S2:E4 2021 Trends – Marketing Channels and Tactics

Hello, welcome back to the Marketing Mindset Club podcast and to the second episode in our 2021 trends series.

If you caught the last episode you’ll know that I’m back after a bit of a break and we’re taking a short interlude from the current series to talk about the common trends we’re seeing predicted for 2021. Last time we talked at a strategic and consumer behaviour level, and this time we’re diving into individual channels and tactics.

These two episodes combined are designed to give you food for thought about how to handle your 2021 marketing. It’s not going to be easy, or even predictable, but trying to ride out the storm and thinking normal will return isn’t going to work in my opinion. So hopefully, you’ll get some ideas from these two episodes. If you haven’t listened to the first one already, I’d start with that one and I’ve linked to it from the show notes or just go to the MMC episode before this one in your podcast feed.

So, let’s get into some things that are happening or you should be aware of on some different channels in 2021.

Instagram increases visibility of content through search

According to Social Media Examiner, as of November 2020 you can now search for content on Instagram without using a hashtag and it certainly seems to be the case for me here in the UK when I checked. So, this means that a user search using words not hashtags will surface posts and accounts using text from the profile or post. It means that content can be found by a user who doesn’t necessarily know which hashtags they should be looking at, so you would expect to see organic reach increase as a result.

While we’re on the topic of Instagram, there’s no avoiding Reels. Even though TikTok has the majority share in the short, consumable video space, Reels has been so prominently positioned in the Instagram app now, it’s pretty unavoidable. Only available to view and upload on mobile, Reels could be a perfect enhancement for almost any consumer product or brand, particularly if your audience is likely to be older than the TikTok generation. And there’s no judgement there, I’ve tried it out for myself but I realised it’s so powerful at keeping users in its constant content stream, I found I just lost hours and hours in that constant scroll.

Anyway, back to Instagram. As of December last year, 36% of Instagram users were over the age of 35 (source: statista.com). And this relates back to something I read about baby boomers, Gen X and older millennials being somewhat neglected from brands whose social media is targeted at Gen Z’ers. If I can find the source I’ll link it in the show notes. But it did make me think that for those brands who have an opportunity to engage an older audience, they are out there looking for good social content.

Instagram and Facebook ads to become less static

Also from the same article in Social Media Examiner, there are four creative trends mentioned that will apply to Facebook and Instagram ads. The first is GIFs - we know that animated or moving image content works extremely well against static content for capturing scrolling attention. They also count towards video views if that’s something you’re trying to grow.

The second is UGC - user generated content. The example they gave was of a product you would use in photography called a lens ball. It produces some beautiful images, but the users who are creating this content are professional or amateur photographers - so they are invested in getting incredible shots. Which is why it works so well for that product, I think UGC only works if the production value is good enough - poor quality audio or imagery just isn’t worth reusing in my opinion.

The third trend mentioned was for more text heavy ads on Facebook. It’s an unwritten change, we’ve not heard anything from Facebook themselves on this, but the 20% rule regarding the amount of text in ads seems to have disappeared. So it’s likely you’ll see bigger and bolder text ads start appearing. For those brave enough, this would be a good tactic to trial against non-text ads to see which has better impact, especially while it’s not yet a common strategy.

And the fourth is about ads that bring positive feelings or lightness into a user’s feed. I’ve heard 2020 referred to as a burning dumpster of a year, and I can’t disagree with that, although the terminology makes me chuckle, so while there’s little evidence to support this theory it seems to make sense that bringing positivity into the world can only be a good thing. Whether it works as an ad tactic on social has yet to be seen.

Online event fatigue means events need to go hybrid.

When the pandemic first hit and in-person events were cancelled one after another like a line of falling dominos, the choice of many organisers was to pivot online rather than to cancel completely. Facebook reported group calls of more than 3 people went up by 50%. But “Zoom fatigue” has already set in, with digital falling short of real-life experiences. [See Gartner] You just don’t get the same sensory experience attending a digital event and now that so many of us are missing out on the micro breaks that are normal within the office environment, we’re getting more screen time than ever. So, the appeal of yet another group video call or webinar is declining rapidly.

