2021 Predictions: Marketers Will Rely Even More on Digital Tools

By Bridget Quinlan, EVP Marketing & Growth Strategy
Posted on:
December 18, 2020
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2021 should be unlike any other year, simply because it will follow 2020—a year that was consumed by a pandemic. With the expected global rollout of vaccines, the new year should, hopefully, mark the beginning of a shift to post-COVID-19 life.

For businesses, 2021 means reviewing how they survived a pandemic and determining what to carry forward as life—again, hopefully—slowly returns to normal. Marketers should view the new year as an opportunity to continue the successful practices and strategies that took hold in 2020 as a response to social distancing and a related increase in digital use. But they should also seize the chance to implement new ideas that might have seemed too bold in the past. 2021 should offer somewhat of a clean slate, so perhaps it’s the best time to consider bold, but smart, ways to market.  

Here are five such considerations to think about as you get ready to clink celebratory glasses for a new beginning:

After Covid, Finely-tuned Digital Marketing Will Remain a Focus

One of the long-held beliefs in B2B marketing is that face-to-face interaction—at big conferences, regional events, and customer roundtables—is by far the best way to generate brand awareness and sales opportunities. While this strategy has proved successful in the past, it is not future-proof, as evidenced by the pandemic. More than ever, digital marketing is the path of the future. This coming year, we’ll continue to see a significant and extended pivot to digital advertising in all marketing strategies, with appropriate attention paid to in-person efforts should social restrictions ease. The difference between 2020 and 2021 is whereas companies tried to limp by on haphazardly organized digital events during the first several months of the pandemic, this new year will bring about a concerted, genuine interest and investment in digital marketing strategies and engaging online events.  

B2B Marketers Will Begin to Think and Market Like B2C

Across industries, business-to-business (B2B) marketing strategies are lagging behind business-to-consumer (B2C) in their understanding of how critical it is to genuinely connect with people digitally—despite how much time the population spends online for work and personal purposes. B2B marketers often forget that they are speaking to a real person. This approach is evident in the formal, textbook-like marketing verbiage we see across all marketing channels. For B2B to be successful in 2021 and beyond, marketers need to look to B2C marketing for inspiration. B2B marketers need to begin engaging with potential customers as if they are real people and not dollar signs. The era of dehumanized marketing, even for “boring” B2B tech, is a bygone idea. The rise of online marketing coupled with the fact that 2021 will likely offer limited opportunities for in-person human interaction means that B2B marketers need to personalize and humanize their marketing strategies and messages.

AI Is No Longer a Competitive Advantage – It’s a Basic Competency Requirement

Data and the ability to use it effectively will be determining factors in who wins and who loses in 2021. In an increasingly competitive market landscape, AI is no longer optional. AI modeling allows organizations to capitalize on the massive amounts of data they are collecting, then use it to force technology to be more “human” by applying judgement to the data. By helping marketers make decisions about how best to engage with a prospect in a way that feels authentic and personalized, AI will play a critical role in organizations’ ability to make genuine human interactions.

The Gap Between Line-of-business and IT teams Will Narrow

Marketing and sales teams recognize the critical importance of using data to make business decisions – and are increasingly demanding access to that data. However, with a sharp rise in cyberattacks and the expectation that companies follow complex data governance laws, IT teams and CISOs have been tasked with locking data down to protect the privacy of customers, adhering with compliance laws, and protecting the organization against breaches. Oftentimes, these data security standards hamstring data-driven initiatives, but that is set to change in 2021. In the coming year, we’ll see stronger collaboration between business teams and IT, as more technical roles like data scientists, data analysts, and chief data officers bridge the gap between what the line of business wants and what IT needs. These roles can alleviate security issues by bringing a level of experience and understanding to the process of managing, normalizing, and properly securing data for AI, ML, and analytics initiatives.

The Market Will Embrace Data-Level Protection Technologies

As data becomes more ubiquitous, organizations are recognizing that while they cannot control the proliferation of data, they can control how they protect it. Siloed data protection strategies across disparate systems are outdated, inefficient, and risky—especially given that each technology offers varying levels of data protection and management access. Oftentimes, the management of data protection across various systems is so onerous it precludes companies from effectively using that data. The winning strategy in 2021 will be a cohesive, holistic approach to data protection that establishes a strong level of data confidence within the organization. Protection at the data level will ensure sensitive information is secured and that only the right people have access to it, regardless of where it resides.

With the rollout and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines still unknowable, businesses will have to plan for 2021 as if the social distancing norms of 2020 will carry through until the end of the year. Even if vaccines are efficiently distributed and work, giving people a renewed sense of normalcy, marketers still must reach out to customers with the digital tools that further personalize relationships and give them a better understanding of who they’re marketing to. They must also invest in data security technology that will allow them to innovate while protecting sensitive data. Innovation next year and beyond can happen only with secure data.

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