Rise Of The Underdog: Marketing Trends To Watch In 2021

What will marketing look like in 2021?




Although it feels as if daily life is at a standstill, COVID-19 catapulted consumer behavior and the digital landscape two years ahead in a matter of months. Witnessing this rapid change from every demographic in every channel has been exciting and encouraging. Just on the horizon, 2021 will continue to deliver immense opportunities for marketers. The question is: How do marketers and brand owners prepare for and capitalize on these opportunities? Below I lay out what trends will shape 2021 and how brands can prepare.


Technological advances.  From live-stream shopping to distributed commerce on social, consumers’ willingness to embrace new content forms and ease their shopping journey fundamentally shifted in 2020. Organizations must continue to capitalize on technological advances, including AI, AR, holistic customer data systems, voice and multitouch attribution. Once revolutionary, these are now table stakes as brands make discovery and shopping easier and more personalized to compensate for shifting brick and mortar sales.



Flexible media. 2020’s challenges (COVID-19, Facebook boycotts, etc.) proved the need for flexibility.  Marketing budgets must be nimble, and media inventory must be sold flexibly with real-time marketplaces vs. pre-bought plans.

Sales-driven budgets. Uncertainty drives a desire for certainty. Brands will require data that proves marketing strategies and correlates to sales. With cookies disappearing in 2021, publishers and social networks must develop reporting to prove their impact or brands will find alternatives that provide results.

Channel? What channel? 2020 brought two fundamental shifts in consumer shopping behavior: consumers no longer see channels, and consumers no longer shift brand expectations based on purchase location. Consumers now expect seamless shopping with click and collect, in-store, curbside pickup, and/or online options, and are more likely to stick with one retailer that serves multiple needs in 2021.  Businesses that will thrive are evaluating resources, inventory and data across wholesalers, D2C and stores now to enable marketing and media to mirror the needs of the whole business vs. one channel.

Rise of the underdog:  Smaller/newer brands can now compete with larger brands to penetrate market share, thanks to an increase in available digital inventory.  Larger/established brands should expect rising acquisition and retention costs amid the competition.

Winning In 2021

Be flexible. Flexibility when adopting marketing strategies is crucial to forecasting growth and meeting business expectations. Brands must be forward-thinking, innovative and realistic, while teams, budgets, media, merchandising, and creative must be able to adjust on a whim.

Solve omnichannel. As consumers become more channel-agnostic, with shopping based on easiest and best experience, brands must connect organizational viewpoints and customer experience to a truly omnichannel view.

One data source. The influx of traffic and purchase behavior collected through ecommerce platforms will enable brands to strengthen first-party data and develop advanced relationship-building strategies.

While it’s certain that uncertainty will continue in 2021, the progress and innovation this uncertainty breeds will drive forward an entire industry.  And that should deliver the one thing we all need: hope.

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