At one time, artificial intelligence, data-driven marketing, and voice search engine optimization (VSEO) were ambitious concepts bordering on the ridiculous. Today, these innovative digital marketing trends are among the top priorities for most business owners in 2021.
And why wouldn’t they be? After all, if your business intends to remain competitive in today’s online landscape, you must adapt to the rapidly evolving changes in digital marketing. As Brian Solis puts it:
“Each business is a victim of Digital Darwinism, the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than the ability to exploit it. Digital Darwinism does not discriminate. Every business is threatened.”
Make no mistake: We live in a time when technology marketing moves fast and consumer interests and behaviors are hard to predict. Marketers can no longer stick their heads in the sand and hope that educated guesses and the same old methods will work forever.
Read on to discover 42 digital marketing trends for 2021 that will help your business not just survive, but thrive in this age of innovation.
1) Artificial Intelligence
If you haven’t already realized it, the dominance of artificial intelligence (AI) is here. It’s sure to be at the heart of global business and industry in the future – and it’s already taking over many simple jobs.
For example, Microsoft and Uber use Knightscope K5 robots to “patrol parking lots and large outdoor areas to predict and prevent crime. The robots can read license plates, report suspicious activity, and collect data to report to their owners.” You can rent these R2-D2-like robots for $7 an hour – which is less expensive than a human security guard’s wage:
Just a couple of years ago, Gartner analysts predicted that by 2020, AI technologies would be pervasive in almost every new software product and service – a prediction that Harvard Business Review seconded.
According to Techgrabyte:
“Artificial intelligence is the biggest commercial opportunity for companies, industries, and nations over the next few decades” and “will increase global GDP by up to 14% between now and 2030,” which means that “AI latecomers will find themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage within the next several years.”
Here are the top reasons why organizations are adopting AI in their business:
AI can analyze consumer behavior and search patterns, and use data from social media platforms and blog posts to help businesses understand how customers find their products and services.
One exciting example of AI in practice is chatbots (more on that later). Mastercard created a Facebook messenger bot – which uses natural language processing software to decipher what the customer wants and respond as if it were a real person – to automate handling payments:
Artificial intelligence will soon be the driving force behind many services and, currently, we already see it implemented in such areas as:
- Basic communication
- Product recommendations
- Email personalization
- E-commerce transactions
- Content creation
When it comes to content creation, for example, instead of guessing what subtopics to cover in an article, top content teams in 2021 are relying on AI, as with Clickflow’s Content Editor. Using Artificial Intelligence to serve up subtopics and related keywords will make any article ultra-comprehensive and give it the best possible chance to rank on page one.
Businesses adopting AI in 2021 will be able to cut staffing costs and accelerate growth, getting an edge over their competitors.
- 2) Programmatic Advertising
Programmatic advertising means using AI to automate ad buying so you can target more specific audiences. Real-time bidding, for example, is a type of programmatic ad buying. This automation is much more efficient and fast, which means higher conversions and lower customer acquisition costs.
It’s changing the face of digital advertising so swiftly that, according to eMarketer, 86.2% of digital display ads in the U.S. will be programmatic by 2020.
According to Irina Kovalenko of SmartyAds:
“Most search-driven manual advertising campaigns (even those performed with professional tools) take into account three or four targets: the keyword, time of day, and location. Such tools like programmatic demand-side platforms can use hundreds of targeting signals to individualize the advertisement and even target according to lifestyle or behavior habits when integrated with customer data platforms.”
Here’s a quick look at how programmatic advertising works:
To learn how to capitalize on this digital marketing trend, check out PPC Hero’s guide to get started.
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.
Surveys show that:
- Chatbots will power 85% of customer service by 2020
- Top benefits of chatbots are 24-hour service (64%), instant responses to inquiries (55%), and answers to simple questions (55%)
Many customers prefer interacting with chatbots as they are responsive 24/7, give answers promptly, accurately recall your entire buying history, and never lose patience. These virtual assistants offer outstanding customer service by meeting customers’ expectations and automating repetitive tasks – which means that you can focus on more important work.
Many brands already use chatbot technology, including rideshare brand Lyft. You can request a ride from Lyft via chat (Facebook Messenger and Slack) or voice (Amazon Echo), and their chatbot will let you know the current location of your driver:
Passengers can use the app to choose the type of ride, make a request, track the location of the car, send friends a time estimate of their arrival, and make payment.
