At one time, artificial intelligence, data-driven marketing and voice search engine optimization (VSEO) were ambitious concepts bordering on the ridiculous. Today, these innovative digital marketing trends are among the top priorities for most business owners in 2021.
And why wouldn’t they be? After all, if your business has any intention of remaining competitive in today's online landscape, you must adapt to the rapidly evolving changes in digital marketing. As Brian Solis puts it:
“Each business is a victim of Digital Darwinism, the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than the ability to exploit it. Digital Darwinism does not discriminate. Every business is threatened.”
Make no mistake: We live in a time when technology marketing moves fast and consumer interests and behaviors are hard to predict. Marketers can no longer stick their heads in the sand and hope that educated guesses and the same old methods will work forever.
Read on to discover 42 digital marketing trends for 2021 that will help your business not just survive, but thrive in this age of innovation.
Bonus Trend: We built ClickFlow to help you monitor SEO trends on your own site—so you can rank higher, revive old content, and grow your organic traffic faster.
1) Artificial Intelligence
If you haven’t already realized it, 2020 may be the year that a lot of people wake up to the dominance of artificial intelligence (AI). It’s sure to be at the heart of global business and industry in the future – and it’s already taking over many simple jobs.
For example, Microsoft and Uber use Knightscope K5 robots to “patrol parking lots and large outdoor areas to predict and prevent crime. The robots can read license plates, report suspicious activity, and collect data to report to their owners.” You can rent these R2-D2-like robots for $7 an hour – which is less expensive than a human security guard's wage:
Just a couple years ago, Gartner analysts predicted that by 2020, AI technologies would be pervasive in almost every new software product and service – a prediction that Harvard Business Review seconded earlier in 2019.
According to Techgrabyte:
“Artificial intelligence is the biggest commercial opportunity for companies, industries, and nations over the next few decades” and “will increase global GDP by up to 14% between now and 2030,” which means that “AI latecomers will find themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage within the next several years.”
Here are the top reasons why organizations are adopting AI in their business:
AI can analyze consumer behavior and search patterns, and use data from social media platforms and blog posts to help businesses understand how customers find their products and services.
One exciting example of AI in practice is chatbots (more on that later). Mastercard created a Facebook messenger bot – which uses natural language processing software to decipher what the customer wants and respond as if it were a real person – to automate handling payments:
Artificial intelligence will soon be the driving force behind many services and, currently, we already see it implemented in such areas as:
Businesses adopting AI in 2021 will be able to cut staffing costs and accelerate growth, getting an edge over their competitors.
2) Programmatic Advertising
Programmatic advertising means using AI to automate ad buying so you can target more specific audiences. Real-time bidding, for example, is a type of programmatic ad buying. This automation is much more efficient and fast, which means higher conversions and lower customer acquisition costs.
It’s changing the face of digital advertising so swiftly that, according to eMarketer, 86.2% of digital display ads in the U.S. will be programmatic by 2020.
According to Irina Kovalenko of SmartyAds:
“Most search-driven manual advertising campaigns (even those performed with professional tools) take into account three or four targets: the keyword, time of day, and location. Such tools like programmatic demand-side platforms can use hundreds of targeting signals to individualize the advertisement and even target according to lifestyle or behavior habits when integrated with customer data platforms.”
Chatbots will continue to be an important part of digital marketing in 2021. This AI-based technology uses instant messaging to chat in real-time, day or night, with your customers or site visitors.
Surveys show that:
Chatbots will power 85% of customer service by 2020
Top benefits of chatbots are 24-hour service (64%), instant responses to inquiries (55%), and answers to simple questions (55%)
63% of respondents prefer messaging an online chatbot to communicate with a business or brand
By 2022, chatbots will help businesses save over $8 billion per annum
80% of businesses want chatbots by 2020:
Many customers prefer interacting with chatbots as they are responsive 24/7, give answers promptly, accurately recall your entire buying history, and never lose patience. These virtual assistants offer outstanding customer service by meeting customers’ expectations and automating repetitive tasks – which means that you can focus on more important work.
Many brands already use chatbot technology, including rideshare brand Lyft. You can request a ride from Lyft via chat (Facebook Messenger and Slack) or voice (Amazon Echo), and their chatbot will let you know the current location of your driver:
Passengers can use the app to choose the type of ride, make a request, track the location of the car, send friends a time estimate of their arrival, and make payment.
Other brands that are successfully using chatbot technology include Whole Foods Market, Fandango, Sephora, Staples, The Wall Street Journal and Pizza Hut.
4) Conversational Marketing With all that talk about chatbots, the reality of modern marketing becomes clear: it’s more conversational. People want it that way, and so brands are reacting. When consumers have a question, 82% want an “immediate” response.
