What Can Marketers Expect In 2021?

I’m not going to summarize what happened this year as you’re probably WELL over it.

I’m not going to summarize what happened this year as you’re probably WELL over it. The word “2020” even seems to carry a negative connotation that is now widely accepted as an adjective. My favorite is the, “my luck has been so 2020.” Therefore, I am going to keep this article strictly within the confines of reviewing the trends from this year, in order to forecast what 2021 has in store to delight B2B marketing. 

Kyle Lacy, the CMO at Lessonly, recently said: “The future of marketing isn’t full funnel. The future of marketing is experience first, no matter the use case.

The whole “Awareness -> Consideration -> Decision” lifecycle framework is well-established, it’s not going anywhere. What is expected to change in 2021 is the shift from static touch-points to dynamic, experience driven engagements within the customer journey. After COVID, 88% of worldwide organizations made it mandatory or strongly encouraged their employees to work from home. The shift to virtual has forced telecommuters to rely on digital more than ever to communicate.For marketers, this is a challenge. Advertising channels that were once able to catch someone’s attention in their leisure time have become a workplace annoyance for virtual employees. People don’t shop where they work.As a result, consumers have turned to new mediums to engage…live streams, online communities, virtual events, and experiences have become the new normal for interacting with brands.Don’t get me wrong, marketing automation isn’t going anywhere…but those who succeed next year will have found ways to integrate experiences into their usual mix.Let’s recap some trends from this year.

6 Trends to Consider from 2020

Optimizing for Mobile

It’s no secret that having a strong mobile SEO strategy is advantageous. Smartphones are used by around 84% of the US’s population and give users instant access to almost everything. For marketers, this is an opportunity to continue refining mobile strategies to capture attention and peak interest.As of the end of this year, mobile devices, excluding tablets, generated just over half of all website traffic globally. If your landing pages aren’t optimized for mobile, you might as well just divide your website traffic by two and work with that number.

Additionally, almost 25% of companies invest in mobile optimization as a top SEO tactic. Optimizing for mobile is more than just an SEO strategy – it’s the first impression of your brand that website visitors experience.On a similar note, optimizing page load speed is another way to improve web visitor experience, regardless of the device.

Thought Leadership

For many, influencer marketing or thought leadership is the key for any strategic content marketing success. Whether it’s for webinars, podcasts, events, or plain old advocacy, the reach of these industry professionals goes well beyond the capabilities of any “average Joe” employee or company.A study from Edelman found that B2B buyers are more likely to do business with companies who articulate their mission through thought leadership:

  • 60% of C-suite executives are willing to pay a premium rate for a product or service from a company that has thought leadership as part of their philosophy
  • 45% of decision-makers invited companies to bid on a project just because they produced thought leadership content

By enhancing credibility in your market, thought leaders can be colossal revenue drivers that marketers should continue incorporating for a successful B2B marketing strategy.

A Greater Focus on Customer Experience and Advocacy

Just because a customer converted doesn’t mean that marketing’s job is over. The “Advocacy” stage of the lead lifecycle can yield tremendous opportunities by creatively communicating success stories.Organizations who deliver the best customer experiences will ultimately be able to create FOMO (fear of missing out) of their product or services through creative advocacy.Whether that’s through reviews, case studies, or video testimonials, it’s no secret that word of mouth marketing remains the most trustworthy source for advertising.One Walker study even suggests that by the end of 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as a key brand differentiator because of the huge opportunities for additional revenue – something that every marketer should consider.

Marketing Programs that Give Back

Incorporating how your organization is giving back in your messaging shows consumers that your organization carries a social responsibility within your set of shared values.

Not to mention, a charitable marketing campaign not only leaves a positive impact on the world, but it can be extremely high-performing as well. 

Generating top-of-funnel leads by giving-back not only creates incentives for engaged buyers, but enhances brand image for those in the awareness stage.This funnels into what a future marketing experience may look like, as it builds trust by enabling consumers to make a change for the better.

