iX POV: What marketers need to know for 2021

Tim Lawrence

Head of Strategy & Planning

‘Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth’ – Mike Tyson

It’s fair to say that 2020 didn’t turn out as anyone expected; from the continued uncertainty around Brexit, a controversial US election, the rise of anti-racism, and of course the global COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic downturn. 2020 hit us with event after disruptive event.

Any 2020 predictions went out of the window and, going into 2021, we would be foolish to start predicting what comes next. So rather than predictive trends for 2021, here are some key issues you need to know to avoid being hit by them unexpectedly. Or at least have a plan for when you do.

Three issues that will affect your customers

The continued shift to remote working

After a successful ‘mass trial’, 82% of businesses are planning to change working practices to allow more staff to work remotely (Source: Whereby). This impacts more than just work; importantly for marketers it is changing the way products are bought and media is consumed. If 2020 was a trial, then as 2021 unfolds we’ll see long term behaviour change emerge; physical location has never been more important in understanding consumer behaviour and planning digital marketing.
It hasn’t been easy, but we are all trying make the increase in remote working a success and as it becomes the norm in 2021 it will have a continued impact on your customers. Search for ‘tips for working from home’ peaked in March but subsided, whilst terms like ‘gym equipment’ are at double pre-March volumes.  ‘Online gaming’ and ‘baking’ have maintained a far higher level of interest than pre-COVID as we adapt to not going out as much  Virtually new topics have sprung up too, such as ‘afternoon tea delivery’ and, as people turned to gardening, the trusty trowel received record search volumes (Source: Google).
But it isn’t just new search topics, our spend is changing shape too; at the beginning of lockdown, there were 560,000 social posts about improving home indoor and outdoor spaces with many saying they re-purposed money that would have been spent on travel for this home improvement (Source: Brandwatch).

What this means for marketers:

Demand for digital experiences: Unable or unwilling to venture to public spaces (52% are avoiding crowded spaces (Source: GWI), from zoo visits to church services, people have replaced physical experiences with virtual.  There were over 3.7M social engagements around drive-in cinemas in April alone across Europe (Source: Brandwatch) and 88% of retailers saw increased demand for at home experiences (or ‘insperiences’) such as DIY meal kits – with 35% of shoppers intending to continue buying them in 2021. (Source: Barclaycard Payments).
Half of business leaders say they increased their number of virtual events or workshops in 2020 (Source: Deliotte), so consider the digital experiences you could create to help customers experience your product or service.  For example, Mars launched a virtual trick or treat app for Halloween and Finnair offered virtual flights to meet Santa at Christmas.
Growth of video streaming: over 12million adults accessed a new Subscription VoD (SVoD) service in 2020, three million of whom did so for the first-time. As a result, video viewing per day increased by 32%. Of this, 37 minutes was accounted for by SVoD and 31 minutes by live TV and recorded playback (mainly news). New audiences were introduced to on demand video with significant growth in the 55-64 age group, where 32% used SVoD services in the early lockdown period, up 7%compared to pre-lockdown, eroding the notion viewers are only younger audiences (Source: OFCOM)
Video streaming will continue to grow and online video advertising can be highly targeted or broad so if you haven’t already, review how you can use video advertising to reach your audience.
Digital dieting: There was a surge in screen time with viewing time increasing almost a third per day compared to the same period the year prior (Source: OFCOM). Whilst focus on reducing this time has mainly been on the young its likely adults too will become more conscious and will ‘diet’ their time to avoid burn out. Consumers will expect brands to be aware of this and make experiences simpler and more convenient.
37% of people want brands to organise/simplify their lives (Source: GWI) so anything you can do to avoid excess screen time will be appreciated, particularly for children and their parents. Wyndham Hotels came up with an innovative way of encouraging this in their hotels.

