A Hopeful Look Ahead to 2021

A Hopeful Look Ahead to 2021

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It’s almost the end of 2020 – one of the most challenging years in recent history. Understand that “challenging” is a euphemism for whatever other word you may actually be thinking. One lesson we’ve learned is the futility of assuming we know what the future holds based upon what has gone before. Like our annual end-of-year blog post anticipating digital marketing and social media trends for the coming year, for example. Our glimpse-at-the-future blog post for this infamous year – “2020 Vision – Digital Marketing Trends to Look For” – did fail to resist that cheesy eyesight joke, yet did manage to correctly identify some up-and-coming developments.

Unfortunately, many of those developments accelerated because of the lockdowns resulting from COVID-19. Voice and visual search grew as more people were confined to their home and wanted (and needed) to conveniently conduct online searches for news and increasingly scarce supplies.

The one bright spot in an otherwise dismal year, TikTok became even more popular as a means of providing some greatly needed escape, entertainment and self-expression – despite the looming threat of being banned in the United States. The video sharing app made a star of Nathan Apodaca, who long-boarded to viral fame while listening to Fleetwood Mac and drinking Ocean Spray cranberry juice – which also resulted in some sweet free publicity for Ocean Spray, and the revival of the Fleetwood Mac song, “Dreams.” Ocean Spray showed its appreciation by gifting Apodaca with a new truck, and donations and earnings resulting from his celebrity status allowed him to buy a house.

On to 2021 and Hopefully Better Things – Including Shoppable Social Media Posts

As mentioned in last year’s look-ahead to this year, shoppable social media posts – which allow people to make purchases directly instead of having to leave and navigate to the browser – will grow significantly as a major trend. The launch of Instagram Checkout in 2019 allowed users of the app a new freedom and convenience that is valued even more today.

As noted by Matt Ellis, writing for 99designs, “Shoppable social media posts just make sense. At least 54% of people on social media use it to research product purchases. The goal is to create less steps for your shoppers, not more, so selling directly on social media decreases the chances of sales abandonment.”

As many established brick-and-mortar stores went out of business or closed underperforming locations – or shifted to online sales only – shoppable social posts provide a great competitive edge for retailers to eliminate a step or two in the customer conversion process.

A Larger Role for Short-Form Videos

As previously mentioned, TikTok has gained traction over the past year. Jamie Lee – Head of Content Strategy for AdRoll observes, “TikTok is now the preferred platform for Gen Z, Snapchat implemented a major redesign, and Facebook launched Instagram Reels to get in on the action … Given the love for all things quick and catchy, marketers looking to target younger customers must invest in their short-form video strategy and execution. TikTok for Business launched earlier this year and is set to expand its paid promotion and advertising options in 2021 — in other words, marketers should start studying up on this elusive platform now.”

However, as we noted in our blog post – “Marketing to Generation Z – Is This the End of Business as Usual?” – brands that create tone-deaf videos or ads can expect to be publicly called out. Think of parents who try to be “cool,” and you get the idea. This platform is for companies not only targeting this demographic, but preferably also consisting of members of this demographic – by Generation Z, for Generation Z.

Lee’s advice: “Developing short-form videos may seem deceptively simple, but balancing branded messaging with the carefree tone associated with short-form videos will require customer research, strategy, and creativity. On average, Gen Z has an 8-second attention span — it’s high time to start experimenting with how to best communicate your brand purpose, product values, and CTA in a short and snappy way.”

Authentic Messaging Shows Your Target Market You’re With Them

We often say that even if you’re a sole proprietorship, your business is still a brand – and the messaging you put out next year will be even more important in earning customers. Our blog post – “Authentic Marketing – Being True to Brand and Your Customers” – covers the need that today’s consumers have for messages that are sincere and meaningful to their own experiences and values.

In the words of marketing expert Francesca Nicasio writing for Power Reviews, “When you market your brand in ways that feel relatable and real to your target audience, you not only win more sales, you gain loyal patrons who are proud to align themselves with your company.”

Consumers – especially millennials and members of Generation Z – are more discerning than ever before, and more likely to tune out messages that don’t ring true. As noted in our September 6, 2018 blog post – “Scheherazade Meets Instagram – Using Digital Storytelling in Social Media” – brands have been so ingrained in marketing language, sales pitches and benefit bullet points that they don’t know how to step back and just be real. A brand or business focused on delivering the message it wants to deliver instead of a message meaningful to its target audience will always miss the mark.

This was especially evident in TV commercials and branded social media posts in the pandemic era. Group communication through Zoom and other video conferencing apps had the odd effect of simultaneously making the distance between people more obvious, yet brought the world down to a more intimate, personal level. Home-based activities in which the featured brand figured prominently were highlighted – a trend that will likely continue.

Plus, a refreshing honesty emerged. Acknowledging that life is often messy and disorganized connected with people grappling with the “new normal” that suddenly demanded they become home-school teachers, remote workers and caregivers to vulnerable older family members. Toilet paper brand White Cloud became an instant standout through its commercial depicting brief slice-of-life scenes that recognize exactly what the product is used for – including a baby’s diaper in obvious need of changing as his anxious dad hurriedly carries him to the bathroom. People are harried and stressed, but White Cloud helps them get through. Brands that convey this message for their own products and services are likely to enjoy success in 2021.

Virtual Reality Will Continue to Make Inroads Into Daily Reality

As covered in our blog post – “Could COVID-19 Change Digital Marketing Forever?” – virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are expected to become more prominent in daily life.

According to Victoria Petrock, digital marketing analyst for eMarketer, “While the pandemic has caused a nearly complete drop-off in theme park- and mall-variety VR (which involves headset sharing with strangers), it is spurring interest in other areas. Not only are homebound people using VR headsets to play video games, explore virtual travel destinations and partake in online entertainment, they’re seeking human interaction through social VR platforms such as Rec Room, AltspaceVR, Bigscreen and VRChat.”

Petrock cites a press release from VR headset manufacturer HTC, projecting the expansion into daily life of extended reality (XR) – an umbrella term that encompasses VR, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR).

“Prior to this virus pandemic, the mindset of many people is that XR is a nice-to-have technology. Post-outbreak, the benefits of XR to overcome the physical barriers between people could make it a must-have technology over time. … Working-from-home, distance learning, home-based fitness, immersive entertainment and networked social interactivity will all be part of the new normal in our lives, and made more agreeable if more users could adopt XR technologies.”

Wishing a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year to All!

We were all in this together throughout 2020. Whatever 2021 holds, look for opportunities even in your challenges. If you need help in your digital marketing, our team at Virtual Stacks Systems is here to provide experienced website design, website redesign, SEO services, PPC marketing, social media marketing, reputation management and much more! Contact us today! We are ready to be your partner in success!

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