There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the past year. It was a year that forced a profound shift in how we go about our days, both personally and professionally. It was a year that presented a lot of hardship, loss, and uncertainty, but also one that propelled introspection, prioritization, and innovation. While many of us are eager to put 2020 behind us and start 2021 with a clean slate, it’s safe to say we can all walk away with at least one learning that will have a long-lasting impact on our lives; one that will shape the future of business and how we engage with each other and with our customers, regardless of industry.
Botify’s CEO, Adrien Menard, in a year-end message to the company certainly acknowledged the challenging year that 2020 was; “it’s easy to describe it as exhausting, isolating, constantly changing, and one in which hard decisions were made,” however, he also found and emphasized the silver lining.
Botify was also curious to hear what our marketing ecosystem and social community had to say on the topic; to reflect on 2020 and share predictions for the world of marketing, e-commerce – and more – in 2021.
Not surprisingly, the pace at which businesses pivoted – and did so successfully – became a notable takeaway from the past year. “Agility surpassed any skill in 2020,” said Frédéric Clément, CMO at Lengow. “And it has been key at the company, team, and personal level.”
Expanding on that theme, Devin Pickell, Growth Marketer at Nextiva, said that his biggest learning in 2020 was “don’t commit too hard to a marketing plan. I’ve been at companies that do their best to lay out 6-9 month roadmaps, and 2020 has shown us just how fast the market and its demands can change.”
Michael J. Brown, Senior SEO Manager at Jellyfish, echoed that sentiment. “Markets are more agile than we could have ever imagined. You’ve got to be light on your feet to adjust to market conditions. Take more risk with change, but keep a healthy mix of long term strategies.”
But reacting quickly doesn’t mean reacting without intent, according to Jeff Coyle, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at MarketMuse. “Don’t react for the sake of reacting. Be empathetic and thoughtful in messaging and strategy. 2020 definitely required a lot of shifting in strategy, but it’s important to take the time to think about the impact and the underlying reason for the shift.”
Furthermore, with the acceleration of remote work and heightened isolation, we had to forge human connections in new ways. Coyle continued, describing the community that they created “for people to share strategy, vent, and ask questions during the height of the pandemic. But we had to make a conscious decision internally about how we were going to support it long term vs. just as an economic response.”
Katie Leask, Senior Content Manager at Jellyfish also commented on the importance of weaving this human element into content. “In such a faceless year, the power of sprinkling content with humanity and vulnerability goes a long way. We’re all in this together, and I’ve found that people respond better to brands that acknowledge our struggles, rather than gloss over the shared human experience for the sake of sales – that type of copy no longer resonates.”
The past year reminded us that “nothing can flex like digital,” as perfectly articulated by Felicity Mikellides, Senior Content Manager at Jellyfish.
In fact, 2020 hit the gas pedal on digital businesses, breaking records across e-commerce revenue, media consumption, and more. We witnessed “an acceleration of digitalization of the world and saw groups that were less digitally savvy (older people, etc) go from 0-100 in a very short time,” said Gilad Zubery, Vice President, Global Business Development & Partnerships at Contentsquare, which inevitably “had a big impact on vendors and technology companies who had to support that transition.”
But more online activity also means more competition. In other words, “Attention is the prerequisite to monetization and building a business,” according to Garrison Yang, Growth at Facebook. Natalia Wodecki, communications expert and Global PR Lead at Zscaler, shared the notion of it being even harder to stand out, forcing us to leverage our most creative muscles. “This new screen-based reality has forced us all, especially those in B2B, to be creative, bold, and daring in order to stay relevant, above the fold, and interesting to our customers and prospects.”
And who stands out in a crowded market? Zubery learned that “you can only survive a time of crisis if you are selling a product that is making an impact and moving the needle. Doesn’t matter how cool your product is, if it’s not business critical, you will always be at risk to lose your business.”
The trends and behaviors we’ve seen in 2020 will likely continue to take shape and become more of the norm in 2021, playing a role in everything including our sales approaches, customer relationships, marketing strategies, and business at-large.
