Industry executives share their 2021 predictions across social, eCommerce, video, and more as we draw a line under what has been an 'eventful' year
David Parry-Jones, VP of EMEA, Twilio
“This year we’ve seen COVID-19 drive a huge digital acceleration and increase the need for flexible customer engagement platforms. There’s been a real requirement for communications solutions that can rapidly deploy scale quickly and adapt to surges in demand for one channel over another, as customer behaviour has changed according to the impact of the pandemic.
“It’s now more important than ever to ensure you’re reaching people on the channels they are comfortable using, as everyone is grappling with a rapidly changing set of services. We know that 53 per cent of businesses have added new channels during the pandemic, such as live chat, but their focus in 2021 must turn to ensuring the channel mix caters to the preferences of their customer base.
“Consumer expectations remain relatively unchanged, but we can expect to see businesses become more flexible in the way they communicate to continue to meet their customers’ needs, using the most suitable channels. Mapping out the suitability of each channel to different scenarios and customer segments will achieve the most effective communication and drive customer engagement.”
Stuart Flint, Head of Global Business Solutions for Europe, TikTok
“2021 will be a milestone year for brands and marketers alike, with the next 12 months shaped by how economies and people recover from this year's global shockwaves and define new realities.
“While the vaccine rollout offers new hope that 2021 will mark a return to some kind of normal, we cannot underestimate how the past year has led to systemic changes in the way we live and work.
“That means marketers can't be complacent. We can't go back to pre-COVID ways.
“Standing out in a competitive digital-first environment will be crucial, bringing the need for a distinct brand 'personality' as well as a genuine ability to engage prospective customers in conversations. In the past year, we've seen a brands of all sizes start to do just that, using our platform and our creator community to change the way they communicate to customers. We've only scratched the surface on some of these trends.”
Dan Simmons, Amazon Director, OMG Transact
“The 2020 pandemic has seen a record amount of shoppers flock to the internet to make their purchases, especially given the restrictions on traditional in-store shopping by the lockdowns across the globe. Mobile commerce offers a unique ability to minimise health risks by reducing the time spent in-store through click and collect services, particularly when looking for same day acquisition when already on the move.
“This growth coupled with the ease of access to mobile devices and increased mobile optimisations such as improved product content and online visibility as well as an easier path to conversion through streamlined mobile checkouts will see more and more users make purchases on handheld devices.
“In addition, the growth of native applications for key retailers such as Amazon will ensure a streamlined experience for the user no matter where they are, with the ability to receive all of their usual benefits such as specific delivery windows and loyalty schemes that promote points collection and member discounts.”
Jeroen Wijering, Co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer, JW Player
“The end is near for cookies, and that means publishers will need to rethink how they monetize their content. 2021 will be the year where advertisers embrace contextual targeting not only as a replacement for cookies, but as a stronger alternative that meets consumers in the moment. You can also expect live streaming and other video content to expand in new industries next year, as brands seek to engage new audiences and open additional revenue streams.”
Yuval Ben-Itzhak, President, Socialbakers
“Social commerce isn’t a new topic by any means, but it’s an area which many brands aren’t leveraging completely. We know that today’s consumer is predominately digital and users are purchasing more online than ever before. Since today social media platforms provide the tools to manage everything from product discovery to post purchase customer care and community management, it’s a no-brainer that businesses should be taking advantage of the reach and infrastructure that these platforms offer. In a time where more and more purchases happen online, by investing in the social commerce component of the customer journey smartly today, businesses will safeguard the revenue of tomorrow.
“The pandemic has had a huge impact on the way consumers engage with brands. While the impact has been wide-ranging, one area in which it can be clearly identified is in the use of conversational messaging. Today customer conversations have moved from traditional call centers and emails to social media and messaging apps. Customers are online and they expect brands to be there too, responding to their questions and providing feedback without delay. To meet the expectations of customers, we’ll see more brands looking to a hybrid model of human agents and AI-powered social chatbots. Conversational AI chatbots are being used by businesses to help them instantly flag and answer the repetitive, frequently asked questions, regardless of the volume, time of day or the language, they also act as the conduit for quickly escalating more critical conversions to agents.”
Leena Iyar, Chief Brand Officer, Moxtra
“Digital business-to-customer interactions will become more humanized in 2021 and beyond. The reality is that on-demand service isn’t going away post-pandemic. With that, the expectation for the level of personalized service consumers are used to in person must translate to the online setting -- especially in a post-COVID world. Businesses are replacing no-reply email addresses with enhanced experiences to communicate with customers on-demand and better resolve issues.
