Small Business Marketing Trends for 2021
At the risk of sounding repetitive, 2020 has changed us. It’s changed marketing. We are all looking forward to better days ahead, but we are not there just yet. Many of the marketing lessons we learned in 2020 still apply and will continue to apply through the pandemic. As business has evolved this past year, so has technology. There are some exciting hi-tech changes coming in 2021 that will shape how businesses market despite our evolving environment. Read on for a breakdown of marketing trends that will impact small businesses in 2021.
Marketing During a Pandemic
This time last year, we were all still blissfully unaware of what the year would bring. Reflecting back, we should all feel proud that we have survived the massive amounts of change that occurred. We have had to adjust, personally and professionally to our new environment. The question is, what did we learn from our collective experience in the last year? And how do we apply that to business?
Overall, we have become more digitally savvy – whether that was in the plan or not! Finding ways to connect digitally and continuing to build and maintain relationships has been the theme of 2020. From zoom networking meetings, finding new business in a digital world to working & living remotely, innovation and flexibility have been critical for survival, personally and professionally this past year.
Additionally, many businesses had to rethink their branding and messaging too. From our new lifestyles to social justice issues, 2020 forced many companies to really think about how to connect with their customers in a genuine way. Likewise, customers became more eager to support businesses that responded to the world around them. Retooling the marketing message to better reflect our circumstances became a critical task in 2020 and continues to be a top priority for 2021.
And lastly, clear communications about how and where to do business became a very important aspect of our communications in 2020. As local and national restrictions changed, so did the need for businesses to update and communicate working hours, pick-up and delivery options, and customer support methods.
These trends may have started in 2020 but they will continue well into 2021 and beyond. What else can we expect to change in 2021?
Trend: Brick & Mortar Businesses Continue to Offer Online Options
For many independent boutiques and restaurants, having some sort of digital presence became critically necessary in the last year. Many chose to upgrade websites to include online shopping or online ordering portals. These new assets will continue to be an important driver of business in 2021.
Search Engines aided the effort by enabling us to indicate which businesses were temporarily closed in Search and Maps. More recently, a feature was added to provide local businesses more flexibility with their hours of operation. Building on that, an indicator in Google My Business profiles now shows when business hours were last updated.
Google was not the only platform people turned to for business updates. Bing also rolled out similar COVID related updates to its platform. Nextdoor rolled out new tools too, Groups and Help Map. The Groups feature was in beta before the pandemic, but the crisis showed the company that it could help users overcome isolation. The Nextdoor Help Map was launched to provide aid to neighbors in need.
Importantly, search engines will continue to evolve to provide businesses a variety of ways to update their offerings in 2021. Make it part of your marketing task list to update your listings monthly to take advantage of new features and share new business operation details as they evolve.
Trend: Human Connections & Building Trust
Now, more than ever before, people want and need real, genuine connections. In 2021, brands have an opportunity to let empathy drive their marketing efforts. Using empathy is the fastest way to connect heart-to-heart and mind-to-mind with your audience. A real connection can drive results because it builds trust and ultimately drive actions for your business. The challenge in 2021 will be to display real empathy while standing out from the competition. Just like your business, all your competitors face the same issue – really connecting with an audience through digital means.
The first factor in building marketing with empathy is facilitating human connections. Making real, authentic connections is now more important than speed-to-market or efficiency. If you had a choice, would you select taking a cheaper flight or a safer one? Would you choose take-out from a chain or from the locally owned pizza place down the street? Consumers have begun to think about the choices they make and the impact of those choices. We want to feel good about our decisions and make positive impacts where we can.
The second factor in building an empathic message is trust. Trust is established when what is promised is what’s delivered. In 2021, messaging should be transparent, and delivering those messages should be consistent and reliable. Shift the focus from demographics to values. Do not overpromise. And when customers are satisfied, ask for reviews and testimonials.
Trend: Omni Channel Marketing
Omni Channel Marketing may sound trendy but it is actually a well-established marketing practice. It is really a fancy name for being wherever your customers are online. It’s about selecting the right platforms to engage with your customers. Providing the right information and messaging across your website, search engine ads, or even in person will help your audience connect with you. It’s not a new trend, but it will be very important to get this right in 2021 to grow your business. A “channel” can be Facebook, or Twitter, or Google Ads, content on your website or an app. In other words, any outlet that is used to engage with your audience. Each channel offers a unique opportunity to connect. The goal is to make it easy for your potential customers to find you and communicate with you.
Stats show that brands using three or more channels can generate great results:
- Engagement rate:96% on omnichannel vs. 5.4% on single-channel
- Purchase frequency:250% higher on omnichannel vs. single-channel
- Average order value:13% more per order on omnichannel vs. single-channel
- Customer retention rates:90% higher for omnichannel vs. single-channel
With numbers like this, it’s easy to see that an investment of time and money in 2021 to broaden your channel presence will pay off.
Trend: Brand Activism
In 2019, the prevailing wisdom was for brands to stay out of social activism discussions and politics. Of course, that went out the window with many other things in 2020. In our current environment, consumers and B to B clients are looking to align themselves with people and causes they care about. And while this trend may not suit every business, many brands are finding unique ways to share their support and point of view while building brand loyalty with their customers.
Thinking back to late May, early summer many of us may remember receiving emails from every brand that we have ever had contact with. Brands emailed their entire databases messages with COVID updates. They sent emails standing in solidarity with black lives. And some planted their flag in the national political conversation. Some of these messages were heartfelt and empathetic. Others felt more like lip service. As the inbox began to fill up, the messages felt more and more hollow. Brands felt pressure to send out a message rather than sending a message because they had a unique stance to share with consumers.
Marketing leaders learned many lessons as a result. A lot of self-reflection happened in 2020.
Subsequently, we will be seeing more social advocacy in 2021 – more brands are aware that their participation in the community matters to customers. We will see it in how brands align with causes and organizations. We will see it in how brands promote their employee’s hard work. Being authentic and speaking to your audience like real people will always win — especially as environmental factors impact us as businesses and consumers.
Trend: Predictive & Augmented Analytics
Many businesses use analytics to make marketing and business decisions. In 2021, we will take that concept and apply it to the future. Predictive analytics uses data from past performance to attempt to predict the future. Predictive analytics is the practice of using data mining, predictive modeling, and machine learning to identify patterns.
In terms of digital marketing trends, we will see a lot more of this, as it is being used in advanced lead scoring, as well as for segmentation and individual personalization, which helps businesses improve customer loyalty.
New Tool: Google Analytics 4. One of the biggest analytics announcements in 2020 was the unveiling of Google Analytics 4. It includes expanded predictive insights, deeper integration with Google Ads, cross-device measurement capabilities, and more granular data controls. It looks and feels more intuitive and can parse out the data so that marketers can continue to support the human connections and trust-building that is so important today.
Trend: Social Media In-App Purchases
Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest all currently have the capacity for businesses to sell products directly in the app, keeping the audience engaged on the platform. Merchants upload their product catalogs to a platform like Pinterest, for example, potentially allowing them to get in front of Pinterest’s over 360 million monthly active users. In 2021, we will continue to see more eCommerce businesses take advantage of these selling opportunities as the platforms continue to improve the shopping functions and there is an increased demand from consumers.
Trend: Video Content
Video marketing is one of, if not the, most important marketing trends today and likely for the next 5-10 years. Video marketing has become increasingly accessible and user friendly and has become a vital way to maintain a human-to-human connection during the pandemic.
- 70% of consumers say that they have shared a brand’s video.
- 72% of businesses say that video has improved their conversion rate.
- 52% of consumers say that watching product videos makes them more confident in online purchase decisions.
Trend: Live Streaming
Live video is particularly popular with many businesses who use it for interviews, product demos, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of the brand. As the pandemic wears on, live video will continue to be a great way for brands to find ways to engage and connect with customers.
Watch out for these new tools in 2021
Occulus: Facebook’s virtual reality is marketed as the next evolution in social media. Currently, Facebook’s answer to a gaming system, marketers are sure to find ways to connect users with products and services.
Snapchat Augmented Reality: Overlays digital graphics over people’s real-world view. Snapchat Lens, has been around for a while, but Snapchat has been steadily improving its functionality. Soon brands will be able to allow users to virtually try on a pair of shoes or visit the Eiffel Tower virtually. With a new voice-activated function (think Alexa), brands may have an opportunity to offer virtual experiences with their products and services too.
New Platform Alert: Clubhouse – This platform is currently still in Beta. Unlike current platforms that use algorithms to create an echo chamber, this is an audio-based platform that combines many viewpoints into a discussion. It has a group function, similar to Facebook Groups, and offers content producers a unique way to engage with prospective clients.
Chances are good that you’ve interacted with a Chatbot in the last month. They are most often used as a pop-up chat function on a website. Chatbots can answer basic questions for users, direct them to an appropriate department or support the sales function. Chatbots will continue to be an important part of digital marketing in 2021. This AI-based technology uses instant messaging to chat in real-time, day or night, with your customers or site visitors.
Many customers prefer interacting with chatbots as they are responsive at any hour. They give answers promptly, accurately recall a buyer’s history, and never lose patience. Consequently, these virtual assistants offer consistent customer service and automate repetitive tasks – which means that your business can spend more time on the tasks that matter most.
- 67% of worldwide consumers interacted with a chatbot to get customer support over the past 12 months
- The top 5 industries profiting from the incorporation of chatbots are real estate (28%), travel (16%), education (14%), healthcare (10%), and finance (5%)
- 85% of customer support interactions will be performed by a chatbot by 2020
Trend: Voice Assisted Search
The increasing use of voice search has made it important for companies to rethink their digital marketing strategies in 2021. Consider these numbers:
- 50% of all searches will be via voice by 2020
- 55% of all American homes will own a smart speaker by 2022
- Voice shopping is set to jump to $40 billion in 2022, up from $2 billion today
As a result, brands will need to learn to market to customers through voice-activated search, a unique marketing opportunity that, if done well, could be a boon for businesses. Brands could see several opportunities in the voice-activated marketing space, including:
- Finding information about sales and promotions
- Personalized tips and information to make life easier
- Information about upcoming events and activities
- Options to find local business information like restaurants and shops
Trend: Personalized Recommendations
Whether we realize it or not, we have all become accustomed to the personalized recommendations that brands give us. Think about Netflix and Amazon, they consistently serve us recommendations based on our past interactions. We expect Google to finish our search queries for us. We expect to see ads for our personal preferences in our Facebook newsfeeds. Generic advertisements feel out of place to us now.
