Digital Marketing and Advertising in 2021: Let’s Turn the Page

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It’s finally time to turn the page on 2020. And what better way to do it than to consider five digital marketing and advertising trends we think will grip our attention in 2021? 

5 Digital Marketing and Advertising Trends To Pay Attention to in 2021 

After a grueling year that all of us would rather forget, we’re all thankful to start anew. Wed all like to flip a switch and live in a world where COVID never happened. But the reality is the pandemic and the shifts in consumer behavior it created aren’t going away just because we threw out last year’s calendar.  

Brands and businesses will continue to operate and innovate in a world changed by a lack of in-person interaction and increased use of video conferencing, AR, remote work and online shopping (the smartest place to advertise your brand through the summer might still be the side of a delivery truck, if it weren’t already claimed by UPS, FedEx, Amazon or WalMart!). 

Still, the pros at OBI Creative pulled out their crystal ball and glimpsed five digital marketing and advertising trends to which businesses should pay attention this year. Capitalize smartly on these trends to make authentic connections with consumers and execute profitable campaigns.  

#1 – Prepare for a Cookie-less 2022 


A big change is coming in 2022. In order to be ready for it, brands must change their search and PPC ad strategies now. Last January, Google announced its web browser, Chrome, will stop supporting third-party cookies in 2022. Safari and Firefox have already phased them out, but everyone knows that Google is the 300-pound gorilla in the room. After all, it accounts for more than half of all global web traffic. Marketers have used cookies for years to track website visitors, collect data that improves ad targeting and to properly attribute affiliate marketing leads to appropriate producers.  

What does the elimination of third-party cookies mean for brands that rely on search and PPC ads to generate leads? Google says they’re implementing this change to give users greater privacy, transparency, choice and control over their data; however, it also recognizes how dependent the online advertising industry is on them.  

AnnMarie Fereday, OBI Creative Media Director of Planning and Activation, says to understand how Google’s cookie ban will affect them, brands should understand what’s going away, and what isn’t.  

“Google has said it isn’t banning all cookies. First party cookies that track basic data about your own website visitors aren’t going anywhere. Google can’t stop contextual advertising or traditional advertising, which is still highly effective, particularly as part of an integrated campaign with an inbound marketing strategy,” she says. “Social media is still a very profitable arena for highly targeted ads. Brands should start thinking now about moving to a more generalized digital marketing approach through Google.” 

Fereday says that while you might not be able to re-target a 27-year-old woman browsing for yoga pants with your latest fashions, an activewear brand could still place ads on sites that younger female yoga enthusiasts are likely to visit.

“It’s important to use all the tools in our belts as marketers and constantly assess our strategy to ensure we aren’t over-leveraged in any one area or relying too heavily on one tactic to generate sales.”

#2 – Go Back to Brand Identity Basics  


In its 2021 global marketing trends report, Deloitte lists purpose as the foundation upon which brands must build to be successful this year. They argue, and we agree, that “organizations that know why they exist and who they’re built to serve are uniquely positioned to navigate unprecedented change.” 

This makes a lot of sense, especially when you think of a brand like the living, collective organism it represents,” says Mary Ann O’Brien, OBI Creative founder and CEO. When the foundation shifts beneath your feet, the safest place to be is on solid ground. Consumers saw this during the pandemic and will remember it when things go back to normal. Brands that gave back in big ways and small will be trusted with shoppers’ disposable income in the months and years ahead.  

Brand purpose is engaging, and more important, it’s attractive. Crocs’ “Free Pair for Healthcare” program gave people wanting a comfortable pair of footwear a reason to choose them. The campaign generated 9,830 news stories and increased mindshare for Crocs. Nearly 80% of respondents in Deloitte’s survey recalled incidents of brands positively responding to COVID-19.  

If you aren’t crystal clear about your brand identity, it could be time for a rebrand. Or at a minimum, voice of the customer and voice of the employee research. 

