Predicting the future feels particularly daunting after the year we just had. However, there are trends and themes underway that I anticipate will color marketing in 2021. The following are five important ones:
A sea change for online advertising is coming. Google’s industry-leading browser Chrome will stop supporting third-party cookies by early 2022, significantly altering how digital ads are targeted and tracked. Yet, even among knowledgeable digital marketers, there’s considerable confusion about how campaigns will be affected.
2021 provides a final year for marketers to educate themselves about the impact of the cookie-less future and to prepare for it. The most important action involves improving access to, and effective use of, their valuable first-party data—and ensure agencies have a clear plan for placing and measuring campaigns after the change.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell reportedly said, “We’re not going back to the same economy—we’re recovering, but to a different economy.”
So a key question for all businesses is: Which new customer behaviors and expectations will stick and which will recede? Correctly answering this is integral to effective resource allocation.
Currently, we have clues to act on. Case in point: how many restaurant brands, from Chipotle to Red Lobster, believe the elevated usage of home delivery will persist and are thus investing in “ghost kitchens” offering pickup and delivery only. Post-pandemic, business leaders must be clear-eyed in evaluating their earlier forecasts and deciding whether to continue with related priorities or adapt to unexpected realities.
The pandemic-driven spike in ecommerce, and a related impact on advertising budget allocations, are both projected to continue. As Amazon, Walmart and other players have attracted more shoppers, they’ve also grown their ad sale businesses. According to eMarketer, advertising on ecommerce platforms jumped 39% in 2020 and will grow another 30% in 2021, capturing 13% of total U.S. digital ad spend.
Measurability is helping drive this change. According to an April 2020 study from Catalyst and Kantar, advertisers believe leading ecommerce sites provide better measurability of ad ROI than many other digital ad types, including social media ads. Additionally, e-commerce sites know a lot about their customers, which is key to ad targeting without reliance on third-party cookies.
Encouraged by successes like McDonald’s partnership with Travis Scott, deep-pocketed marketers will put a renewed focus on celebrity collaborations. We’ll also likely see more company-to-company partnerships, such as Adidas’s collaborations with Lego and Allbirds. Unexpected partnerships between corporate brands capture media attention, generate social buzz and allow for cross marketing to customer bases—without celebrity endorsement fees, all of which plays well in an era of hard-to-capture consumer attention and tightened budgets.
Much has been written about consumers’ increased desire to see brands take a stand on social issues. This interest crosses generations but is most consistently propelled by Gen Z. Currently 5-24 years old, more of this group is entering the workforce and their voice will be louder than ever—both as consumers and employees. No previous generation has been as demanding of their employers to demonstrate a corporate social conscience. Brand marketers will feel compelled and inspired to push their organizations to take meaningful stands on social issues.
This mindset will impact a range of initiatives, yielding more programs like the partnership benefitting HBCUs integrated into Peloton and Beyonce’s recently launched collaboration.
Change never stops, much of it offering new opportunities. Now is the time to make the best of what’s to come in 2021.