5 Big Positive Digital Transformation Trends for 2021

There are plenty of reasons to be glad to see the back of 2020, and plenty of reasons to look forward to 2021. In the world of digital marketing, too, the future looks bright.

The coronavirus pandemic brought online technology to more people, as we all adjusted to working and socialising and teaching our children from home. And, just as there was the sense that people began to rethink their values and remember what’s really important to them, so do social values and sustainability feature high on the digital agenda next year.

Here are the trends we think will dominate in 2021.

Trend 1 – Coming around again: the rise of re-commerce

According to Thredup’s 2020 resale report, the secondhand market will reach $64bn in value by 2024. Resale, where people sell their pre-loved possessions, will overtake the traditional model of donating and buying goods at thrift stores.

The second-hand trend has been given a push by the COVID-19 crisis. Many consumers have had to tighten their belts because their finances have been affected. Others will have found themselves rethinking their buying habits out of a shift in their values. Climate change and the waste and pollution that comes from over-consumption are issues that have been growing more urgent since well before the pandemic arrived.

Younger generations, especially, care about these issues, and they seek out brands that have found ways to “close the loop” – keep things out of landfill by recycling and re-using, and use the earth’s resources in a more responsible, less wasteful way.

Brands that know this and are embracing it include flat-pack furniture giant IKEA, which recently launched a ‘take-back’ service that allows customers to bring their products back to the store to be resold, in return for vouchers. We think more brands will devise similar schemes in the year to come.

Trend 2 – Brands that live their social values

To succeed in 2021 and beyond, brands will need to think about what their social values are and work out how to express them in an authentic way.

The consumers of today care deeply about the world, the planet and society, whether it’s LGBTQ rights, gender equality, anti-racism. If you don’t have a clear stance on these issues as a brand, you need to start having one and make sure everyone knows about it. Not least because, according to this study, brands that are the most ‘meaningful’ see their content KPIs soar – overall impressions reaching 80% compared to 42% for the brands that are least meaningful in consumers’ eyes.

But before you go jumping on the social value bandwagon, remember that Generation Z not only demands that you are ‘woke’. But they’ll also find you if you’re just paying lip service or worse, being hypocritical. And they are very good at spreading the news on social media. You need to live your values, not just talk about it. Brands regularly get busted if, for example, they profess to care about diversity but their boardrooms look very white and male.

Transparency, honesty and authenticity are the secrets to successful purpose marketing. More brands will get on board with this in the coming year.

Trend 3 – Too cool for school: personalised online education

If you were to look for silver linings in the year of the pandemic, one would be the great strides that were taken by online learning. With schools shut and lecture halls empty during lockdowns, remote classrooms became the new normal. And adults with more time to kill discovered that you could learn everything – from languages to cookery skills to chess and playing the ukulele – on the internet, whether through live-streamed classes, distance learning apps, Zoom sessions or YouTube.

Online learning became more accessible and accepted in 2020. And in 2021 it will continue to develop and adjust to the requirements of students, young and old. Trends in the online education space will include micro-learning, where lessons are broken down into easy-to-digest chunks (in the style of language-learning app Duolingo), and gamification, where lessons are fun, interactive and more akin to playtime than schooltime.

The future of e-learning, most notably, is that it will be ever-more personalised. Your location, device, and time-zone will be immaterial as you will be able to create a data-informed, education plan tailored to your own learning style and preferences.

Trend 4 – Listen up: voice will rule the household

As voice technology becomes more advanced, accepted and trusted, we predict it will begin to replace touch as the search method of choice over the next year.

In the coming year, more of us will have, or think about getting, an extra member of the family. And it’s one who will hang on your every word and follow every command.

The onward march of voice assistants, such as Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa, is showing no signs of slowing down. According to this study, more than 50% of UK families see their voice assistant as ‘another family member’. Also, 90% say they expect to keep using voice technology at either the same level or higher.

This trend has been driven, in part, by the coronavirus pandemic. Younger people, in particular, have become used to smart speakers as their main source of news and entertainment during lockdowns. Moreover, savvy brands have seized the opportunity to provide them with voice apps.

Voice technology will get even more sophisticated over the coming years, and consumers will become more accepting of it. We predict that voice could begin to replace touch as the go-to search method.

Trend 5 – Brands will have to up their game

For savvy brands, games are a particularly attractive platform for connecting with customers. Marketers can engage with large, targeted, hyper-focused audiences and the creative possibilities go far beyond just ads. Gamers can dress their avatar in Gucci, Louis Vuitton or a host of other fashion brands thanks to a type of product placement, known as “skinning”. Watch as more businesses add gaming into the marketing mix over the next year.

The world of gaming has long been free of its image of the sad teenager (usually male) in their bedroom with only their video console for company. Gaming today appeals to a much broader demographic and, far from being the realm of the lonely. And it has become the new social network.

The most popular games these days are virtual spaces where people can hang out with their friends, and make new ones. Take the hugely successful multiplayer Fortnite. Gamers go there to collaborate, to chat, actually make games for each other, and even attend events. DJ Marshmello’s concert, hosted on Fortnite last year, attracted 10 million viewers.

For brands, games present an irresistible marketing opportunity. They provide an already-engaged, hyper-focused, targeted audience, and the creative possibilities are almost limitless. Simple ads are old-school – think sophisticated product placement, like ‘skinning’ where fashion brands ‘dress’ avatars with luxury clothes.

We think this kind of in-game marketing will burgeon in the next year, as more brands get their game on.

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