Other brands that are successfully using chatbot technology include Whole Foods Market, Fandango, Sephora, Staples, The Wall Street Journal, and Pizza Hut.
4) Conversational Marketing
With all that talk about chatbots, the reality of modern marketing becomes clear: it’s more conversational. People want it that way, and so brands are reacting. When consumers have a question, 82% want an “immediate” response.
Conversational marketing facilitates a one-to-one, real-time connection between marketers and customers:
Unlike traditional strategies, this form of marketing is now available across multiple channels, allowing brands to meet customers on their terms: on the devices, platforms and time schedules that suit the customer best.
As per David Cancel, founder, and CEO of Drift:
“Today’s buyers expect to find what they’re looking for now, not later. As we prepare for the future, it will be more important than ever for businesses to be available across a broad spectrum of channels, and to make sure you’re communicating the way people prefer to communicate.”
Ultimately, the primary goal of conversational marketing is to enhance the user experience through a feedback-driven model that fosters higher engagement and greater loyalty.
If you want to stand out in 2021, you need to personalize your marketing – and that means personalized content, products, emails, and more.
Consider 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
Kevin George from EmailMonks asserts that “personalized, triggered emails based on behavior are 3x better than batch-and-blast emails.”
When you want to study examples of the power of personalization, it’s hard to overlook Netflix and Amazon, with their tailored recommended products or movie titles. Here are a few other companies that are successfully using personalization today:
- EasyJet launched a data-driven email campaign that uses customers’ travel history with the airline to build personalized stories, which then suggest where they might like to travel next. About 12.5 million unique emails have been sent, which had a 25% higher click-through rate than non-personalized emails.
- Cadbury’s created a personalized video campaign that matches a Dairy Milk flavor with users based on data from their Facebook profile, including age, interest, and location. The campaign generated a 65% click-through rate and a 33.6% conversion rate, proving that the personal touch works.
- Starbucks uses a gamified mobile app that draws on data like purchase history and location to get as personal as possible, allows customers to customize their drinks, and encourages further use with its rewards system – which skyrocketed their revenue to $2.56 billion:
- 6) Video Marketing
Video marketing is one of, if not the, most important marketing trends today and likely for the next 5-10 years. These numbers show the importance of incorporating video into your digital marketing strategy in 2021:
- 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
- 65% of executives visit the marketer’s website and 39% call a vendor after viewing a video
Video is by far the most popular way customers want to learn about new products:
And don’t just think YouTube. There are plenty of ways to drive higher engagement with your video marketing, as you can make a video post or start a live broadcast on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.
One of the issues that marketers have faced in recent years is the growing shift to mobile devices. Those long-form sales pages and emails of yesteryear are fading fast because they’re simply too difficult to read on small mobile screens. However, video can present the same information in a format that works perfectly regardless of the device.
If your site includes video, it’s 50X more likely (50 times!) to drive organic search results compared to text. Why? Because people find video content more compelling, so Google pushes pages that include videos higher in the rankings.
One of the best things about video marketing is that it makes it easy to reformat your content. Imagine that you’ve recorded a video for your YouTube channel. Instead of just publishing it on YouTube, you could also:
- Get it transcribed so you have a text version of the video
- Publish the transcription on your blog under an embedded YouTube video for better rankings
- Upload the raw video with the transcription as subtitles to Facebook (native Facebook videos get a much higher impression share and engagement than shared YouTube videos)
- Turn the transcription into a standalone blog article with a short rewrite and addition of relevant stats and images
- Rip the audio alone and use it as a podcast episode
- Use video thumbnails in your email marketing campaigns and the word “video” in subject lines to increase open rates by 19%
Here are some other video marketing trends that are gaining more and more traction:
- Live video is particularly popular with a large number of businesses who use it for interviews, product demos, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of the brand, such as life in the office, how products are made, company events, etc.
- 1:1 video is when businesses or marketers create personalized video messages rather than make phone calls or send emails. With the decreasing cost of film equipment and increasingly high-quality smartphone cameras, this is easier than ever.