Conversational marketing facilitates a one-to-one, real-time connection between marketers and customers: Unlike traditional strategies, this form of marketing is now available across multiple channels, allowing brands to meet customers on their terms: on the devices, platforms and time schedules that suit the customer best.
As per David Cancel, founder and CEO of Drift: “Today’s buyers expect to find what they’re looking for now, not later. As we prepare for the future, it will be more important than ever for businesses to be available across a broad spectrum of channels, and to make sure you’re communicating the way people prefer to communicate.” Ultimately, the primary goal of conversational marketing is to enhance the user experience through a feedback-driven model that fosters higher engagement and greater loyalty.
5) Personalization If you want to stand out in 2021, you need to personalize your marketing – and that means personalized content, products, emails and more.
63% of consumers are highly annoyed with generic advertising blasts
80% say they are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences
90% claim they find personalization appealing
Kevin George from EmailMonks asserts that “personalized, triggered emails based on behavior are 3x better than batch-and-blast emails.”
When you want to study examples of the power of personalization, it’s hard to overlook Netflix and Amazon, with their tailored recommended products or movie titles. Here are a few other companies that are successfully using personalization today:
EasyJet launched a data-driven email campaign that uses customers’ travel history with the airline to build personalized stories, which then suggest where they might like to travel next. About 12.5 million unique emails have been sent, which had a 25% higher click-through rate than non-personalized emails.
Cadbury’s created a personalized video campaign that matches a Dairy Milk flavor with users based on data from their Facebook profile, including age, interest and location. The campaign generated a 65% click-through rate and a 33.6% conversion rate, proving that the personal touch works.
Starbucks uses a gamified mobile app that draws on data like purchase history and location to get as personal as possible, allows customers to customize their drinks, and encourages further use with its rewards system – which skyrocketed their revenue to $2.56 billion:
6) Video Marketing Video marketing is one of, if not the, most important marketing trend today and likely for the next 5-10 years. These numbers show the importance of incorporating video into your digital marketing strategy in 2021:
70% of consumers say that they have shared a brand’s video
72% of businesses say that video has improved their conversion rate
52% of consumers say that watching product videos makes them more confident in online purchase decisions
65% of executives visit the marketer’s website and 39% call a vendor after viewing a video
Video is by far the most popular way customers want to learn about new products: And don’t just think YouTube. There are plenty of ways to drive higher engagement with your video marketing, as you can make a video post or start a live broadcast on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. One of the issues that marketers have faced in recent years is the growing shift to mobile devices. Those long-form sales pages and emails of yesteryear are fading fast because they’re simply too difficult to read on small mobile screens. However, video can present the same information in a format that works perfectly regardless of the device.
If your site includes video, it’s 50X more likely (50 times!) to drive organic search results compared to text. Why? Because people find video content more compelling, so Google pushes pages that include videos higher in the rankings.
One of the best things about video marketing is that it makes it easy to reformat your content. Imagine that you’ve recorded a video for your YouTube channel. Instead of just publishing it on YouTube, you could also:
Get it transcribed so you have a text version of the video
Publish the transcription on your blog under an embedded YouTube video for better rankings
Upload the raw video with the transcription as subtitles to Facebook (native Facebook videos get a much higher impression share and engagement than shared YouTube videos)
Turn the transcription into a standalone blog article with a short rewrite and addition of relevant stats and images
Rip the audio alone and use it as a podcast episode
Use video thumbnails in your email marketing campaigns and the word “video” in subject lines to increase open rates by 19%
Here are some other video marketing trends that are gaining more and more traction:
Live video is particularly popular with a large number of businesses who use it for interviews, product demos and behind-the-scenes glimpses of the brand, such as life in the office, how products are made, company events, etc.
1:1 video is when businesses or marketers create personalized video messages rather than make phone calls or send emails. With the decreasing cost of film equipment and increasingly high-quality smartphone cameras, this is easier than ever.
Video SEO. YouTube and other videos are displayed in the SERPs, so video optimization is becoming much more important – like using text overlays and closed captions, in addition to your description, title and file names. Check out this guide to learn more about YouTube SEO.
360-degree video content. This trend towards a more interactive experience is on the rise – just look for the circular symbol in the top left corner to start sliding the moving image left or right as it’s playing, like this 360˚ video from Hong Kong Airlines (香港航空):
7) Influencer Marketing Influencer marketing is a type of word-of-mouth marketing that focuses on using key leaders to amplify your brand message to a larger market. Influencers can be well-known celebrities, but more often they are Instagram or YouTube personalities with a huge niche following who can help spread the word about your business or product through their social channels.
