Top 17 Digital Marketing Trends for 2021: Predictions

Dave Smithbury
2nd December 2020

2020 has left many marketers scrambling to keep up with the changing tides. Like any major event, Covid-19 and the other events of 2020 have certainly shaped the digital landscape.

For example, who knew unprecedented would become the most hated word of 2020? Reading digital marketing trend articles for 2020 is a barrel of laughs. Predictions included AI, personalisation and focus on voice search. All of that was blown out of the water pretty quickly!

So, we’re looking back on 2020 to try and predict the digital marketing trends for 2021. Just don’t hold us accountable if it all goes wrong…


1. Digital experience

2020 went and did it. It really highlighted to those running brick and mortar stores that a high street or out of town presence just isn’t enough. The list of stores falling into administration this year is numerous and includes some big names like Monsoon, Victoria’s Secret and Debenhams.

But this taught us a lesson. And some have already taken it on board. Despite falling into administration early 2020, Cath Kidston bounced back with a digital-first approach.

So, for marketers in 2021, they should be working hard to be present online. Just take small business owners. They’re piling onto sites like Etsy to sell homemade products, and consumers are loving it. In fact, Etsy reported a 128% increase in growth year on year. 11% of their sales came from mask orders alone…

But remember, to get the most of digital marketing, you need to have strong reporting. That comes from tracking the right metrics. We outlined the 5 best KPIs for tracking your digital marketing.


2. Shopping local and sustainability

While we’re on the subject of Etsy, their community of small and independent brands are often highly concerned with sustainability.

Online, consumers are calling out influencers buying from fast fashion brands. And globally, we’re seeing a retail shift to more sustainable choices. Big businesses are taking note. PepsiCo are uniting beverage brands to push their recycling campaign, #RecycleAtHome.

Business Insider conducted a case study recently with Reformation. They found a 2019 survey led by Hotwire that highlighted 47% of internet users worldwide had ditched products and services from a brand that violated their personal values. Protecting the environment topped that list.


3. Brand activism

Brand activism has been at the forefront of a lot of marketing teams’ minds both this and last year. The US election in 2020 saw a huge number of brands encouraging voter turnout. Nike, who have historically used their brand voice, called on Americans to use their voice to create change with a video campaign.

For the Black Lives Matter movement, brands went even further to show solidarity. Nike, again, created a video campaign following the murder of George Floyd. This is something we can expect to continue into 2021. Especially as Gen-Z becomes a bigger spending power, we can expect to see them aligning themselves with brands that reflect their personal values.


Of course, using brand activism can be tricky. The political or social stands you take as a business need to align with your ethos and company values. You don’t want to make a mistake like Pepsi.


4. Cancel culture

One big concern and growing trend is the cancel culture. Originally, cancel culture applied specifically to individuals. But increasingly, we’re seeing it affect businesses.

Post-lockdown, there has been fervent activity from online consumers to boycott businesses who they believe handled the pandemic poorly. Our moments online are available for all to view, forever. And how you handle situations as a brand are constantly being scrutinised.

Jo Malone recently saw its name alongside the #cancelled hashtag after facing accusations of racism regarding their first male brand ambassador, John Boyega.


In 2021, ensure your brand values are clear, and monitor your digital communications. Cancel culture can be costly and hard to bounce back from.


5. Strong sense of purpose

Alongside clear brand values that you can use to create topical and compelling content, you need to be very sure of your purpose and niche in the marketplace.

Many businesses have faced difficulties in 2020. Going into 2021, those organisations that know who they are and why they’re built to serve are the ones who will be uniquely prepared to navigate these, wait for it, unprecedented times.


6. Relationships matter

In 2021, consumers will want more human connection than ever before. Just think how many people have been online, alone at home, in 2020. These people are seeking connection, and brands are just as well placed to offer that as anyone else.

And, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that your customers matter.

Have you bought food from a local business just to help them out? These are the types of customers every business is looking for, especially as we go into 2021. Because who knows what it could bring!


Seeking relationships online isn’t hard. Social media is the first step. Open up your digital channels for two-way conversations and be surprised at what it gleans.

And remember, while channels that offer conversations might be less of a priority, you might be surprised by their impact on your business. Without understanding where your leads are coming from, you won’t be able to maximise your channel marketing. Here are 6 ways you can track your marketing leads.


7. Community

The power of social media really does know no bounds. In 2021, that won’t be any different.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that social media is a big part of our daily lives. In January of 2020, 3.8 billion people were reported to be using social media.

July 2020 saw a 10% increase in social media usage compared to July 2019. But remember, people are escaping to social channels for fun content. In fact, 42% of Gen Z say they want fun content on social media.

The power of community knows no bounds and it’s one to have on your list for 2020. While organic Facebook might be dead, groups aren’t. Meanwhile, Instagram is bringing out new ways to interact with your audience everyday.

Use your channels to create an open community. You might be surprised how it can work in your favour in the long-run.


8. TikTok

We can’t talk about social media and not mention TikTok. In the first quarter of 2020, there were a whopping 315 million downloads of TikTok (despite a potential ban in the US). It has 800 million active users worldwide, and that includes brands.

Of course, jumping on the TikTok bandwagon is not going to be for everyone. But, if you want to reach a new, and global audience, then it certainly is a viable option.

Sometimes it’s cringy, sometimes it’s funny. But regardless of which, it’s certainly addictive. And as more and more brands jump in on the act, think ASOS, Nike, Later and Canva, TikTok works to drive more motive for brand accounts. In fact, TikTok merged with Shopify in late 2020 to allow social commerce directly in the app.

In fact, this video below (done completely organically!) saw the juice brand see a total clean out on the shelves.