“The most progressive brands will employ single-line communication between customers and a central point person from the company to own the customer relationship from start to finish. This is especially key for high-touch businesses like those in the financial services, legal and real estate industries which traditionally have been a call away. Business leaders in these spaces are ending 2020 with a clearer idea of what was lacking in these digital interactions. In 2021, they will continue to find new ways to incorporate person-to-person interactions into their digital services with single platform solutions that centralize necessary business functions like video conferencing, direct messaging, file sharing and document signing.”
Milka Kramer, UK and Ireland Country Manager, Pinterest
“The acceleration of online shopping in 2020 surfaced both changes in how consumers are choosing to shop as well as what they’re purchasing. The shift in consumer behaviour we’ve seen this year provides a compass for how brands and retailers should engage with audiences to inspire their purchasing decisions. Retailers should inspire consumers by creating an online shopping experience that feels more like the “real life” experience of browsing the aisles. Brands should focus on showing up in a positive online environment, which research has shown transfers directly to brand trust and purchase intent. In 2021, the brands and retailers who leverage insights and focus on engaging with consumers early in their shopping journey will turn them into customers through visually inspiring ideas that reach them at just the right moment.”
Suzi Tripp, VP of Insights, Brooks Bell
“The retailers that will win the peak shopping season and all of next year are those that deliver a consistent brand experience via online, buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), and delivery. Their success will depend on whether or not they can meet stronger logistical demands, strategically leverage omnichannel data insights and drive an internal cultural transformation.
“In 2021, companies with adequate budgets will invest in testing strategies across all of the places where their customers interact. This may mean an increased focus on in-app testing while others may be testing kiosks or anything with a screen. Testing will ultimately lead to improved customer experiences but it will also separate the strong from the weak, as companies without the mentality and capability are sure to fall short.”
“While many marketers have struggled with changing consumer behavior in 2020, it’s safe to say some behaviors prompted by COVID-19 will be here to stay. Companies should evaluate their strategies to ensure they can meet customer expectations when it comes to convenience and safety. If COVID-19 forced them into launching a minimum viable product quickly, they need to continue to iterate on it and keep looking for the next evolution.”
Kirsten Allegri Williams, CMO, Episerver
“As much as technology has improved the consumer retail experience, the truth is that today’s consumers are still obligated to re-introduce themselves to a brand at too many touch points. That’s why you’ll begin to see more emphasis on frictionless engagement, making the process of discovering, buying and returning products significantly easier than it’s traditionally been. There’s a lot of room for innovation when it comes to streamlining the discovery to purchase process, and a targeted focus on frictionless engagement is what will help achieve that vision.
“The retailers that will thrive in 2021 and beyond are the ones that make their digital experiences as integrated and personalized as possible. It’s no longer simple or sophisticated; it’s both. That means modular product offerings, an extensive partner network, comprehensive monitoring and support and APIs that easily integrate with existing infrastructure. As teams continue to personalize their digital experience, success will come to the brands that can deliver a UX that’s sophisticated on the back end and simple on the front end.”
Todd Morris, CEO, Label Insight
“Heading into 2021, more and more consumers will stray away from specific brands and focus instead on how the products they put into and onto their bodies align with their values and meet their health and wellness needs.
“Given accelerated e-commerce growth, this trend will ignite a change in how brands, especially in the CPG space, allocate their digital ad spend. Businesses need better data on what consumers are actually searching for based on their health and lifestyle needs, whether it's a demand for sustainable or plant-based products, or products free from certain allergens. Once business leaders invest in the right data and tools to understand these needs, more efficient, micro-targeted ad spend will lead to fiercely loyal customers and increased sales.
“Zooming out across all industries, what consumers really want is simple: they want brands to understand their lifestyle, health and wellness needs, and they want to be able to easily find and buy the right products to meet these needs. The 'winners' of 2021 will be the brands that can do both.”
Greg Wolny, EVP of Commerce, Code3
“Throughout the world, retail sales are expected to plummet when compared to last year. The US alone is projected to see a more than 10 per cent decrease in retail sales by the end of the year. In light of these numbers, brands of all sizes and in all categories will need to make major adjustments. Especially since a full economic recovery isn't expected until at least 2022. Businesses will need to make the most of 2021 to recover on their own terms and make up for the lost time. In part, retail brands will have no choice but to transition to, or fully embrace e-commerce.
“Digital advertising is becoming increasingly competitive. On Amazon, CPCs are increasing due to competition on the channel. And Amazon's search results are more saturated with sponsored placements. In addition to these developments, brands are maturing in their understanding and execution of a marketplace media strategy. This has created a more urgent need for brands to leverage DSP to move up the funnel and engage with customers as they are in the research phase. It's no longer enough to only have Sponsored Product Ads and get in front of shoppers before they purchase. In today's landscape, brands need to invest earlier in the shopper journey to educate them on why their product is superior. Brands are also responding to increased competition by expanding to social media and other marketplaces. Doing so improves efficiencies and insight into consumer behavior beyond a specific channel.”
