It goes without saying, truly, but this year has been rough. There is no overstating how radically the COVID-19 pandemic has altered virtually every aspect of our lives.
This past year has forced brands and consumers to engage in previously unforeseen ways — minimizing amassed crowds and in-person interactions.
Multinational corporations, small family-owned businesses and everything in between have all had to adapt from one extent to the other in order to survive these unprecedented times.
However, this new reality has jump-started a new era of business and consumer relationships, interaction, and engagement. A new era which has rapidly been building over the last ten years.
While the transition to a digital-first marketing world has been a decade in the making, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical importance that businesses large and small have an active and engaged digital presence.
A solid digital infrastructure.
Going into the new year, it is absolutely vital that advertisers take the time to assess their current digital presence while simultaneously planning ahead for the possibilities on 2021’s horizon.
Renovating the foundation
A recent study by Hook Agency discovered that, even in 2020, many advertisers were still behind in having a strong digital foundation — i.e. mobile-optimized websites, paid search strategies, and woefully under-performing conversion rates.
While digital marketing and advertising capabilities have been rapidly developing over the last few years, many businesses still lack a solid digital foundation necessary to take full advantage of more advanced digital marketing strategies. Meaning that these advertisers have been missing out on untold potential reach, engagement, and — ultimately — sales.
Revisiting the fundamentals is necessary for any advertiser wanting to make the most out of 2021. And the first step is to sit down with your digital marketing experts and ask the following:
- When was the last time your website was updated?
- Is it optimized for mobile viewing?
- Are all of your search engine listings up-to-date?
- Are your social media pages fully listed?
- Do you have a cohesive social media content plan in place?
Getting these basics taken care of now will situate your brand to capitalize on this year’s upcoming trends and emerging technologies.
Google My Business
While we’re on the subject of upcoming trends, Google My Business (you know, that essential, yet powerful, tool for local businesses that we showcased earlier this year) has not only continued to improve upon existing features but is also slated to include newer capabilities to its platform.
A key feature expected to become a cornerstone of any GMB listing this coming year is Attributes.
Attributes have allowed businesses to list specific details relative to their business which consumers may be curious about prior to contacting.
Attributes may range from accessibility accommodations to payment options to whether the establishment was family-friendly or not.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how crucial accurate and up-to-date Attributes are for businesses. For instance, what kinds of payment and pick-up options are available; do restaurants offer curbside; delivery or dine-in; what specific mask and social distancing measures are in place and so on.
Attributes are only going to grow in importance in the coming year, soon to become integrated with overall SEO.
For businesses with lacking Attributes in their GMB listings, Google will auto-fill with user-based details.
As consumers continue to rely on digital engagement, Attributes are going to be even more critical in setting your business apart from your competitors.
Another upcoming addition to the GMB platform is Google Guarantee. This will allow businesses to obtain an exclusive certification for their GMB listing.
This certification badge will not only result in more advantageous search listing placement but will also lend an air of legitimacy to one’s brand.
Think about it, as a consumer looking to make a purchasing decision between two brands, would you not feel more inclined to trust the one with a certified Google badge?
Of course, you would.
Google Guarantee is going to be a huge part of GMB in 2021 so start thinking about it now.
While Google has allowed for businesses to utilize short pieces of video for their GMB listings, they have recently opened the platform up for video conferencing.
Incorporating external software programs like Google Meet, Skype, and Zoom, GMB has allowed for a plethora of options for businesses to utilize virtual face-to-face conferencing between themselves and their customers.
Particularly in response to in-person restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, video integration within GMB can allow for online appointments, classes, estimates, and other possibilities.
Integrated video will bring a level of personality to your GMB listing that your competitors could be missing out on.
Yet, another opportunity for your brand to stand out in 2021.
Continuing the shift away from traditional
The ways in which society consumes media has been quickly migrating from traditional mediums to digital platforms over the past ten years. While the change has occurred relatively quickly, the COVID-19 pandemic has rocket-launched this digital transition and has laid bare the fact that traditional marketing efforts are no longer relevant.