Because influencer marketing is generally more authentic than corporate advertising:
63% of consumers trust influencers’ opinions of products much more than what brands say about themselves
58% of people have bought a new product in the past six months because of an influencer’s recommendation
For this reason, Iceland, a popular British supermarket chain, switched from ads with celebrities to a campaign that features real-life moms. Teaming up with YouTube community Channel Mum, it now works with a number of vloggers to promote its products in a more “authentic” fashion. And research shows that 35% of moms trust online videos like the one below more than traditional ads: Influencer marketing is not just a trend: A mediakix study predicts that the ad spend for influencer marketing could reach $10 billion by next year: Influencer marketing is also going to be affected by artificial intelligence. With each year, AI is making the process of finding the right influencers to partner with easier and faster. It’s helping identify those with better engagement, fewer fake followers, and a higher chance of generating a positive return on investment (ROI). In addition, artificial intelligence is transforming influencer marketing in the following ways:
Image recognition with ANN (Artificial Neural Networks)
Determining influencer performance with NLP (Natural Language Processing)
Predicting incentives with ANN
Determining an influencer's influence
Flagging posts that don’t follow disclosure guidelines
Elimination of fake engagements and spam bots
8) Social Messaging Apps If you think social messaging apps are just for sending emojis to your friends, take a look at these numbers:
1.3 billion monthly users are active on Facebook Messenger.
10 billion messages are sent between people and businesses on Facebook Messenger every month
WhatsApp has 1.6 billion active users and 55 billion messages are sent via every day
The top three social messaging apps – WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat – have more combined users than Facebook or YouTube
These statistics show the popularity of social messaging apps, and since people are spending more time messaging each other, it makes sense to market your company’s products and services where your potential customers are hanging out.
Social messaging apps can be very useful in sending messages to customers directly, as they allow personalization and add value to the user experience. In addition, people expect businesses to have a presence on messaging apps because it’s a direct and easy way to interact with them. In fact: 63% of customers are more likely to return to a company website that has live chat. Reasons for your brand to use messaging apps include:
Involve people in events
Regain potential customers
Provide support and assistance
9) Visual Search Visual search can take the user experience to a totally new level: People can upload an image to conduct a search and get more specific results. A) Pinterest Lens Not surprisingly, Pinterest has jumped on the visual search bandwagon. They came out with Lens, a visual search tool that allows users to take a photo of an item to find out where to buy it online, search for similar products or view pinboards of related items. As Marketing Land puts it, it turns your phone’s camera into a search bar: Since the launch of the beta version, Pinterest's Lens now recognizes 2.5 billion home and fashion objects, has inspired over 600 million searches on Pinterest’s mobile apps and browser extensions, and has seen a 140% uptick from launch day. Pinterest has continued to update its functionality:
They introduced Pincodes, a QR code-type technology that enables you to find inspiration while you're out shopping or flipping through your favorite magazines.
They launched Lens Your Look to take the guesswork out of outfit planning.
They partnered with brands like Samsung to bring visual search to its latest smartphones and Target to allow customers to search their catalog using related products they see in the real world.
They've fully automated Shop the Look, a feature that helps users buy products from companies that work with Pinterest, so you can, for example, buy a pair of jeans you see in a picture.
They launched a bunch of new tools to help merchants sell their products, including Catalogs, which lets anyone upload and convert their entire product catalog into shoppable Pins.
Make sure you are optimizing for visual search, because (not surprisingly) the top search categories for Lens are:
B) Google Lens And Pinterest is not the only one with visual search. Google Lens is a visual search engine by Google, which recognizes objects and landmarks through a camera app. Here's what you can do when you take a photo of the following items:
Apparel and home goods: Find similar products and where to buy them.
Barcodes: Use a barcode to find info about a product, like where to buy it.
Business card: Save the phone number or address to a contact.
Book: Get a summary and read reviews.
Event flyer or billboard: Add the event to your calendar.
Landmark or building: See historical facts, hours of operation, and more.
Painting in a museum: Read about the artist and learn more.
Plant or animal: Learn about species and breeds.
As CNet says, “Google Lens is turning into what Google Glass never was” when it comes to real-time augmented reality.
C) CamFind CamFind is another visual search mobile app which enables you to search for anything from your phone simply by snapping a picture.
Instead of typing queries into a search engine, you can directly search via images to find similar images, price comparisons, local shopping results, etc. You can also take a picture of a movie poster and CamFind will show you movie information, trailers, showtimes and local theaters. D) Bing Visual Search And with Bing Visual Search, you can search for a specific element within an image without having to go through all the current hoops.