- Video SEO. YouTube and other videos are displayed in the SERPs, so video optimization is becoming much more important – like using text overlays and closed captions, in addition to your description, title, and file names. Check out this guide to learn more about YouTube SEO.
- 360-degree video content. This trend towards a more interactive experience is on the rise – just look for the circular symbol in the top left corner to start sliding the moving image left or right as it’s playing, like this 360˚ video from Hong Kong Airlines (香港航空):
7) Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing is a type of word-of-mouth marketing that focuses on using key leaders to amplify your brand message to a larger market. Influencers can be well-known celebrities, but more often they are Instagram or YouTube personalities with a huge niche following who can help spread the word about your business or product through their social channels.
Because influencer marketing is generally more authentic than corporate advertising:
- 63% of consumers trust influencers’ opinions of products much more than what brands say about themselves
- 58% of people have bought a new product in the past six months because of an influencer’s recommendation
For this reason, Iceland, a popular British supermarket chain, switched from ads with celebrities to a campaign that features real-life moms. Teaming up with YouTube community Channel Mum, it now works with a number of vloggers to promote its products in a more “authentic” fashion.
Influencer marketing is not just a trend: A mediakix study predicts that the ad spend for influencer marketing could reach $10 billion by next year:
Influencer marketing is also going to be affected by artificial intelligence. With each year, AI is making the process of finding the right influencers to partner with easier and faster. It’s helping identify those with better engagement, fewer fake followers, and a higher chance of generating a positive return on investment (ROI). In addition, artificial intelligence is transforming influencer marketing in the following ways:
- Image recognition with ANN (Artificial Neural Networks)
- Determining influencer performance with NLP (Natural Language Processing)
- Predicting incentives with ANN
- Determining an influencer’s influence
- Flagging posts that don’t follow disclosure guidelines
- Elimination of fake engagements and spambots
- 8) Social Messaging Apps
If you think social messaging apps are just for sending emojis to your friends, take a look at these numbers:
- 1.3 billion monthly users are active on Facebook Messenger:
- 10 billion messages are sent between people and businesses on Facebook Messenger every month
- WhatsApp has 1.6 billion active users and 55 billion messages are sent every day
- The top three social messaging apps – WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat – have more combined users than Facebook or YouTube
These statistics show the popularity of social messaging apps, and since people are spending more time messaging each other, it makes sense to market your company’s products and services where your potential customers are hanging out.
Social messaging apps can be very useful in sending messages to customers directly, as they allow personalization and add value to the user experience. In addition, people expect businesses to have a presence on messaging apps because it’s a direct and easy way to interact with them. In fact:
63% of customers are more likely to return to a company website that has live chat.Reasons for your brand to use messaging apps include:
- Cultivate contact
- Delivery information
- Boost sales
- Involve people in events
- Regain potential customers
- Provide support and assistance
9) Visual Search
Visual search can take the user experience to a totally new level: People can upload an image to conduct a search and get more specific results.
D) Bing Visual Search
And with Bing Visual Search, you can search for a specific element within an image without having to go through all the current hoops.
For example, say you’re looking for kitchen decoration inspiration and an image attracts your attention. You click on a thumbnail result to get to the “Detail View.” The overall décor is great, but you’re particularly interested in that nice-looking chandelier. Wouldn’t you love to know where you can get one just like it? With Bing Visual Search, now you can.
To take advantage of micro-moments in 2021, you need to be where consumers are searching for information at the moment – or, as Google puts it, marketers have to “be there, be useful, be quick.”
The growing popularity of micro-moments means that marketers must rethink the linear marketing funnel that follows a set path: awareness, consideration, and decision.
In 2021 and beyond, the customer journey will be more dynamic and unpredictable, as it needs to respond to rapid changes in consumer desires. After all, in the mobile age, people have become accustomed to instant gratification. If they think or talk about something, they want to learn more, see more and buy more of it with just a few clicks of a button.
According to Mention:
“When we act on our needs in the moment, our expectations are high and our patience is low. This makes the quality, relevance and usefulness of marketing more important than ever.”
To get the most out of micro-moments in 2021, you should:
- Identify your consumers’ “I want to buy” moments
- Be there in these moments of need
- Deliver relevant content
- Make it easy for them to make a purchase
- Measure every moment that matters