#3 – Incorporate Keywords Into Your Instagram Feeds and Reels 


Instagram is now searchable with keywords instead of hashtags. In light of its move to create Shop and Reels tabs, it only makes sense to give users more ways to find what they’re looking for, faster.  

Like any good brand, Instagram wants to remain relevant and keep pace with consumer intent. It hadn’t updated its home screen in a while; video has become an essential communication medium. Without it, brands cannot effectively connect with the majority of consumers.  

“If your brand is only using hashtags to be discovered by users on Instagram, this is the year to incorporate search phrases and keywords people are typing in to explore your content,” says Christian Stillman, OBI Creative SEO and Content Strategist. “If you’ve been resisting the TikTok phenomenon, now is the time to embrace it in its grown-up cousin, Instagram Reels, the new hub for short-form videos.”  

The Shop tab will feature shoppable videos, Facebook Pay and new product collections. The addition of both tabs is designed to make it easier for users to find what they want on Instagram and go to it immediately.

Bottom line: Embrace your inner videophile. Look for natural intersection points for your products and culture with the burgeoning audience there.  

#4 – Embrace Everyday Influencers 


Like so many other things, the coronavirus pandemic upended influencer marketing. Even after the worst passes and we live in its shadow, influencer marketing won’t go back to the way it was before 2020.  

The pandemic sped up changes that were already underway, including: 

  • A move toward unfiltered content.
  • The rise of “everyday influencers” through short-form video.
  • More traditional industries, like banking & finance, incorporating influencer marketing into their budgets.

“Everyday influencers are what they sound like,” says Kasie Wilcox, OBI Creative Social Media Manager, “people who have built a passionate following on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok by sharing content that followers care about and pay attention to. Instead of Kim Kardashian, think Ashley Eckstein or Jacob True.”  

These power players aren’t VIPs or celebrities, but they aren’t advocates or customers either. They’re in the middle. They actively post to their growing community. And they want to partner with brands when a good fit exists between the brand and the values their communities share. The best news — they’re more affordable than macro influencers, which makes them a perfect fit for brands trying to stretch marketing dollars. 

Unsurprisingly, marketing budgets have shrunk, leaving less money to spend on influencer marketing. At the same time, influencers (who also have a bottom line to manage) are less likely to partner with brands for free. Even with financial restrictions in place, influencer marketing can be an effective way to generate awareness of and affection for your brand. 

Influencers can generate creative for much less than the cost to produce a large-scale ad. And consumers are turning to brand advocates on social media to fill their social media-saturated days. During the fourth quarter of 2020, the most consumed influencer content included how-to tutorials, memes and humorous content, 15- to 60-second videos, photos and reviews. 

Leave room in your marketing budget for influencer collaborations on YouTube. These collaborations can be an incredibly effective way to reach Gen Z consumers. Nearly 80% of them watch video content on YouTube at least once a week. Finally, evaluate whether or not it makes sense for your brand to have a presence on TikTok. While the answer may be no, you owe it to yourself to fully explore the possibility. With Instagram Reels up and running, if TikTok is too risky for your brand, take a long look at Instagram instead. 

#5 – Improve Your Digital Storefront 


If you’re a retailer and want to survive 2021, you will have to adapt your digital marketing and advertising strategy. Your new strategy should emphasize localization and place priority on the digital experience you deliver to customers. In addition to every marketing trend already discussed, focus on improving your digital storefront. Your online storefront should be easily discoverable through social media channels, run fast, accommodate exploration and delight through fulfillment. 

That last piece is critical, especially for brick-and-mortar retailers going mostly digital this year. The sale isn’t over when the customer pays. It ends when your product is delivered (flawlessly and sooner than expected) in your customer’s hands. Amazon has changed the game — not just for e-commerce but for fulfillment for every brand. After you deliver your product, continue to engage and delight customers with smart inbound marketing campaigns. 

With any luck, 2021 will bring better fortunes for all of us, including digital marketing and advertising. If you need any assistance with brand identity research, influencer marketing or crafting beautiful, effective creative campaigns, connect with OBI Creative. We’d love the opportunity to help you grow this year.