The era of traditional means of marketing is close to over and 2021 may be the year the digital-first paradigm becomes the mainstay — the year the digital transition is complete.
The biggest takeaway from 2020: there is no going back to normal.
Normal has changed.
As with most of 2020, going into 2021 the facilitation of communications and transactions will be mostly, if not exclusively, mediated through digital platforms.
Businesses have relied heavily on their digital presence and infrastructure, not traditional media, in order to engage with their customers in real-time.
That being said, it is important to fully invest in your digital presence.
Now is the time to schedule a meeting with your digital marketing experts to assess your marketing budget for 2021 and ensure that your digital infrastructure is a top priority.
Retaining a majority of your marketing budget in continued traditional media efforts could prove to be a vital mistake going into 2021.
Pandemic or not, certain digital technologies had been slowly growing in popularity and influence and were set to become hot trends at some point.
Well, the pandemic has brought about that point sooner rather than later. And while some of these emerging tech trends took on new-found importance in 2020, they are sure to boom in practicality and popularity in 2021.
Artificial intelligence is here. It powers much of what occurs behind the scenes of some of our favorite websites such as Amazon and Netflix to provide us recommendations of what to buy or which shows we’d like to watch next.
It hasn’t been some person stuck in a cubicle 24/7 personally shooting suggestions at you — it’s AI at work.
But dynamic algorithms designed to offer personalized recommendations and suggestions are just the tip of what AI-based capabilities can do for a brand’s digital success in 2021.
AI is also expected to play a larger role in existing SEM and other data-driven campaigns, which will be able to more accurately and quickly adapt and tailor digital campaigns. These capabilities will take the burden of scouring and analyzing periodic metric reports off of your digital marketing experts, allowing them to focus on larger projects such as video production or crafting content for social media.
There is certainly more AI will allow for in the coming year, and now is the time to start thinking of how AI can be incorporated into your business’ 2021 strategy.
Text message marketing
While the ability to send text messages to customers isn’t exactly a recent revelation, during the COVID-19 pandemic advertisers began to adopt text messaging (SMS) as a viable means to communicate with their customers.
Simple things such as payment reminders, transaction confirmations, and appointment reminders became much more familiar in 2020. Now, looking ahead into the new year, there is an entire host of possibilities SMS marketing could hold.
Drew Wilkinson at Simpletexting elaborates upon the many ways SMS marketing is going to become a big deal in 2021.
As advertisers seek both to capitalize on the contact information of current customers and continue to provide contact-less, yet instant, communication with them, SMS marketing will become one of 2021’s emergent trends.
Augmented and virtual (mixed) reality
As mixed reality has really taken off in the last few years, particularly in the gaming arena, advertisers have been exploring the additional uses such technology could yield for brands.
And, as expected, the pandemic has forced advertisers to think of mixed reality capabilities in new and innovative ways.
Market sectors ranging from tourism, education, non-profit, medical, and even retail have all been experimenting over the past year with ways to integrate mixed reality into their engagement approaches.
Mixed reality predicted trends for the coming year should excite any business owner seeking to make the most of this burgeoning technology.
Nobody was ready for an economic-halting pandemic and few were prepared to handle the challenges which we all were forced to face in 2020. Many, however, have adapted and some have done so ingeniously.
As we have come to accept this new reality, there is much to be excited about for the upcoming year.
Despite the changes this pandemic has caused to our day-to-day life, virtual technologies are in place for businesses to handle and make the most of every customer interaction.
Now is the time to meet with your digital marketing experts to get your 2021 plan in place and ensure that you have the advantages over your competition.
Adam Mahan is a contributor to the ThriveFuel blog. Adam has 15 years of experience in digital telecommunications and media, working with Fortune 500 companies as well as digital marketing agency start-ups.