Jason Viglione, Director of Customer Support at H1 succinctly said, “there is no post-pandemic revert.” Justin Berger, Director of Demand Generation at Kibo Commerce, echoed that sentiment saying “while the pandemic was the clear driver of changes in how we buy, interact with one another, work, etc., it’s also clear that some of our new behaviors will continue past the pandemic – because they just make sense.”
With regard to sales, old approaches won’t cut it. “Technology has drastically changed how the buying process works, especially when it comes to selling technology,” said Nicholas Price, Global Content Lead at Aircall. “Today’s buyers want knowledge. By providing knowledge to your audience – not a sales pitch or marketing speak – you can better connect with your audience.”
He continued, “Today’s marketing world is about meeting your audience where they want to be met, not where you want to meet them. In order to do this successfully, one needs to use empathy. If you aren’t putting yourself in your customers’ customers’ shoes then you’re already behind. To quote Harper Lee: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from [their] point of view… until you climb in [their] skin and walk around in it.””
Industry verticals aside, our contributors shared thoughts on what will be some of the top priorities for businesses.
With more businesses online, Jellyfish’ Mikellides expects “there will be a real focus on trust – both in terms of data security and privacy as cyber crime climbs, as well as websites being penalised for straying out of their lane (think EAT).”
Facebook’s Yang expects that in 2021, “businesses will focus on content marketing, organic channels such as organic search, and social interaction (affiliates, word of mouth, etc.) for growth. Owned audiences and first-party attention will become much more valuable.”
MarketMuse’s Coyle thinks AI will be table stakes. “AI will be a must-have. To execute your process without leveraging the time and cost savings of AI is a big miss. Specifically, we expect the use of AI in content creation will play a bigger role in 2021 to help organizations scale their publishing cadence.” John Know, SEO Architect at BOLD agrees that “automation with AI” was picking up steam in 2020 and will continue to accelerate in 2021.
Following the roller-coaster year, there is much anticipation and excitement about the future of retail and e-commerce. Lengow’s Clement believes that ”2021 will be the first year e-commerce will shine without the “e-” and become the key component of brands’ strategies, even in verticals oriented towards traditional retail. More than ever, it will be about “commerce” for both brands and retail.”
“Acquiring traffic to your site is difficult in and of itself but now you have an even greater challenge, keeping the users attention,” said Jellyfish’s Brown. “2021 is going to be the year of SEOs not only acquiring traffic through intent, but getting creative in converting that traffic throughout the entirety of the funnel. #challegeaccepted”
His colleague, Katie Leask, continued that idea, focusing on usability. “I think e-commerce will invest more heavily in digital experience. Not just SEO and site visibility, but in how people are actually interacting with their site, what touchpoints are successful, how people progress through the funnel
– analysing heat maps and bounce rates to ensure sites are as user-focused as possible.”
Wen Shi, Luxury Brand & Digital Media Consultant, also commented on customer experience, outside of the brand’s own website. “In 2021, I foresee social media platforms starting to behave more like SEO engines as more people shop ‘within’ platform. E-commerce and Publishing brands will have to create multimedia storytelling experiences to engage the consumer.”
With the agility we saw in 2020 came innovation – and it will continue. David Pilgrim, VP of Partnerships at Algolia said, “I’m blown away by the impact 2020 has had on the speed of innovation in the SaaS world. For 2021, the innovation train isn’t going to slow down. Fueled by the availability of capital, we will continue to see more (and more) digital-fueled innovation. My only fear…the speed of innovation could bring the predictions of “Terminator” and the creation of “Skynet” to fruition sooner than we think!”
Finally, while the impact of remote work is distinct from the themes above, it’s certainly a critical factor in how we have evolved in our personal lives, as consumers, and as professionals. While many may never go back to an office on a daily basis and others are eager to regain some semblance of in-person collaboration, it’s important to consider the impact of working from home.
Nextiva’s Pickell shared, “It’s said that 68% of remote workers will consider freelance work in 2021. With more time on their hands, employees will begin to build for themselves – especially marketers, who know the intricacies of branding. Businesses that don’t support or make time for their remote workers to explore side projects will be at a competitive disadvantage.”
In due time, we’ll see which trends and behaviors of 2020 have more permanence and which predictions for 2021 become priorities. But regardless of how things fare, one this isn’t up for debate: 2020 has made an indelible mark on history.