For example, say you’re looking for kitchen decoration inspiration and an image attracts your attention. You click on a thumbnail result to get to the “Detail View.” The overall décor is great, but you’re particularly interested in that nice-looking chandelier. Wouldn’t you love to know where you can get one just like it? With Bing Visual Search, now you can. As per Social Media Today:
62% of Millennials are more interested in visual search capabilities than any other new technology
Images are returned for 19% of search queries on Google
There are over 600 million visual searches on Pinterest each month
Marketers can get the edge on competitors by jumping on the visual search trend in 2021 to draw customers and serve them the perfect product.
10) Micro-Moments A micro-moment is “An intent-rich moment when a person turns to a device to act on a need – to know, go, do or buy.” People generally make instant decisions within these four Micro-Moments: To take advantage of micro-moments in 2021, you need to be where consumers are searching for information in the moment – or, as Google puts it, marketers have to “be there, be useful, be quick.”
The growing popularity of micro-moments means that marketers must rethink the linear marketing funnel that follows a set path: awareness, consideration and decision.
In 2021 and beyond, the customer journey will be more dynamic and unpredictable, as it needs to respond to rapid changes in consumer desires. After all, in the mobile age, people have become accustomed to instant gratification. If they think or talk about something, they want to learn more, see more and buy more of it with just a few clicks of a button.
According to Mention: “When we act on our needs in the moment, our expectations are high and our patience is low. This makes the quality, relevance and usefulness of marketing more important than ever.”
To get the most out of micro-moments in 2021, you should:
Identify your consumers’ “I want to buy” moments
Be there in these moments of need
Deliver relevant content
Make it easy for them to make a purchase
Measure every moment that matters
11) Voice Search & Smart Speakers The increasing use of voice search has made it important for companies to rethink their digital marketing strategies in 2021. Consider these numbers:
50% of all searches will be via voice by 2020
55% of all American homes will own a smart speaker by 2022
72% of people who own voice-activated speakers say that their devices are used as part of their daily routines
Voice shopping is set to jump to $40 billion in 2022, up from $2 billion today
Global smart speaker shipments have almost trebled between Q1 2018 and Q2 2019, growing from 9.36 million units to 26.1 million units
Overall, people expect to be using voice search far more in the future: Voice search plays an important role in providing all the relevant information that people are searching for through audio content. AI is getting smarter and the number of errors made by voice assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google has reduced greatly.
As Digital Marketing Institute puts it: “Adopting a voice search strategy isn't just about remaining relevant – it’s also about creating a unique and optimized customer experience that will foster relationships and build brand loyalty.” Many brands are already including voice search in their digital marketing strategies to deliver value-based content effectively to their customers:
Patrón Tequila helps consumers access personalized cocktail recipes
Domino’s allows pizza-lovers to order from the comfort of their couch without having to pick up the phone or even place an online order
PayPal users can engage Siri to send money to friends, family or businesses
Nestlé created a skill that provides voice instructions as you cook
Campbell’s has a skill that helps hungry consumers choose and cook recipes
Google Assistant has 2,000 “actions” and Alexa has 30,000 “skills,” which are functions that allow these voice assistants to react very specifically to user commands and queries: And keep in mind that not only will more companies produce audio content in the hopes of gaining brand awareness (so you should, too), but ads are likely on their way next. That means that Alexa will tell you the answer to your question along with a “word from her sponsor.”
For all voice technology, remember to write in a conversational tone, focus on getting featured snippets on Google, and think about keywords that people will speak rather than type.
Optimizing for voice search is a great way to spread brand awareness, but how is that going to convert into sales? Well, in 2021, we’ll see more businesses try to tap into this potential, experimenting with new ideas to use smart speakers as a lucrative channel for driving sales.
Right now, Jetson is an early runner in the voice commerce space, allowing people to use their voice-enabled devices to make purchases: The key for companies to realize is that voice search isn’t another channel to force messaging and sales. Instead, marketers must develop a unique approach to consumer interaction, and this channel should be part of a broader, more connected brand experience.
12) Social Media Stories
First, Snapchat came out with the concept of “My Story,” then Instagram and Facebook stories were introduced, and then YouTube unveiled their own story format: Reels. To keep it all straight, here’s a social media stories timeline: Since these types of stories disappear after a set period of time, this is a great opportunity for marketers to make good use of FOMO (fear of missing out). The benefits of using social media stories include:
Increased brand awareness
Constant engagement with followers
Increased traffic to your web page
Opportunity to reach younger audiences
Get inspired by some of these ways to use social media stories:
Use polls within Instagram Stories
Add links to your social media Stories
Take advantage of Snapchat geofilters
Add location tags
Add mentions for other brands and your fans
Give live video a try when creating Stories
Invite followers to explore more with clear call-to-actions
13) Browser Push Notifications Push notifications are on the rise, with 85% of online stores using them in 2019. Consider these other stats:
At least twice as many people sign up for web push notifications compared to a newsletter.