9. Social commerce

Amazon drove the demand for e-commerce but now it’s going one level higher. Social commerce is essentially bringing the ‘buy now’ button direct within your key social apps.

Instagram was already offering product placement for ecommerce businesses. These would open a link direct in your Instagram session, to allow you to view and buy the product.

Now, posts, feeds, comments, chatbots, videos, forums or other means, depending on the social platform, can prompt social commerce.

While social commerce was primarily for Instagram and Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat and WhatsApp are also catching up with social commerce features. By 2021, we imagine commerce options will be common in all major social media platforms.

P.s. not sure how to best measure your marketing channels? We wrote a handy eBook to help you get the most out of each and every channel!

Guide to measure your marketing


10. Zero-click searches

Let’s move away from social media for a minute. Search is still one of the major platforms for businesses to drive new customers. But, in 2021, we’re going to see further building on a current trend.

Zero-click searching.


We’ve already got snippets, ‘people also asked’, and smart results pages from Google dependent on intent. In 2021, this will continue to increase and be a point of contention for many businesses as search continues to shift to mobile and voice search.

This change means less traffic for what could have previously been major search terms, and an increased pressure on content writers to drive clickability in snippets and meta descriptions.


11. Semantic search

Alongside zero-click searches is semantic search. We’ve already seen this trend progress as users search online with long-tail keywords.

However, as Google gets better and better at understanding user search and intent, we’ll see an even bigger increase in conversational search in 2021. You might have already seen updates in search including a jump link and highlighted text which answers your specific question in a piece of content

Realistically, semantic search is just as much about UX as it is about SEO. As search engines get smarter, they’ll begin to crawl within copy for not just copy as a whole. So, the onus on people to use exactly the right words (and in the right sequence) to find the right result has switched over to the machines. In 2021, expect search engines to better interpret fragmented and obscure questions and search terms.


12. Account based marketing

ABM, or account based marketing has really grown in 2020 after previously only being affordable and accessible for large enterprise businesses. But we expect Account based marketing to become a marketing trend in 2021 due it offering high ROI, increased deal size and maximised opportunities via cross-sell and upsell. ABM is a “new level of collaboration with sales teams” that aims to deliver on buyer expectations.

It means marketing and sales teams working together to approach highly-targeted prospects and working on a one-on-one basis to convert them into a customer.

If you’re a B2B marketer and not already marketing this way, then you’ll want to check it out.


13. Automation

Hand in hand with ABM is automation. According to Salesforce, 67% of marketers are already using automation tools in their marketing arsenal. This is a percentage we only expect to grow as we move into 2021 and new tech becomes available.

We predict that automation will become an even bigger part of marketer’s everyday as tech evolves to allow marketers to better convert leads, generate personalized content, and track results.

Bold move, but we predict this to be one of the biggest digital marketing trends for 2021.


14. Personalisation

Despite growing concerns of privacy, consumers still respond to personalisation. In fact, 72% of shoppers will only engage with personalised marketing.

Consumers are shunning mass email newsletters and opting to engage with personable web pages instead. In 2021, marketers will need to customize customer communications and experiences based on their preferences, interests, and behaviour.



Automation and personalisation will go hand in hand in 2021 as serious tech is needed to get high-level personalisation right.


15. Data-driven decisions

Ok, so data-driven marketing isn’t a new thing, but, it certainly is picking up speed as we move into 2021.

Data-driven decisions can only be done with clear data. The problem marketers have is that their lead and sales data can be tricky to get visibility of.

Thankfully, there are tools to help you track each and every lead and all of their touchpoints. So, even if you’re selling offline, or you have a long sales cycle, you can still track the data you need, where you need it.


Note: Ok ok, this was a bit of a sales pitch. Data-driven decisions will be big in 2021, but Ruler is the best way to do it. Check out what we do, or get a demo with one of our team.Book a demo Ruler Analytics

You’ll get your marketing ROI and understand how your marketing is working to drive leads, and revenue.


16. Customer participation

Deloitte listed customer participation as one of their anticipated trends for 2021. They said, “Participation can manifest in low-touch, low-effort activities such as writing online reviews and posting about a brand on social media, to deeper forms such as co-creating with a brand to develop new products or produce original content,”

Your customers are your biggest advocates, we already know that. But they can also shape your business. In 2020, we saw plenty of businesses pivot to survive Covid-19. This is only possible with a deep understanding of your customer and their needs.

Engage with your customers on a deeper level than a reply to an Instagram story and open up two-way conversations. After all, criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. But, by avoiding it, you’re also missing an opportunity to develop and grow.

Just look at McDonald’s. Customers were complaining about their use of plastic straws. So what did they do? They ditched them in favour of paper ones.


17. Subscription-based everything

Nowadays, a product often becomes a subscription-based offer. Just look at Dollar Shave Club, Simply Cook, Birch Box and more.

From a business perspective, there’s a good reason companies are adopting subscription-based offers. Company’s finances are more predictable, and their customers tied closely to the company.

Post covid-19, we expect to see many more companies adopt a subscription-based offer. Just look at gyms during lockdown. While many members cancelled, many stayed and even paid for online at-home sessions. These memberships were what kept many gyms afloat.

Subscriptions allow you to build a closer relationship with your customer and so build that support mentality. With it comes a different set of metrics to consider – LTC, churn and more. But don’t worry. Ruler can help you keep track of all of it! Find out how we can help you with your marketing attribution.


And there you have it! 17 top digital marketing trends for 2021. Well done for getting this far!

While 2020 certainly has thrown a curveball or two, we have high hopes for 2021. Fingers crossed for an uneventful year, right?

In the meantime, find out more about Ruler Analytics and what we do here to contribute to marketing teams across the globe. Get started with one of the trends for 2021 by downloading our guide to offline conversion tracking.

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