The Shift to Virtual

It’s no surprise that the number of organizations hosting virtual events have doubled since 2019.However, the shift to virtual goes far beyond what companies are doing to attract new buyers. Virtual workforces rely on digital platforms and channels more than ever. With the pandemic playing a factor in this new landscape, it’s a paradigm pivot on how people spend their time.For companies looking to attract buyers to virtual events, they need to offer something more than just some guest speakers and a value proposition – maybe that’s a Grubhub gift card for lunch, some sort of contest or giveaway, a book that reiterates the event theme, branded swag, or maybe a wellness gift. Adding an interactive edge to your virtual event will generate more attendees, improve attendee engagement, and leave a stronger and lasting impression.

Omni-channel

Omnisend found marketers using three or more channels in any one campaign earned a 287% higher purchase rate than those using a single-channel campaign.

Even though it’s well-established that omni-channel marketing yields better results in general, there’s a few things that marketers may want to revisit in their approach:

  • What channels are being used
  • What should and shouldn’t be automated
  • Where will personalization make an impact?

Running fully-integrated cross-channel marketing campaigns is feasible with the latest and greatest technology in the space. Buyers in 2021 and beyond will need more than just an email and a retargeting ad to be convinced.

6 Channels to Focus on in 2021

These trends from 2020 will certainly come into play in 2021, but for marketers to really capitalize, they really need to focus on the channels they’re currently using to leverage and provide additional content throughout their customer lifecycle.

The best thing about these channels is that they all have the ability to provide a more dynamic experience as opposed to a static touchpoint.Email, paid advertising, SMS, gated content, and social media will never disappear. Here’s some ideas to get your gears turning to create and deliver more of an experiential approach to your content strategy.

Social Media

Focus on the social platforms where your audience is. For most B2B organizations, that’s LinkedIn or Twitter. For B2C goods, that might be Instagram or Facebook.One of the best ways to engage with an audience on any social platform is by going live.

“Going LIVE”

Hosting a live stream from a company profile on social media is a statement. It shows your audience that your organization is so confident about a topic that you will put someone on the spot to explain it.As Head of Employer Brand at realtor.com, Sarah Staley, puts it: “Live video feels bold. Very few things seem to be live, so it shows that you’re confident and willing to take risks.

You can use live streams for things such as:

  • Product launches – continue to release and hype your audiences in real-time
  • Company announcements – make your next major update personal
  • Events – an easy way to get more reach for any presentation
  • Viral content – showcase best practices in a way that’s not lame
  • Audience interaction – a Q/A session with your network
  • Talent branding – have the employees tell why they love working at your company

Show your audience the confidence you have in your solutions and ideas by going live! 

Online Communities

For start-ups in the growth-stage, this one might seem less attainable. However, 88% of community professionals believe that community is critical to the company’s mission.

This doesn’t mean you have to create an entire online community to succeed. Simply join Slack communities or similar groups that would provide insight into your industry…there are HUNDREDS of them. In fact, most of these communities have designated places for you to shamelessly plug your product!Most importantly, online communities enable you to enjoy shared experiences and receive feedback from others who have the same goals. Here’s some ideas for marketers who are looking to increase their presence in online communities:

  • AMA sessions: Establish yourself as a thought-leader by hosting a session where others can ask you questions
  • Story-telling: Share a positive experience about yourself or your product that focuses on being a value-add service or product
  • Feedback: Ask fellow community members for genuine feedback on your product, UI, or anything else

This past year in fact, Outreach took early advantage of this cross-channel promotion strategy by creating  a community called Sales Hacker in an effort to bring sales professionals closer together. They’ve already surpassed 10,000 members!

Experiences

While all of these channels provide experiences to some extent, two marketing channels outshine the rest in this realm: virtual events and Experience Marketing.