Only 10% of the best email marketers can achieve a newsletter sign-up rate that matches the performance of web push.
6.4 hours is the average time that passes before the recipient opens a newsletter. In the case of web push, the recipient will see the message immediately.
The updates to the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) and stricter filters have dented the potency of email marketing. Moreover, the younger audience favors other methods of communication and prefers to deal with less touchpoints when engaging brands.
As part of the bid to engage users on multiple channels, browser push notificationsare something you will see more and more brands adopting in 2021 – and they are getting more sophisticated and personalized. In fact, using personalized push notifications increases conversions:
7% open rate for segmented push messaging compared to a 3% open rate for generic, broadcast messages (a 2x improvement)
54% of users convert from a segmented push notification, compared to only 15% for broadcast messages (a 3x improvement)
Notifications triggered by behavior are being used to re-engage people who have shown interest but failed to convert, and in recovering revenue from abandoned shopping carts: Notifications can even include images and CTAs to maximize conversion rates from such efforts:
14) Content Marketing Continues to Dominate SEO In November 2019, Google rolled out some major updates to its search algorithm. The updates included the new BERT system, which is designed to aid Google in its efforts to understand the natural language that people use in their search queries.
The advice from Google’s John Mueller is that “rather than chase the latest SEO trends, it’s more important to ensure a site has fast speeds, useful links, and well-written content.” In fact, content marketing is so important that 88% of B2B content marketers agree that creating content makes their audience view their organization as a credible and trusted resource: Stats from Content Marketing Institute:
Content marketing costs 62% less than outbound marketing and generates 3x as many leads.
Content marketing has lower up-front costs and deeper long-term benefits than paid search.
615 million devices now use ad blockers, which means your ads are not being seen by as many people.
Small businesses with blogs generate 126% more leads than those without blogs.
Content marketing rakes in conversion rates 6x higher than other methods.
With Google continuing to value well-researched, regularly updated articles, many leading businesses will continue to invest heavily in content marketing throughout 2020.
15) SEO A/B Split Testing Modern marketing is all about testing and analysis. By using A/B split-testing, you can isolate the variables in your campaign and easily identify which versions are driving the results you need. This form of testing offers marketers a methodical approach to making effective changes to their content.
Platforms like ClickFlow suggest pages with untapped SEO potential — a high-impression count but a low click-through rate (CTR) — which you can then improve to increase traffic, leads and, of course, conversions: ClickFlow lets you set a target CTR value, then it serves up pages along with a keyword report that lists the keywords that your page is already ranking for now. Better yet, it suggests valuable new keywords that you should target to get more traffic.
Inside the app, you make changes to title, meta description, title tag and body content, which are automatically reflected on your site: Choose your target CTR: Run the experiment for at least 15 days and ClickFlow will show you how many more clicks you’re getting — and the additional revenue you’re gaining from the enhancements.
SEO A/B split testing squeezes the most SEO juice out of your site and gives you insight into the variables that move the needle. With this strategy and the right tools, even a small budget can deliver a great ROI.
16) Social Commerce & Shoppable Posts With e-commerce and social media both growing at alarming rates, it’s no wonder brands are using the two together to maximize opportunities for sales.
In March 2019, Instagram unveiled Instagram Checkout, which lets users complete their purchase from within Instagram: E-commerce brands hope this will reduce the risk that customers will abandon their purchase because they have to switch apps or sign in to an unknown store.
By now you've heard that Instagram is hiding likes, and with all the fuss, you'd think that the photo-sharing app was on the decline. Think again.
Social media is integral to digital marketing, and visual platforms like Instagram are gold for marketers. Better yet, visual commerce is taking off as more consumers are willing to buy products through ads they see in their feeds.
Instagram reports that the platform has 1 billion users, and 90% of them already follow active shopping brands, with many visiting these profiles on a daily basis. So what better way to leverage this massive potential than by using shoppable posts? E-commerce brands can create and post interactive ads that allow users to click and shop with ease. Instagram believes this will make it easier for businesses to reach prospective new customers, as it will effectively shorten the sales funnel, giving consumers the instant access they desire.
17) Interactive Content Speaking of instant access, that brings us to one of the fastest-growing digital marketing trends in recent times: interactive content.
In 2021, we’re destined to see a shift from traditional text-based content toward dynamic, engaging content that offers users an immersive experience. For example, think about: