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7 Marketing Trends to Watch in 2021

Businesses of all sizes are adapting their marketing strategies as consumer behavior continues to evolve in 2021.

Social media is a hot spot for marketers, but which platforms will be the most useful in the coming years? Where will consumers look for information about new brands? And, how can marketers use data to their advantage?

Keep reading to learn more about the trends marketers pay attention to and the changes that are being driven by consumers.

1. Businesses take advantage of opportunities on TikTok

Social media continues to play a large role in business marketing plans. More than 90% of US companies spend money to promote their brands this way. Projections show that the total spend will be more than $56 billion in 2022.

When it comes to marketing, TikTok is one of the most underutilized social platforms right now. Statistics show that only 4% of social media marketers are using the platform. Many discount it as a GenZ-only platform or are unsure of how to promote their brand with the seemingly useless content that makes up a TikTok video.

In the coming months, look for experts to suggest that businesses put more emphasis on TikTok simply based on “the sheer number of active users on the platform.” It is one of the fastest-growing social platforms and has 689 million users worldwide.

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Searches for “TikTok” have increased by 426% since 2019.

TikTok also boasts incredibly high and still increasing user engagement levels. Between Q4 of 2019 and the end of Q1 in 2020, the average time spent per month on the platform increased by 415 minutes.

Recent developments show that TikTok is putting focus on businesses and their marketing needs. They didn’t even start testing paid ads until early 2019, but in July 2020, they launched a self-serve ad platform for businesses.

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Searches for “TikTok ads” have increased by 1,540% since 2019.

In late April 2021, they came out with Business Creative Hub, which showcases trending content related to the business user’s brand.

Look for large, nationwide brands to make the most of TikTok ads. The platforms’ “promoted hashtag challenge” advertising costs $150k—way out of budget for most small- or mid-sized businesses.

Even so, experts say any business has a chance of going viral if they can create the right content or take advantage of user-generated content.

Grammarly, the online grammar checker, was relatively inactive on the platform until January 2021. A college student created a dance video using the audio from one of the company’s YouTube ads, and the company saw their TikTok followers increase 481%.

Texas Beeworks is a one-woman show, but her business has gone viral too. She started making more TikTok videos when her business slowed down as a result of the pandemic. Now, she has more than 4 million followers.

2. E-commerce drives news features on Instagram

The inventor of the hashtag, Chris Messina, was recently quoted: “Instagram is set on colonizing the bleeding edge of where commerce is going.” The platform has released several new e-commerce features, and the app continues to attract a massive audience—a win-win for marketing professionals in 2021 and beyond.

Between July and September 2020, Instagram added more users than any other social platform. As of October 2020, there were more than 1.16 billion active users.

Experts suggest the platforms’ audience will continue to grow at a pace that surpasses pre-pandemic growth rates.

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eMarketer’s forecast for worldwide Instagram users shows steady growth for the platform.

Those millions of users are on Instagram for more than just sharing photos with their friends. One large study showed that 36% of users follow brands and companies on the app. Instagram reports that more than 200 million users visit at least one business profile daily.

Instagram has become a one-stop-shop for marketing. Businesses can gain followers, build their brand, and sell their products right on the app. As one marketing agency puts it, “[Instagram keeps] making it easier for brands to attract new audiences and move existing consumers down the sales funnel, all within one platform.”

This path to purchasing comes into play in several different ways, making it easier than ever for marketers to convert followers into sales. Users can shop on Instagram’s reels, live broadcasts, posts, stories, and through a store link in a business’ bio.

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Searches for “Instagram shopping” have increased by 111% since 2016.

Of course, most marketers take advantage of Instagram ads, too. One survey showed that 29% of businesses spend the majority of their social ads budget on Instagram. More than 20% of the respondents also said they see the best ROAS on Instagram.

Projections show that businesses are expected to spend a total of $18.16 billion on Instagram ads in 2021. That’s a huge jump from $13.86 billion in 2020.

3. An influencer for every business

From mega-influencers with a million followers down to nano-influencers with only a thousand followers, in 2021 and beyond, influencer marketing is likely to remain a popular marketing strategy for businesses of all sizes.

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Searches for “influencer marketing” have increased 641% in the last 5 years.

Data from Mediakix estimates that the influencer marketing industry will grow to $15 billion by 2022. For reference, that’s close to double what the industry was worth in 2019.

For businesses, the ROI makes influencer marketing a smart choice. In one survey, 48% of marketers said that influencer marketing has a better or much better ROI than other marketing channels. Another survey reported that, on average, influencer marketing provides $5.20 of value for every dollar spent.

Big businesses have seen recent success with mega-influencers. For example, Dunkin’ Donuts’ partnership with TikTok influencer Charli D'Amelio reportedly resulted in a 20% increase in cold brew sales and a 57% increase in downloads of Dunkin’s app.

Dukin’ recently partnered with several micro-influencers, showing that companies using this marketing strategy are using different influencers for different purposes. Dunkin’s campaign reached more than 1 million people on Instagram and boasted a 5.2% engagement rate.

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Searches for “micro influencers” have gone up 5,200% during the last 5 years.

With all of the social and political upheaval of 2020, marketing experts are expecting to see a renewed emphasis on authentic influencers in the coming years.

4. Marketers prioritize user-generated content

One important trend that accompanies the drive for authenticity on social media is the rise of user-generated content (UGC).

The American Association of Advertising Agencies reports that 96% of consumers don’t trust ads. But, a recent study found that 93% of marketers agree that consumers do trust content created by real people.

Especially in the early days of the pandemic, several businesses combined ads and UGC to come up with great results. Buffalo Wild Wings created an ad featuring its customers participating in made-up sports, and Wayfair created the hashtag #WayfairAtHome, which now has more than 56,000 posts.