If you want to stand out in 2021, you need to personalize your marketing – and that means personalized content, products, emails, and more.
Think about these personalization stats:
- 63% of consumers are highly annoyed with generic advertising blasts.
- 80% say they are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences.
- 90% claim they find personalization appealing.
In short, customization leaves a positive impression with buyers and encourages retention and repeat sales.
Trend: Visual Search
Visual Search is a new way to use photos to find products or services quickly. This is a trend that many of the big players are betting will become the new “it” digital tool in the coming years. Some of the biggest players have a “Lens” search tool already or have one in the works for release in 2021.
Pinterest Lens: Pinterest seems like a natural fit for a visual search tool. They came out with Lens, which allows users to take a photo of an item to find out where to buy it online, search for similar products or view pinboards of related items, all without leaving the Pinterest platform.
Google Lens: Of course, Google has a visual search engine too. Google already indexes images and offers a robust shopping ad experience for users, so Google Lens seems like a natural next step. It recognizes objects and landmarks through a camera app. Here is what you can do when you take a photo of the following items:
- Apparel and home goods: Find similar products and where to buy them.
- Barcodes: Use a barcode to find info about a product, and where to buy it.
- Business card: Save the phone number or address to a contact.
- Book: Get a summary and read reviews.
- Event flyer or billboard: Add the event to your calendar.
- Landmark or building: See historical facts, hours of operation, and more.
- Painting in a museum: Read about the artist and learn more.
- Plant or animal: Learn about species and breeds.
CamFind: CamFind is another visual search mobile app that enables you to search for anything from your phone simply by taking a picture. Instead of typing queries into a search engine, you can directly search via images to find similar images, price comparisons, local shopping results, and more. CamFind will show you movie information, trailers, showtimes, and local theaters when you take a picture of a movie poster.
Bing Visual Search: Bing Visual Search, offers you a way to search for a specific element within an image without having to take a separate photo. With so much investment in visual search technology, expect to see a lot of marketing opportunities in this area in the coming years. Marketers can get the edge on competitors by jumping on the visual search trend in 2021 to draw in customers before the competition.
Trend: Content Marketing in 2021
Stats from Content Marketing Institute:
- Content marketing costs 62% less than outbound marketing and generates 3x as many leads.
- Content marketing has lower up-front costs and deeper long-term benefits than paid search.
- Small businesses with blogs generate 126% more leads than those without blogs.
- Content marketing rakes in conversion rates 6x higher than other methods.
In 2021, we are destined to see a shift from traditional text-based content toward dynamic, engaging content that offers users an immersive experience. Some of the trends I expect to see in 2021:
Long-form content: 3000 words or more. This content shows in-depth expertise and builds credibility fast.
Video content: Consumers are much more likely to watch a video all the way to the end than read an article.
Search Engine Optimization: It supports a website’s content visibility and ensures your content can be found. Good SEO needs to be a part of any content strategy.
What’s Else is Coming in 2021?
Our world and our technology are evolving at such a rapid pace. We may be hearing even more about some of these in late 2021 and into 2022.
Artificial Intelligence or AI will continue to be a driving force in marketing, especially in our current digital environment. It is evolving and becoming more and more sophisticated by the day. Expect it to play a role in many aspects of marketing like predictive analytics, personalized marketing as well as chatbots, and other common marketing aspects.
Blockchain is usually associated with the financial industry, however, there is already talk about using the technology in a variety of fields, including marketing. Possibly as an answer to some privacy issues that arise from all the personal data being generated and shared.
5G Technology will help to bring high-speed internet to rural areas and give current technologies a big boost. Expect to see more AI capability as well as augmented reality marketing as 5G becomes more widely available.
Privacy Marketing is a field that may also come to the forefront by the end of this year. Demand grows from consumers for stronger and better privacy protections. Yet consumers still enjoy the customized and personal ads that we have all grown accustomed to, Privacy Marketing may be the way to accomplish both. It’s an emerging field that we may be hearing more about soon.
Now you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all this information. And you may be wondering, how in the world does my organization harness some of this? It is true. Taking on some of these trends can be costly and daunting.
However, just remember to start where you are. Chances are good that if you use social media, you can add a weekly or monthly video to the mix. Or if you already have a successful blog, work in one long-form piece of content and see what kind of results you generate. Or add a simple chatbot to your website to answer frequently asked questions.
The goal is to better connect with your customers. Use the trends that matter most to your audience. Continually evolving and flexibility are key. It is what got you and your business through 2020 and it is what will get you and your business through 2021.