To include some accountability I looked back at the predictions I made a year ago and checked how these have held up. Based on trend reports – including the one from the Chartered Institute of Marketing on Kantar’s forecast – and what I see as emerging, or ongoing trends. Brand design prediction for the year by brand strategist Caroline Somer shared at Marketing Megahits Festival in October. (Reading time: as long as you read 1,825 words.)

Full disclosure: I am no god, no magician, I can’t see the future. No human can. (But you can always call me names publicly if anything doesn’t happen like I said.)

A year ago we had the last face-to-face meeting of London Marketing Club at the prestigious Devonshire Club, where I talked about Marketing Trends for 2020. Internet connection at the venue broke at the last minute, so I had to deliver the presentation without the slides, but that was no problem, as I knew what was written on my slides by heart. I wrote them from my heart and talked from my heart, just as I do now.

The Marketing Trend 2020 presentation in January 2020. In the background the two gentlemen trying to fix Internet, with no results.

Nobody knew that in a few weeks it would be the least of our worry not having internet at a venue. The biggest worry was not having the venue at all (Devonshire Club went into administration as lockdown started in March). Not having anything the way we planned, expected, predicted. But we still carried on and here we are again, with a lot of the unknown ahead of us.

Strategic use of LinkedIn

A year ago a big part of my presentation was about the LEAD LinkedIn Strategy, and how to be a strategist on LinkedIn instead of spending a lot of time posting every day without a purpose (or even worse, not being present at all.)

Many people say that the surge in LinkedIn usage was due to covid and lockdown, I’m convinced it would have happened anyway, as already a year ago there was a rapidly growing interest and activity on the platform.

An increasing number of people joined our 30-day LinkedIn challenge each month since January, and as people started to see results, the number of (really good) posts have rocketed.

It will keep going this year, and even if there’s a rising concern LinkedIn being the next Facebook, story-led content will always be among the top ones.

It’s safe to predict that at some point LinkedIn will reduce the reach and we have to pay for it, it’s hard to say when, so let’s party until we can.

Storytelling in marketing

In spite of the regular mention of storytelling at industry events, it’s still the most underused content type. Probably as people find it hard to write these (nobody tells them how), and feel it’s too personal to share. Last year we saw a long due surge in sharing honest content with emotions, including failures along the successes, as failing in the wake of a pandemic doesn’t seem to be the fault of the author.

We could see the people behind the brands and could see the emotions of these people. I consider this a big leap, which will go on in 2021, and every business has to consider stepping out of their formal self (or even shelf?)

(To help this we’ll soon launch Your Story™, a 12-month storytelling program, sign up to be notified here.)

The rise of on-demand content

On-demand content providers have been blooming for some time, and the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and newcomer AppleTv and Disney+ will be joined by Paramount+ next year. And it’s not just the big players: a small business Rogue Opera launched their VIP Opera Pass program offering on-demand opera productions after they had to pause their event-based services. 

However, it’s not only the film and music industry but also the business world. Several training companies, conference providers converted their products to the online world. The challenge now is to make sure people come back, bring other people with them, and use the platforms so that they renew their subscriptions.

On top of that, professionals who lost their businesses, started online courses, entering an already saturated market. This also changed the pricing picture and thus the pricing expectations of users.

Once sought-after events have become available for a few bucks, and it has become more difficult to communicate the difference between a lead gen webinar and a fully fledged training program or a VIP Membership program.

In 2021, I expect some stabilization in this area. Online training and conference platforms have invested a lot in developing systems with extra features, and it will become easier to add a difference to our service.

As we are more used to an online-only offering, people start to understand that just because it’s online, it’s not free (or low priced.)

Online training

Put the fun back into the funnel

Speaking of funnels, this was one of my predictions a year ago: the ‘traditional’ pushy sales funnels will be replaced by a more customer friendly and entraining path. This absolutely happened, as users have figured out that they are dropped into the funnel, and then are overwhelmed by the storm of emails and ads trying to push them down the way.

I’m not saying it’s not happening or it doesn’t still work like that for many providers, but it’s definitely not something that has the greatest potential. We have to be able to leave some money on the table and build long-term connections and work towards a more sustainable revenue model. A sales path is more like being a partner, and adviser, standing by our prospects and clients, and inviting them to (online) events, offering them value at each stage of the path. We still have to know and plan what the next stage is, but it’s more for them to reach out when they’re ready.