So, what’s the plan for events in 2021? In a word - hybrid. A combination of live streams and video recordings enhanced with another layer of experience. This could be Augmented Reality where a product demo is needed, or a Face-to-Face element in due course for those who want to network. 72% of event planners worldwide said they would be planning hybrid events in 2021 [Source: eMarketer]. And of course, the nature of being online means being able to bring together individuals across the globe who might not otherwise be able to take part. So there’s huge potential here to create experiences of value, but it does also come down to production value. The tolerance for poor video, audio and connectivity in live-streamed events is dwindling rapidly, so the delivery is as important as an in-person event.

And example of a hybrid event was the award-winning Samsung.

The description from the Drum award entry, which is linked in the show notes is as follows:

“Creative agency Smyle pushed the boundaries of virtual events – together with long-term partner Samsung – with the first ever use of gaming platform, Unreal Engine, to host a fully immersive, live digital media experience for +5,000 press and partners. Representing a paradigm shift for product launch events, Smyle not only created a carefully constructed 3D virtual world for Samsung Life Unstoppable, but applied the very latest gaming techniques, together with 8D audio, AR integration, ray tracing and pixel streaming, to deliver powerful emotional resonance never before seen in a virtual event.”

I also wanted to add this from the Cnet.com article on the event to give a bit more context:

“Participants of Life Unstoppable will navigate around a digital house that contains about two dozen different Samsung devices, ranging from its $3,500 waterproof, outdoor Terrace TV to its updated Galaxy Z Fold 2 foldable phone. The visit revolves around a 45-minute guided tour, but participants are able to branch off on their own to look at the back ports of a TV or circle back to the kitchen to check out the appliances."

Samsung noted that "every detail," from the home's artwork to the furniture's fabric, "was carefully selected following meticulous research into the type of guests that would be visiting Samsung House, resulting in a truly immersive home environment."

There's also an augmented reality component that lets people see what the new products, like TVs, will look like in their own homes. And Samsung noted that immersive 8D audio makes visitors feel like they're really in the home.”

Now that’s an example of a huge production and a massive budget. But hybrid events aren’t the preserve of the giant global brand only. What if you wanted to do a product launch or press event on a smaller scale? You could create an experience with a product and some clever packaging combined with an online event. For me, that’s the big takeaway when it comes to making the event experience memorable. Event organisers need to be mindful that they must deliver value equal to or greater than they could with an event in one location. Whether this is the diversity of speakers, exclusive resources, in-person event access in the future or networking connections - added value has never been more important in securing engagement.

And I have a special episode coming up shortly where I’ll be talking to an expert in the live-streaming digital event space. We’ll be delving into how to plan and execute an event in the COVID world, so keep an eye out for that one in the coming weeks.

Making the break into Programmatic ads

If you’ve not yet moved into programmatic, then I think 2021 is the year to do it. Programmatic simply means using AI to put your ad content in front of users using real time bidding. As user behaviours change, they will drop out or come into the target group, and the AI can manage that for you. If you’re doing Facebook or Instagram ads, then the good news is you’re already doing it. The Facebook AI manages the audience targeting for you - and the same is true for PPC ad offerings like Google, Bing and LinkedIn - they all use AI to dynamically create their audiences. So it might sound complicated, but programmatic advertising is probably what you’re already doing somewhere along the line.

The reason I’m bringing it up is the options for programmatic ads are pretty limitless. There are countless platforms and content delivery networks, you just need to find a combination that works for you. For instance, if you’re a content producer, then try out Taboola or Outbrain. It can help you with reach. Or if you want to target specific in-market audiences, then many programmatic platforms offer in-market audiences.

If you’re going to try out a new tactic, I suggest doing so in a controlled way. Drawing up a test protocol, set timings, budget and activity with a hypothesis on the results you want to see. That way, when you assess the results, you’ll know how it performed against the results you expected to see. You could also benchmark the results against other ad activity to see how it performed against other channels, but be mindful this is a small test against what might be a set of established channels and creatives.

Chatbots will become the norm for customer service

In one article I read, they stated that 85% of customer service will happen through chatbots by the end of last year. While I find that incredibly hard to believe, there’s no denying the rise of the chatbot. Another article claimed that the chatbot market is estimated to grow from around $700 million to $1.3bn by 2024 and that 47% of organisations are expected to have a chatbot by the end of this year, which would be a growth of around 92%. I wasn’t able to verify those numbers, but I think the direction of travel is pretty clear.

Previously we might have thought a chatbot was a nice-to-have web experience but in reality, didn’t provide much value. Because the AI behind a chatbot needs hundreds of thousands of instances in order to learn how to respond correctly and with value to the user. Customer support, resolving a query or finding information quickly are the top uses for a chatbot, which shows they need to be intelligent that just signposting users to content.

