Marketing Trends to Expect in 2021

Never has the end of a year been so satisfying. In too many ways, this year has been a shitstorm, and we will all relish in throwing away our 2020 cat calendars on January 1. But before then comes the typical changes in season. Prices and temperatures drop, profits and stress rise, and marketers sit by the fire, hot chocolate in hand, to predict the trends of the following year.

The trouble with predicting the marketing trends for 2021 is that 2020 was anything but predictable and the world is still on fire—in some places literally. However, in the spirit of St. Nick, marketers must continue to sleigh their way into the new year.

How We Predict 2021 Marketing Trends

At Elevate My Brand (EMB), we are driven by data, so our predictions are based on recent trends in metrics, feedback from clients, insights from other industry leaders and, of course, our professional opinions as marketing and branding experts. Without a crystal ball, these are our five predictions for marketing in 2021:

1. Gen Z Gets the Spotlight

It’s a very Boomer idea that “the younger generation will save us,” but when it comes to marketing in 2021, this may actually be true. Gen Z represents $143 billion in direct spending and $333 billion in indirect spending influence. CrowdTwist predicted in a 2017 whitepaper that Zoomers would account for 40% of all consumers by 2020. So, when Gen Z was supposed to be hitting their retail prime, they were hit with the ‘rona instead. As a result, once the pandemic panic lifts, we suspect that our youngest generation will be the one that’s most eager to stimulate the economy. Zoomers are, after all, better at managing and spending money than many of their predecessors. So, what does the spotlight on Gen Z mean? It means brands will be more values-driven, more interactive and more privacy-minded to appeal to Gen Z demands.

2. Gamification Surges

Interactive content is slowly on the rise, and thanks to coronavirus-related isolation, we see interactivity taking a larger role in marketing. As Zoom fatigue and restlessness get worse, people need more stimulation. That’s why we see gamification as a top strategy in 2021. Let’s look at some stats. When COVID-19 dropped in March, mobile game downloads increased by 35%. Plus, by 2022, consumers are expected to spend $196 billion on games globally. Not only is consumer gaming on the rise, brands are hopping on the bandwagon just as fast. Global gamification is expected to grow $17.56 billion by 2024. We’ve felt its effects at EMB as well. Almost every new client wants the same thing: more interactive and engaging digital experiences. Gamification is a smart way to answer those demands.

3. Segmentation Reigns Supreme

As Mario Carrasco notes in his article Redefining Audience Segmentation On Road to 'Next Normal', intentional and strategic segmentation will be necessary to reach the “post-pandemic consumer.” Why? Because the pandemic is primarily causing a “change in consumer psychographics, not consumer behavior.” In other words, as we eke closer to a vaccine, consumers will resume their pre-pandemic purchases, but not necessarily for the same reasons. To date, companies have largely relied on demographic segmentation—age, gender, income, etc.—but those will no longer cut it. They don’t go deep enough.

Segmentation will be increasingly important for retail brands that added new skews such as face masks and sanitizers to their stores. Brands need to ask, “What brought these new customers to our store rather than to our competitors?” and, “How do we appeal to and retain these new customers once the pandemic is over?” The customers who bought your original skews may be the same demographically but very different psychographically. If you want to keep them both, you need multiple messages.

4. Brands Become Activists

In the U.S., 2020 has been a particularly polarizing year, which has prompted many brands to be much more driven by values. (We predicted the rise of values-driven marketing at the end of 2019 but—holy shit—we had no idea what was in store.) An Edelman report on Brands and the Coronavirus found that 61% of consumers believe we “will not make it through [the COVID-19] crisis without brands playing a critical role in addressing the challenges we face.” The same report found that 89% of consumers feel that brands should “shift to producing products that help people meet the challenges [of COVID-19].” It’s unlikely that those consumers will suddenly stop holding brands to these higher standards once the ‘rona starts to dwindle.

Pandemic aside, many U.S. brands became values-driven this year due to the 2020 election cycle and the public murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black people. In ways we’ve never seen before, brands came out in support of voting and Black Lives Matter. We don’t know what impact brand's activist voices will have because it’s a “recent-enough phenomenon that none of the experts [The Atlantic author Amanda Mull] spoke with knew of any data on how common they are.” But what we do know is there will be an impact. Brands can’t simply return to being apolitical and purely sales-driven. Consumers clearly want brands to play a role in societal change.

5. Experiential Come Back to Life

As of the writing of this blog post, there are five large-scale clinical trials underway in the U.S. for a COVID-19 vaccine, meaning we may be back to experiential marketing sometime in 2021. There’s no way to know how soon we will see events or what in-person experiences will even look like post-pandemic, but brands will undoubtedly be planning events and activations anyway. And they should. Consumers are itching to get back to a taste of normal, none more perhaps than Gen Z—you know, the generation with $143 billion in spending power that accounts for almost half of all consumers. In fact, a 2017 CrowdTwist study shows that 57% of Zoomers prefer shopping in-store. When you consider coronavirus cabin fever and Zoom fatigue, I’d bet that percentage is higher now. Much higher. And that’s only Gen Z.

How to Make the Trends Work for You

Marketing trends are hard to predict, and the market became infinitely more unpredictable in 2020, but there are still some pretty sure bets. Gen Z will lead the charge to a new normal, content will become more interactive, marketers must segment their lists more than ever, brands will be much more driven by values, and experiential marketing will be reanimated. 

These trends are a lot to take in, especially since the brands that survived 2020 have done so by working harder and harder and spreading themselves thinner and thinner. But that’s where an award-winning marketing agency comes in. Let our expert team relieve the pressure of focusing on the future. We know it’s hard enough to focus on the present. Contact us today and we’ll slay 2021 together.

Cody H. Owens, Account Executive
Elevate My Brand

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