years, many haven’t known where to begin,” says Twitter Australia head of client partnerships, Angus Keene.

"The significance of culture to consumers is simply too high for brands to ignore now though. It plays a hugely important role in shaping consumers’ purchase decisions and is almost as important as having a positive brand reputation. As we enter 2021, with many of the big sporting and entertainment events restarting - think the Olympics - it presents the perfect opportunity for brands to get involved."

Keene suggests this could be through event sponsorship, competitions or even simply tapping into the conversations happening around the event. "Leveraging these events and taking a stance will help brands become more culturally relevant and can lead to a heightened influence on purchase decisions,” he says.

“Brands should remember, though, it’s not a one-size-fits-all method. They should be thoughtful in their approach to ensure both authenticity to themselves and their audience. Brands that do this and get it right will go a long way to win the hearts and minds of Aussies."
Brand authenticity and culture play a significant focus for social media, agrees blueAPACHE head of marketing, Renata Di Stefano. “The greatest engagement from our audience over the past few months has been where our culture and brand DNA are on display," she says.

"Everyone is striving for happy, light-hearted content and organisations want to buy from a company where their values align, where the marketing spin is not actually marketing, but the brand truth.

“With so much content available online, you only have a split second to engage interest before the visitor scroll past and honesty goes a long way to engaging a following. Getting the right mix of truth in your content, not pushing a product or service rather elevating your brand values will drive the social media tone of voice and this is where you will see the organisations who just say they are something actually have to prove it."

13. Podcasting come into its own

The opportunities for podcasts has already taken hold this year and these audio content productions are expected to continue to be appealing both internally and externally for more organisations.

Casted CEO and co-founder, Lindsay Tjepkema, points to internal use cases such as onboarding for new employees, board meetings, sales enablement and employee engagement. External use cases may include customer success, complementary commentary to events, or even product troubleshooting.

“Podcasts are excellent tools for these use cases in particular because of their ability to be consumed on-demand and foster a sense of connection between the host and listener,” says Tjepkema.
While podcasting isn’t new, it’s still growing in popularity as media consumption trends evolve and celebrities and industry leaders enter the space. Square head of marketing, Australia, Jessica Cook, notes Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist, Bill Gates, recently launched a limited-series podcast with filmmaker, actress and activist Rashida Jones.

“Brands can choose to create their own podcasts, like Gucci or Square, or advertise via carefully selected partners,” says Cook. “The targeting and brand positioning benefits of these channels are attractive and can pay dividends if brands align with the right partners."

14. The right message at the right time

What’s old always becomes new again, and in 2021, the marketing edict of getting the right message to the right person at the right time still holds true, even while channels and methods are evolving.

"Smart brand marketers looking to get ahead in 2021 must deliver the right offerings and messages to consumers in places they are already engaging with brands,” says Wasson Enterprise co-founder and former Walgreens Boots Alliance CEO, Greg Wasson. “Take in-store grocery shopping for example. Consumers make decisions about the products they buy and the brands they support every time they step inside a grocery store. And in 2021, this is one place consumers will frequent.

"Brand marketers need to leverage 'last mile' impressions delivered in-store, at the moment of greatest potential impact to sway a purchase. The brands that do this are going to stay relevant in the new year."

Finally, marketers will need to stress test their plans and operations on the basis that the future is already here. "There are no playbooks for what is coming, which is both daunting and exciting, but the most agile marketers will evolve and seize the opportunities in front of them,” says Essence VP and managing director, Australia, James Graver.

“With marketers facing tectonic shifts in consumer behaviour, market-wide volatility and downward budgetary pressures, 2021 will largely be defined by which path marketers choose to take in response to this, and what questions they ask of their data, technology, processes, performance and, of course, partners to set them up for sustainable value creation."

Seizing these opportunities begins with uniting your organisation around a culture of experimentation and learning. It means identifying the assumptions of what works in their businesses today, and looking for new ways to prove or disprove these views through transformative capability areas such as data clean rooms.

"It also means defining their beliefs on what will shape the next era of modern marketing, and starting the work now to emerge as forward-thinking, product-driven and mission-obsessed brands,” Graver adds. 

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