Ben Walmsley, Commercial Director, Publishing, News UK
“Annual predictions for 2021 are likely to resemble what would have been predictions for 2023, had COVID-19 not reared its ugly head. This is acutely evident in the world of eCommerce. After more than a decade of steady growth, eCommerce leapt from 19% of total sales in February to 33% in May. This change caught many retailers off guard, exposing end-to-end weaknesses from the online experience through to the supply chain, and it is a change that’s here to stay. With this unforeseen rapid growth, publishers, agencies and brands will need to accelerate their strategies at a blistering pace to compete. For brands it means offering experiences that emulate the physical world such as online private consultations, AR product demos and removing any remaining friction in the buying experience and fulfilment of orders, replicating the ease of DTC. While ever-bigger purchases moving to online channels, brands will be forced to rethink how their physical spaces can complement their virtual shopping experience.
“For publishers, it means diversifying ad products to those that drive measurable sales outcomes or deeper immersion into a brand experience. Publishers will themselves further resemble retailers, with offers and services that aid the purchase process, generate valuable intent data and persistent customer identities. As we enter a new era for retail, expect to see publishers try to get closer to influencing transactions: Future's proposed acquisition of GoCompare is a big bet. The demands on the agency will, in turn, evolve to the integration of martech and seamless transactions through Amazon and other eCommerce channels.
“2020 permanently changed consumer behaviour faster than anyone could have predicted and businesses were forced to make quick decisions to adapt and, in some cases, to survive. 2021 is the year for building more permanent commerce structures that meet the new demands of our accelerated future.”
Owen Hancock, Marketing Director, Impact EMEA
“Impact predicts marketers will continue to shift their ad spend from other digital marketing channels to influencer marketing. We are confident that brands will spend upwards of $15bn globally on influencer marketing by 2022 as suggested by some reports. Indeed, the growing consumer shift toward digital devices during the pandemic has seen FMCG companies either maintain influencer marketing spend at pre-pandemic levels or increase it slightly, whilst many plan to allocate up to 50 per cent of their marketing budget on social media influencers post-coronavirus.
“Another exciting prediction is the boom of shoppable streaming which is already exploding in China where it reached $61bn in sales in 2019. At the height of the pandemic in March, 60m people tuned into shopping live streams, an increase of 126m compared to June 2019. This trend is expected to flourish in the West with the recent launch of Amazon Live for influencers in July, and live shopping features from Facebook and Instagram announced back in August. It’s little surprise then that research indicates sales from global livestreams will double to $120bn this year.
“Staying on the topic of social commerce, TikTok has partnered with ecommerce platform Shopify to make it easier for their million plus merchants to reach TikTok’s young audience via bespoke ad campaigns. This partnership suggests the significance of social commerce and it’s unstoppable growth prediction in 2021.”
Peter Wallace, EMEA Managing Director, GumGum
“With the global switch to working from home triggering a 31 per cent rise in screen time, online video is securing its reputation as *the* lead vertical for revenue and engagement. So how can mobile marketers align with vital, brand-relevant conversations in a multichannel sphere? Next-generation contextual targeting is increasingly offering a solution, with powerful image recognition and natural language processing that brings human-like perception to the analysis and targeting of millions of videos across OTT and CTV.
“This sophisticated technology means contextual engines can scan the entirety of video content – building a much better picture of what it’s about compared to standard metadata tagging analysis. The rising popularity of contextual video targeting is driven by this capacity for nuance, along with a legislative clampdown on cookies that is shaping the need for more privacy-friendly solutions. More crucially, however, marketers are looking to leverage the power of contextual to serve ads that are more memorable and neurologically engaging.”
Faisal Galaria, CEO, Blippar
“Augmented reality (AR) has been maturing over recent years, but with 5G set to reduce latency and increase device interconnectivity, in 2021 we will see the technology become an even more viable and accessible component of marketing strategies. AR will be especially integral to live events, transforming them into highly interactive experiences that bring consumers closer to the action and connect brands with audiences globally.
“The technology will also take product visualisation to the next level. In a world where 42 per cent of consumers will continue to shop online more frequently, companies from all sectors, including retail, publishing and travel to name a few, will benefit from using AR to create immersive experiences for consumers that enable them to virtually interact with their brand online.
“As consumers have become well-versed in scanning QR codes to trigger content, AR is more accessible than ever before. WebAR especially is driving this as it offers users a seamless digital experience through their web browsers, without the need to download an app.”