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Searches for “Wayfair” surged during the initial months of the pandemic and are up 220% over the last 5 years.

Brands can also use UGC to promote social causes and increase engagement among their social followers. Clothing company Aerie started the #aeriereal hashtag, encouraging their customers to post unfiltered images on themselves on Instagram. For every share, the company donates $1 to the National Eating Disorders Association.

5. AI and data collection power personalized marketing

There is more data involved in today’s marketing strategies than ever before. Many companies are using that data to drive deeper personalized interactions between their brand and their audience. In fact, 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase if there’s personalization involved.

More than 36% of consumers say they want a more personalized shopping experience, but “data debt” is a problem. In one survey, 78% of businesses reported they don’t have enough trust in their data to turn it into actionable insights.

It seems that consumers are not suffering from a lack of trust. One report showed 90% of shoppers are willing to share data about themselves if it means they’ll get a cheaper or easier shopping experience.

One example of personalization: Crate and Barrel offers a “view in my room” feature on their website. Thanks to augmented reality, consumers can scan a QR code to see a piece of furniture come to life in their very own home.

Netflix is always pushing the limits of personalization. The company’s “recommended” algorithm is so accurate that 80% of viewing choices come from their recommendations with only the remaining 20% of viewings coming from a subscriber’s search.

While we see multiple ways to personalize digital marketing, only 10 percent of businesses use any personalization strategies beyond that. McKinsey, a global consulting firm, predicts that “offline person-to-person experiences will be the next horizon for personalization.” They suggest that advanced analytics and AI-enabled tools will drive the change.

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Searches for “AI marketing” have increased 1,900% in the last year.

Even though the full impact of AI-driven personalization is yet to be seen, companies that are using the marketing strategy are seeing a huge impact. The Rise of Personalized Commerce study showed that 70% of businesses that used AI personalization reported seeing 200% ROI from it.

6. Marketers can’t get enough of video marketing

HubSpot has named video marketing as “one of, if not the, most important marketing trend today and likely for the next 5-10 years.”

To see the dominance of video, you don’t need to look any further than YouTube. The platform reports that more than 500 hours of content are uploaded every minute.

The percentage of companies utilizing video marketing has held relatively steady since 2019.

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However, the pandemic has solidified the role of video in digital marketing and driven consumer engagement with video content. Whyzowl reports that 91% of marketers say video is more important for businesses in light of the pandemic, and nearly 70% of consumers say that pandemic has impacted the amount of video they watch — 98% of them say their viewing has increased.

The stats regarding video content on social media are incredibly convincing. According to a SEMrush report, posts that do not contain video content get 92% less traffic and 24% fewer shares than a post with at least one video. In one study of 500 marketers, 93% reported landing a new customer because of a video post on social media.

There is a sweet spot in video marketing, though. Data shows that short videos are most popular, and that definition of “short” gets shorter and shorter every year. In 2017, the average length was 6.07 minutes. In 2018, it was 4.07 minutes. Today’s industry rule is that marketing videos should be no longer than 2 minutes.

Businesses that want to take their video marketing to the next level are getting help from companies like Vidyard. With this platform, companies can personalize their content so the individual names of their customers show up in videos.

To be the most successful at video marketing in 2021 and beyond, look for companies to incorporate the strategy into everything they do. From their homepage to their ads, to their educational content, to their social pages, marketers should create on-brand and engaging video content for their audience.

7. Consumer demand fuels visual search

Since the late 2010s, consumers have been able to use real-world images taken from their smartphone’s camera to start an online search. Thanks to AI, their search matches them to similar images or provides them with useful information.

Right now, incorporating visual search into marketing strategies is an emerging trend. It’s something that advertisers have focused on, but an article from London-based publisher Raconteur stated that only 8 percent of specialty retail brands have integrated a photo search capability into their apps.

The image recognition market is expected to grow to $26.2 billion by 2025. A study from mid-2019 reported that 35% of marketers were planning to optimize visual search during the next year.

There is plenty of demand for visual search among consumers. One report showed that 74% of consumers say text-based searches are “inefficient” for their needs. Millennials, especially, want visual search capabilities—62% want to use it more than any other new technology.

Google Lens is one of the most popular visual search apps available. It hit 500 million downloads in January 2021. It can recognize more than 1 billion objects.

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Search interest in “Google lens” has been on a steady climb, increasing 944% in the past 5 years.

Pinterest Lens is even more impressive. It can recognize more than 2.5 billion objects. Their platform can take consumers directly from visual search to purchasing.

Two other examples of the trend: Amazon has StyleSnap, which uses visual search and several other parameters to recommend items to consumers. And, Snapchat’s visual search goes as far as to recognize food packaging and wine labels.

Visual search marketing is especially prevalent in the fashion and furniture industries. ASOS’s app allows users to take a photo and the platform will automatically find the product or recommend a different product that matches the style of the item in the image.

Visual search doesn’t stop there—it’s also being used by NAPA Auto Parts stores. Their “Drop & Find” kiosk captures an image of a part, matches it to one in its AI system, and provides instant information on where a customer can find that exact part in the store. The system recognizes 5,000 parts and finds the customer an exact match 90% of the time.

Conclusion

That wraps up the top trends driving marketing in 2021 and beyond.

Social media platforms continue to roll out features for businesses, but consumers are demanding more authenticity and personalization from businesses. Brands that can find the right balance between paid marketing and digital word-of-mouth directly from their customers may be the most successful in the coming years.

Last Updated: 
May 3, 2021
Josh Howarth
Co-founder of Exploding Topics.

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