What a year last year, and 2021 has been so far! From the pandemic to protests and political unrest, who could have envisioned, at this time last year, what the future would hold? Despite numerous challenges, many marketers, professionals and entrepreneurs rose to face them – bringing work online, changing the ways they communicate, and setting the stage for advancement.
As many of us look forward to 2021 as a “fresh start”, what do marketing and operations look like? Following are the top five trends and must-do strategies we are seeing for executives and marketers in 2021.
1. Continued Focus on Customers and Content for Real People
Long gone are the days of key word stuffing and thin content. Today these are being replaced by more helpful strategies to enable customers to get the information they need. Those that are doing it right are, in turn, rewarded with increased online authority.
2021 will see organizations focus even more on addressing audiences’ needs for information in the manners and ways in which they are most likely to search. With usage of voice assistants (like Siri and Alexa) and increases in searches on “How do I …” and “Where can I…” along with Google’s ability to leverage semantics to determine context and intent continuing to rise, the most effective marketers will place a priority on understanding how to fill information voids and more effectively address customers’ needs.
Marketers will create communities to provide even more personalized communications with prospects and will look for opportunities to enable two-way conversations with them. They will continue to find new ways to be more engaging, clear and concise, and to mirror the language of their customers. The focus will be on writing about key topics and themes, in addition to using key words, using hierarchy, bulleted copy and subject matter knowledge to demonstrate authority. Content that defines the customer experience with case studies, stories, and reworked, user-generated content (such as comments on content that has originated from customers) will authentically tell the story of their brand.
Some analysts, such as Forrester, predict marketers will take their online presence a step further to assume greater responsibility for customer experience overall. Marketing and customer experience roles will blend. Top marketers will reinvent themselves to focus on customer experience across leadership, strategy, and operations, as loyalty and retention marketing grows by 30%.
In 2021, leading companies will make understanding customers’ changing needs and addressing how they might enhance their experience, throughout the customer lifetime, a priority. They will ask: how are my customers’ needs evolving; how does my company offer an edge in giving them what they need; how can we best illustrate the benefits we provide, and how can we do better?
2. Doing Good and Meaning It
From Nike’s support of Black Lives Matter, to Tom’s and Bomba’s giving back campaigns, and Honest Company being focused on safety—the past few years have seen the rise of socially conscious companies, and, even, the rise of sustainable investing.
88% of consumers want brands to be aligned with their social causes, according to a 2018 Forbes article. And Talkwalker and Hubspot agree that socially conscious audiences’ impact on brands and influence on other organizations is expected to have the greatest effect on social media in 2021. We expect to see increased diversity awareness and the rise of roles focused on it—with diversity officers, chief inclusion executives, and heads of equality, diversity, and inclusion—especially at larger corporations.
While not every company can base its business model as clearly on giving back as a Burt’s Bees or Ben & Jerry’s, businesses, overall, will be held to a higher level of accountability. Simply put, they will be expected to give back at some level.
Additionally, many will continue to seek out opportunities to humanize their brands by connecting with their communities and illustrating their social responsibility. However, to be effective, they will need to understand what is most important to their customers and employees, be transparent about those practices, and live those values.
In 2021, leading companies will examine their business practices and look for ways to improve upon them. They will ask: what issues are most important to our customers; what does our company represent; and how can we best help the communities in which we work?
3. Focus on Employee Experience (EX)
One other silver lining of the pandemic for many is the realization that remote work can be successful. Employees have responded positively, overall, to reduced commutes and increased flexibility, and many companies have also benefitted from reduced office space costs and increased talent pool options, productivity, and employee satisfaction. With 98% of respondents to Buffer’s 2020 “State of Remote Report” indicating they would like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers and tech leaders like Twitter, Facebook, Slack, Zillow, and Shopify enabling employees to work from home (WFH) indefinitely, the trend is likely here to stay in one form or another.