The recovery won’t be equal

As part of the Hearst family, we hosted an online survey across several of the global media company’s lifestyle titles to understand how people are feeling financially and results were mixed. 32% said they feel better off financially, benefitting from little or no commuting costs, however 16% are worse off and within that 10% say their financial position is ‘much worse’.
A K-shaped recovery: While some parts of the economy are expected to recover this year, others are not, so we will  find that some cohorts of consumers will be better off (or at least back to normal) while others will find 2021 extremely tough based mainly on the sector they work in.  Up to 39,000 jobs have been lost or are at risk in travel, 660,000 in hospitality and 230,00 in retail (Source: Centre for Retail Research) and yet Tesco added 16,000 jobs, Amazon 10,000 and both construction and real estate sectors have more vacancies than they did in 2019 (Source: ONS). There is going to be a redistribution of what people do and how much they earn.
The products we buy will be shaped by restrictions (and change with them): buying behaviour will continue to be shaped by the restrictions we face and only returning to some sort of  normal when its possible: when the Government introduced Eat Out to Help Out in August it meant supermarket alcohol and food sales dipped for the first time since March.

What this means for marketers

It’s time to review your customer segmentation and overlay the impact of some of the key shifts of 2020 on their perceptions – to determine if attitudes have changed, or if you have new sub-segments. Then consider if you need to change targeting or messaging to react to this.

Change (may) have done us good

Over 50% of us tried a new hobby or pastime during 2020 and the majority plan to continue doing these things (Source: Hearst).  This time of reflection has included how consumers view what is important in brands; 69% are increasing support for local shops and 52% are paying increased attention to product origins (Source: Kantar). How can brands be more positive in 2021?
2020 was a shock to the system but scarcity often creates conditions for change and innovation. As basics such as the opportunity go outside, travel to work and choice on supermarket shelves reduced then people reviewed options, creating new behaviours. Not all these behaviours will remain in 2021, when choice returns, but many will.
Brands play a role as facilitators of new hobbies and pastimes: Due to necessity many have taken up new hobbies and pastimes; some are rational (27% have been de-cluttering and 24% gardening) but 57% have started a new pastime to improve mental wellbeing and 54% to feel more positive; hobbies such as Yoga/Meditation (19%), a new fitness regime (21%) and cooking (36%) have been popular.
What’s important is the role brands have played; 56% said they felt more positive about brands that had inspired or helped their new hobby, and nearly a quarter said they felt ‘a lot’ more positive toward a brand as a result. (Source: Hearst)
More thoughtful consumers? In March, 261,000 people took to social media to discuss local, ethical, and sustainable shopping, up 362% (Source: Brandwatch), this reflection continued with emphasis on brands being more responsible: 46% say they want brands to be more eco-friendly, 44% say they want brands to be more socially responsible and 28% think brands could do more in supporting charity (Source: GWI).

What this means for marketers

Consider how you can help people return to normal or explore a new pastime and how you can be more positive: Inspired by (what?) Iceland picked up on the trend of ‘doomscrolling’ (consuming endless negative online news) and flipped it to offer social media users the chance to ‘joyscroll’ beautiful images of Iceland. Deodorant brand Sure, in keeping with its brand purpose to inspire everyone to move more, committed over €1million to supporting fitness experts and communities around the world and creating a series of at home exercise content with experts

Three issues that will affect your business

Beware not reading the room

The past few years have seen brands called out for racist campaigns or lack of diversity in the board room ,so when brands changed tack during the pandemic with an outpouring of emotive campaigns not all were well received - 66% of consumers claim they can recall when brands acted in self-interest—such as raising prices on essential items (Source: Deloitte). Just 24% of people say they want brands to ‘show that they care’, with over a third preferring ‘actions not words’ (Source: iCrossing/Hearst). Consumers sensitivities are now heightened, and brands must consider messaging carefully, being truly authentic in ‘purpose’.

Brands are a key component of our society and play a role in shaping the national mood. 2020 saw a number of advertisers reflect public opinion by boycotting Facebook advertising for a month but reactions during the initial stages of the pandemic were often hit and miss as many brands tried to empathise but failed to convince they were truly understanding , highlighted by the similarity of many pandemic ads.

Moving into 2021 as people feel stressed and nervous expect sensitivities to be heightened when targeting or messaging doesn’t feel right or isn’t authentic or empathetic.

Trust: 2020 put pressure on ‘purpose’ as the onus was to operate ‘for the greater good’. While many brands stood up to be counted trust in businesses across all categories is in decline (Edelman Trust Barometer).