But how do you know if you need one? I think if you are a B2C organisation with queries coming in on a range of channels from customers, then it’s a no brainer to plan to get a chatbot up and learning in 2021 if you haven’t already. You’ll find simple queries can be resolved without the need of a human’s attention, which will save you time and money. In a B2B instance, it’s more tricky but I think there is value in a chatbot that can signpost resources, book follow up calls or set calendar events for demos. One of the survey results I read said that customers expect businesses to be open and respond 24/7, which isn’t realistic unless you’re a global organisation, so a chatbot could be a good solution to that. But a word of caution - an out of the box solution that is untrained will be as much use as a toddler when conversing with customers. Make sure you scope out the role of the chatbot up front - what will it be responsible for doing and where will a human have to take over. Starting simple can be a good way to test if it’s going to be a useful addition to your customer journey or not, but make sure it’s able to effectively handle queries it’s not able to answer by directing the customer to the right human to answer their question.

User experience becomes a ranking factor for Google

2021 is the year we see user experience becoming a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm. If you manage a website and you have a Google Search Console - which by the way you should absolutely have if you have any sort of website and it’s free - you will have seen the introduction of a section called ‘Core Web Vitals’. There are three factors that make up the core web vitals - loading speed, interactivity and page stability. From May 2021, Google will combine real life user experiences with factors it already considers about a page - mobile-friendly, https secure, safe browsing and no intrusive interstitials - this means things that pop up on the way to a user getting to their destination page. You can read about this on any of the SEO blogs, but I’ve linked to a piece on searchenginejournal.com that I think explains it really well.

As with lots of parts of on-site SEO, you will need a developer or whoever manages your website to work on this with you. Unless of course, you’re a multi-tasking genius, but for most you’ll need someone who can edit the code on your website to help you with this. Google has released a diagnostic tool that can help with this work - it’s called Page Speed Insights and there’s also Lighthouse within the Chrome browser, which gives you on the same info as Page Speed Insights, just visually displayed on the page in question. You can find it by right-clicking on any web page while in Chrome, click Inspect from the menu and then Lighthouse from the top menu that appears in the new window.

Don’t forget that when you’re working on a page, the end goal is to have an amazing user experience. So don’t sacrifice something that the users will notice just for the sake of the score. The same rules about optimising for search engines apply that have always done - user first, search engine second. Hopefully the two are not mutually exclusive and by focusing on the user, you’ll improve your score at the same time.

The death of third party cookies - Cookipocalypse

2021 is also likely to herald the death of third party cookies and the reason we care about this is that most consumer tracking is done through cookies. You can listen to the background on this topic in season 2 episode 1 but essentially, third party cookies are set by software other than the website being viewed, such as analytics and tracking programs we use like Google Analytics, to build up a profile of a user’s behaviour.

We know that Safari is already blocking third party cookies as standard, and has done since early 2020. Now this didn’t matter that much to many because Safari has less than a 20% browser market share worldwide. But Chrome, that’s around 65% of the browser market and Google said they would be phasing out third party cookies within two years… and that was about a year ago. Now, we don’t quite know what’s going to replace the cookie in terms of how we understand our user behaviours, but it’s my prediction that Google Analytics isn’t simply going to become obsolete, it’ll just evolve. But watch this space in 2021, I think we’ll find out more about how we need to adapt.

In the meantime, think about how well integrated your owned systems, like CRM, fulfilment centre, email marketing platform etc are with your website. If there’s anything you can do to reduce the reliance on third party cookies - then go for it. Just for clarity, first party cookies set by a website such as language specification or user authentication aren’t under threat, it’s just third party cookies. So I think the more integrated your systems can be, the more likely you are to avoid a big upheaval to retain your view of your customer behaviours.

And that’s all I have for you this time. Thank you so much for coming back to the Marketing Mindset Club. Normal service will resume shortly and as I said earlier, keep your ears open for my first guest slot where we’ll be talking about virtual and live-streamed events.

I’m so glad you’re still here and that you tuned in for these trend episodes. Let me know what you thought - did you find them helpful? I’d love to know - pop me a DM on instagram @MarketingMindsetClub. If you haven’t yet subscribed or left a review, please consider doing so if you’re getting value from the show - it really helps me out in my goal to grow this club. See you next time.

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