But while many employees cite WFH and remote work as benefits, working remotely can also be challenging. “Collaboration and communication” and “loneliness” tie, at 20% each, for “biggest struggle with working remotely” in Buffer’s “The 2020 State of Remote” survey. And while Forrester agrees that remote work will flourish in 2021, it also acknowledges the threat of employee burnout from managing prolonged, intense levels of productivity since the beginning of the pandemic. Effective communication strategies still need to be implemented by many businesses—as less than one-third currently conduct employee experience surveys quarterly, while the same amount adopt voice-of-the-employee programs—the firm says.
The term EX (or employee experience)—highlighting the importance of addressing employee needs to deliver the best workplace and, hence, customer environment—has recently gained increased attention. EX is expected to become even more important to keep employees engaged, as fatigue sets in during the new year.
In 2021, leading companies will make efforts to better understand evolving employee challenges and needs and will develop programs that address them. They will ask: how are employees faring in working remotely; what are their biggest concerns; how can we address these and help to unify them around the company’s objectives?
4. Focus on Web, Digital, and UX
As many continue to WFH and while events and aspects of everyday communication continue to be brought online, companies’ online presence and user experience will only continue to grow in importance.
More than 50% of people say they will not purchase from a company with a poorly designed mobile site. Additionally, over a third of smartphone users say they will go to a competitor if they can’t find what they are looking for, according to Think With Google.
Simultaneously, having the right content and tone are especially important given the rapid change of life. Topics that were popular only a few months ago, pre-pandemic, to those throughout the differing phases of it, have changed drastically. Companies that had web sites built before this time are often surprised at how quickly information is obsolete or the tone it used no longer supports their customers’ needs. Where before a content review, and possible refresh, might have been recommended once every six months or even annually, we are now recommending once a quarter. More content (as well as fresh content throughout any given month) is needed for search engines to crawl and rank sites higher.
In addition to content, Google is also looking at user experience (including interactivity of content, mobile-friendliness, content organized in an intuitive way, and load times) in determining web site rankings, with its Core Web Vitals assessing these signals.
In 2021, leading companies will make continually updating and refreshing their sites and content a priority. They will ask: are we addressing our customers’ evolving needs for information; are we striking the right tone; and are we making it easy for prospects to find the information they need and to interact with our company in an easy, intuitive way?
5. Ensuring Transparency and the Rise of PR
In 2020, with the rise in discourse, polarization, and threats of “fake news,” consumers regularly took to scouring the internet, private sources, and social media, in addition to looking to traditional media. They shared videos and moments, feedback on brands, and political and societal views with friends on TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social platforms.
CEOs and CMOs also realized the importance of communicating clearly throughout the pandemic. Many stepped up with strategies on policies and regular updates surrounding Covid-19. Others, like Adobe and CDW, continued to leverage their own industry-specific digital publications.
As the media landscape continues to become more crowded, brands will seek out new ways to have a greater voice on their sites and social. They will also look to public relations to maintain relationships with target audiences and opinion leaders, including the media. The PR market is expected to grow from about $64 billion in 2018 to over $93 billion in 2022. And PR will continue to be elevated as essential (38% of PR professionals report to the CEO [JOTW], and more than half of executive teams are briefed on PR weekly or more frequently [Muck Rack]).
2021 will see more companies create narratives to strategically amplify their strengths. To do this, they will rely heavily on PR advisors adept in business strategy, positioning, and storytelling. Outside firms can provide added perspective and context to help hold brands accountable and to live up to credos, as well as to pivot as necessary. They will help organizations stay on the cusp of industry trends, monitor customer and competitor sentiment. PR professionals will help companies take control of the conversation by responding quickly and honestly to manage reputations during these challenging times that make honest, straightforward communications absolutely essential.
Leading companies will examine their strengths and weaknesses, as they assess opportunities, examine the transparency of their practices, and look for ways to best promote their organizations. They will ask: what do we stand for; how are we truly unique; how can we capitalize on our strengths, and ensure we represent what we say we do?
What are your top PR challenges for the New Year? We would love to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Hilary McCarthy, Public Relations Director, Clearpoint Agency, Hilary@clearpointagency.com