Social media and influencers

We’ve already mentioned LinkedIn, and could talk about this topic forever, but one thing we can all agree on is that Tik Tok is the one to watch. With provenly much higher and easier reach than in other social media channels it’s surely something to experiment with.

While Instagram influencers have become like what TV ads used to be: they have their management companies, retainer packages and ROI might be questionable. This is what peanut butter company Nerdy Nuts co-founder Craig Mount talks about in The Hustle magazine: while working with 18 Instagram influencers resulted in selling 107 jars, 2 Tik Tok influencers generated millions of views and sold 5,947 jars, and their sales ballooned.

WhatsApp has become more than a messaging service, it has become what used to be Facebook groups (at least in the UK), where communities meet and vividly interact with each other. I expect more functionality to be able to manage groups, and keep track of updates and shared documents. 

Online vs offline vs hybrid

Event marketing has become more liberal and more inclusive, as online events are cheaper to organise and can accept an unlimited number of attendees from anywhere in the world. At the same time it’s a challenge to keep people engaged and deliver the experience people are used to at offline events.

If this year at some point we – hopefully – can return to face-to-face events, organisers will want to keep the advantages of an online event too.

“Hybrid events have to offer a different – and better – value proposition vs the online-only or the offline-only versions. These events have a real future.” – says Marton Berze, CEO of The Underground marketing agency. They launched the Onlife event series in May 2020 and since then have run several other successful online events, which went beyond a simple online conference delivering a full experience to attendees.

Being hybrid also applies to eCommerce: personal styling company Stitch Fix invented it already 10 years ago. They deliver complete clothing outfits in their subscription service styled by algorithms based on data gathered from the customer. You order online but you still have the feeling of being in a shop and trying on clothing. You can return whatever you don’t like.

This kind of hybrid thinking will be a trend in 2021, to give customers an offline experience after making a purchase online.

Audio search

This was a big prediction by me a year ago. I was so excited having finished my one-year research on voice search and how to create content for all these voice assistants. I had a presentation about how these work and how these will change the way we consume – and the way we create – content.

Well, I was wrong.

It didn’t pick up the way I expected, at least not in mainstream marketing. Obviously, voice search is in use, (Apple launched HomePod Mini which is really affordable at £99), but the big breakthrough is still ahead of us. Content creators don’t focus on it yet, and now I’m cautious to say when – and if – they will.

What to put into the marketing mix in 2021?

This is a Facebook PAID ad by a FUNNEL company that promotes a program to generate leads WITHOUT having to spend on ADs and building FUNNELS…haha, very credible.

To answer the above question: both paid and organic tools are needed. Paid ads work and organic tools are amazing too – if used the right way – and this won’t change. 

What’s wrong is exactly this witch hunting of certain tools and methods to fool people.

It’s like a cake: the right proportion of several ingredients is needed to make it a yummy cake.

And a good deal of credibility and authenticity. This will never expire.

That’s the ‘secret’ recipe!

Testing and experimenting

And the good old mantra of testing. “[Around] 80%, 90% of your budget needs to be on what you know works, but you need to be testing and experimenting on the new channels…to find the next rich vein of performance,” says Mark Inskip, Kantar Media’s UK & Ireland CEO in the trend report published by the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

2021 might be the last full year of third-party cookies, as Google earlier announced that these will be phased out by 2022 (and replaced by other tracking systems).

Meanwhile, brands will have to focus on the gold mine they are sitting on: keeping track and understanding their own first-party data.

Brand design

As I’m a rookie at brand design, here are some golden nuggets from my friend, brand strategist Caroline Somer from Somer Design shared at her presentation at the Marketing Megahits Festival in October 2020.

  1. Muted colour palette

We are going to see more settled colours, more pastels and fewer neons this year. 

  1. Simple data visualisations 

Basic visualisations that people will get it straight away. No more confusion! (And vector illustrations like the ones you see attached to this post (I’m so trendy:)

  1. Serif fonts 

As in the 15th century

Wait, and what about email marketing?

I’m glad that you asked. It will live forever. Sign up for my weekly Profit and (G)Loss Newsletter and you will too:) (Well, not really, but you’ll enjoy it until you do.)

This trend article was written by Timea Kadar, Chief Marketing Strategist of Francis Cooper based on the thoughts of other professionals duly quoted. Timea has 21 years of experience in marketing working as a marketing lead at large corporations and a marketing mentor at smaller ventures and start-ups. If you’d like to know the marketing predictions for your business, contact her at tk@franciscooper.com

You can flip through the Trend report here: