Just about every business — regardless of industry — has had a crazy 2020 so far. Digital marketing companies may have a uniquely good idea of just how disruptive the year has been. 

Your team has probably seen clients struggle with problems ranging from an unstable supply chain to unpredictable consumer demand and major mail delays. Fortunately, it seems like we’re on track for a slow return to normal through 2021. However, the first half of the year is likely to be challenging — and we still don’t know what the recovery is going to look like.

This is what digital marketing companies can expect from the new year and what steps they can take to achieve business success — no matter what 2021 throws at them.

1. Refocus on Your Values — or Find Something New to Stand For

According to a new report on global marketing trends from Deloitte, marketing executives are suffering from a serious loss of confidence. Just 3% of CMOs consider themselves confident. 

This is normal to some extent. After a major recession and period of severe economic uncertainty, it can be hard to feel like there is a clear path to success. Fortunately, it may not be that hard to regroup and rebuild some confidence. The branding and marketing companies that do best in 2021 will likely have a few things in common. 

First, they’ll retain a sense of purpose — or find a new reason for doing what they do. Businesses with a strong commitment to brand values can often hold on to some level of confidence, even when the market is a little bit chaotic. 

If you can answer the “why” of your business, it may be much easier to remain confident. This could be true even if the recession drags on or if the recovery — which experts believe will begin sometime in the second to third quarter of 2021 — is a little bit uneven.

2. Make Connection a Top Priority

In 2020, many digital marketing companies pivoted away from working with influencers who have massive followings in favor of micro- and nano-influencers. These people have smaller platforms and may only have a few thousand followers on their accounts. 

These influencers are typically cheaper to work with and reach a smaller audience — but they often have a much stronger connection with their followers or roots in a local community. 

Those roots often give influencers deep insight into their audience. As a result, many digital marketing companies are giving them a more active role in the design of new campaigns and marketing materials.

During 2020, customers seemed to want marketing that offered a sense of community and stability. Smaller influencers may be better positioned than those with larger platforms to provide that kind of content.

Two-way conversational marketing may also be key. There’s been major growth of tech like customer support chatbots, which make it easier for companies to respond to inquiries as quickly as possible.

You might also have better information on client audiences than ever before. Social media engagement is up while cost-per-click costs on major platforms are down. People are shopping online more than ever, and even brick-and-mortar retailers are investing heavily in their e-commerce tech. 

As a result, digital marketers have access to much more customer information than they have in the past. They can better tailor campaigns to current preferences and customer needs.

If you can use this data to create marketing materials that are highly relevant and really connect to an audience, you could deliver additional value for your clients.

3. Be Wary of Spending Big on New Tech

It’s always good to look for results rather than hype when you want to invest in new technology or adopt different practices.

For example, voice search has become a big concern for marketers. The rise of smart speakers — like Google Home, Siri and Alexa — has some thinking that optimizing for voice search will be a key consideration for businesses that want to capture as much web traffic as possible. 

However, statistics on voice search don’t necessarily back up the enthusiasm. One oft-cited stat claims 50% of searches will be voice-based by the end of 2020, but this number is more than six years out of date. Actual numbers may be much lower — with Statista estimating that just 35% of American smart speaker users conduct voice searches with the device.

Moving too far, too fast on voice search optimization could actually hurt your ability to reach customers, especially if you have to shift resources away from more traditional SEO work.

With new technology, you may want to try before you buy when possible. For example, several web conferencing companies offer free trials of their tech — some as long as 90 days. If your team has pivoted to mostly working from home, then experimenting with a new solution before investing can help you get the most benefits with the least cost.

4. Keep up With the Latest Design Trends

Some looks are timeless. There will probably always be room for minimalism, simple color palettes and powerful, relevant photos on the web. However, there may be manor benefits to designing for modern tastes.

Through 2021, mobile design will probably remain key, and accessibility will be as important as ever.

Speed, too, is becoming a lot more important. In 2021, quick loading times may be essential for online brands. Web designers are often stripping out unnecessary code and technology to keep their sites as lean and fast-loading as possible.

Keeping up with design trends that are just starting to take off may also help prepare you for the new year. In contrast with the last few years of the 2010s, web designers seem to be using muted color palettes, gradients, illustrations and organic shapes more often.

Micro-interactions and micro-animations — such as a slider that visually moves from one option to the other, rather than just clicking into place when pressed — are also becoming popular. This animation can add extra motion and visual appeal to increasingly streamlined and minimalist websites.

5. Get Ready for the Recovery

If the COVID recession is anything like previous ones, changed consumer habits and industry preferences will likely stick around. 

For example, after the 2008 crash, many consumers started purchasing generic-brand goods from supermarkets instead of name-brand items. After the economy had mostly recovered, consumers stuck with products they tried during the recession.

There was also a minor boom in growth of these private-label products that lasted into 2010 and 2011.

The growth of e-commerce, the rise of micro-influencers and the pivot to work from home may not be isolated events. Instead, they provide hints about what the new normal is going to look like.

Gearing up for Success After 2020

Next year is likely to be a little less intense than 2020 has been. However, it may not be all smooth sailing — especially during the first few months. 

The right approach can help guarantee success for you and your clients. Rediscovering your company values, prioritizing connection with the audience and preparing for a new normal will help you keep 

moving through what’s likely to be an interesting year for marketers.

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