Consumers are clear that deeds are more important than words on key topics: 43% said ‘ensure diversity in senior management’ is the most important thing business can do to support Black Lives Matter, whilst paying employees fairly (79%) and stopping supporting companies that fail to prevent fake news (69%) are important to rebuilding trust. Tellingly few believe organisations will do this (Source: Edelman).

Social CRM to play a larger role: With physical interaction removed, the slew of ‘we’re with you’ emails became wallpaper as brands struggled to find new ways to stay in touch with consumers. With more time spent on social platforms brands are shifting the role of social to be a communication channel to keep consumers informed of updates; 67% of business leaders say they increased presence on social media in 2020 (Source: Deloitte)

What this means for marketers

Empathy is an increasingly important trait for brands to have - World Federation of Advertisers president Raja Rajamannar believes “empathy and flexibility are the name of the game, going into 2021.” Even pre-pandemic a study found that UK consumers were 54% more likely to engage with a brand when it effectively demonstrated human communication (Source: Forrester).

To inform this, brands must use consumer research and data to understand the situation that their consumers find themselves in as well as having a robust series of checks and balances for creative/copy, ad placements and frequency to avoid being caught out.

The end of the cookie is nigh

As the world settles back to ‘normal’, privacy and personal data protection will return to the agenda. GDPR seems like a distant memory but that, and the drive towards a cookieless internet, will continue unabated. While the biggest news won’t actually happen until 2022 when Chrome (the world’s most popular browser) will phase out third-party cookies, meaning cookies will be blocked by all major browsers, its magnitude means preparation needs to begin now. Although cookies will be blocked, personalisation will still be possible with other available solutions (such as first-party data, location- and time-based messaging, and contextual targeting).

For large enterprise businesses – particularly in retail or finance where customer activity is frequent, we’d expect that first-party data collection is not a new ambition, having collected data through compelling value exchange for several years. If this is the case, being able to connect this data to a data management platform (DMP) will allow for valuable audience segmentation, alleviating many concerns of the cookie phase-out.

The impact is likely to be greater for small to medium-sized enterprises, and industries where first-party data collection is difficult or slow (i.e. pharma and travel). For these businesses, being unable to collect first-party data at scale has led to reliance on third-party data through cookie use.

What this means for marketers

In either scenario, we would recommend a full audit of cookies used across your websites to obtain a clearer understanding of which tools/technologies you currently that might be at risk of being blocked at the end of this transition. Read our thoughts on a cookieless world here.

Change as usual

2020 was an accelerant for digital behaviours as well as changing buying habits, (63% of us tried new shopping behaviours). This change correlated with nearly a sixth of UK consumers switching a brand/retailer, and half of whom expect to continue this behaviour once normality returns. (Source: McKinsey). Brands that performed well were those with innovative, consumer centric strategies. With the outlook for 2021 uncertain we can expect more fluctuation.

Digital consumption accelerated in 2020, particularly online commerce. UK e-commerce share of retail rose from 20.3% to 31.3% between the first and second quarter of 2020, over three-times the growth in the previous two years (Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). Nike hit its target of online sales accounting for 30% of its business three years early.

It wasn’t just consumer behaviour that changed. March to August 2020 saw remarkable changes in the value of brands; after taking 42 years to become a $1 trillion company, Apple took just six months to reach $2 trillion and Tesla increased in value by 242% to become the world’s most valuable automotive company (more than Toyota, VW, Daimler and Honda combined).

Whilst 2020 was a period of change, many new behaviours were out of necessity and we have already seen return closer to ‘normal’ – ecommerce share fell from 31% to 28% over October and November and Netflix ‘only’ added 2.2 million new subscribers from July to the end of September.

What is important is not what happened in 2020 but where we are now – what behaviours remain or are still in flux. A Deliotte survey of C-suite executives showed 41% (the highest of all responses) said they wanted to implement more digital technologies and platforms to react more quickly to customer needs.

What this means for marketers

It’s important to have a clear picture of your market and consumer; the foundation for agile marketing often requires a clear and single-minded view of the customer and who you want to target. We recommend better connecting data sources to enable faster decision making as well as investing time and energy in ongoing consumer research such as social listening or brand tracking.

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