Virtual Events

With in-person trade shows and conferences cancelled, organizations moved many of these events to the virtual world. The challenge they faced was creating an environment that fostered personal connections between participants and between participants and their brand.In Apricot’s virtual events research report, 91% of respondents chose “Keeping members connected” as the primary goal for virtual events. This goes to show the importance of ensuring virtual events have an interactive element to them.Here’s some ways you can do that:

  • Conduct a giveaway or a contest as a lead magnet – people love free stuff!
  • Announce winners during the event for peak attendance
  • Find reputable thought leaders to be featured as guest speakers
  • This creates FOMO and is very feasible via virtual webinar tools
  • Surprise attendees in real-time with gifts or branded goodies
  • Host virtual tastings or happy hours during the event 
  • Send out a useful item after the event to keep your brand top of mind

The landscape for virtual events may seem intimidating but create vast opportunity. Capitalize on it and consider these tips when hosting in 2021!

Experience Marketing

Similar to how virtual events are used to generate leads, Experience Marketing is a highly-effective top-of-funnel strategy that boosts lead engagement.Engaging with audiences in the real-world has always been taken for granted. But with face-to-face interactions temporarily gone, marketers can still interact offline by leveraging Experience Marketing platforms.For instance:

  • Send a detailed brochure via triggered automation when a lead hits a pricing page
  • Send coffee gift-cards to first 25-50 webinar sign-ups
  • Offer branded goodies and keepsakes within email nurture tracks
  • Provide a personalized, attention grabbing incentive for taking a demo with your sales team
  • Delight your customers with personalized welcome boxes when they start working with you

Engage with your prospects and customers in a unique, yet systematic way by adding Experience Marketing to your mix. 

SEO

Marketers should never underestimate the importance of SEO. It’s one of those things that never stops changing, and as a result, will require attention in 2021.Organizations have most likely started planning 2021 keyword and content strategy already. The two underlying areas that influence these are search intent and page experience.  

Understanding Search Intent

Think of search intent like this: Google receives an ambiguous question and uses it’s algorithm to answer it. Search intent tells Google what the true meaning of that question is so it can provide the best possible answer.So how can businesses act on search intent? To start, focus on doing an incredible job of providing information to users.Google’s algorithm will only get better at satisfying user intent, which means businesses have to make sure every piece of indexed content answers all specificities.

Keyword research tools let us understand what type of content people want on a given topic. But the top rated results in that category will always do the best job of addressing the search intent.

Optimizing for Page Experience

Investing the resources to enhance page experience provides tremendous value to your company’s SEO. Experiment with how your long-form content is structured: try ungating some key takeaways to drive more form fills.

Revisit your page-load speed. 47% of consumers expect websites to load in 2 seconds or less. Also consider how quickly pages respond to user interactions. Is your website easy to use on mobile devices?User interface with a website can be one of those “first-impressions” that determine future engagements with that brand. Think of how you can improve your page experience in 2021.

Video

Wyzowl found that people are twice as likely to share video content with their friends vs any other type of content. The viral nature of videos certainly make them an enticing channel for marketers in 2021.The best thing about video is they can be used to convey a number of different messages. Review some best practices? Or is it more of an explainer video? Maybe it’s for a product release or a promotional campaign. Video can do it all and it can do it while giving some personality to your brandFor marketers, having a reliable platform to manage videos in 2021 is a must. Some great options are Vidyard, Hippovideo, Wyzowl, and Wistia.

Personal Branding

Lastly, I recommend that marketers revisit the value of personal branding on platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter. The easiest way to establish an audience is by personally creating one!Personal profiles that establish themselves as thought leaders or influencers have a far greater organic reach than company accounts. Get over the anxiety and start posting what’s on your mind! Do consider that it takes time to grow an audience, so be patientCompanies who have employees that are able to create personal brands will generate much more social proof than those who don’t. It ties into the whole “experience-first” marketing that will overtake “touchpoint” marketing.

Create Experiences Throughout the Customer Journey

The marketers who succeed in 2021 will be those who deliver and report on experiences throughout the lead lifecycle. Not only will this improve lead generation volume, but doing so creates an easier entry-point for sales. Start thinking about how you can scale memorable and dynamic interactions with buyers, as opposed to static and stale interactions.It’s time to drop the archaic measurements surrounding static touchpoint engagement, and instead focus on a more holistic, experience driven approach. Don’t let your 2021 marketing strategy get 2020-ed!