Nigel Clarkson, CRO, Hivestack
“With the global population told to stay indoors, 2020 was certainly a challenging year within the OOH channel. However, behind the scenes it has been a year of incredible evolution for OOH to be the final channel to offer programmatic planning and buying to clients. Both the demand and supply sides are now aware that they need programmatic capabilities, and there is increased expertise entering OOH to ensure a smooth programmatic transition.
“The past year highlighted the need for flexibility, particularly with a background of stop-start lockdowns affecting the impressions served by key OOH digital screens. Programmatic platforms enable advertisers to dial up or down accordingly, and with impression multiplier data derived from millions of mobile location data points. This allows us to understand the difference between the online, one-to-one world and the OOH, one-to-many world.
“2020 has also shown us that there is a real opportunity for publishers to utilise and monetise inventory in the year ahead. Looking to 2021, my prediction is that the proven agility and greater efficiencies sustained by programmatic DOOH in 2020 will fuel its continued growth within the traditional out-of-home ecosystem. Accomplishing this will require DSPs and SSPs in the DOOH environment to collaborate with media owners and buyers to better communicate how programmatic can help improve DOOH and allow OOH to operate more effectively in a cross-channel world.”
Jimmy Nguyen, Founding President, Bitcoin Association
“Incumbent social media and online content platforms – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter Instagram, TikTok – earn almost all of the revenue generated from user content, while wielding unilateral power to terminate user accounts, curtail or even cease earning, as well as moderate or disable content. New social networks underpinned by blockchain technology are shifting that paradigm, enabling content creators to directly and instantly earn micropayments for each engagement with posted content, while unlocking interoperability and restoring the balance of power to the users. These new business models will threaten the traditional advertising and data-mining business models of legacy platforms. In 2021, digital content creators and influencers will finally learn to leverage blockchain-based applications to directly earn revenue from their content and avoid de-platforming risks.”
Raj De Datta, CEO, Bloomreach
“Physical retail stores will be expected to be an Apple Genius Bar type of experience. There may not be quite as many retail associates, but the ones who are there will not be asked ‘where can I find XYZ products right now’. Because buyers may ask an in-store retail associate what they can’t figure out online.
“Additionally, the store may become more of a warehouse, and some of the space in certain less pricey locations will be used to stock inventory, versus to be a showroom. And certain other space will be more like entertainment space as you can buy those same products online and it can be shipped from anywhere. Whether it’s more entertainment-oriented or supply chain oriented, the space will reflect those choices. Whatever choices the retailer makes to compete will determine how the space will look.”
Austin Scott, Head of Video Market Development for EMEA, Xandr
“As we move into 2021, brands need to remain flexible in advertising strategies. To ensure they are staying relevant and competitive, brands need to embrace advanced technologies that optimise and push their video campaigns to branch out into formats that reflect the emotive situation of our times. By using technology in the most effective way, brands can seize the opportunity to truly engage with consumers and drive success during these strange times.
“The cost of TV calibre video ads is still a barrier to scaling the benefits of addressable messaging so buyers have to consider custom creative messaging and alternative virtual/animated/interactive formats. As upfronts dissipate and more AVOD entrants come on the market the opportunity to reconsider revenue models on the marketer, media owner and consumer side will come to the forefront for the future of real time, reserved and under monetized inventory. In 2021, everyone will be working on what audience targeting and validation solution meets their business needs and tracks desired outcomes. There will also be more audience fragmentation with a shift in consumers paying for subscription services when there is a specific show they want to watch.”
Aurelia Noel, Head of Innovation and Transformation, dentsu X
“The battle against Covid-19 has driven some extreme measures that have restricted consumer movements and closed many stores. Faced with adversity retailers have accelerated their move to digital and created a 360-retail experience online successfully blending media and commerce. As we move into 2021, we will continue to see the acceleration of digital transformation in both traditional e-commerce verticals and non-traditional verticals, such as consumer packaged goods (CPG) to drive sales and build consumer relationships.
“One of the benefits of retail shifting online is the ability to use audience data to enhance the customer experience. However, this year has seen increased concerns over consumers’ data privacy, which has driven big changes to the way companies, including retailers, track their consumers. Big tech players such as Google have taken a bold stand on privacy no longer supporting the third-party cookies, and Apple IOS 14 is implementing its “opt-in” changes making app monetisation harder. This means in 2021 campaign optimisation and retargeting will become more difficult for those companies that don’t have a first-party data strategy. For those retailers and brands that want to continue to be able to provide an excellent customer experience it will be vital to build a first-party data stack. Once viewed as a ‘nice to have’, it will now be essential to remain customer centric in a privacy first world.”